L.A. Vintage Commercials: Officer Byrd

It was late afternoon, I’m guessing, probably sometime in the mid- or early-80s, during a rerun of Good Times or Three’s Company, when the bird’s voice first spoke to me. “Don’t be a nerd,” it admonished, “listen to Officer Byrd.” My god, I thought, I’m already a nerd; that’s why I’m ’officersitting on my ass in front of the TV instead of associating out of doors with my same-age cohorts. (Actual excuse: I can’t play outside because the smog wreaks hell on my asthmatic pulmonary system.) I didn’t have any room for error; I had to listen well to the parrot and obey.

For the record, this is not an acid flashback. Far from it: during the early 80s, the LAPD felt that while the friendly black officer-ventriloquist and his racially sensitive dummy were doing their bit to warn kids off drugs and/or dope, they just couldn’t cover the field. And to fill in the gap, the police brought in the most authoritative animal they could find. Not some bullshit humanoid dog that was really a suspended officer mincing around in a modified Goofy outfit ripped off from Disneyland. No, an animal with real credibility: a blue-and-yellow tropical macaw. Kids of the pre-millenial southland know this avian peacekeeper by a simpler name: Officer Byrd.

That’s absurd, an unbeliever might retort, what child would submit to the authority of a parrot? Any such skepticism will, I’m sure, wash away in light of two facts: first, the parrot was wearing a tiny police hat (to invoke that air of coercive threat familiarly associated with the LAPD); and second, the parrot was riding a damn bike (which is simply mind-blowing). Officer Byrd’s particular tip was safety, whether not talking with freaky strangers, or gearing up properly when riding your bike (somewhat tricky considering that he never wore a helmet himself, but hey–do as the parrot says, not as he does), or not ingesting dog food or toxins.

Officer Byrd is, in fact, still with us, bringing the good word to kids and adult groupies throughout SoCal. The contemporary O.B. in fact, not only rides a bike, but cruises in his own police cruiser, rollerblades, skateboards, and plays basketball. (Rumors that the Clippers recruited Byrd to play center in the late 90s have yet to be confirmed, though all seem to agree that he’s vicious when it comes to crashing the boards.) As for me, the advice Officer Byrd first imparted decades ago still stays with me. Hell, I’ll still do pretty much anything a parrot says.