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British TV series
 

      The Magic Roundabout


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The Magic
  Roundabout

  
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   producers: Eric Thompson / Danot Enterprises
                     for the BBC
   animation: stop-motion animation

                     1965-1977 / 441 x 5mins

                     1991 / 39 x 5mins

 

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    "Time for bed!"
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    Mr Rusty's Magic Roundabout could be found in the heart of the Magic Garden.
   
It didn't really do anything magic at all apart from fade in and fade out of view at the
    beginning and end of each episode, but what it did have was an associated collection
    of magical characters including Dougal the dog, a girl called Florence, a rabbit called
    Dylan, Brian the snail, Ermintrude the cow, the red chuffing Train, and a jack-in-a-
    box with a moustache called Zebedee who was the self-appointed guardian of the
    garden. Add to this some fabulous set design, a memorable theme tune and big
    buckets of irony and droll dry humour and you have here one of the biggest
    tea-time tv treats of all time. But this magical series very nearly didn't make
    it to our screens at all...

    "The Magic Roundabout" was created by a Frenchman, Serge Danot, in 1963 and
    it was originally called "La Manege Enchante" (The Enchanted Merry-go-round).
    Danot was assisted by a friend from England, our very own Ivor Wood in fact,
    together with his wife Josiane, and you can clearly see his design sense imbued
    in the character and set designs. The show was first broadcast in France in 1964,
    and was distinctly Gallic in flavour. Dougal the dog was then called Pollux, whilst
    Florence was called Margote and when Dylan was introduced in later colour
    episodes, he was presented as a lazy Spaniard called Flappy.

    When this hit French series was first offered to the BBC they rejected it as
    awkward, and difficult to dub into English. Subsequently, for whatever reason, the
    BBC's Head of Children's Programming
 gave the project a second look. It was
    passed on to the then producer of "Playschool2 Joy Whitby, who in turn handed
    the series to one of the show's presenter Eric Thompson, to see if he might try
    voicing an adaptation.

    And that folks, is how magic is created.

        

    Eric Thompson decided to ignore the original scripts altogether. Working with
    the volume turned down to avoid distraction, he completely rewrote the French
    stories and redefined and renamed the characters, injecting much irony,
    wit and melancholy in to the re-edited shows. In Thompson's hands, Pollux
    became dry, laconic Dougal, floating around the garden with a Hancock-like turn
    of phrase and a put-down for all occasions. He was a star in the making, together
    with the newly-hippified Dylan, ever-cheery Brian, enthusiastic flower-chewing
    Ermintrude and the entire garden gang. Even the theme song didn't escape
    reinvention, with the musical calliope being speeded up for British production.

    The "new" series first aired in the UK on 18 October 1965. The rest is history.

    After two years atop of the tea-time viewing figures, when the BBC attempted to
    move the show from its regular broadcast slot of 5.55pm to one an hour earlier,
    the audience responded en-masse and forced them to rescind. And even come
    the 1970s, folks had opinions to express about any scheduling changes:

      "I should like to know how the BBC thinks I am
      going to regain my equilibrium after teaching all day
      if there is no Magic Roundabout to come home to?'"


                                                         - letter to the Radio Times, March 25th 1971


    The show concluded its French broadcast in 1971, but here in the UK the surplus
    of  episodes allowed it to continue through to 1977. What's more, in 1972 we
    were presented with a fabulously eccentric film version. The movie Dougal and
    the Blue Cat introduced us to Buxton the would-be usurper of the Magic Garden.

     Eric Thompson = Zebedee?   Zebedee = Eric Thompson?

    In later years, when reflecting on his efforts reconstructing the series, Eric Thompson
    suggested he was most like Brian the snail in spirit, but let's take another look at
    Zebedee there (above). Interesting to see how Thompson shared a similar fondness
    for facial hair, and how he was a kind of 'guardian' for the show, much like Zebedee
    was for the Magic Garden.

    What goes around

    Great shows never die, of course. They live on in the jolly tea-time memories
    of a generation and as luck would have it, "The Magic Roundabout" was given a
    chance to stimulate and excite a new generation of viewers, fourteen years after
    it disappeared from our screens.

