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Catweazle (1970-71)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Catweazle (1970-71)
London Weekend International for ITV, 15/2/1970-4/4/1971
26 x 30 mins in 2 seasons, colour
Writer/CreatorRichard Carpenter
DirectorsQuentin Lawrence
 David Reid
 David Lane
ProducersQuentin Lawrence
 Carl Mannin
Executive ProducerJoy Whitby

Cast: Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle), Robin Davies (Edward 'Carrot' Bennet), Charles Tingwell (Mr George Bennet), Neil McCarthy (Sam Woodyard), Gary Warren (Cedric Collingford), Peter Butterworth (Groome), Moray Watson (Lord Collingford), Elspet Gray (Lady Collingford)

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An eccentric old magician is transported from the 11th Century to the present day, a bewildering world with its own modern magic.

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It's become a byword for any old vagrant, but at one time 'Catweazle' was just a name noticed on a gate by actor and would-be scriptwriter Richard Carpenter. He took the idea of an old magician travelling from the 11th Century to 1970 to Doreen Stephens and Joy Whitby at London Weekend Television's Children's Department. They liked the concept and wanted Jon Pertwee as lead, but he'd just signed to play the third Doctor Who. Carpenter suggested actor friend Geoffrey Bayldon, who had himself turned down the part of the first Doctor in 1963.

Arriving in 1970, Catweazle is befriended by farmer's son Edward 'Carrot' Bennet (his ginger hair providing his nickname) who tries to explain to Catweazle the 'magic' of the 20th Century - electric light is 'electrickery' to him and the telephone the 'telling-bone'.

Comic misunderstanding was the basis of the series, as were pieces of slapstick comic business, but Carpenter also provided tighter plotting (one satisfying episode had Catweazle exposing a fraudulent fortune teller giving useless racing predictions to punters frequenting her husband's betting shop). The series was not without pathos - the displaced Catweazle is always anxious to find a spell that will return him to his own time, ruefully explaining, "I belong nowhere."

A second series saw Catweazle back in our time, taken in by the posh Cedric Collingford on his parents' country estate. This run aimed for a tighter focus, each episode having Catweazle search for a symbol of the thirteen signs of the Magic Zodiac. Plans to make it a bona fide serial were cut back in case episodes might later be syndicated out of sequence.

As its famous jaunty theme suggested (a library piece, 'Busy Boy' by Ted Dicks), this was a simple, broad comedy with guest players to match, including Hattie Jacques, Peter Sallis and Peter Butterworth. Still, it was sophisticated enough to win a Writer's Guild award. Carpenter's next credits were as main writer on The Adventures of Black Beauty (ITV 1972-4). Bayldon would later play the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge (ITV 1979-81), an excellent series that owed much to Catweazle.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Opening titles (0:41)
2. Escape (5:22)
3. Electrickery (3:29)
Complete episode: 'The Sun in a Bottle' (26:05)
Ace of Wands (1970-72)
Carpenter, Richard (1929-2012)
London Weekend Television (LWT)
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama
Children's TV in the 1970s