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Angellica Bell: ‘My puppet sidekick became real to me’

·3-min read

Growing up, I would always try to finish my dinner in time to get my weekly dose of Dallas with my grandma. I would dread being given liver because I couldn’t eat it, and I’d be crushed if I had to miss the drama and the cliffhangers. I just loved that JR was so bad, and the way my grandma would talk about it as if it were real life. She would be talking to the characters and telling them off – a proper Caribbean woman getting into it. We would also watch World of Sport Wrestling on a Saturday, with the likes of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. My gran would be going “Get him on the ropes!” I once interviewed a female wrestler from that era who said it was just like being in panto.

Event TV was really important to me growing up, whether that was Top of the Pops, Bullseye or Play Your Cards Right. During lockdown with my family, we’ve had a similar experience with shows like Strictly and The Masked Singer – the shiny floor programmes you watch at the weekend with a takeaway. With Strictly, I still wonder how they dance in those shoes. But I want to see glitter and glam, and to enjoy TV – that’s what it’s there for. You want to put it on and be entertained.

Sesame Street was another influential programme for me growing up. I still sing songs from it now, and if I can’t sleep I count sheep the same way as Count von Count. It was cutting-edge TV – they had live-action puppetry, animation and sketch comedy, and they were mixing education and entertainment. It’s funny, because I used to look at the presenters and think, how can you talk to a puppet? But then I worked on CBBC, and realised you have to believe they’re real for it to look authentic on screen. When I worked with Emlyn the Gremlin on CBBC I wanted to talk to Tim, who was working the puppet, but I realised it would completely ruin the illusion for the children. Then a switch happened, and the puppet became real for me, and it was just me and Emlyn from that point on.

There are some people who know they want to be a presenter or actor from a young age. I didn’t know, I just thought it looked like fun. Through temping at the BBC I got an audition and then a job as a CBBC presenter, and my life changed. We would have the early programmes for younger children, then shows like Grange Hill later on, and the link into Newsround. We would have 6 or 7 million people watching the end of CBBC before Neighbours, and pop stars like S Club 7, Atomic Kitten and Blue would be in the studio. Victoria Beckham even came in once. A lot of children got so much from the shows that were airing, and which tackled serious topics, like Byker Grove and Tracy Beaker. We used to get so much fanmail.

I always loved children’s TV growing up, and working in it was so much fun. We were out of the broom cupboard by that stage and we got to do incredible things.

Angellica Bell hosts Leonardo: The Official Podcast, available on all major podcast providers.

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