Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Magic Roundabout - Brian's After A Council House...

The Magic Roundabout! Using the striking visuals of a French animated series created by Serge Danot, Eric Thompson created his own characters and made it a legend in its own tea time here in England.

And it worked beautifully. The French visuals were surreal and highly colourful, the characters looked adorable, and when you added Mr Thompson's highly droll and very English stories, you had an unlikely recipe for a mega success. Mr Thompson simply turned down the volume for each episode of the French Le Manége Enchanté and did his own thing.

'Good gracious!' said Florence.

'Fancy!' said Brian.

Dougal - every dog has his day. Or tea time in this case. Interesting fact: Did you know that English animator Ivor Wood worked with Serge Danot on the original series?

I love this show. And I have a special link. I made my debut on the same day as The Magic Roundabout - 18 October, 1965.

So proud! Every birthday, I raise a mug to Florence, Dougal and co.

Eric Thompson, the esteemed creator of the English version characters, once said that he didn't believe in talking down to children. Children, he said, were just people who hadn't lived very long.

'Radio Times', 1968.

Interviewed in 1998, Eric Thompson's wife, the actress Phyllida Law, said:

'He got £15.00 an episode. That charming 'it's not acting, you're just reading it' thing. He had no rights to anything but his scripts, not even to the names, although they were his. Still, the Magic Roundabout helped us move from a flat to a heavenly house just up the road.'

Phyllida Law revealed that Eric Thompson sought inspiration from his heroes and those around him for the characterisations and names, seeing himself as being like Brian - irritatingly cheerful - and his wife as being a bit of a model for Ermintrude the cow. Mr MacHenry, the gardener, was named after their local chemist, and Buxton the cat from the Dougal and the Blue Cat film named after a cousin of Ms Law. Dougal's sometimes-mentioned-but-never-seen Auntie Megsie was based on his mother-in-law.

As for Dougal, he was partly based on Tony Hancock, but Ms Law, who always called her husband 'Tom' or 'Thompson', commented: 'He never listened to the French script. Thompson would never take us to a French restaurant. It was partly a joke, and a very Dougallish, Hancock sort of joke. He always thought he was like Brian the snail because he was irritatingly cheerful, but without doubt Dougal was to a great extent him.'

There were quite a lot of colourful characters in the Magic Garden, most well-known regulars, a few obscure like Penelope the Spider. I think I saw her about once. And the two little birds, The Tweets. Eh? Did not compute. They simply didn't register.

In a minute, I'll lollop through the regulars in order of my preference, but I'll start with somebody who actually comes in at number six on my own list. Why? Well, he was the very first character to appear in the show back on that eventful Monday in 1965.

I remember talking to my mate Don back in the 1990s about the Roundabout characters. 'My favourite character was Mr Rusty,' said Don.

I was incredulous. Don't get me wrong, I liked Mr Rusty, but he wasn't that interesting and didn't even spend that much time on screen usually. He played the barrel organ and owned the Roundabout, so his role was essential, but still... I always thought there was a faintly melancholic air about him, and could not get worked up over him.

Then I thought about my own favourite character, Florence. She was hardly the most amusing and fascinating of the Roundabout crowd either. In fact, I remember her once being referred to as 'prissy'. Why on earth was she my favourite? Well, back in the early 1990s, at the time of my Roundabout-orientated conflab with my mate Don, I was a care worker, doing a lot of counselling, and so decided, in my late-twenty-something-infinite-wisdom, that my feelings for Florence must have a deep, psychological basis. Perhaps I favoured her because she represented stable femininity? My mother was not stable, nor could it really be said were any other of the females in my family circle when I was a child, so perhaps Florence had provided me with something I was lacking?

I pondered, I analysed, then said to Don, 'Maybe Mr Rusty represented something lacking in your own life? A stable masculine influence, perhaps?'

'No,' said Don, 'I just liked Mr Rusty.'

So that was that.

And Florence is my favourite.

So that's that.

Mr Rusty with his Roundabout and trusty barrel organ.

Mr Rusty with Dougal and Florence.

The next on my personal list of Roundabout faves is Ermintrude the cow. Lovely Ermy - an upper class, highly good natured, pink-with-red-dots-and-a-blue-hat cow.

Perhaps Ermintrude represented another stable feminine figure to me? A lovable, dotty auntie figure? Or perhaps it's just time to cut out the psychobabble?

'Hello, dear hearts!'

Next up would have to be Brian the snail. Always cheerful. Always ready to get up Dougal the dog's nose. Brian was the working class man to Dougal's overbearing management figure, and he was great fun.

'Allo!' said Brian, arriving.

Brian, up a tree.

Brian with his lovely shaggy friend.

Next comes Dougal himself. Grandiose and at times manic, Dougal was the pivotal character in the Roundabout saga. This lover of sugar lumps had a spiky relationship with Brian, but the two were genuinely fond of each other really. Junior Points Of View revealed in 1967 that Dougal was the seventh son of a freelance lamp-post inspector, sent to Shepherd’s Bush to train as a sheepdog, was then an extra in The Hound of the Baskervilles, had bark-on parts in dog food commercials, and was discovered by Florence and launched as a dog star.

Dougal dreamt of glory. It was a dog's life in the Magic Garden.

And then there was Zebedee - a moustachioed, red-faced, pointy-pupiled thingy on a spring. What on earth WAS Zebedee? Well, actually, he was a jack who had come out of his box. He arrived in the very first episode of the Magic Roundabout in 1965 in a parcel, promising sad Mr Rusty that he would bring life back to the Roundabout, which had fallen out of favour with the local children. His role in the Garden was pure magic! His moustache was the source of all the abracadabra stuff and could make all sorts of things happen. He was the one who first brought Florence to the Garden, and he brought her along in many subsequent episodes, too. She was often seen to be waiting for him by the Roundabout. Zebedee also called time on most episode's events - 'Time for bed', that is.

Dougal didn't half fancy himself.

Still, he was rather adorable, and, being a major star, given to fits of quite understandable temperament. But he could be quite rugged at times. And sometimes a little coarse. He once told Brian to zip his screamer.

Episode One - and Zebedee arrives to help Mr Rusty.

Florence calls to Zebedee - who arrives. All together now: 'BOING!'

'Hello,' he said. 'Ready to go the Garden?'

Spaced-out (but only on sleep) Dylan.

Dylan was a guitar playing American hippie rabbit, who first snoozed onto the Magic Garden scene in about 1967. The Observer newspaper spoke to Eric Thompson on the subject and published an article on 23 April 1967: 

He [Eric Thompson] tries to amuse the adults with little jokes – provided they mean something to the children, too – but he is conscious of the danger of making the whole thing sophisticated. A rather hip rabbit joined the cast recently, and when Dougal remarked that he wasn’t like a rabbit at all, because he didn’t skip around all the time, the rabbit replied: “We’re rethinking the image.” Mr Thompson fancies he went a bit too far that time: “Children couldn’t really get hold of an idea like that.”

Dylan tries to recreate Dougal's 'epic' nose.

The Magic Roundabout quickly became cult viewing for adults. And it was not surprising. There was lots to appeal. One of my favourite scenarios involved Brian the snail feeling exploited by Dougal as they undertook some improbable venture or other. With Dougal in charge, of course.

'I'll report you to the Union!' squawked Brian.

'If you were in a union, I'd sack you!' said Dougal.

Some of the books based on the series make droll reading too - the ones written by Eric Thompson, that is. In one late 1960s publication Brian, feeling his living space was a little too confined, revealed that he was on the waiting list for a council house. This curious jostling of kiddie whimsy with adult reality still makes me laugh today. Genius.

Trouble brewed when Ermintrude decided to become a meter maid.

Mr MacHenry was the Magic Garden's gardener. He whizzed in on a little bike which went 'whee!' and seemed a bit of an odd-bod - most of the time a staid Englishman and, on at least one occasion, a manic, stereotypical Irishman, uttering such stereotypical gems as 'Yes indeed and begorrah!' Well, it livened him up as a character.

The train was a rare visitor to The Garden, but tended to liven things up when she did put in an appearance. Yes, that's right, she. The train was more than slightly hoity-toity, likely to go off in a huff at the slightest provocation. Go off in a HUFF - geddit?!!

And what about the larger children seen on the Roundabout on the opening and closing credits? Who were they? Well, they were Basil (the yellow topped boy), Paul (the blue topped boy) and Rosalie (self explanatory). They rarely appeared in episodes, but poor, dear Rosalie is etched on my mind after a tragic incident in the early 1970s.

I was a little lad, sitting on the loo and playing with a small blue plastic Rosalie I'd got out of a box of biscuits. She was fearlessly scaling a couple of small pipes which rose from the floor to the boiler beside the lavvy. Then, suddenly, DISASTER! Rosalie somehow slipped from my fingers and plummeted down, down, down, and disappeared through the hole in the floor where the pipes emerged.

I was devastated. I peered through the hole... yes, there she was, face-down and completely inert. Poor darling. I dashed to my mother who said: 'If you think I'm 'aving the floorboards up for a bit of plastic, you've got another think coming!'

I beseeched her. I even thought of be-screeching her. But boys were not allowed to cry in my household.

So that was that.

The Roundabout spun on and on, right up until early 1977, still as 1960s as could be. No Glam Rock. No Disco. No Johnny Rotten lookey-likey. After the show's end, it cropped up occasionally in repeats and, in 1989, the BBC released the first Magic Roundabout video.

As the late 1980s Acid House rave scene turned into the early 1990s rave scene, the Magic Roundabout was revived. The show seemed to fit well into the culture of that time, fuelled by drugs like ecstasy, and all sorts of things were read into it - just as they had been during its original run. Dougal and Dylan and co were, of course, as high as kites. The psychedelic landscape was indicative of that. Yes, the Magic Roundabout was simply the hippie 1960s played out by puppets. Every innocent word and expression of the series seemed to be linked to a groovy druggie lifestyle. Absolute nonsense, of course. Eric Thompson had simply poked a bit of gentle and innocent fun at the pop culture of the Roundabout era. Zebedee really was not 'on' something, and Dougal's sugar lumps were simply sugar lumps.

Back to Phyllida Law in 1998, who said: 'Thompson was rather surprised to hear that Dylan was a cokehead or whatever. He was just asleep a lot, this rabbit. He never smoked or anything. Tom just shrieked with laughter. Not that he shrieked because he was a straight man. It was me that did the shrieking.'

Back to the start of the 1990s, and new Roundabout merchandising began to turn up.

The first sign was a lovely series of T-shirts available at C&A stores. There was Dougal, and Zebedee and all sorts. Then the theme tune was transformed into various rave remixes and Nigel Planer brought the Roundabout back in a slot on early morning Channel 4 news.

My dear old Zebedee 'Time For Bed' T-shirt illustration from 1990. And the shirt seen on me on holiday last year. Yes, I do bear a certain resemblance to Dougal, don't I?

Florence disliked vulgarity.

Nigel - you did great at first - Florence pondering on the fact that everything was so intrinsically symbiotic was inspired. But then I fell off your Roundabout when Florence suggested a burping contest. Nigel, my darling Florence would NEVER have suggested such a thing. Not even in the 1990s. This was the girl who was constantly telling Dougal not to be vulgar, who admonished him with a stern 'REALLY, DOUGAL!' when he slurped his sugar lumps. This was an adorable young lady, steeped in Victoriana. Burping contest? No, no, NO, mate. After that your Roundabout revival simply became some of my favourite screen visuals with you doing a voice over.

