Way back a long, long time ago before there was cable television, VCR’s, satellite dishes, DVD players, most televisions had a mere 13(!) channels, and you got test patterns on most of them. THESE were the formative years in which my parents would choose to unceremoniously dump me in front of their favorite one-eyed babysitter.
Here in North Texas however, there was one pioneer of independent broadcasting who would single-handedly warp an entire generation of Baby Boomers. His name was Bill Camfield, and while that usually invokes an “who the hell is he?”, his face is forever engraved in the minds and hearts of anyone who grew up in North Texas in the 60’s.
KTVT was a small independent station just down the street from my parents’ house. It was a nondescript two-story building that housed a radio station as well. The red light on their tower could be seen at night from my parents’ front yard.
Every day before and after school a program came on entitled SLAM BANG THEATER. They would show Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bugs Bunny, and Popeye cartoons, some completely insane shorts entitled Fractured Flickers, and best of all, the Three Stooges.
The show was hosted by Icky Twerp, an understandably grouchy guy considering he was trying to put on a show assisted by a bunch of guys wearing ape masks for no apparent reason. Was he ripping off Ernie Kovacs Nairobi Trio? Probably, but who cares?
Icky wore an ill-fitting pinstriped suit, a black fright wig and a white cowboy hat that was about a half dozen sizes too small. He would mount a contraption that was half-bicycle, half-movie projector and begin pedaling as he enthusiastically announced the next cartoon
Bill Camfield also played Gorgon, the creepy host of NIGHTMARE THEATER who would interrupt the movie before and after the commercials and recite Ed Wood-like monologues that I’m sure he wrote himself. So Mr. Camfield was basically starring in and writing for three shows a day, no small feat. How many people work that hard today?
When I was about 12 or so, I walked right through the front door of KTVT and into their lobby. An inattentative receptionist was busy talking on the phone, so I strolled right past her desk and went up the stairway. I walked down long hallways uncertain of my purpose or my destination. One door was open and I peeked in. There behind a desk was my hero, Icky Twerp, out of costume and talking on the phone. Starstruck, I didn’t quite know how to react. He looked up and saw me. Without as much as a hello, he gave me a cold frown and greets me with “What the hell are you doing here? GET OUT!” and proceeded to chase me out of the building.
Still, I hold no grudges against old Icky. I mean it’s hard to hate anyone who shows the Three Stooges twice a day, or at least used to. Icky Twerp and his apemen continued to entertain us until the mid 70’s when KTVT decided we would rather watch Mannix or Night Court reruns. Bill Camfield went on to try other things until his death in the early 90’s, but he will always be remembered as Icky Twerp, a true man amongst Elephant Men in the Lewis and Clark days of television.
A long lost and recently recovered File 23 post from way, way back. Re-printed because I’m a lazy bastard; it’s a hundred in the shade outside. How creative am I supposed to be today?
PS: Bill’s son Paul also has the most excellent www.ickytwerp.net where you can purchase all sorts of groovy Icky Twerp goods, and he has some great photos as well.
Tell ’em File23 sent ya.