Commander Tom, Kiddo and Me

My parents’ first born, Tippy, in front of the Admiral

Want some insight into why TV is still feeding my family?
Have a feature today in the Toronto Star’s “Prime Time” section. This monthly supplement covers “business, entertainment, health and beauty for Boomers.” I guess I’m part of the entertainment mix.
Editor Elizabeth Holland called me up a while back and asked for info on such Boomer classics as Captain Kangaroo, The Friendly Giant and Soupy Sales. The Star story is not on-line or I’d link to it, but there’s a chart in Saturday’s paper with fun facts about all those black & white TV shows as well as such local, Southern Ontario favourites from the early ’60s as Professor’s Hideaway, Kiddo the Clown, Big Al from Kitchener, Ont., a crazy ass thing called Schnitzel House (still trying to get that “inky-dinky” theme song out of my mind) and Buffalo’s one and only Commander Tom.


Dustmop and Commander Tom

 I was always confused about the opening of Commander Tom. A voice boomed that his top secret headquarters were “somewhere on the Niagara peninsula” but it looked like a 50 storey office tower. Why “somewhere”? Didn’t the damn thing stick out?
Commander Tom was mesmerizing. The show aired weekday afternoons in the late ’60s, I think some times running an hour and maybe even 90 minutes. Local WKBW weatherman Tom Jolls was the steadfast commander and also worked several puppet pals like Matty the Mod and Egglbert Superchick.
Crammed between the puppetry were old episodes of The Adventures of Superman, Popeye cartoons, Davey & Goliath and the late Art Clokey’s other creation, Gumby. It was Pee-wee’s big adventure before Pee-wee.
For a while they showed old episodes of the ’50s cop show Highway Patrol in the middle of Commander Tom, extra-whacked because boozy Broderick Crawford and all that crime violence was enough to scare grown ups.

Diver Dan: He died so we could live

Another show I watched as a pre-schooler in the early ’60s was Diver Dan. This little 15-minute filler was apparently produced in Pittsburgh. Shot on the cheap through a fish tank, it was about this deep sea diver who walked around the perfectly flat studio floor of the ocean and was always been goofed on by these creepy-looking puppet fish, including that big jerk Barron Barracuda. There was a human mermaid, but she was even more wooden than the fish.
The very last episode I ever saw, Diver Dan, whose face was pretty much hidden behind the glass mask of his metal deep sea diving helmet, got all entangled up with a giant octopus or squid. The next morning, I raced in front of the set, only to witness the most disturbing thing I’d ever seen on TV at that point: a small photo of Dan (or his head in his helmet at least), framed in a big black border. Over top a newsy-sounding voice intoned, “Diver Dan will not be seen any more at this station because HE DROWNED FIGHTING THAT OCTOPUS YESTERDAY.”
Holy crap. I ran out of the room. This was scarier than those Cold War, black and white Emergency Broadcast System spots that used to air all the time on various stations back then, where a short, ten second frequency blast would be followed by a serious voice saying, “if this had been a real emergency, you would have been instructed what to do in your neighbourhood.”

Those I really didn’t get, they just made me uncomfortable. That piercing frequency sound was hard on the ears. Actually, this used to scare me more than anything else:

Again, had to leave the room for 60 seconds. But Diver Dan, dead? WTF?!
I’m guessing that was just some guy who got fired or had a grievance at the station pulling a last minute on-air F-U. It used to happen. It happened at CFTO in Toronto.
Another favourite show, as I mention in the Star article, was Kiddo the Clown. Kiddo was an Emmet Kelly-style Hobo clown who lived in an underground lair. He was played by a fellow named Trevor Evans. Evans snuck in all these grown up stuff, about his working as a spy for then Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker. Maybe it was Kiddo who wrecked all those Avro Arrows.
One day I’m watching and these workers smash through the wall of Kiddo’s cave. They started laying down railway tracks. They were Toronto TTC workers, and they got busy extending the east-west Bloor Street subway line that was stretching through Toronto at that time–right through Kiddo’s living room.
This was Evans’ big, cranky, “G’bye, kids” As he told me years later, when he visited the Toronto Sun after I first shared this childhood memory with readers, Evans had asked for a raise and was instead fired. He had one last show to do. So he made sure nobody else could step into his slap shoes. True story.
Any other bizarre kiddie show TV memories out there? Please click the comment button below and share them here.

7 Responses to “Commander Tom, Kiddo and Me”

  1. Hey Bill!
    Great piece in The Star. Remember Chez Helene with Suzie the mouse puppet?
    Cheers,
    Calvin
    P.S. I was a huge Commander Tom and Rocketship 7 fan too!

    Reply
  2. Hey Bill!
    You must remember Chez Helene with Suzie the mouse. The CBC’s attempt to teach basic French to ignorant Ontarians. Can’t say it worked for me.
    Cheers,
    Calvin
    P.S. I was a big Commander Tom and Rocketship 7 fan as well.

    Reply
  3. oh… And I was volunteering at Roh-gets at about the same time you were with mr Bulloch.

    Reply
  4. Keith Alexander

    Thanks Bill,
    I never thought I’d see these things again!
    The Professor’s Hideaway was what inspired me to take up a career in technology when I was older.
    And the CONELRAD alerts used to scare the crap out of me too :-)

    Reply
  5. What about The Furry Burry Creature..??

    Ring the Bell for Isabelle ..? ( Isabelle Basset )

    Bimbo , Bimbo the happy birthday clown..?

    Reply

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