Still, it's not all bad news - as Neil of the Young Ones you will always be one of my 1980s heroes.
More videos were released and the much-feared Dougal and the Blue Cat was amongst them. This terrified me when I was a little kid because of the Magic Garden folk being attacked and imprisoned by the dreadful Blue Force which took over the Magic Garden. My own little life had taken a turn for the worse in 1969 and I was going through bad times throughout the 1970s. The film didn't help, which seems daft, but I was six-years-old at the time. The Magic Garden was my little bolt hole and I hated it becoming insecure too. Still, never mind. The nightly episodes continued in their usual glorious 'everything in the Garden is lovely' vein and I soon recovered.

The Roundabout has since been revived in glorious CGI with Kylie Minogue as Florence. Not for me. Only one Roundabout for me. Eric Thompson's version. The characters are as much a part of my childhood as any traditional fairy tale characters. With added adult wit appeal.

Oh well. Time for bed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper And Jelly Babies..

Here are the Beatles with very fetching moustaches and beard in 1967. The Liverpool lads had come a long way from the days of pudding basin haircuts and suits. A rumour doing the rounds courtesy of an advertisement which appeared in several children's comics in 1966, was that the lads were partial to jelly babies!

But in 1967 they seemed much more serious - I mean, kinda far out, man!

Farewell to the jelly babies, hello to the facial hair, geeky specs, kaftans and love beads!

Recently I found pages from a January 1968 magazine in my mother's attic. I don't know exactly what the publication was, but the pages featured an article about the Beatles, torn out and kept by my mother many years ago. This extract from the article may be of some interest to Beatles fans now...

The cover on a recent LP album called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a photomontage of a crowd gathered around a grave. And a curious crowd it is: Marilyn Monroe is there. So are Edgar Allan Poe, Lawrence of Arabia, Mae West, Sonny Liston and eight Beatles.

Eight? Well, four of them are wax dummies, models of the Beatles as most people remember them, with nicely brushed long hair, dark suits, faces like cheeky choirboys. The other four Beatles are very much alive: thin, hippie-loving, moustachioed, bedecked in bright, bizarre uniforms, their eyes glittering with a new awareness tinged with a hint of the old mischief. As for the grave in the foreground: it has BEATLES spelt out in flowers.

With characteristic self-mockery, the Beatles are proclaiming that they have snuffed out their old selves to make way for the new Beatles. And there is some truth to it.

Rich and secure enough today to go on repeating themselves - or to do nothing at all - they are instead creating some of the most original, expressive and musically interesting sounds being heard in pop music.

Serious musicians are marking the Beatles' work as a historic departure in the progress of music. Composer Ned Rorem claims that the Beatles' haunting composition "She's Leaving Home" - one of 12 songs in the Sgt. Pepper album - "is equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote." Conductor Leonard Bernstein's appreciation is just as high; he cites Schumann.

Like all good popular artists, the Beatles have a talent for distilling the moods of their time. Gilbert and Sullivan's frolics limned the pomposities of the Victorian British Empire; Cole Porter's urbanities were wonderful tonics for the '30's; Rodgers and Hammerstein's ballads reflected the sentiment and seriousness of the Second World War era. Today, the Beatles' cunning collages piece together scraps of tension between the generations, the loneliness of the dislocated '60s, and the bitter sweets of young love in any age. At the same time, their sensitivity to the absurd is sharper than ever.

The Beatles' early music had exuberance and an occasional oasis of unexpected harmony, but otherwise blended monotonously into the pop scene. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" - the Beatles' big-hit single which has sold five million copies since 1963 - was a clichéd lyric set to an unimaginative tune. But the boys soon found their conventional sound and juvenile verses stultifying.

John Lennon, the group's chief lyricist, began tuning in on folk singer Bob Dylan. It wasn't Dylan's sullen anger that Lennon found appealing so much as the striving to "tell it like it is".

Gradually, the Beatles' work began to tell it too. Their 1965 song "Nowhere Man" ("Doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to") asked, "Isn't he a bit like you and me?"

