Bill and Ben (characters devised by Freda Lingstrom and Maria Bird) was first broadcast in 1952 by the BBC.
The story revolved around two identical puppets (distinguishable only by their names on their backs) who lived a bizarre existence in flowerpots at the bottom of an English suburban garden, and talked to each other in a weird language including their catchphrase ‘Falobadobs’. They were made out of flowerpots and gardening gloves, and lived in terror of the gardener, only coming out when he went to lunch and hiding in their pots if he emerged. They always seemed to have done something naughty, and the programme revolved around whether it was Bill or Ben who had been up to no good. The third character was Little Weed, of indeterminate species, somewhat resembling a sunflower or dandelion with a smiling face, growing between two large flowerpots. and also terrified of the gardener. She would warn them of his approach with a cry of “Weeeeeeee-d!”
The three were also sometimes visited by a tortoise called Slowcoach. While the “man who worked in the garden” was away having his dinner the two Flower Pot Men, Bill and Ben, emerged from the two flowerpots. After a minor adventure a minor mishap occurs; someone is guilty. “Which of those two flower pot men, was it Bill or was it Ben?” the narrator trills, in a quavering soprano; the villain confesses; the gardener’s footsteps are heard coming up the garden path; the Flower Pot Men vanish into their pots and the closing credits roll. The final punch-line was, “and I think the little house knew something about it! Don’t you?”
The Flower Pot Men spoke their own, highly inflected version of English, called Oddle Poddle. However, the popular notion that they ever said “Flobbalob” or “Flobbadob” is an urban myth; if one listened carefully to their banter, one could hear words like “Loblob” (“lovely”) and “Flobberpop” (“flowerpot”), either of which could have given rise to the urban myth. At the end of each adventure, they would say bye-bye to each other and to the Little Weed – “Babap ickle Weed” – to which the Weed would inevitably reply with tremulous cadence “Weeeeeeeeeeed”.
Bill and Ben were identical, with bodies and legs made out of flowerpots, hobnailed boots and gardening-gloved hands. It was possible to tell them apart by their names written across their backs and by their voices, Bill’s high-pitched squeak, and Ben’s lower tones.
Each programme featured reassuring rituals, from the appearance of Bill and Ben from their pots to the closing caption of ‘Goodbye’. In between were various capers involving slapstick antics with mud pies, paint pots and even ice-skating.
Watch the first episode of “Bill & Ben” (1953)