1 9 6 5 – 1 9 7 5 (UK/France)
441 x 5 minute episodes
The five-minute slot just before the early evening BBC1 news on Monday (at 5:50 pm) guaranteed Magic Roundabout a viewing audience of over eight million.
While parents waited for the news, kids got to see the antics of Florence, Ermintrude, Zebedee and friends – including the dog that inspired a million birthday cakes, Dougal.
This seemingly innocent children’s animation series included witty commentary for the adults, allowing two generations to enjoy it.
Flavoured with a laid-back and surreal view of life, the programme reflected a heavy 60s feel. It soon achieved a cult status.
Filmed using frame-by-frame stop motion photography in a superbly colourful setting, the programme featured a rather off-the-wall cast.
There was Dougal, the shaggy orange dog who lived on a strict diet of lumps of sugar; an eccentric magical jack-in-the-box called Zebedee, who would announce his arrival with a boing; a rabbit named Dylan, who wore clothes, carried a guitar and could have been accused of growing something considerably stronger than carrots in his vegetable patch; Ermintrude the pink cow with red spots who wore a hat; Mr Rusty, the owner of the old merry-go-round; a young girl named Florence; Brian the cheerful and optimistic yellow snail and their friends in the garden.
The most famous sentence of the series was Zebedee’s standard declaration “Time for Bed” sending millions of children to sleep every evening. Meanwhile, he got to stay up and take drugs with Dylan. And is it just coincidence that the Zeb-meister looked like Frank Zappa?
Despite being considered a national institution in the UK, The Magic Roundabout was discovered in France by Doreen Stephens (the head of the BBC’s Family Programmes).
French animator Serge Danot’s Le Manége Enchanté had been running on French television for a couple of years. Danot built the sets and shot the puppets one frame at a time to create a three-dimensional animation.
Eric Thompson, the father of actress Emma and a presenter on the BBC preschool programme Play School, was chosen as writer and narrator for the English version. Rather than translating Danot’s script, Thompson chose to rename the characters and write new scripts.
Thompson’s commentary made frequent references to topical issues and personalities, that appealed to the older viewers. One of the most often quoted pieces of dialogue from the series was Dougal’s manifesto when standing before Parliament: “I’m in favour of the four-day week, the 47-minute hour and the 30-second minute. This gives a lot of time for lying about in the sun and eating” (a comment on the British government’s introduction of the three-day week). When he got cross, Dougal threatened to “tell NATO”, and he suggested that if people wanted you to keep off the grass they should vote Conservative!
The BBC was inundated with complaints in October 1966 when the network moved The Magic Roundabout to the earlier time of 4:55, which meant that fewer working adults would be able to view it. The BBC bowed to public pressure and moved it back to the later slot several weeks later.
A feature film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, was released in Britain in 1972. It originally screened in France in 1970 as Pollux et le Chat Bleu (‘Pollux’ was the original name for the character we call Dougal – he spoke with a heavy English accent, which was apparently an immediate rib-tickler for French audiences).
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.