    Dougal and co. returned via Channel 4, and their discovery that 39 of the original
    episodes had never been broadcast by the BBC before they retired the series.
    Sadly, Eric Thompson had died in 1982, so for the new version actor Nigel
    Planer was brought in, with his brother Roger producing. The newer series
    obviously lacked some of the original's charm, but what the heck, it was still
    "The Magic Roundabout" and that was certainly no to be sniffed at.

    Shiny new roundabout

    In 2005 the cast of the Magic Garden returned in a shiny new CGI
    film from Dave Borthwick and his bolexbrothers. This time around a host
    of famous names supplied the voices for the characters. And new cast
    members were created, including Soldier Sam and a bad relation of
    Zebedee, called ZeeBad. Though it was an underperforming feature,
    it ushered in an equally shiny new CGI series via Silver Fox Films
    which shall receive its own indexing here at Toonhound, in time.

    Magic stuff

    With its beatnik rabbit, laconic dog, spring-thing, pink cow and talking snail,
    folks have happily read all sorts of ludicrous and suspicious undercurrents in to
    proceedings. Dylan simply had to have been on drugs; Dougal's craving for
    sugarlumps is shorthand for a speed addiction; Many of the characters chew
    on flowers all day; The name Dougal was a play on 'De Gaulle' and the garden
    itself was colour coordinated in accordance with the French flag, in dominant red,
    white, and blue as some kind of subliminal attack on the French...

.   Oh, the list is endless. Many will never be proven or disproved, but all are born from
    the fact that 'The Magic Roundabout' is a witty and timeless gem of a show.

    Ivor Wood

    Ivor Wood has of course gone on to to much more animated brilliance, of course.
    After 'Roundabout' he returned to London to bring us a wonderful concoction of
    characters and series through FilmFair, and then Woodland Animations.
    Parsley The Lion was a Michael Bond creation, but he still owes a debt to Dougal,
    with his melancholic ways and woes. Indeed, those Herbs in their 'herbidacious'     surroundings are surely related to the folks within the Magic Garden?

   Jump forward to 1980 and you find Sancho and Carrots strolling around Hatty Town.
   Once again, this is an adaptation of stories by Keith Chatfield, but again the
   production is tinged with melancholia, and now we have the self-same Magic
   Garden design returning with those 2D trees and sprinklings of flowers.

   By the way, did you know, there's a real-life Magic Roundabout
   of sorts, in Swindon?

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    Enchante to Magic

   Dougal / Pollux            Brian / Amboise
   Florence / Margote      Zebedee / Zébulon  
   Dylan / Flappy
               Ermintrude / Azalée


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    Roundabout roustabouts

    We all know Dougal and Florence and the gang, but let's just spare
    a thought for the kids - you know, the other youngsters who are often
    found riding the Roundabout.
For the record, their names are
    Paul, Basil and Rosalie...

    Oh, and whilst we're naming names, you might like to know that the birds
    on Mr Rusty's barrel organ are called Tweet, and Tweet Tweet. And there's
    also a knitting spider called Penelope who puts in a few rare appearances
    in that original series...

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    Broadcast info

   The series premiered with the episode "Mr Rusty Meets Zebidee",
    which
was broadcast on BBC1, 18th October 1965...

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     See also

     Dougal and the Blue Cat   

    The Magic Roundabout (movie)


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       adapted from 'La Manege Enchante'


      writer:            Eric Thompson
      director:         Serge Danot, Ivor Wood
      design:           Serge Danot, Ivor Wood
      narration:       Eric Thompson


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      On the web


       Paintbox
       Here's a great reference page for researchers. Tim Worthington chronicles
       the history of this - erm - "magic" show. No images, just good old-fashioned
       well-reaserched info - much more than The Hound has offered you thus far...

       MagicRoundAbout.com
       A little bit of info here too, with some clips, theme WAV and a selection of
       Roundabout puzzle games to play. The image section is impressive, collating
       material from across the web, although it would be nice to credit sources.
       Worth a look, though, certainly...

       Crystal Tipps World
       A series of sweet scrolling pages featuring plenty of character pics
       and games, things to buy, plus a fab page charting the French history
       of the show including sleeve pics and lyrics for some of the Gallic
       recordings made to promote the series - It could do with an
       update now, but it's still a good stopping point...


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