The Magic Roundabout is an English-language children's television programme that ran from 1965 to 1977. It was based on the French stop motion animation show Le Manège enchanté, which was created in France in 1963 by Serge Danot with the help of Ivor Wood and Wood's French wife, Josiane.
The French series was first broadcast from 1964 to 1974 on ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française). The BBC originally rejected translating the series because it was "charming... but difficult to dub into English", but later produced a version of the series using the French footage with new English-language scripts written and narrated by Eric Thompson, which bore little relation to the original storylines. This version, broadcast in 441 five-minute-long episodes from 18 October 1965 to 25 January 1977, was a great success and attained cult status, and when in 1967 it was moved from the slot just before the evening news to an earlier children's viewing time, adult viewers complained to the BBC.
Although the characters are common to both versions, they were given different names and personalities depending on the language.
The main character is Dougal (also known as Doogal) (Pollux in the original French-language version) who was a drop-eared variety of the Skye Terrier.
Other characters include Zebedee (Zébulon), a jack-in-the-box; Brian (Ambroise), a snail; Ermintrude (Azalée), a cow, and Dylan (named after Bob Dylan) (Flappy) a rabbit. There are two notable human characters: Florence (Margote), a young girl; and Mr Rusty (le Père Pivoine), the elderly moustachioed operator of the roundabout (making him the second character to sport primarily a moustache, after Zebedee). Other less well known human characters, only seen on the roundabout itself during the credits, are Basil, Paul and Rosalie. There is also an adult character, old Mr. McHenry (Jouvence Pio) the gardener who is seen only a couple of times. He is the only bearded character in the show and, despite his name and appearance, is Irish, not Scottish.
The show has a distinctive visual style. The set is a brightly coloured and stylised park containing the eponymous roundabout (a fairground carousel). The programmes were created by stop motion animation, which meant that Dougal was made without legs to make him easier to animate. Zebedee was created from a giant pea which was available in the animation studio and was re-painted. The look of these characters was the responsibility of British animator Ivor Wood, who was working at Danot's studio at the time (and who subsequently animated The Herbs, Paddington Bear and Postman Pat).
The British (BBC) version was distinct from the French version in that the narration was entirely new, created by Eric Thompson from just the visuals, and not based on the script by Serge Danot. Thompson worked without any translation of the French scripts, and the English-language version bears no resemblance to them.
The first British broadcasts were shown just before the 5.40 pm news every weekday on BBC 1, This was the first time an entertainment programme had been transmitted in this way in the UK. The original series, which was a serial, was made in black-and-white. From the second series onwards it was made in colour, although the series was still broadcast in black-and-white by the BBC; the first colour episode of the show was transmitted on 5 October 1970.
Fifty-two additional episodes, not previously broadcast, were shown in the United Kingdom during 1991 on Channel 4's News Daily. Thompson had died by this time, and the job of narrating them in a pastiche of Thompson's style went to actor Nigel Planer.
The English version of Dougal was generally disparaging and had similarities with the television character of Tony Hancock, an actor and comedian. Ermintrude was rather matronly and fond of singing. Dylan was a hippy-like, guitar-playing rabbit, and rather dopey. Florence was portrayed as courteous and level-headed. Brian was unsophisticated but well-meaning. Zebedee had a red face and large upturned moustache, was dressed in a yellow jacket, and in the first episode was delivered to Mr Rusty in a box, from which he burst like a jack-in-the-box: hence the lower half of his body consisting entirely of a spring. In most episodes he appeared, usually summoned by Florence, with a loud "boing" sound, and he usually closed the show with the phrase "Time for bed".
In the foreword to the recent re-release of the books, Thompson's daughter Emma explains that her father had felt that he was most like Brian of all the characters and that Ermintrude was in some respects based upon his wife, Phyllida Law.
Other characters included Mr McHenry (the elderly gardener who rode a tricycle), Uncle Hamish and Angus (in "Dougal's Scottish Holiday"), and a talking locomotive with a 4-2-2 wheel arrangement and a two-wheel tender. Three other children, Paul, Basil and Rosalie, appeared in the original black-and-white serial and in the credit sequence of the colour episodes, but very rarely in subsequent episodes.
Part of the show's attraction was that it appealed to adults, who enjoyed the world-weary Hancock-style comments made by Dougal, as well as to children. The audience measured eight million at its peak. There are speculations about possible interpretations of the show. One is that the characters represented French politicians of the time, and that Dougal represented Charles de Gaulle. In fact, when Serge Danot was interviewed by Joan Bakewell on Late Night Line-Up in 1968 his associate (perhaps Jean Biard) said that in France it was thought at first that the UK version of Pollux had been renamed "De Gaulle", mishearing the name Dougal (as seen in the Channel 4 documentary The Return of the Magic Roundabout (broadcast 08:50 on 25 December 1991 and 18:00 on 5 January 1992), and in the BBC4 documentary The Magic Roundabout Story (2003)). In the UK, the series gained cult status among some adults during the mid-to-late 1960s because it was seen as having psychedelic connotations (e.g. Dylan was believed to be high on cannabis and Dougal was thought to be on LSD because of his fondness for sugar lumps, while Zebedee – who was so jumpy – was thought to be on amphetamines).
Sometimes, the series broke the fourth wall. At the end of one episode, when Zebedee called his catchphrase of "Time for bed.", Florence asked "Already?", and Zebedee replied that "It is nearly time for the news, and there has been enough magic for one day." The news was broadcast just after The Magic Roundabout. This story was later republished in print from Bloomsbury's 1998 book The Adventures of Brian.
In 1998, Thompson's stories were published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc as a series of four paperbacks, The Adventures of Dougal, The Adventures of Brian, The Adventures of Dylan and The Adventures of Ermintrude with forewords by his daughter Emma Thompson.
For years, the series had re-runs on Cartoon Network, and was later moved to its sister channel, Boomerang. These airings had almost all the episodes re-narrated by Nigel Planer, much like the Channel 4 airings, though some episodes were narrated by Jimmy Hibbert.
In Italy, part of the series was broadcast in the late 1970s by the RAI state television network. In this version Pollux-Dougal was renamed Bobo and the show stuck with the idea of giving each character its own voice. Bobo was still referred to as English but did not have an accent. The Italian theme for the series became something of a minor hit in children's music.
In Germany and in Austria it was translated to Das Zauberkarussell. In Austria there was in 1974/75 a special version in "Betthupferl" (the same as the German "Mr Sandman") called Cookie and his friends, as Cookie and his friend Apollonius always went through a hole in a tree to join the garden. The name of the magician "Zebedee" in German is "Zebulon".
In America, the series was called The Magic Carousel and it aired in the 1970s on Pinwheel, a programme on the children's channel Nickelodeon.This version used American actors such as Michael Karp (the voice of Dougal in this version) and was based on the original French incarnation, such as the scripts being word for word translations, Dylan being called Flappy and Mr Rusty being called Mr. McHenry. Aside from that however, most of the characters have their BBC version names.
In 2007, a new TV version of The Magic Roundabout was created, with 52 x 11-minute episodes, by French animation house Action Synthese with scripts and voices produced in the UK. Directed by Graham Ralph of Silver Fox Films and produced by Theresa Plummer Andrews. Using the CGI designed versions of the original characters from the movie (2005) also produced by Action Synthese, the only new character taken from the film is Soldier Sam. The series takes place after the events of the 2005 film of the same name. The new series also created a few original characters of its own. The series was first broadcast in the UK from Monday 22 October 2006 at 8.00 am on satellite channel Nick Jr. This series picks up where the 2005 film left off. It was also broadcast on the children's channel of China Central Television (CCTV-14) in Chinese during 2017.
In 2010, a second season of 52 11-minute episodes was created.
