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Timmy Mallett celebrates 35 years of Wacaday by sharing special memories of his beloved Aberdeen

Wacaday legend Timmy Mallett.
Wacaday legend Timmy Mallett.

It was the self-proclaimed ‘show your telly was made for’ which kept a generation of children entertained.

Kids TV legend-turned-artist Timmy Mallett is celebrating Wacaday’s 35th anniversary and he shared some special memories of his time in the north-east.

Utterly brilliant

Timmy, who was famous for his loud shirts, colourful glasses and ‘utterly brilliant’ catchphrase, went on a Wacaday tour of Scotland in 1991 and filmed stories for the show in Aberdeen, Arbroath and Dundee.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Timmy Mallett.

“We started the tour of the north-east by going out from Aberdeen to one of the rigs to film a fun adventure on an oil platform,” said Timmy.

“We travelled there on a hovercraft and coming back I was sick as a dog.

“Then we came down to Arbroath where I first got a taste of smokies.

“The sweet smell of wood smoke and kippers is really lovely and I fell in love with the town.

“I love the fact you go down little back streets and there’s half-a-dozen places smoking kippers.

“I’m a keen cyclist and I’m proud to have pedalled the national cycle route along the whole of the east coast and I never go past them without buying as many as I can carry on my bike.

“We also filmed in Dundee at Mills Observatory and it was exciting to see how the city came out to star gaze.

“I remember a sketch where I stood with Mallett’s Mallet against a marauding bunch of hairy, terrifying, clansman – known as The Clan.

“The punchline was that I stood there with knees knocking trying to be brave – before I ran away!”

A comic strip from The Beano takes pride of place in Timmy Mallett’s home.

TV-am had found itself lacking a school holiday programme 35 years ago after Roland Rat transferred to the BBC from ITV in 1985.

Timmy, who is now 64, was the best-known presenter of the successful Saturday morning programme, Wide Awake Club. and he was offered the chance to present the new show.

Mallett’s Mallet

The replacement was called Wacaday and the programme was most famous for the game Mallett’s Mallet, a word-association game where contestants were hit over the head by his famed mallet for getting answers wrong.

Timmy recalled how he wore a special painted shirt on the Dundee show to celebrate the city’s 800th anniversary along with a painted kilt – which he’s still kept after all these years, in a trunk of Wacaday costumes.

Timmy Mallett in the painted outfit he wore in Dundee in 1991.

Beano artist David Sutherland also put together a comic strip with Timmy alongside Dennis and Gnasher which was put in a frame and still takes pride of place in the Mallett home.

The show took him around the world in 1991.

After his north-east adventure he even travelled to South Africa to explain to his young audience the changes the country had gone through since the end of apartheid.

The show came off air in 1992 when TV-am lost the franchise and Timmy’s career moved direction and he is now an accomplished artist in oils and acrylics.

He has returned many times to the north-east to take inspiration from some of the places he first discovered while filming Wacaday and his paintings can be seen at Eduardo Allesandro’s gallery in Broughty Ferry.

His artwork includes paintings of the Mills Observatory, the Tay Rail Bridge, Broughty Castle, the Arbroath cliffs and the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of the town.

Timmy Mallett and Lorraine Kelly in Broughty Ferry with his artwork.

Timmy also made several trips to be with his brother Martin whose life was enriched during more than 30 years at Newton Dee Village which is a Camphill community outside Aberdeen for people with learning difficulties.

Bell Rock memories

And, although he watched his brother gradually succumb to dementia, he said some of his happiest days spent with Martin were on the east-coast he’s grown to adore.

“I remember taking a trip out to the Bell Rock Lighthouse with Martin,” said Timmy.

“We went through all the lobster pots to get to the harbour where we scrambled down a ladder to get on to the boat.

“With Down’s syndrome and language and learning difficulties, Martin was clinging on to that ladder for dear life and yet he did it.

“He was so proud of himself and the way the boat crew supported him.  I remember thinking: ‘I like these people – they really care about Martin’.

“So Arbroath has a special place in my heart.

