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
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?'"
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.
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.
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.
2005 the cast of the Magic Garden returned in a shiny
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
it ushered in an equally shiny new CGI series via
Silver Fox Films
which shall receive its own indexing here
at Toonhound, in time.
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 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.
The Lion was a Michael Bond creation, but he still owes a debt
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
By the way, did you know, there's a real-life Magic
of sorts, in
Enchante to Magic
Dougal / Pollux Brian
Florence / Margote Zebedee
Dylan / Flappy Ermintrude
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...
premiered with the episode "Mr Rusty Meets Zebidee",
was broadcast on BBC1, 18th October 1965...
and the Blue Cat
Magic Roundabout (movie)
from 'La Manege Enchante'
Danot, Ivor Wood
Danot, Ivor Wood
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...
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...
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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