Tuesday, 18 November 2014
15 The Magic Roundabout
First watched : Uncertain
Another French import , the story of The Magic Roundabout has often been told but not always accurately and there are one or two enduring myths that keep re-surfacing. It began in France as a series of short films by former advertising executive Serge Danot assisted by Welsh puppeteer Ivor Wood. Its immediate success there attracted the BBC but due to inept negotiations they found that they had only bought the pictures not the script. Rather than pay another wad out to the French, the Beeb engaged Play School presenter Eric "father of Emma" Thompson to produce his own scripts for the show without reference to the original.
Thompson's erudite scripts incorporated contemporary references like re- naming the beatnik rabbit Dylan and basing the grouchy personality of legless leading dog Dougal ( the name caused mild consternation to Danot who thought it may be a reference to De Gaulle) on comedian Tony Hancock. He attracted some criticism for pitching the dialogue way above the intended age range which he blithely ignored and it's quite plausible that The Simpsons owes something to his subversive example. Its appeal to adults was brought home to the Beeb when moving it to an earlier time slot from the one just before the evening news brought a storm of protests
The subversion angle has been overstated of course. You still get pub bores droning on about how all the characters were based on drugs - Brian represents speed, Ermintrude magic mushrooms, Dylan dope and so on - something the surviving participants strenuously deny.
Danot churned them out relentlessly - though latterly without Wood who bailed out when the operation moved out of Paris to the French sticks - until 1971. Thompson couldn't match that pace which meant that there were still "new " episodes in Britain until 1977 . In fact there were still 52 episodes that Thompson hadn't worked on at the time of his death in 1982 , which Channel 4 purchased and gave to Nigel Planer to develop to a generally favourable response in 1991.
My own strongest recollection of the series is disappointment that my favourite character Paul ( the lad in the yellow jersey centre left ) so rarely featured. In fact none of Florence's three human playmates got much of a look in after the first year of the series as the animals proved more popular.