Where it all started...
The Muppet Show was an early acqcuaintance for me. While the original show aired 1976-81, Mupparna didn't reach Sweden until 1978. Born in 1977, that would've made me around five or six when the show ceased its successful run on Swedish Television.
I clearly remember the Linda Ronstadt episode, the last but one episode of the entire series. Five year old me was enchanted by the closing number, "When I Grow to Old to Dream," and I have loved the song ever since. After that, Mupparna left Swedish television screens for what seemed forever.
In 1981, a Swedish version of Sesame Street called Svenska Sesam premiered. The title sequence with Hansson and Fia Jansson (the parrot and the pink hippo) was animated by Owe Gustafson. In the seventies he'd animated the titles for the highly popular Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter (Five Ants Are More Than Four Elephants), an educational children's show that was clearly inspired by Sesame Street. Svenska Sesam mixed live action segments starring Swedish actors and no puppets with dubbed puppet segments from Sesame Street.
Swedish television in the early 80s...
Things were quite different in the early eighties. Today, in our part of the world, everything is available at an arm length's distance. Back then, we had only two state owned channels, TV1 och TV2. Cable TV was on its way, but it didn’t reach our household until a decade later. TV-series aired one episode per week. That means whenever popular series like Mupparna or Dallas were on, the whole country watched.
TV-shows were commonly preceded by this digital clock, counting down the seconds. Just before the hand reached its destination, my mother would say "NOW!", and then as if by magic Mupparna began. I never understood how she did that. I tried placing myself in front of the TV when the clock was on, saying "NOW!" repeatedly, but Mupparna wouldn't start. It only worked when my mother did it...
There wasn't too much merchandise around in those days. So whenever you got your hands on a drawing pad with a Rolwf the Dog cover, or a Fozzie Bear mug, your luck was made. Not to mention if you got a plastic figurine. Boy, that was really something. Then there were the trading cards. All kids collected these and traded with each other in kindergarten and school. I had about half of the 78 cards (they were numbered, so you could keep track of which ones you had and didn’t have). When I moved to Malmö in my early twenties, I was flabbergasted when I found the complete collection in a toy collector's store. I bought the remaining ones and mounted all the cards on a black piece of cardboard and framed it.
MuppetWiki article on the Swedish Muppet trading cards!
There were no more than three muppet comic books altogether, Full rulle med mupparna (The Comic Muppet Book), Mupparna går i däck (Muppets at Sea) and Det milda gänget (The Mild Bunch). I read these over and over, drew in them, and cut out the muppets, until they literally fell apart, so we had to re-buy them every now and then. Then there was of course the Gilchrist Brothers' Mupparna (The Muppets) in the news papers and magazines. I used to collect these and make my own books. A month ago I got my copy of the first Gilchrist collection Short Green and Handsome. That was super precious. I felt like a kid again.
We didn't have a VHS player until I was like ten, so the only way I could stay in the world of the muppets was through the merchandise, the comics and drawing. As a kid I was always drawing. My best friend Axel was also good at drawing. We used to play with action figures, make clay films, stage puppet plays and draw books and comics. I often credit the muppets for being the starting point of my creative life. The truth is that I was very much affected by TV in general. If you go through my childhood drawings you'll clearly see what was on TV at the time, whether it was the Muppets, Tintin or V. The greatest inspiration was the combination TV-series/comic book/merchandise. Thus I watched, played with and drew Mupparna, Sesam, Fragglarna, Tintin, Star Wars, He-Man, G.I.Joe and Bamse. The latter is the Swedish children's comic book for which I've now been drawing professionally for ten years.
Fragglarna did its first run on Swedish television 1984-85. Like Svenska Sesam it was dubbed to Swedish. The voices were great, but I remember reacting to Doc's (Gerard Parkes) bad lipsynching. Of all Henson productions, Fragglarna is the one I have the most vivid memories of. Probably because I was at that age when your mind is like a sponge, absorbing everything it comes into contact with.
Fraggle Rock title sequence in Swedish!
I remember the first time I saw fraggle merchandise. I was at the local swimming pool with my mum, and in the reception, on the desk, right in front of my nose stood a Wembley plastic figurine. I was so excited! Shortly after we went down to the toy store and I got my first plastic fraggle and doozer. I think I collected them all in the end. Or is there anyone missing?
Then a few days before Christmas, I saw on the top shelf in our wardrobe a wrapped present that had been torn a bit in the corner. Underneath it I could spot a Fraggle Rock plush doll carton. On Christmas Eve (when Swedes open their Christmas presents) I discovered it was Boober, my favorite fraggle. Next Christmas I got Uncle Traveling Matt, another favorite. These worn out toys are still sitting on my bookshelf today.
By the time of Fragglarna I had developed a system of recording the TV shows (still no VHS player). I would hang a microphone in front of the TV loudspeakers and record the sound to magnetic tape. It required that my mother, my friends or whoever was in the room had to stay absolutely silent during the show. I was totally fascist about this! Didn't tolerate any noise whatsoever. Then I would listen to the sound and draw from memory. I made books and paper dolls, and sets or "cities" as I liked to call them. Through drawing I found I could stay in the TV-worlds as much as I wanted to.
I took this to an extreme with Tintin. At the age of seven or eight, I was so intrigued by Tintin going to the moon, I recorded the miniseries - four episodes I think - and then drew the whole story. I ended up with 460 pages that my grandfather later bound into a nice hard cover book.
Tune in next week for Part of The Life of a Swedish Muppet Fan, when you'll hear Andreas say: It's The Muppet Show, on VHS! YEEEAAAH!!!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier