The series was based on the books by Topsy Smith and Riaan was a young teenager when he starred as Trompie in 1978.
There’s been a great reaction to the Trompie en die Boksombende Facebook page, and it’s 34 years later. Are you surprised at the great reaction to the page?
I am part of the old school, Facebook, I don’t understand Facebook. I’m technologically challenged. The first time I heard of a like was from Pieter, and I still don’t know what a like means, but I like it, and it looks like they like it. He talks of likes, the 7,000 likes still doesn’t mean anything to me but if I listen to you then it sounds alright.
But it was a bit surprising that so many people still are interested.
Ja. Absolutely. It’s totally, I can’t believe it. On 29 April 2015 it’s exactly 35 years. On Tuesdays at 5:30, 29 April. There were 11 episodes, but you must also remember the thing was repeated 8 times, so it wasn’t, I don’t know when the last one was, it can be 4 – 5 years. On Kyknet, I think that was the last time. I can’t remember precisely. So in that 34 years it was flighted 8 times, so it wasn’t 34 years ago that it was last shown. The last time was about 5 years ago. And you can’t keep on going because those clothes from that time, can only go on so long.
If you watched Trompie, the fun that kids had then in comparison to how they play now is such a difference – Trompie was far more fun than what kids have today.
Exactly. It makes you think on innocent days. We didn’t sit in front of a computer and play TV games. We were outside, we could ride bikes in the streets, it was safe. We also try to give our children the opportunity, we want our children to read the Trompie books or watch the video. As the time goes on it will die out. We’ve all got small kids and we want to give them that opportunity.
How did it all come about, how did you get involved in the production?
Jan Engelen was the producer and he just came along in the schools and sat in the classes, and we didn’t know what this was all about, and I got a phone call and I went for an audition and the rest was history. He came through all the schools in the Joburg area.
I’m quite interested in the whole process. I must have changed from those days to today, but if you were to walk us through filming an episode of Trompie, how would the process be? They’d give you a script and you’d do rehearsals and all that?
Ja. You get a script and you read through it and that’s what you’re going to do today, but it’s not learning long sentences, because they shoot from different angles so it’s short sentences, and one thing that Jan Engelen told us was just to be yourself, don’t try to be someone else when you’re in front of the camera. We could have used our own words, they gave us the direction of the conversation but you can use your own words. We had a script but you could use your own words in the story line. It was all based on the original books.
Do you have a favourite Trompie moment? I can remember the circus episode and the chandelier –
My favourite was when the circus came to Kwaggaberg. After we’ve done the filming we had an opportunity to swing on those trapeze, and that was an awesome feeling and my favourite episode would have been 2, Boesman and no 10, Bicycle Thieves.
|Trompie and Boesman|
Boesman was an awesome dog. How did he get cast? Did he belong to somebody – ?
No we got him from the SPCA and he became my dog, but while we were busy shooting he died, so we had to get a double for Boesman. Tick fever.
I remember two episodes quite clearly, you guys were sneaking into the circus under a canvas and in the next episode you had a circus at home and swung on a chandelier. Did you get to swing on a chandelier as well – and was it in someone’s house?
|Kwaggaberg Primary – actually Fairland Primary|
No, no. That was in the studio and all the rest of the filming was done in Heidelberg, outside the house and so on and the inside was in the studio and school was done at Fairland Primary.
And Heidelberg was what Topsy Smith had in mind when he wrote the books. Kwaggaberg was Heidelberg in his mind. And if one was to drive through Heidelberg you can use the kloof as a landmark. We did a lot of shooting there – it’s in the Nature Reserve. The dam, and some people still refer to it as the Trompie Dam. If you go from here over Nigel into Heidelberg your first set
|The Boksombende dashing into the dam to avoid being stung by bees.|
of lights, stop street then you turn right there then dam is on your right. Go straight to the
next T junction and go left. That whole development on the right hand side, that’s where they filmed it.
Were you as naughty as a person as Trompie?
I was lively, but not so naughty. You will have to ask my mom. It was innocent naughty. Then to steal fruit was funny, if you steal fruit today you’re in trouble. You can be shot, things have changed.
|Rooie and Trompie with the Berg in the back|
How was the money that you earned?
It was very good money. I got R30 a day. You must remember R30 a day in 1978 was R2 a pound, the rand was stronger than the dollar. R0.84 to one dollar. I got I think R4, 000 for the whole series, it was really good money. I know the people who played my parents who were actors, they got R60 a day. So we got half. We were kids coming from nowhere, you know. And with that I bought cattle and sold it again. And the beginning of this year on the farm where I farm on weekends. I want to give my kids that advantage, because I had that privilege.
It was the first series that had children as actors.
Absolutely. Before that it was like Heidi and Pinocchio. Cartoon characters. And subsequently there haven’t been many other South African children programmes. I think now, there’s one , a Thomas they’re busy with at the moment. But there weren’t many other South Africa children programmes. And we had no training. Jan said just be yourself. If you drink a glass of water in such a way, don’t drink it in another way.
With the auditions, how many did they choose – ?
I think it was originally 4,000 boys, then dropped to 400 then to 24, and then 16, and then 8 and 4.
Were the episodes filmed quite a long time before they actually aired?
Ja, it was aired in 1980 for the first time and we filmed it 78 – but we took a whole year, because we only filmed it during school holidays and weekends. If we did it full time it would have been a three month period. They didn’t interrupt the schooling. We took the whole of 78, then in 79 they did whatever they were supposed to do and then it was flighted in 1980.
You were right at the start of Afrikaans SABC which was really good. It must have been interesting to be exposed to the SABC and how they did the production and all that.
It was an experience, it was a field that I didn’t know from a bar of soap.
Are you in any form of acting now?
No, no, no. It was the one and only. That time I wasn’t really interested, but I must say subsequently I thought it would have been lekker, but if you’re out of a thing, you’re out, and it’s difficult to come back. But that time I never really was interested. It’s not really a career in South Africa. If you made it in America, but to make it in South Africa, it’s not –
How has it impacted on your life going forward?
I’m recognised every now and then yes, not as much as it used to be. It did open doors for me. But saying that, you know, maybe it closed a few doors as well. Maybe it had an impact on my personality. We didn’t expect the fame and nobody told us how to handle it and kids can be mean. There’s bad with the good, but it had more positive than negative, overall. Even now.
The author was Topsy Smith. I only recently discovered that was a guy. Did you ever meet him?
Yes I did. He wrote 24 books and I’ve got every book signed by him. He was the same guy that wrote Saartjie. Under another same.
My blog is about pop culture, and it’s just amazing how everybody remembers Trompie. How does it make you feel that people remember it?
I feel good, but it’s got nothing to do with me. (personally I think that’s debatable) It’s the Trompie character and now that we discuss it, we as kids were so fortunate to be like that, and if you compare it with kids nowadays, it makes me feel good.
In Trompie’s days you had the discipline, if I remember you’d call the parents Mother and Father. And nowadays we don’t have that kind of discipline. What kind of a disciplinarian are you? Do you give your kids a pak slae?
Now we’ve got Harry Potter. But seriously, I did believe in that. I do believe in discipline and I always get compliments for my kids, they’re well mannered.
My dad used to make us sit and watch Afrikaans programmes, in the hope it would teach us to speak Afrikaans , I don’t know if it worked. Almost everything was Afrikaans back in those days.
And now everything is English, the internet, the games.
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