Articles - Friendly Giant, The (Series) (1958-1985)

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Friendly Giant, The

Big Hands Herald 'Friendly'

from The Winnipeg Free Press, Aug 12, 1961

The Friendly Giant came into being a few years ago when Robert Homme (pronounced Hummy) was experimenting with miniature sets at the the University of Wisconsin's television station.

"The set made my hands look like that of a giant, and I suggested to my wife that this might frighten small children," says Mr. Homme. "She said, 'Not if he was a nice, friendly giant,' and that started a chain of thought that resulted in Friendly."

The program is shown this summer on Monday and Wednesday afternoons over the CBC.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a B.A. degree in economics, Mr. Homme started a radio career as an announcer at the university station and soon had his own program for children. Later, he experimented with programs for the university TV station.

He came to Canada in 1958 after four years of successful programs in the U.S. "because no U.S. network had a whole department devoted to children's programming, and I was excited by the prospect of working with an organization like the CBC's children's department." He began originating Friendly Giant from Toronto in the fall of 1958, although he started the show in the U.S. in 1954.

Friendly Giant Bob Homme - A Labor of Love

From TV Times, Oct 30, 1971

Robert Homme has always believed that young children can appreciate and enjoy good books and music, like anyone else. And for the past 12 years, CBC-TV's Friendly Giant has consistently proven this point on television.

Few pre-schoolers in this country do not know of the Friendly Giant and his puppet "side-kicks", Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster. Since May, 1958, the 15-minute program has been telecast Monday to Friday on the CBC Network, and during this time the jovial, 52-year-old Homme has acquired a devoted legion of youthful followers. CBC says his is the longest continuous show for children under six in North America, which probably means for the world as well. In Canada alone, the Friendly Giant reaches a daily viewing audience of well over 500,000, including some 334,000 pre-school youngsters and nearly 85,000 young mothers as well.

Homme himself acts as the Friendly Giant, but what is not generally known is that he owns the show, writes it, researches and plays music in it. His is literally "a labor of love" as he works long hours in preparing the show from the initial idea to the final rehearsal and taping and also spends a great deal of time in selecting books and music for his young viewers. He keeps over 500 children's books in the library of his Jarvis Street office in Toronto, and reviews about 300 every year. No basic changes have been made to the series since 1954 when he created the Giant for WHA, the University of Wisconsin's television station. Homme has insisted that the program remain deliberately slow-paced, for in his own words, "so many children's shows these days move along at a frantic pace. Ours doesn't, and the viewers love it this way."

Music has always been a part of Homme's life. During his college years he alternated studies in Economics and Psychology with stints as a dance-band musician. He plays the recorder, the clarinet and saxophone, and musical talent seems to abound in his family as well: wife Esther plays the piano; youngest son Peter, 12, the clarinet; daughters Ruth, 15, the bass guitar, and Anne, 18, the flute; and his eldest son, Rick, 21 is a professional jazz musician. Much of the music in Homme's household is modern jazz, while his series presents selections ranging from the Baroque to light jazz, folk music and standard children's music.

Two of five weekly programs are devoted to music.

Jerome and Rusty, the Giant's perennial "side-kicks" have been a regular feature of the program from the very beginning. They are brought to life by actor Rod Coneybeare, who has been with the show almost as long as it has appeared on the CBC. Other characters are introduced periodically for "guest" stints on the series, but none have yet proven as popular with young viewers as the two regulars.

Homme tries — and obviously succeeds at it — to make books and stories as much fun for the children as he can. The music ranges from Cole Porter to Bach, but ratings have shown that the youngsters — not to mention many a parent as well — love it that way. And his insistence that the Giant remain the same from season to season has also been rewarding to Homme ... with his young viewers' continued devotion to the 15-minute show over the years.

Off camera, when he isn't busy working on the series, Homme enjoys "getting away from it all" to a secluded country cottage somewhere near Coburg ... "location unrevealed," he comments. Here he enjoys the outdoors and participates in a variety of winter and summer sports. Fitting activity for a Friendly Giant, wouldn't you say?

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For an in-depth look at CBC programs (1952-82),
Blaine Allan's directory