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Magic Roundabout, The (1965-77)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Magic Roundabout, The (1965-77)
7 series, 441 episodes
WriterEric Thompson
NarratorEric Thompson
Designed bySerge Danot
 Ivor Wood
Directed bySerge Danot
 Ivor Wood

Little girl Florence and Dougal the dog are among the visitors to Mr Rusty's merry-go-round in Zebedee's magic land.

Show full synopsis

Serge Danot, a French animator in a Paris advertising studio, devised this animation series with the help of English colleague Ivor Wood and Ivor's wife Josiane. The story told of Mr Rusty, owner of an old merry-go-round that children no longer visit until one day a magic jack-in-the-box, Zebedee, casts a spell to bring them back. Late addition Pollux the dog became the show's star when French station ORTF broadcast Le Manège Enchanté in 1964.

The BBC were offered the series but rejected it as "charming... but difficult to dub into English". Later, Head of Children's, Doreen Stephens had Joy Whitby (producer of Play School) revisit it. Whitby suggested Play School presenter Eric Thompson try voicing the animation. The typically English Thompson (his wife Phyllida Law joked he was rather suspect of the French) ignored the provided scripts and wrote his own storylines to the mute pictures, supplying voices and third person narration. His calm tones, at odds with the hyperactive animation, lent a curiously mismatched feel.

Pollux became pompous Dougal, reminiscent of Tony Hancock's TV persona. 'Margot' became Florence, the little girl who worked as a point of viewer identification in this magic world, 'Amboise' the snail became the cheerful and optimistic Brian. Later colour episodes introduced Dylan, a lazy, guitar-playing rabbit (named after Bob Dylan) and Ermintrude, a shrill pink cow. The odd characters fuelled a long-discredited urban myth that each was a coded reference to an illegal drug.

The Magic Roundabout first aired in the UK on 18 October 1965. Showing daily just before the 5.55pm news, it drew a family audience and developed a cult following. When it was moved to 4.55pm in 1967 adult viewers complained to the BBC.

Thompson adapted episodes until 1977 and a feature film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, was released (France, d. Serge Danot, 1972). A set of previously undiscovered French episodes were voiced by Nigel Planer and shown on Channel 4 from 1992. Yet another batch was later voiced by a different actor for AB Productions. A computer-animated feature by the bolexbrothers company was released in 2005.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Wood, Ivor (1932-2004)
Children's Puppets and Animation
Children's TV in the 1970s