Homme, Robert (The Friendly Giant)

Robert (Bob) Homme, children's entertainer (b at Stoughton, Wis 1919; d at Grafton, Ont 2 May 2000). Bob Homme was known to generations of preschool Canadian children as "The Friendly Giant." The CBC television program established Homme as one of the country's earliest, most beloved and memorable entertainers of young people.

Homme premiered the conceptual format for The Friendly Giant at the University of Wisconsin in 1953 on WHA-AM 970 Radio in Madison. The program was further developed at the university, with a televised version airing the following year on the campus station WHA-TV. Following his move to Canada in 1958, Homme undertook production of the show at CBC television.

The premise of the show was very simple: a drawbridge would be lowered at the beginning of each episode, inviting young viewers to enter the castle of their mild-mannered host. They would be shown to their choice of seats ("one little chair for you, a bigger chair for two to curl up in, and for someone who likes to rock, a rocking chair"). Once figuratively nestled by the fire, they would be instructed to "Look up...way up" and would proceed to be entertained with conversation, stories and music.

Partaking in the fun were Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster, both performed by puppeteer Ron Coneybeare. Musical sequences featured Homme playing various wind instruments such as the clarinet, recorder and tin whistle, accompanied by Jerome singing and Rusty on the harp (played by John Duncan). Children were introduced to varying styles of music including a weekly appearance by a duo of bopping feline puppets known as the Jazz Cats.

Although each 15-minute episode varied in terms of specific content, Homme was committed to creating a consistently warm, relaxed and peaceful viewing experience for children. Prior to filming, Homme and Coneybeare would rehearse each segment without a prepared text. Unlike many children's programs, which were highly scripted, Homme and Coneybeare would improvise the dialogue for each episode. The ease and occasional awkwardness of the exchanges between the Friendly Giant, Jerome and Rusty registered as familiar and genuine with young viewers.

The relaxed pace of the program was underscored by the show's theme music,Early One Morning. The subdued instrumental piece for harp and recorder signalled the welcoming of visitors into the castle and bade them farewell at the end of each episode. The drawbridge was raised upon departure of the Friendly Giant's guests, each visit concluding with a view to the night sky; final flourishes of the harp accompanied the glimpse of a fairy-tale cow jumping over the moon.

After 26 years on the air, Homme had created more than 3000 episodes of The Friendly Giant seen in Canada as well as in the US on various PBS affiliate stations. In 1984, the program was cancelled as a result of budgetary cutbacks at the CBC. The show ceased production in March 1985.

In honour of his lifetime achievements, Homme was presented in 1998 with the ORDER OF CANADA.

Numerous pieces from The Friendly Giant set, including the castle, miniature chairs and puppets Jerome and Rusty, are on display at the CBC Radio and Television Museum in Toronto. They are visited each year by generations of Friendly Giant fans who were delighted and comforted by the inspired, gentle work of Bob Homme.