Launching in September 1964 as a companion program to The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Peter Potamus Show is, like many of the Hanna-Barbera animated shows, a vehicle for multiple characters to get their moment in the Saturday morning TV sun.
While early promotional materials listed the program as Peter Potamus and His Magic Flying Balloon, which was accurate since he and his companion monkey So-So (voiced by the legendary Daws Butler and Don Messick respectively), it premiered as The Peter Potamus Show, eventually running for 27 episodes.
His name may have graced the show’s title, but Peter Potamus and So-So weren’t alone with Breezy (Howard Morris) and Sneezly (Mel Blanc), a mischievously-conniving polar bear with Yogi bear-like aspirations and his seal friend whose sneezes pack a powerful igloo-upturning punch, and the incompetent palace-guarding threesome Yippee (Doug Young), Yappee (Hal Smith) and Yahooey (Daws Butler) along for the ride in their own segments.
Peter Potamus, as the titular protagonist, and possessor of the Hippo Hurricane Holler (which blew adversaries far away), naturally got the lion’s share of attention (no animal pun intended), with his various adventures informing the opening and closing credits, the opening segment and, interestingly in a very 1960s twist where advertising was embedded in the program itself (and in this case, in the title song!), a small sponsorship promo just before Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey did their king-infuriating thing.
He and So-So lead a fairly bucolic existence, well, when they weren’t getting into some trouble or another, dropping in and out of time and geographic locations with ease.
It wasn’t unusual, as is the case in the first three episodes for Peter and So-So to drop into a fairytale or onto Bligh’s Bounty, create some well-intentioned havoc – Peter has a heart of gold and if problems ensue, it’s not from malice, more poor or accidental execution – and then float back into the clouds, safe from the turmoil below once more.
I used to love the fact as a kid, bullied as I was from dawn to dusk (or, so it felt), that Peter and So-So could just go up, up and away and all their troubles would be behind them.
It felt safe and secure but also far from boring since who knew, if you were Peter, on a balloon with all the navigational certainty of the cantankerous TARDIS, where or when you might end up next.
But while I adored Peter’s gungho willingness to help, and the misplaced hilarious consequence of providing that aid, my favourite character was Breezly Bruin, a lovable opportunist who was always looking for a way into nearby Camp Frostbite to the neverending exasperation of commanding officer Colonel Fuzzby (John Stephenson) who, naturally for this was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon where existential angst is king for characters who are the butt of the jokes, never got the better of his cheeky foe.
Watching Breezly, who was well loved by the troops who had little to no time for their commanding officer, try to get one up on fuzzby was endlessly amusing for me, especially I’d been brought up to (a) respect all authority and (b) scrupulously observe the rules (the first life lesson is still in place while the second is not followed quite so rigorously as it once was).
The appeal for me, after all that rule-breaking, was how damn likeable Breezly was; sure, he was exasperating for those on the receiving end of his various schemes but how could you not like someone that brashly fun and cleverly-inventive?
He may not always have succeeds in his various endeavours but he gave it a good shot, and who couldn’t love and appreciate it?
When it came to Peter Potamus’s other castmates, Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey, I wasn’t quite as enamoured.
They were funny in their own way, but they were also humourously-incompetent, always injuring the king, the very person they were supposed to be protecting.
In their case, I was pretty much on the king’s side; he wasn’t a bad guy and simply wanted guards who could guard the palace, rescue maidens in distress, repel invaders and bad guys, that kind of thing.
Poor old Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey couldn’t do any of that really, which I know was the joke, but like The Three Stooges etc, the joke wore thin pretty cool since how often do you really want to watch anyone stuff up again, and again and again?
Still, they were likeable in their own slapstick way and together with Breezly and Sneezly, and the stars of the show, Peter Potamus and So-So who also popped up in Yogi’s Ark Lark, Yogi’s Gang, Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics and Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, among other subsequent shows, they made for a fun, diversionary and escapist twenty minutes which, let’s face it when you’re kid, is pretty much all you want from a cartoon (and given how stressful life can be, it also works a treat as an adult).