Posts Tagged ‘Spaced’

Sketch of Dougal from the Magic Roundabout

December 2, 2022

Children’s television has often been bizarre and surreal. All manner of strange things were done on Vision On, for example, but the Magic Roundabout took this surrealism to new heights. Created by Serge Danot, this originally French show included Florence, an ordinary girl, Dougal, a bossy, pretentious dog, Brian, a chirpy snail, a flying cow called Ermintrude and Dylan, a guitar-wielding rabbit who was constantly falling asleep. The episodes ended when Zebedee, a red-faced, moustachio’d magician with a spring instead of legs, bounced in to tell everyone ‘Time for bed’ before leaping off again. Supporting characters included the bearded Mr Rusty and a talking cannon with a British accent. I gather that the original French show was supposed to be satirical and actually rather boring. The English version, narrated by Eric Thompson, was completely different. Thompson dispensed with the French story and characters and made up his own dialogue when he projected it onto his front door at home. The result was so hypnotically strange that adults started trying to get home early so they could watch it. As with another favourite children’s TV series, Captain Pugwash, rumours soon developed that it was not as innocent as it seemed. In the case of Pugwash, the rumours were that the character’s names were all sexual references. They aren’t. The Magic Roundabout and its characters, on the other hand, were suspected of being the products of drugs. Oh yes, and Florence was supposed to be sleeping with Zebedee. This hidden subtext behind a supposedly innocent children’s programme was the reason the series was cancelled. None of this is remotely true. The reason it stopped was because Danot and his team simply stopped making it.

But it was and still remains a massive hit, spawning books, toys and DVDs. I’ve drawn Dougal because in many ways he was its star. He would set out on an adventure each episode, with the other characters joining in to offer advice. In one episode, he decided that he was going to be a great film maker, sporting sunglasses and carrying around an Edwardian movie camera. ‘Eat your heart out, Ken Russell!’ he says at one point, as he intends to become a great revival to the contemporary avant-garde director. In another episode, he went looking for four-leafed clovers, but to his chagrin Florence and Brian found any number. Brian, always cheerful and keen to help, was often the butt of Dougal’s sneers and put-downs. In some ways he reminds me now of Tony Hancock, with his pretensions and put-downs towards his friends.

The Magic Roundabout is a genuine children’s TV classic, and another show that produced echoes in other programmes after its cancellation. In one episode of the Channel 4 comedy series, Spaced, the female lead, played by Jessica Hynds, goes for a job. The interview, however, is so boring and complicated that she drifts off into a reverie, accompanied by the Magic Roundabout’s theme.

And here’s the music and the title’s sequence, which I found on Raymond942’s channel on YouTube.

Barry Norman’s 1977 Review of Star Wars

April 29, 2022

Here’s a blast from the past to cheer up fans of Star Wars and who miss the genial, avuncular tones of film critic Barry Norman on their TV screens. I found this little snippet from Film 1977 on YouTube, in which Norman looks at, and actually likes, Star Wars. He states that it has become the biggest grossing film in history, as it was when it first came out, although it’s since been overtaken by Titanic and Avatar. The film contained the right mixture of romantic adventure, including the knights of the round table and Science Fiction. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi is described as a kind of elderly Sir Galahad with the film also starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. But, adds Norman, the real stars are likely to be the two robots, R2D2 and C3PO. He also mentions how the film was already becoming a merchandising phenomenon. The action figures wouldn’t be out by Christmas, but a whole range of other toys, including ray guns, would. He quotes one Fox executive as saying that it’s not a film but an industry.

The film’s success took writer and director George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz by surprise. Lucas spent years writing and re-writing the script before it was ready for shooting, and the film was initially rejected by two studios. Even more amazing is that it was shot on the low budget of £6 million – which was obviously worth a lot more in 1977 than it is now – and that the special effects and many of the live action sequences were created by British special effects technicians at Elstree. But none of the film’s massive profits will be coming back to them, unfortunately.

Before Star Wars, Lucas was best known for his film American Graffiti, but the seeds of Star Wars are in an earlier film he made as a 27 year old graduate film student, THX1138. And now, two films later, at the age of 32, Lucas is so rich he need never work again. But there’s no point being jealous, says Norman, adding ‘Damn him!’ He nevertheless concludes that Lucas is a good director who deserves his success.

The review rather surprised me, as I can remember Bazza complaining in the 1980s that there wasn’t a cinema for adults, and Star Wars, while a family flick, was aimed at children. The review surprised me even further with the statement that Lucas is a good director. I think he was, at least in the first trilogy. Unfortunately the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, caused some people to drastically revise their opinion of Lucas as a director. Mark Kermode, reviewing it for BBC radio, declared that Lucas ‘couldn’t direct traffic’, which is far too harsh. I’m not a fan of the The Phantom Menace, which is rather too juvenile for my tastes. But it definitely wasn’t the Nazi propaganda flick poet and critic Tom Paulin claimed it was in a bug-eyed bonkers segment for the Beeb’s Late Review. And watching the next two prequels on DVD, I found that they recaptured some of the wonder and excitement I’d had watching the original trilogy as a child in the ’70s and ’80s.

As for Bazza, his retirement from the show and death a few years ago has, in my opinion, left a hole in the Beeb’s film criticism. Yes, Kermode and Mayo are good on Radio 2, and Kermode’s series a few years ago on the essential elements and plot structures of various film genres was very good. The Beeb did try bringing in Jonathan Ross and then a couple of female presenters, one of whom I believe was Claudia Winkleman, to replace Bazza on Film –. Ross was responsible for the Incredibly Strange Film Show on Channel 4, in which he reviewed some truly bizarre and transgressive movies. At least one of these was by John Waters, the man responsible for Hairspray amongst other assaults on the cinematic sensibilities of the mainstream American public. I was afraid when Wossy took over that he’d drag the show downmarket. But he didn’t. He was knowledgeable and intelligent, offering reasoned criticism and insight. Nevertheless, neither he nor the two ladies could match Norman and his quiet, genial tones giving his opinion on that year’s films. Bazza was so popular, in fact, that 2000AD sent him up as an alien film critic, Barry Abnormal, in the story ‘DR and Quinch Go To Hollywood’. This was about a pair of alien juvenile delinquents trying to make a movie from a script they’d stolen from an alcoholic writer after he’d passed out and they thought he was dead. The film stars Marlon, a parody of a certain late Mr Brando. Marlon is illiterate, but his acting is so powerful, as well as the fact that no-one can understand a word he says, that people so far haven’t actually figured that out. Marlon dies, crushed by an enormous pile of oranges after trying to take one from the bottom of the pile. Which Dr and Quinch film and release as ‘Mind the Oranges, Marlon!’

It’s good to see Barry Norman giving his surprisingly positive views about Star Wars, 45 years, and many films, as well as countless books, comics and toys later. Star Wars is, I believe, very firmly a part of modern popular culture, as shown by the way it’s casually discussed by the characters in the film Clerks and the Channel 4 TV series, Spaced. And Norman himself, though having departed our screens years ago, is still fondly remembered by fans of his series, even if we didn’t always agree with him.

And why not?