7 February 2022

Talking about TV's good old neighs, of course, of course

| Sally Hopman
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Mr Ed horse

Mr Ed, the talking horse, was a steed of many talents – including answering the phone. Photo: File.

I blame it all on Mr Ed. You know, the talking horse of a couple of lifetimes ago. He would only speak to his human, Wilbur, an architect.

He had his own TV show, with Wilbur as support act along with his (Wilbur’s) wife Carol, who gave new meaning to the word perky. (Mr Ed never said whether he was married.)

Mr Ed lived in a palatial barn adjacent to the house, allowing Wilbur to use a small bit of it as his office, clearly so they could talk in private.

I loved that show. Story goes that the show’s producers put peanut butter on Mr Ed’s lips to make them look like they were moving, hence him talking, but I knew he was a real talking horse. I mean, I saw him answer the phone.

My favourite episode dates back to 1964, when Mr Ed answered/almost-inhaled the phone with a deep helloooooooooo.

It was Mae West, the 1950s sex siren. She wanted Wilbur to build some fancy stables for her horses.

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Mr Ed pretended to be Wilbur on the phone, inviting Ms West to “come up and see him some time”.

It was fabulous television. A time when horses ruled and people were only of use to bring the hay in.

These days, with such excellent streaming services, I thought I’d go with the flow. Get an account with one of them – obviously the one that streams all 143 episodes of Mr Ed, over six seasons, from 1961.

A friend told me his streaming service had Mr Ed so, after a bit of a delay (translation: me trying to work out how to do it), I signed up.

A week or so after I signed up, and another week after I had learned how to stop deleting myself from anything I wanted to watch, they stopped streaming Mr Ed.

It’s not like I could complain to anyone, then everyone would know I had a thing for the big fella.

Lassie and Timmy

Lassie and her favourite human Timmy. She spent her life rescuing him from dangerous situations, mostly mineshafts. Photo: File.

I watched Black Beauty a few times, that didn’t help. Nor did National Velvet. The horses were great but they just couldn’t hold a conversation.

Then I heard about a mule called Francis, clearly a very distant cousin of Ed, who could supposedly talk. But after watching the first episode, I was, unlike Francis, at a loss for words. It was so silly. Synopsis: Peter (human) finds himself behind enemy lines in Burma. Francis, the talking mule, carries him to safety. When Peter tells everyone that a talking mule saved his life, he is put in a psychiatric ward.

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I mean, seriously. Bet the people who liked Francis were probably the same sort who reckoned Mr Ed couldn’t really talk. As if.

I doggedly decided to give up horses after I saw my first episode of Lassie. Now that’s a dog who should talk. With her beauty and brains, and her ability to find boys called Timmy who always went missing, usually into open mineshafts, it’s a given.

But, after 591 episodes over 19 seasons, her bark became more boring than her bite. Because, of course, Lassie would never bite. Lassie would just rescue everyone by the end of the season and, by the time the show folded, after about 3000 years, she had retired to a ranch for, you guessed it, troubled children. Good girl Lass.

Disillusioned with ancient television series, I thought I’d try new shows about old stuff.

I ended up settling for the one that screens Poldark, mostly for historic research. And because there are rather a lot of horses in it. Talk about unbridled passion.

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Mr Ed was certainly better than our Skippy, at least Mr Ed could talk.
And when Skippys paw was used to unlock a safe or disarm a bomb, it looked very much like a old fashioned back scratcher picked up from a OP shop.

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