producers: Stop Frame Productions Ltd animation: cel animation episodes: 26 x 10min
in England, by the seaside, there's a town
called Haythornswaite. It's a busy town, full of
busy people and busy shops. Except for
one shop, which
never seemed particularly busy, perhaps because
it was in
a side-street, away from the main 'busyness'..."
Thus begins each episode of this classic Seventies
series. The shop we are
led to is in fact Aunt Mill's shop, full of
marvellous knicknacks, antiques and
artefacts. And Aunt Mill has a nephew called Sam.
This young fellow can't
help but be enthused by the marvellous wares
in Aunty's shop. And when ever
Sam enthuses, so too does his magic ball.
Sam's special sphere washes
the screen with concentric rings of rainbow colour
and sparkles, and Sam
and his ball are both transported away to
another magical adventure, in
which he and we learn more about the curious
object in question.
When those veritable Toon
Gods, Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall first started out
they operated under the title of Stop Frame
Productions. "The Magic Ball" was
their very first series commission, and it's
interesting to see how ideas from the
series were reused in later Cosgrove Hall productions.
Most obvious is the
connection with Jamie
and the Magic Torch. Jamie's torch also featured
concentric rings of magic action, and much sparkling.
And he too, ended up
in a strange and psychedelic world each episode.
Sam and his Aunty live in
a sleepy seaside town, similar to the one which
later featured in Cosgrove Hall's Cockleshell
Then there's the Mr
Benn connection. Of course, that wasn't a Cosgrove Hall
series, but Sam's Aunty's shop was very similar
to Mr Benn's costume shop.
And both Sam and Mr Benn would be whisked away
each episode, as if by
magic. Sam arrived on ITV just after Mr Benn's
first appearance on the BBC.
The series is often referred to as "Sam and
the Magic Ball", or indeed, "Sam's
Magic Ball" depending on where you read it.
It's been said that production was
actually filmed in Brian Cosgrove's garden shed,
in Manchester. Soon afterwards,
Brian and Mark were whisked away too, to their
new studios in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy
and, well, that's when the magic really began.
"The Magic Ball" was written and
narrated by Eric Thompson, he being father to
actress Emma Thompson, and very famous in
toon circles for his involvement with
that other magic series The
Magic Roundabout. Eric brings the same deft touch
to Sam's adventures, and his clever narration,
coupled with that haunting calliope
theme tune make for a series that lingers long
in the memory...
Sam often bumps into a sextet of recurring
characters on his travels.
One or more will turn up each episode, in different
roles. Next time you're
watching, see if you can find:
Cosmo - a white-bearded old man
- a big-nosed man
with a goatee
- a large bullish guy
- a small bullish guy
- a weedy straight-haired posh chap
- an overweight curly-haired woman
series won a Hugo TV award at the Chicago Film Festival and another
award at the Venice festival.
should keep their eyes open for a hard-to-find tie-in annual,
published back when
the series first aired.
Prior to the recent DVD
Sam was a hard fellow to track down.
The BBFC identified a proposed
Vestron Video release which was put
forward for classification
in 1986, but no one recalls having seen it for sale.
Episodes of the show were
definitely repeated on television, back in 2002,
on "Pyjama Party"
with host Katie Puckrik. But that's all in the past now,
with Sam's arrival
The Story of the Cave Man
The Story of the Princess in the Castle
The Story of the Chimney Sweep
The Story of the Six Winged Lions
The Story of the Highwayman
The Story of the Circus
The Story of the Weathermaker
The Story of the Chimpanzee
The Story of the Grandfather Clock
The Story of the Toy Soldier
The Story of the Flying Carpet
The Story of the Cowboy and the Indian
The Story of the Pirates
The Story of the Mountie
The Story of the Nervous Bagpipes
The Story of the City Under the Sea
The Story of the Giant
The Story of the Strange Planet
The Story of the Knight and the Dragon
The Story of the Hunter
The Story of the Bee
The Story of the Drawing Book
The Story of the Eskimo
The Story of the City of the Machines
The Story of the Comic Book
The Story of the Witch
The series premiered on ITV, on 5th January 1971...
Cosgrove, Mark Hall director: Brian
Gerald Hagan writer: Eric
Thompson animation: Brian
Mark Hall, Peter Clark,
Valerie Pownall, John Leech dubb mixer: Peter
Walker, Frank Griffiths narrator: