By Slick Nick | @Poppeelings
Twenty years after it left the nation’s television screens, Wacaday still remains in the hearts and minds of the twenty and thirty-somethings that woke up to it all those years ago.
But why did it suddenly disappear without a trace, leaving a gap in the UK’s cultural psyche in 1992?
Until the advent of the internet, no one knew the truth, nor were particularly interested. However, small communities of file sharers and collectors began springing up when episodes of Wacaday started to become hot binary code for nostalgia hunters. People began to exchange their own theories about why the show, which ran for eight years, ceased to exist.
Pop Peelings has secured an exclusive preview of a new book written by with the show’s producer, Richard Wilkes, who also wrote the lyrics to the second verse of the classic Wacaday theme song. ‘Men And Mallets: The Wacaday Legacy’ will be published in November this year and is hotly tipped to be a bestseller.
In it, Wilkes speaks of a phenomenon made possible by the insatiable drive and determination of its host, Timothy Mallet, who was hellbent on filling the sizable shoes of Roland Rat with the highest quality television of the 80s.
He worked furiously to get the first series out, even demanding his own mother make the original stuffed mallet by hand, one stitch at a time.
Mr Mallet saw the creation of the Wide Awake Club as a means to inspire under privaleged children to a better life in post-Thatcher recession hit Britain, essentially a Hitler Youth for the Ninja Turtles generation. It worked. At its peak, the Wide Awake Club boasted over 21 million members. Ex-members included Sid Owen (Ricky Butcher from Eastenders), Paul Gascoigne and prime minister David Cameron. They are interviewed extensively in Wilkes’ book, along with a host of other celebrities.
The demands of the show soon took their toll. Six series a year and each featuring Mallet’s patented brand of gonzo journalism within a different country is no easy feat to say the least. One heart-breaking chapter details his capture and brutal torture in Burma at the hands of government soldiers suspecting his anarchic spectacles and hawaiian shirts as the uniform of a spy. Defiant through and through, Mallet remained tight-lipped throughout the 48 hour ordeal, apart from screaming his well-known catchphrase ‘bleugh’ each time a finger was broken or a testicle electrocuted.
Mr Mallet always had an acute anxiety around children, revealing in a later chapter of ‘Men And Mallets’ how this paedophobia, as it’s officially termed, may have been caused by watching a pirate copy of The Exorcist at a birthday party in 1984. Perhaps this is why he wanted to degrade and humiliate children on live television, as well as cause physical damage to their craniums with his sponge mallet. When the court cases started after distraught parents caught their children acting out the wacaday quiz with real garden tools, not even colourful shirts and travel trivia could save Mr Mallet. He was finally pushed over the edge.
He turned to drugs.
‘Tim’s energy wasn’t simply the blind desperation for a paycheck and a foot on the career ladder like so many children’s entertainers perpetuate,’ writes Wilkes in chapter 185. ‘His cocaine use reached legendary proportions during the later years. He was so high once he tried to buy a bus ticket using a wad of fake prop plasters from the Wacaday quiz as currency.’
TV executives thought bringing in a co-host, Michaela Strachan, would aleviate the pressure from Mr Mallet so he could focus on dealing with his demons. The plan backfired. Mallet saw her as a threat to his ideology and territory, and went out of his way to make life unbarable for her at all times. Mrs Strachan gives a heart-breaking testimonial in chapter 359 about her time on Wacaday:
‘He was awful. He kept calling me Challenge Anneka, after Anneka Rice who he was obsessed with, and thought I closely resembled. I failed to see the likeness, and this only riled Tim further.’
‘At his lowest point, before we went live in the mornings, he’d burst into my dressing room with white powder all over his face, screaming obscenities.’
‘ “Oi, Challenge Anneka!” he’d holler, clutching his genitals through the open fly of his surf shorts. “I’ve got something you can find, right here. The clue is it’s massive and swings between Timmy Mallet’s legs. Where’s your go kart and helicopter?!” ‘
Having alienated all those close to both himself and the show, Mr Mallet soon found himself on the receiving end of several court injunctions, banning him from coming within a hundred miles of Anneka Rice and any television studio in the British Isles. He had hammered the nails into his own coffin, effectively ending Wacaday and his entire broadcasting career by 1992.
A short-lived foray into popular music happened soon after, with Mr Mallet seeking to broaden his fanbase beyond 6-8 year old school children on their summer holidays. It failed. The world simply wasn’t ready to hear about women’s novelty beach attire through song.
What is life like in 2012 for the man that gave us Wacaday?
Mr Mallet does not hold back, taking up the final 746 pages of ‘Men And Mallets’ with a damning indictment of an existence filled with student unions, old Anneka Rice photographs taken from the bushes outside her bungalow and grieving over Magic, the deceased Wacaday cockatiel.
Despite its tragic demise, one might wonder what impact Wacaday may have had on contemporary Britain if it was still broadcasting. Would we have so many teen pregnancies? Would we have so many young men being stabbed in the stomach or shot in the head at close range? Would we have had mass rioting in 2011? Would Peter Andre still be on television sets across the nation? We will never know. But what is clear and undisputable is that Wacaday may be gone but it will never be forgotten.