In The Netherlands, a Dutch version was aired by the NTS (Dutch Television Foundation, one of the national broadcasters at the time) in black and white as 'De Minimolen' ('The Mini Carousel'). Starting on June the 5th till September 30th 1967 the series aired on a six day per week basis. The script in Dutch was written by Wim Meuldijk, at the time very successful in writing (and co-producing) the 'Pipo' children's series A brief second run of 'De Minimolen' went on air, late summer of 1980. The theme tune was the same as the British version. Whether Wim Meuldijk used the French or the British dialogue scripts or a self composed storyline is unknown. According to the 'Beeld en geluid' database, the second run of 'De Minimolen' started on August 17th 1976 and ended on September the first that year, being on air irregularly for unknown reasons. The website www.waarkeekjijvroegernaar.nl ('What Did You Watch At The Time?') reports reruns from June 1st till August 30th 1980. This website should be regarded to as more accurate and better researched than the 'Beeld en geluid' database.
When the movie version of the series appeared, the Dutch distribution firm 'A Film' released it on DVD, post-synchronised in Dutch but also with the original English voices and subtitles by choice.
The French and British versions had different theme tunes.
Danot made a longer film, Pollux et le chat bleu, in 1970 which was also adapted by Thompson and shown in Britain as Dougal and the Blue Cat. The cat, named Buxton, was working for the Blue Voice who wanted to take over the garden. The Blue Voice was voiced by Fenella Fielding and was the only time that Eric Thompson called in another person to voice a character. The Blue Cat heard of Dougal's plan and made him face his ultimate weakness by locking him in a room full of sugar.
In 2005, a film adaptation (also called The Magic Roundabout) was released. The movie was about Dougal, Ermintrude, Brian and Dylan going on a quest to stop Zebadee's evil twin, who intends on creating an eternal winter. It was made using modern computer animation, and adopted the approach of the original creator, Serge Danot, of giving each character its own voice rather than using a narrator. The voices included Tom Baker, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Bill Nighy and Lee Evans. The film received mixed reviews, with a 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Total Film ranked it as the 45th worst children's movie ever made. The two-disc special edition of the UK DVD of the film features five of the original Magic Roundabout episodes on the second disc. They are all presented in the original black and white with the option of viewing them in English or in the original French.
In 2006, the film was released in the USA as Doogal. This version featured a narration from Judi Dench, rewritten dialogue and a new storyline made to accommodate pop culture references and flatulence jokes (neither of which were present in the original release). The majority of original British voices were replaced by celebrities more familiar to the American public, such as Whoopi Goldberg and Chevy Chase. Only two original voices remained: those of Kylie Minogue and Ian McKellen. The North American version was panned. It currently has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a score of 23 out of 100 ("generally unfavorable") on Metacritic, and an F rating from Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was also a financial failure, grossing a total of 7.2 million dollars in the United States, which is considered low by CGI animated film standards. It has become the second-lowest grossing CGI film (second only to Delgo).
In 1975, Jasper Carrott released The Magic Roundabout (originally featured on his first live LP Jasper Carrot – In the Club), a short, risqué comic monologue parodying the children's TV series, as the B-side of a 7-inch single, featuring his comic song "Funky Moped" on the A-side. The record was a hit, but Carrott always claimed people were buying it for the B-side and not for the song. The show's theme music also featured on two minor UK hit singles in 1991, "Summer's Magic" by Mark Summers and "Magic Style" by The Badman.
In 1971 BBC Records released The Magic Roundabout (RBT 8), an LP containing 10 stories taken from the soundtracks of the TV series as told by Eric Thompson. The stories were: "Dougal's Experiment", "A Starry Night", "The Moody Concerto", "Dougal's Adventure", "The Stiff Necked Heliotropes" on side one and "The Birds School", "The Piano Carrier", "Banana Skin", "The Musical Box", "The Announcer" on side two. This album has been re-released twice on CD by the BBC, first in 2005 (BBC Audio:Children's) to coincide with the 'new' film and again in 2010 (Vintage Beeb), featuring the original LP artwork and a bonus interview with Eric Thompson.
