The Slam Bang Theatre Orchestra featuring Icky Twerp (with umbrella)
Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Peppermint, Icky Twerp…screech!!! Icky Twerp? Icky was different. Slam Bang Theatre was different. Not better, not worse just…different! Gone was the candy sweetness which typified the live kid shows of the era. Instead, SBT portrayed an almost Vaudvillian brand of slapstick reminiscent of the Three Stooges.
Icky Twerp (a.k.a. Bill Camfield) wore a rumpled black suit, had black horn-rim glasses, and a small cowboy hat that was curled up on the sides with his wild black hair protruding from beneath it. We knew this was the guy who embodied real childhood values and would take on pervasive suburban conformity!
Slam Bang Theatre aired mornings & afternoons in all of its live black & white glory on KTVT-TV Channel 11 (“Live-ly 11” from Ft. Worth, Texas) from the late 50’s until the early 70’s. The name and theme music lived on until much later but there was no live-action “drama”, just cartoons.
With him in his run-down television abode were his ape-faced pals Ajax, Delphinium, and Arkadelphia who were always fighting over some trivial matter or getting into some kind of trouble. Fortunately Icky would always straighten them out in time for the next cartoon.
Sometimes he and his pals would be civil enough to play together in the Slam Bang Theatre Orchestra which was usually organized mayhem with “Nairobi Trio” undertones. As sidekicks go, these guys were more readily identified with than the “cutesy” sidekicks of other kid shows. They were, after all, the collective Id of suburban boys.
Cartoon favorites on SBT included Felix the Cat, the original Hercules, and Popeye The Sailor (the original high-quality 50’s version and the cheaper, but patio, Al Brodax version).
Slam Bang Theatre also introduced my generation to the Three Stooges which luckily has been preserved via the small screen. Produced during the 30’s and 40’s as theater short, the Three Stooges was revived by television and are still going strong today. Politically incorrect as the stooges were, they seemed to fit in with the overall SBT theme. One writer fondly remembered that at an early age he thought the Three Stooges were actually Icky Twerp’s home movies! I would take that as a compliment.
If morning mirth wasn’t your bag then you could tune in late Saturday night to see Bill Camfield star as “Gorgon” in the dark and mysterious Nightmare, a Dark Shadows type of horror show. It would open with a shot of a journey down a long dark hall with creepy music, thunder, and lightning flashing through transom windows. Then a voice would say NIGHT-MARE! At that point, a creepy wicked laugh HA HA HA HA would erupt and the camera would cut to Bill dressed similar to Dracula. After the first few seconds of this, kids usually had the covers over their heads…but they didn’t turn the channel. After all, this beat televised pro wrestling at the Dallas Sportatorium any Saturday night! The featured attraction would be an old black & white classic horror movie, which had the desired chilling effect on young viewers!
Another incarnation of the Twerpesque character appeared in the form of Captain Swabbie, a nautical cartoon show host. According to Paul Camfield, son of the late Bill Camfield, the character developed when the resident cartoon show host decided to take some vacation time, and asked Bill to fill in for him since live acting was the nature of kid show programming in those days. Mr. Camfield developed a silly ship crew member named “Ickamore Twerpwhistle” as a substitute, much to the delight of station management. Mr. Camfield was told to create a show around the new character with a cartoon-driven format, and the rest was nautical history!
Mr. Camfield also starred in various local commercials, and a bank commercial featured one of his characters: “Mortimer Moneybags”. Sadly, Mr. Camfield passed away several years ago, but his legacy of bringing laughter to television lives on in his numerous fans.