I can tell you why Basil Brush has `adult feel'

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The Independent Online

A revival in the fortunes of an old pal one had assumed to be in harmless retirement can cause mixed emotions. It's good to see that the years have not taken the edge off his ambition, that he's still in there, pitching against the young guys. On the other hand, when his face is all over the newspapers, when he is about to be offered a lifetime achievement award (admittedly by Loaded magazine, but it still counts), when, after a triumphant appearance at the Cannes TV festival, the BBC and ITV are competing for his new project, a late-night, cutting-edge chat show with an "adult feel", only the most saintly could be entirely pleased. Cutting edge? Adult feel? I could tell them a thing or two about my friend Basil Brush.

We were never that close, Basil and I, but there were a few months when he played a significant part in my professional life.

I was a publisher, hungry for a project. Basil had a cultish, crossover following. With a team of writers, photographers, designers and stylists, I developed the idea of a paperback extravaganza for the Christmas stocking market.

There are varying degrees of seriousness in the relationship between publisher and author. In those days (it's different now), an editor could look forward to three, maybe even four, books with a favoured novelist, biographer or humorist. At the other end of the scale, there were the instant books, eager grabs at whatever trend was passing. Intense, exciting, evanescent, they were the publishing equivalent of a one-night stand. Unavoidably and unashamedly, my brush with Basil fell into the latter category. After his collected thoughts had been gathered in Boom! Boom! The Blunderful World of Basil Brush, there was, creatively, nowhere else to go.

Nevertheless, it was an intriguing experience. Lunching with Ivan Owen, the hand behind the fox, I sensed that even he had conflicting feelings about the peculiar form of fame that he enjoyed. Essentially, he felt that Basil Brush was misunderstood.

The problem was that the suits at Broadcasting House saw him as a jolly glove-puppet who was ideally suited for the late-afternoon family spot. Ivan Owen's conviction was that he had a harder, more knowing side, that his true, core audience was adult. He wanted to escape the limitations of children's television.

At the time, I found this rather sad - it was as if Roald Dahl longed for The BFG to be considered as a contender for the Booker prize; but now it is clear that Ivan was right and that Basil was ahead of his time. Twenty years on, Ivan Owen has been sidelined ("Basil's a fox, he doesn't need a hand," was the heartless comment of his new controllers) and so has his amiable, long-suffering straight man, Mr Derek. He is to be "a satirical successor to Spitting Image".

Well, forget nostalgia and loyalty -you can include me out. Suddenly, it becomes clear why the fox is back in fashion. At a time when toothless, knowing irony is all the rage, what better formula could there be than to have saucy glove-puppet with his own chat show? The cannier politicians will flock to play their part in the joke - Blair quizzed by Des O'Connor, Hattersley playing along with Ali G will be forerunners to a new form of soft, compliant self-satire. Perhaps TV executives will look out for other camp, inanimate kiddy-characters from the past to give the schedules an "adult feel" - fly-on-wall documentaries featuring The Magic Roundabout's Dougal, or a culture show chaired by Weed from Bill and Ben.

"I have no interest in Basil Brush. Goodbye," snapped Michael Parkinson when asked about his latest competitor, and it's no surprise that Parky's rattled. For years, he has been the man famous for being attacked by a puppet. Now the puppets are in charge.