Jolls as Commander Tom with Dustmop, one of his puppet pals

As a child of television growing up in the west end of Toronto in the early 1960s, I was always confused about the opening of a local children’s show called Commander Tom. A narrator boomed off the top that the commander’s top secret headquarters was, “somewhere on the Niagara peninsula.” “Somewhere”? It looked like a 50-storey office tower!

Commander Tom, which was broadcast from Buffalo, New York’s ABC affiliate WKBW, always stuck out for me. The show aired weekday afternoons when it began in December of 1965 and migrated to Saturday mornings by the time it ended in the late ’80s. Some seasons, I seem to recall, it ran an hour and at one point was extended to 90 minutes.

Local WKBW weatherman Tom Jolls was the steadfast commander in the crimson Mountie tunic. He was also the hand and voice behind several homemade puppet pals such as Dustmop, Matty the Mod, a cap-wearing alligator, grand dame Cecily Fripple and the very weird Egglbert Superchick.

For a brief time in the mid-’60s, when ABC had an instant hit with Adam West in Batman, a chubby character named “Bat Head” crashed the commander’s show. This was an “anything goes” era, way before Sesame Street and educational content ruined children’s television.

Proof that there was a Bat Head. The bat wings on his forehead wobbled

Crammed between the interstitial puppetry were old episodes of The Adventures of Superman, Popeye cartoons, Davey & Goliath and the late Art Clokey’s other creation, Gumby. For this lad of the ’60s, the series was a bit like Pee-wee’s Playhouse before Pee-wee.

When affiliate stations lost access to the classic George Reeves’ Superman series the commander had to dip deeper into the syndication sales bin. For a while they showed Flash Gordon serial chapter episodes from the 1930s. When those grew stale, The Three Stooges taught a whole new generation to eye gouge. At one point, the commander gave way to old episodes of the ’50s cop show Highway Patrol. Trying to relate to boozy Broderick Crawford was a bit much for this kid from Etobicoke.


This mixture of black and white TV episodes and classic (and not-so-classic) cartoons probably contributed to my lifelong hobby of collecting my childhood memories on 16mm film. Never again, on one local TV show, could one see the great works of Looney Tunes directors Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett next to the proton energy pill-fueled, barely animated antics of Roger Ramjet.

Jolls was also part of a legendary local news trio at WKBW. Irv Weinstein was the voice-of-God anchor for 34 seasons, with weatherman Jolls and sportscaster Rick Azar also behind the desk. Barely heard above their loud ties and blazers, they were, decades later, a blueprint for those Ron Burgundy movies. In the ’70s, however, they came across as friendly neighbourhood guys who were truly invested in their community, with Weinstein in many ways the face of city.

Jolls was somebody I had always hoped to interview but never did. Buffalo News TV journalist Alan Pergament, who did interview the TV commander, pays tribute to him here. He reports that Jolls, a devoted family man, died June 7 in a Buffalo Hospice in Cheektowaga. He was the last of the WKBW news team to pass away, with Weinstein dying in 2017 and Azar in 2021.

Jolls is also fondly remembered for venturing out to schools in the community and visiting young fans. He did live appearances across the border in Canada as well. He just seemed like a really nice man who loved his job.

If you visit the Anchor Bar or “Chefs” or other Buffalo dining landmarks you’ll still find portraits of Jolls and company on the walls. From the perspective of a kid growing up in Canada, the WKBW team projected a pride in their community that went beyond the usual flag waving and made you want to cross the Peace Bridge. If you come in search of that skyscraper that was somewhere on the Niagara peninsula, it is right where Jolls left it — in your imagination.


  1. Brian Treadwell Reply

    Nice piece Bill. Didn’t we also have Rocketship7 coming from the might KBW? But then again in Toronto you had Trevor Evans Kiddo A Clown and Alan Hammel’s Razzle Dazzle plus the Forest Rangers.

  2. Glen Rippon Reply

    I never did get a glimpse of the Furry-Burry Creature. I think CT was conning us.

    • Bill Brioux Reply

      Ha! Wasn’t he just a clothes peg with a cotton batten body and eyes? Very resourceful that Commander.

  3. Steven Macey Reply

    We also had Popeye”s Playhouse which aired weekdays at 9AM on ch 4. In addition to Popeye cartoons, I vaguely remember them airing something called “Spave Angel” Captain Mike and Buttons the cabin boy hosted the show.

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