The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout
The Magic Roundabout
Format Children's television series
Created by Serge Danot
Starring Eric Thompson (original narrator)
Nigel Planer (Channel 4 narrator)
Country of origin France
No. of episodes 441
Running time 450 x 5 minutes (1965-2000)
52 x 11 minutes (2007-present)
Original channel ORTF (France, 1964-1971)
BBC (UK, 1965-1977)
Channel 4 (UK, 1992)
Nick Jr. and Nick Jr. 2 (UK, 2007-)
Original run 18 October 1964 – Ongoing

The Magic Roundabout (known in the original French as Le Manège enchanté) was a children's television programme created in France in 1963 by Serge Danot. Some 450 five-minute-long episodes were made and were originally broadcast between 1964 and 1971 on ORTF.

The BBC produced a version of the series using the original stop motion animation footage with new English-language scripts, written and performed by Eric Thompson, that had no relation to the original storylines. This version, broadcast from 18 October 1965 to 25 January 1977, was a great success and attained cult status, being watched by adults for its dry humour as much as by the children for whom it was intended.[citation needed]



Although the characters were common to both versions, they were given different names depending on the language.

The main character was Dougal (Pollux in the original French-language version) who was a drop-eared variety of the Skye Terrier[citation needed].

In the French version Pollux was a British character who spoke somewhat broken French with an outrageous English accent, as a result of Ivor Wood's role as co-creator. His sweet tooth, shown through his fondness for sugar lumps, was based on a French belief that one of the traits of the English is a liking for sweets.

Other characters include Zebedee (Zébulon), a jack-in-the-box; Brian (Ambroise), a snail; Ermintrude (Azalée), a cow, and Dylan (named after Bob Dylan[1])(Flappy) a rabbit, who in the French version was Spanish. There are two notable human characters: Florence (Margote), a young girl; and Mr Rusty (le Père Pivoine), the operator of the roundabout. 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 who is seen only a couple of times.

The show had a distinctive visual style. The set was 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).

English-language version

The British (BBC) version was especially 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. A former BBC employee, interviewed on BBC Radio in 2008, maintained that the original contract with the French owners did not include the scripts which accompanied the original animations (contrary to BBC assumptions). The BBC, instead of making a further payment to acquire the scripts, which would have required translation, decided to commission its own version - without access to the original French, and the English-language version therefore bears no resemblance to it.

The first BBC broadcasts were stripped across the week and shown at 5.44pm, just before the early evening news each day on BBC1. 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. It was made in colour from series 2, although the series was still broadcast in monochrome by the BBC up until the first colour episode 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 British Dougal was grumpy and loosely based on 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 was an almost human creature in a yellow jacket with a spring instead of feet. He always appeared and disappeared with a loud "boing"-sound and usually closed the show with the phrase "Time for bed". In the first episode he was delivered to Mr Rusty in a box which he burst from like a jack-in-the-box, hence the spring.

In the foreword to the recent re-release of the books, Emma Thompson 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 (an elderly man who rode a tricycle), Uncle Hamish and Angus (in "Dougal's Scottish Holiday"), and a talking Train with a 4-2-2 wheel arrangement and a two-wheel tender. Three other children, Paul, Basil and Rosalie, appeared in the original b/w 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 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 re-named De Gaulle, mishearing the name Dougal (as seen in the Channel 4 documentary The Return Of The Magic Roundabout (broadcast 08:50 on December 25th 1991 and 18:00 on January 5th 1992), and in the BBC4 documentary The Magic Roundabout Story (2003)).

In 1998, Thompson's stories were published 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 Emma Thompson (Eric's daughter). The paperbacks were a major success for Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

For years, the series had re-runs on Cartoon Network, and was later moved to its sister channel, Boomerang.

Other versions

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 his 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 1980s on Pinwheel (which is now known as Nickelodeon or Nick). In this version, Dylan was called Flappy, like in the French Version.

In 2006/2007, a new TV version of The Magic Roundabout was created, 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 being Soldier Sam. The new series also created a few original characters of its own. The series was first broadcast in the UK from Monday 22 October 2007 at 8.00 am on satellite channel Nick Jr.

Theme tunes

The French, and the British versions had different theme tunes.

  • The French tune was quite an upbeat pop tune played on a Hammond organ with child-adult vocals.
  • The British version, by Alain Legrand, removed the vocals and increased the tempo of the tune while making it sound as if it were played on a fairground organ.

Film versions

Dougal and the Blue Cat

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.

2005 film

In 2005, a film adaptation (also called The Magic Roundabout) was released. It was made using modern computer animation, and adopted the French approach of each character having its own voice rather than using a narrator. The voices included Tom Baker, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Michael Angelis and Lee Evans. The 2-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 the English language or in the original French language.

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. Americans panned the film. It currently has a 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes[2], 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).[citation needed]

Musical spinoffs

In 1975 Jasper Carrott recorded a short, risqué comic monologue, parodying The Magic Roundabout (originally featured on his first live LP Jasper Carrot Rabbits on and on...), which was released on a 7 inch single as the B-side of his comic song "Funky Moped" by DJM records. The record was a hit, but Carrott always claimed people were buying it for the B-side and not for the song, which he soon came to hate. 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.

Road traffic spinoff

The name "Magic Roundabout" has been applied in the United Kingdom to large road traffic circulation systems with unconventional layout - at Swindon, for example. The popularity of the TV show coincided with the introduction of such schemes and soon became associated with any complex traffic roundabout. The complex in Hertfordshire at Hemel Hempstead, with its large central roundabout surrounded by six smaller ones, has attracted this nickname, although it is officially named the Plough Roundabout.

In central Cardiff a statue of Paris-born artist Pierre Vivant (1952-), Cardiff's "Magic Roundabout", was erected in 1992, having been commissioned by Cardiff Bay Arts Trust (now known as Safle, since merging with Cywaith Cymru in 2007). It continues to serve as a useful local landmark during a period of considerable change in the area surrounding Cardiff's old docklands. The "Magic Roundabout" nickname is used with a certain amount of affection by still-amused locals.[3]

In 2006 - Go North East Bus Company branded one of their buses "The Magic Roundabout" it was shown with all the characters on the bus. It was later withdrawn.[4]


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. Scripts by Eric Thompson, Original Music composed by Alain Legrand, Luc Aulivier, Serge Danot and Jacques Charriere, Musical arrangement and orchestral direction by Alain Legrand. 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 by the BBC on CD, in 2005 (BBC Audio:Children's) to coincide with the 'new' film and again in 2010 (Vintage Beeb) with a bonus interview with Eric Thompson and featuring the original LP artwork.

French soundtrack recordings were also issued in France in the 60's on three EP's and again on an LP 'Pollux' in 1983 along with an original single 'C'est moi Pollux'.

UK VHS releases

VHS Title Release Date Episodes
The Magic Roundabout (BBCV 4278) 1989 Film Director, The Orchestra, 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) 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) 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) 1992 TV Announcer, Magic Pot, The Picnic, Ermentrude’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) 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, Film Director

Magic Roundabout and the RAF

The Royal Air Force's 8 Squadron's Avro Shackleton airborne early warning aircraft were named after characters from The Magic Roundabout and The Herbs:


In popular culture


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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