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Rainbow host Geoffrey Hayes dies aged 76

Presenter of long-running children’s show and actor in Z Cars dies in hospital

Remembering the strong and silent star of Rainbow, writes Stuart Jeffries

Matthew Weaver

Geoffrey Hayes, the relentlessly cheery adult in the room in the long-running children’s TV show Rainbow, has died at the age of 76.

Hayes was known for maintaining a smiley order over the puppets on the popular ITV show while dressed in lurid outfits such as floral shirts or yellow dungarees for more than 1,000 episodes between 1974 and 1992.

Hayes was surrounded by his family when he died in hospital from pneumonia, according to his agent, Phil Dale. “Geoffrey passed away in hospital with his wife, Sarah, and son, Tom, by his side,” Dale said.

“The family would like to express their thanks to the many fans over the years, as it always gave Geoffrey so much pleasure to know that he and his Rainbow team had given so much fun to TV and theatre audiences over the years.

The pre-school show was seen as a British answer to the US children’s hit show Sesame Street, but on a much cheaper budget. It featured three other characters: Bungle, a boyish teddybear played by various actors in a bear suit, and two puppets – George, a slow-witted pink hippo, and Zippy, a know-it-all yellow felt robot with a grating voice.

Hayes presided with a gleeful enthusiasm and occasional flash of exasperation. Hayes’ threat to silence Zippy by fastening up his mouth was the one element of suspense on the show.

He said the secret to the programme’s popularity was that it was full of “magic, innocence and imagination”. He added: “Practically all the time people come up to me and it really breaks me up because they thank me for being part of their childhood. It makes me want to cry sometimes.”

Hayes did have other acting roles, including stint as DC Scatliff in the BBC series Z Cars. But after Rainbow he struggled to find work and complained of being typecast as the Rainbow presenter.

“Directors could only think of me as Rainbow’s Geoffrey”, he told the Daily Express. He even spent time stacking shelves at a Sainsbury supermarket.

Later he embraced his association with Rainbow by appearing in a nostalgic stage version of the programme at the Edinburgh festival.

He also appeared in pantomimes and TV gameshows including an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2002 and Pointless Celebrities in 2015. He joked that the one good thing to come out of the cancellation of the Rainbow was earning “loads of money as an ironic postmodern icon”.

Ronnie Le Drew, the actor who played Zippy, said “We’ll all miss him terribly”. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live he added: “He was really kind to everybody and always charming.”

Tributes to Hayes reflected the affection for the show from those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s. His death comes just four days after that of John Cunliffe, the creator of another children’s TV favourite Postman Pat.

“Another part of the 1980s childhood has gone,” tweeted the former Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop.

Broadcaster Tony Shepherd tweeted the same sentiments.

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