An even sharper departure from Big Beat banalities came as tune-smith Paul McCartney began exhibiting an unsuspected lyrical gift. In 1965, he crooned the loveliest of his ballads, "Yesterday,", to the accompaniment of a string octet - a novel and effective new genre, baroque-rock.

Still another form, raga-rock, had its origins after George Harrison fell for Indian music, studied with Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and introduced a brief sitar motif on the 1965 recording "Norwegian Wood". Now everybody in pop music is experimenting with the sitar.

All the successes of the past two years were a foreshadowing of the Sgt. Pepper album, which more than anything else dramatises the brilliance of the new Beatles. In three months, it sold a staggering 2.5 million copies. Loosely strung together on a scheme that plays the younger and older generations off against each other, it sizzles with space-age electronic effects and sleight-of-hand lyrics. Above all, it proves that the Beatles have flowered as musicians.

Now that the Beatles' music is growing more complex and challenging, they are losing some younger fans. But the new Beatles have captivated a different and much more responsive audience. "Suddenly," says George Harrison, "we find that all the people who thought they were beyond the Beatles are fans." That includes not only students, but parents, professors, even business executives. Indeed, if the teenagers once made the Beatles plaster gods, many adults now make them pop prophets, and tend to theorise solemnly about their significance. One psychiatrist has said that the Beatles "are speaking in an existential way about the meaninglessness of reality."

Not so long ago the pop scene was going nowhere, becalmed in a doldrum of derivative mewing of Negro music by white singers. Then in the early 1960's the Beatles, together with other British groups, revitalised rock 'n' roll by closely imitating its Negro originators. As the Beatles moved on, sowing innovations of their own, they left flourishing fields for other groups to cultivate.

Of all the vital and imaginative groups, none has so far matched the distinctiveness and power of the Beatles. True, their flirtation with drugs and the drop-out attitude behind songs like "A Day in the Life" disturbed many fans, not to mention worried parents. But although all four Beatles have admitted taking LSD at least occasionally, Paul McCartney has said, "I don't recommend it. It can open a few doors, but it's not any answer. You get the answers yourself."

When the Beatles talk, millions listen - and callow as their ideas sometimes are, the Beatles exemplify a refreshing distrust for authority, disdain for conventions and impatience with hypocrisy. Young people sense a quality of defiant honesty and admire their freedom and open-mindedness; they see them as peers who are in a position, and who can be relied on to tell them what they want to hear...

Monday, March 16, 2009

November 1965: TV Comic - The Telegoons, Dr Who, Popeye And The Milky Bar Kid...

Front page star of this November 1965 issue of the popular TV Comic was Popeye. The spinach-scoffing sailor made his debut in his first ever comic strip in January 1929! There was nothing more exciting than the weekly comic... I had mine "put by" at the local newsagent's to ensure I didn't miss a single instalment of the continuing comic strips. TV Comic was published from 1951 to 1984.

The Telegoons were shortened and re-worked versions of the famous 1950s Goon Show radio scripts, featuring puppets. The show first appeared on the BBC in October 1963. Each episode was fifteen minutes long. In the comic strip pictured above, Neddie Seagoon is excited by a lower crested nit warbler.

The hugely popular children's sci-fi adventure Dr Who - still featuring the original Doctor, William Hartnell, in 1965, was a popular TV Comic comic strip.

The Milky Bar Kid ("The Milky Bars are on me!") first appeared on our telly screens in 1961 and was another popular TV Comic regular in 1965. I was surprised to find this comic strip - I thought advertising of this nature didn't happen until the 1980s!

I remember that Nestlé's was never known as Nestlé's by my family and friends here in England - always "Nestle's". It was circa the incredibly-swish-and-sophisticated late 1980s before the accent on the 'e' became known to me!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


The co-devisors of "Compact" - Hazel Adair...

... and Peter Ling - both far better known for the ATV soap opera "Crossroads", which debuted in November 1964. "Compact" told the story of a bunch of highly talented people, plus a gossipy secretary and her rather common boyfriend, who staffed a women's magazine. The show began on BBC 1 on 2 January 1962.

