Here’s a legendary TV show for kids (and adults!) that’s spanned many decades, beginning in the 1960s as a French show. It’s now a cult classic for all ages.
What’s The Magic Roundabout?
Okay, it began life as Le Manège enchanté in October 1963—a stop-motion animation show. The episodes are five minutes long, so there are hundreds of them.
Serge Danot (1931-1990) was the man behind it, an animator and marketing executive from Nantes.
Due to the surreal nature of the show, some fans think its creator was on hallucinogenic drugs.
Seriously, the lack of imagination there from these people! You don’t need to take drugs to create something like this. Just use your brain.
Danot, as a young man, was working in restoration on the Eiffel Tower. After a workplace accident, during his convalescence he put together the concept.
He filmed the pilot episode in his bathroom! But His wife later stated he wasn’t on drugs, no. Probably just fine French wines.
Ultimately, the show ran until 1974 on the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF). Danot later said:
"It comes from a simple history of everyday life, with characters having humour, poetry, and an anecdote to be as much closer to the parents than children, which makes it possible to join together various generations."
Early on in its run, English actor and presenter Eric Thompson (1929-1982) came across it, loved what he saw, and got the thing commissioned for the BBC.
And so The Magic Roundabout began airing in 1965. Its run under Thompson’s production ended in 1977.
Despite using the same animations as Le Manège enchanté, Thompson wrote new scripts for each episode. And he chose new names for the characters.
The reason for this was the BBC said the original show was “charming”, but thought dubbing it over into English was an impossible task. If you say so, Beeb.
Anyway, The Magic Roundabout was an immediate hit. Its spot on the schedule, rather bizarrely, was just before the evening news.
When that changed in October 1966, the BBC was inundated with complaints from adults wanting to watch the show before the serious news broadcast.
The Magic Colourisation
With the advent of colour TV, the BBC show rolled on into the 1970s. For us, we saw repeats of these in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The cast of characters includes:
- Brian the Snail
- Dougal/Doogal the Shaggy Dog
- Dylan the Spacey Rabbit
- Ermintrude the Pink Cow
- Florence the Girl
- Mr McHenry the Gardener
- Zebedee the jack-in-the-box
Dougal/Doogal is the star of the show. A happy-go-lucky skye terrier dog.
This character is called Pollux in the French original and is actually a British dog who converses in broken French.
This lot hang around the Magic Roundabout. It’s a carousel set in a tiny village. Dougal, Brian, Ermintrud, and Dylan live in The Magic Garden (“Beautywood” for North America).
And they just go about their lives, which just sort of happens to be wildly surreal and different to your average human existence.
Zebedee, for example, is a particularly unique invention.
But the most striking element about the show is undoubtedly with its overall look. The bright colours, the slightly clunky early stop animation style, and the psychedelic feel.
The fact the show was around during the Swinging Sixties when the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who (who have a song called Magic Bus), and The Doors were out and about was perfect timing.
And tied the show in with the counterculture movement of the day. Along with the aforementioned recreational drug use image.
Once The Magic Roundabout shifted from black and white into colour, that’s where its cult status stepped up a gear.
Roundabout Reboot and Films
There was a 2005 adaptation to the big screen which, unfortunately, relied on CGI over the latest stop motion animation techniques.
That feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity, really. But there we go.
There was a 1970 film as well called Dougal and the Blue Cat. As Mark Kermode of the Church of Wittertainment discusses here.
That is in stop motion form, which is nice to see. Although we haven’t watched the film (as we’re staggering hypocrites).
According to Kermode, the 1970 film is as surreal as you may well expect. And all the better for it, we believe, to honour this most noteworthy of kids shows.