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The Magic Roundabout is a television created in France in 1963 by Serge Danot. Some five hundred five-minute-long episodes were made and were originally broadcast between 1964 and 1971 on ORTF.
The series also attained great success in the United Kingdom. The English-language version was narrated by Eric Thompson, the father of actresses Emma Thompson and Sophie Thompson, and was broadcast from 18 October 1965 to 25 January 1977. This version of the show attained cult status, and was watched as much by adults for its dry humour as by the children for whom it was intended.
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. 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)(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.
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).
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 5.40pm, 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, with the first colour programme transmitted 5 October 1970.
Fifty-two additional episodes, not previously broadcast, were shown in the UK during 1992 by Channel 4. 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 original French serial 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 appeared on Late Night Line-Up he said he thought the UK version of Pollux had been re-named De Gaulle, mishearing the name Dougal. (as seen 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.
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.
Dougal and the Blue Cat
Danot made a longer film, Pollux et le chat bleu, in 1972 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. 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 and it also added narration by Judi Dench although Judi Dench and Michael Angelis are uncredited. 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 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 Jon Stewart and Chevy Chase. Only two original voices remained: those of Kylie Minogue and Ian McKellen. Americans panned the movie. It has a 6% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and received an F rating from Entertainment Weekly magazine. As of 16 March 2006, it grossed a total of $7.2 million in the United States, which is considered low by CGI animated film standards.
In 1975 Jasper Carrott recorded a short, risqué comic monologue, parodying The Magic Roundabout, which was released on a single as the B-side of his comic song "Funky Moped". 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. 
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.
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.
DVD and VHS releases
Original Magic Roundabout series 1965-1977 on BBC-DVD Collection:
- First Series DVD released on 24 November 2010
- Second Series DVD released on 1 December 2010
- Third Series DVD released on 10 December 2010
- Fourth Series DVD released on 12 December 2010
UK VHS releases:
|VHS Title||Release Date||Episodes|
|The Magic Roundabout (BBCV 4278)||1989||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)||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|
- The magic roundabout/Thomas
- The magic roundabout/TUGS
- The magic roundabout/Theodore Tugboat
- The magic roundabout/Sonic
- The magic roundabout/Scooby Doo
- The magic roundabout/Garfield
- The magic roundabout/Disney
- The magic roundabout/Codename: Kids Next Door
- The magic roundabout/Noddy's Toyland Adventures
- The magic roundabout/Alvin and the Chipmunks
- The magic roundabout/Young Ones
- The magic roundabout/Only Fools and Horses
- The magic roundabout/The Simpsons
- The magic roundabout/South Park
- The magic roundabout/Rosie & Jim
- The magic roundabout/An American Tail
- The Magic Roundabout/James and the Giant Peach
- The Magic Roundabout/Matilda
- The Magic Roundabout/Are You Being Served?
- The Magic Roundabout/Horrid Henry
- The Magic Roundabout/Family Guy
- The Magic Roundabout/Sesame Street
- Dougal the Yellow Dog and Friends - A Magic Roundabout/Thomas Parody series
- Roundabout TUGS - A Magic Roundabout/TUGS Parody series
- Dougal the Hedgehog Dog - A Magic Roundabout/Sonic Parody series
- The Magic Roundaboutsons - A Magic Roundabout/The Simpsons Parody series
- Magic Garden Park - A Magic Roundabout/South Park Parody series
- Codename: Magic Gardeners Next Door A Magic Roundabout/Codename: Kids Next Door Parody series
- Dougal's Magic Garden Adventures A Magic Roundabout/Noddy's Toyland Adventures Parody series
- Florence and Dougal - A Magic Roundabout/Rosie and Jim Parody series
- Horrid Buxton - A Magic Roundabout/Horrid Henry Parody series