All at sea - the cast of "Compact" - including Carmen Silvera, later of "'Allo 'Allo" fame, who played cheroot smoking Camilla Hope, and, to the left, Sonia Fox, "Compact" secretary Susan Caley, later Sheila Harvey in "Crossroads". Another "Compact" actress who went on to greater fame elsewhere was Rachel Gurney, Celia Randall in "Compact", Lady Marjorie Bellamy in "Upstairs, Downstairs".

Good natured Anthea only took a job at "Compact", to establish her independence from her wealthy family. Here we see her being nice to shy Alan - played by Basil Moss, later Peter Tyson of BBC Radio 2's soap "Waggoners' Walk" (1969-1980). Of course, there were complications as Alan believed that Anthea was in love with him, as he was with her.

Oh dear.

Big noise Edmund Bruce rips up a copy of "Compact" as editor Mark Viccars looks on in absolute horror. Is this the end of the road for the magazine?

A "Compact" annual.

Another "Crossroads" link - Ronald Allen, right, was Ian Harmon in "Compact" and David Hunter at the motel. The woman in the cover picture is actress Monica Evans, Sally Henderson in the show. Secretary Sally found herself swept off her feet by suave boss man Ian. Marriage followed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Passe Partout Framing - Coming To A Sticky End...

A reel of Samuel Jones Butterfly Brand passe partout tape. Passe partout was becoming passé in the 1960s.

Samuel Jones, a company that had a factory in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, not far from my home town, made passe partout. It was a paper tape - used to frame pictures. The tape could be bought in reels and, once water was applied to the gummed side, would stick to a range of surfaces FOREVER!

Lordy, was it sticky!

For passe partout tape framing, one would select a picture, buy glass cut to measure, make a backing card for the picture, insert passe partout hanging rings into the reverse of the backing card, mount the picture on the front, place the glass over it and tape the whole lot together. There really was an art to passe partout - it could be terribly messy.

But, carefully done, passe partout frames could look pretty darned special. The tape came in a range of attractive finishes.

Passe partout was popular for many, many years, but was in decline by the 1960s. The reels pictured above date from around then. My gran used to get us children doing passe partout pictures on rainy days when we visited her in the 70s, and I last bought a reel of passe partout to frame a picture for my bedsit in 1986.

By then, with a wide range of cheap ready-made picture frames available, passe partout tape framing was really on its last legs. I'm told that the last reels were sold in the early 1990s.

A brand of tape is sold today which is sometimes referred to as "passe partout", but it is cloth, not paper, and bears no resemblance to the tape described here.

Above and below - front and back views of a passe partout picture framing kit box from the 1950s or '60s.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Groovy 60s - Abbey National becomes Fabby National, and a Cure for the Hippy Look...

How can you be "with it" without money? Good question! The "non-materialistic", peace and love hippie lifestyle seemed to require lots of bunce - you couldn't "drop out" without it!

Very good play on the word "hippie", and one of my favourite magazine ads - it dates from 1968. Did any readers ever try Limmits chocolate wafers way back then and, if so, did they help your calorie controlled diet?

If you've a Limmits tale to tell us, please go to "My Profile" for the e-mail address.

Cassettes - Join The Tape Revolution!

Before there were only vinyl records or spool-to-spool tapes, but now we had cassettes! A British magazine advertisement from 1968.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It's All At The Co-op Now!

Crumbs! What a nosh-up!

The famous Co-op slogan and jingle originated in the 1960s (these ads are from 1968) and continued into the 1970s. Around the mid-70s, the slogan was changed to "Your Caring Sharing Co-op" and a new jingle arrived which wasn't half as much fun!

"It's All At The Co-op Now!", which was sometimes tweaked to "It's All At Your Co-op Now!", are both etched on my brain.

My head is simply full of old advertising jingles from the 1960s, 70s and 80s!