“We went out for the day and we also did a spot of fishing and we caught one – it was a real highlight that day.

“Aberdeen is just as special – it’s a place that helped Martin reach his potential.

“That is everybody in Aberdeen – not just the people at Newton Dee; it’s everybody in that glorious, glistening city.

Timmy and his late brother Martin pictured on Dundee Law against the backdrop of the River Tay.

“I adore Aberdeen and I adore Aberdonians.  The Mallett family have to lot to thank them for. Not least the joy of cycling the old Deeside railway line together with Martin.

“I feel the same about them as I do the people of Tayside.

“They made us feel so welcome.

“I remember my wife and I were staying with Lorraine Kelly and her husband Steve in Broughty Ferry.

“Martin came down from Aberdeen on the train which was a big thing and met us at Broughty Ferry which has a train station.

“He came off the train and we greeted each other with a big hug on that platform.

“It was so special.

“It’s a top place.”

Timmy, Martin and third brother Paul were born and bred in Marple, Cheshire, with their mum Corporal Nancy Foster, who helped predict the D-Day weather forecast, and dad Michael, a keen artist who inspired his son to paint.

Timmy Mallett in his art studio.

Martin died aged 64 just five days before Timmy undertook a 3,750 kilometre (2,500 miles) solo cycling and painting adventure, unsupported, from home in Berkshire to Spain along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in the spring of 2018.

Name tags

“It turned out to be the worst spring on record with the Beast from the East and ferocious gales – nothing like the spring weather we’ve enjoyed this year in lockdown,” he said.

Timmy wanted to raise awareness for mental health and the importance of reaching our potential just like brother Martin, so he set out, alone, with just a bike and his paints on a mammoth two month challenge.

At Martin’s funeral two days before setting off, Timmy came across his brother’s name tags – “the things your mum sews into your clothes to make sure you don’t lose them”.

“I carried those name tags with me and used them to mark my way across Europe,” he said.

“Martin Mallett name tags are at special places – a view, a landmark, church, castle, vineyard, and with people I met.”

The legendary Timmy Mallett in 1991.

The story is told and some of the paintings he produced along the way is documented in his new ‘Utterly Brilliant – My Life’s Journey’ memoir, together with stories from his TV, radio, music and stage career and his family.

“Despite Down’s syndrome, dementia and learning difficulties, Martin never ceased to make the most of every day,” he said.

“That’s not a bad thing for all of us to aim for…”

Timmy is also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the single Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny yellow Polka Dot Bikini which was number one around the world in the summer of 1990.

Pinky punky

“It was number one in the charts on the day I got married,” he said.

That was the same summer that Pinky Punky toy mallets first went on sale and they are still popular in 2020 with fans who remember its catchphrase: “Mr Mallet! Mr Mallet! Can I go to the toilet?”

It’s an honour and a privilege to have done that show and to have it held in such high esteem in people’s hearts. “

Timmy said he is “immensely privileged” that the show remains in the hearts of the thirty and forty-somethings that woke up to it.

“I have to be honest and say that I’m not certain why it was so popular,” he said.

“I’d love to have the answer but if there was a magic formula then everybody would have their Wacaday moment in their lives.

“Here are the things I think that it had.

“We had a show with what I think was a wide-eyed wonder at the world.

“It was important to do a kids show that treated children as real people with an understanding of how things work.

“That’s things like the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and the importance and excitement of learning something new.

“All of those things come into it.

“Also I think it was the time of day it was on.

“I think that had an impact and the fact it was on one of only four channels.

“The fact there wasn’t a lot of choice had a bit of an impact but that would be unfair!

“The BBC sometimes put on cartoons and traditionally they always win over live action telly but we beat the pants out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

“So what was it?  Was it the right place at the right time?  Maybe…

“All I know is that I’m a very lucky man and I am aware of how people hold it dearly and consequently I will always say thank you.

“Thank you for having enjoyed it.

“Thank you for smiling at it.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to have done that show and to have it held in such high esteem in people’s hearts.

“I’m immensely privileged.”