French soundtrack recordings were also issued in France in the 60s on three EPs and again on an LP Pollux in 1983 along with an original single "C'est moi Pollux".
|VHS Title||Release Date||Episodes|
|The Magic Roundabout (BBCV 4278)||6 March 1989||Dougal - "Film Director", "Walking Sticks", "Bicycle Race", "The Cannon", "Rustlers", "Gold", "Parking Meters", "The Camera", "The Caravan", "The Experiment", "The Magic Carpet", "Oil", "Vote for Dougal"|
|The Magic Roundabout 2 (BBCV 4499)||1 April 1991||"Bubbles", "Piano Moving", "Let's Play at Cats", "Watch the Birdie", "Sculptor", "The Orchestra", "Pack of Cards", "Toffee River", "Oil Wells", "Banana Skin", "Spaghetti Party", "Rain", "Baking A Pie"|
|The Magic Roundabout 3 (BBCV 4734)||3 February 1992||"Alarm Clock", "Brian and the Train Race", "The Chimney Sweep", "Road Signs", "Dylan Plays the Bagpipes", "Dougal's Glasses", "Hide and Seek", "The Lost Boing", "Windy", "The Scarecrow", "Musical Box", "The Oyster", "Dylan the Hairdresser"|
|The Magic Roundabout Re Release (BBCV 4278)||6 July 1992||Dougal - "Film Director", "Walking Sticks", "Bicycle Race", "The Cannon", "Rustlers", "Gold", "Parking Meters", "The Camera", "The Caravan", "The Experiment", "The Magic Carpet", "Oil", "Vote for Dougal"|
|The Magic Roundabout 2 Re Release (BBCV 4499)||6 July 1992||"Bubbles", "Piano Moving", "Let's Play at Cats", "Watch the Birdie", "Sculptor", "The Orchestra", "Pack of Cards", "Toffee River", "Oil Wells", "Banana Skin", "Spaghetti Party", "Rain", "Baking A Pie"|
|The Magic Roundabout 3 Re Release (BBCV 4734)||6 July 1992||"Alarm Clock", "Brian and the Train Race", "The Chimney Sweep", "Road Signs", "Dylan Plays the Bagpipes", "Dougal's Glasses", "Hide and Seek", "The Lost Boing", "Windy", "The Scarecrow", "Musical Box", "The Oyster", "Dylan the Hairdresser"|
|The Magic Roundabout 4 (BBCV 4829)||6 July 1992||"TV Announcer", "Magic Pot", "The Picnic", "Ermintrude's Folly", "The Exhibition", "Holidays", "Relay Race", "Soul of the Violin", "The Tombola", "Pancakes", "Flying Saucer", "The Sleepwalker", "A Starry Night"|
|The Very Best of the Magic Roundabout (BBCV 4955)||5 April 1993||"The Orchestra", "Dougal's Glasses", "TV Announcer", "Rustlers", "The Lost Boing", "Baking A Pie", "Ermintrude's Folly", "The Magic Carpet", "The Chimney Sweep", "Sculptor", "Hide and Seek", "Pancakes", "Watch the Birdie", "The Experiment", "A Starry Night", "Road Signs", "Dougal - Film Director"|
In the United Kingdom, the "Magic Roundabout" name has been given to the ring junction – a large road traffic circulation system with unconventional layouts – in Swindon and in Hemel Hempstead for example. The popularity of the TV show coincided with the introduction of such schemes and soon became associated with any complex traffic roundabout. Although the Swindon roundabout's original name was not the Magic Roundabout, it was almost always referred to as such by Swindon residents and in the late eighties, it was officially renamed. The Hemel Hempstead roundabout, with its large central roundabout surrounded by six smaller ones, is officially named the Plough Roundabout.
In 1992, the Cardiff Bay Public Art Strategy selected Pierre Vivant to create artwork for a roundabout in Splott, a district of Cardiff. He created a series of geometrical sculptures featuring everyday road signs and, although its official name is "The Landmark", it is affectionately known by locals as the "Magic Roundabout".
In 2006, the Go North East Bus Company branded one of their routes "The Magic Roundabout", the buses running on it all featuring the characters from the series.
TV production equipment manufacturer Quantel used many Magic Roundabout references in their 'Henry' system. The hard disk system was named 'Dylan' and the operating system named 'Dougal' with VT-100 queries to the OS returning the memorable phrase 'Already Dougling'.