Roundabout is still magic

EMMA OUTTEN Writer Andy Lane is something of an expert when it comes to The Magic Roundabout. To accompany the forthcoming film, he has just co-written The World Of The Magic Roundabout.


Andy Lane was barely two years old when the first episode of The Magic Roundabout was broadcast, 40 years ago this year. Like many of us in our thirties and forties, The Magic Roundabout was part and parcel of his childhood, broadcast, as it was, just before the tea time news.

But at just over 40 (41 in fact), Andy may be too young to remember the black and white episodes of the '60s. However he remembers the colour episodes of the '70s as well as the rest of us.

He is probably not alone in loving the fact that beyond the colourful characters, the environs of The Magic Roundabout was just “a white void – “it didn't look like anything else,” he exclaimed.

Andy has just co-written, with Paul Simpson, The World of The Magic Roundabout, the fully illustrated companion to the new film, based on the cult classic 1960s BBC TV series.

The Magic Roundabout, the movie, is a major international animated feature film, out on Friday.

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It stars a dazzling voice cast of world famous names – including Robbie Williams as the voice of Dougal, Kylie Minogue as Florence, Jim Broadbent as Brian, Bill Nighy as Dylan and Joanna Lumley as Ermintrude.

Now we all know that The Magic Roundabout was first and foremost a place of fun and friendship. But in the new film, The Magic Roundabout also holds a terrible secret that has been kept for 10,000 years: far below the Roundabout, in a volcanic cavern full of molten rock, is imprisoned the wicked enchanter Zeebad.

Bouncy Zebedee had placed him there for the terrible crime of trying to freeze the sun, and when Zeebad's not plaiting and re-plaiting his hair, he works tirelessly at plans to escape.

One day, he succeeds, thanks to a careless dog… (could that be shaggy dog Dougal by any chance?).

Because Andy's previous non-fiction books have included Creating Creature Comforts and The World of Wallace and Gromit, publisher Boxtree knew Andy was interested in animation and so asked him to turn his attention to The Magic Roundabout this time around.

The World of The Magic Roundabout is a visually stunning A-Z companion to the film, and with original artwork and 150 stills from the film it will be a visual treat for old and new fans.

Andy's next book, out later this year (along with the DVD, no doubt) is 40 Years of The Magic Roundabout. The writer, whose particular interest is TV from the '60s and '70s, described it as a “complete history of The Magic Roundabout from beginning to end.”

So it would be fair to say that if he wasn't an expert before, he is now.

But he has always been a fan. And Andy explained why: “I think because nothing happened in it – you can project on to it anything you want.”

In fact, he sounds almost mesmerised by the fact that The Magic Roundabout series was basically episodes of “five minutes when absolutely nothing happened.”

The simple, slow, pace of the series would now be in direct contrast to the fast-paced children's programmes of today. Fitting then, Andy's favourite character has always been Brian the snail. Although he said: “I just found him really 'sparky' and sarcastic.”

The Magic Roundabout stands for all things to all people. Some viewers, as Andy explained, have seen French political satire, left, right and centre, in the series, (Dougal was De Gaulle if you believe the theory). Others hallucinated that they could see drug-laden references – Dylan was the archetypal hippy rabbit after all. But Andy said, with some authority: “It was not obviously about anything, it's about everything!”

The Magic Roundabout had its roots in France – it was first created in the mid-Sixties for French TV by Serge Danot.

It was adapted into English, by Eric Thompson, the father of actress Emma Thompson, and was broadcast on the BBC until 1977.

Andy explained that no one is 100pc certain of how many Magic Roundabout episodes there were in total, although it must be approaching 500.

Andy's second book will look at its French roots in the 1960s, the banned episodes of the 1970s (yes, banned!) the 1990's Channel 4 revival with Nigel Planer narrating in the '90s, right up to and including the forthcoming film. He had even conversed with Serge Danot's widow, Martine, when he was researching the book.

The film is the work of a French computer-animation team, as opposed to a US one, so it should have a different look about it to, say, Shark Tale, or Finding Nemo (from the Pixar animation stable).

“Pixar is very sharp-edged, very bright and colourful,” said Andy, who then added: “Magic Roundabout is much more artistic, much more muted - pastel colours, lovely sunsets…I think, if nothing else, it looks absolutely superb.”

But he also said of the film: “I think it's very good.” It does, however, have a story line this time around. As he pointed out, an hour and 20 minutes of characters wandering on and off “would get a bit boring.”

But he believed that it had kept true to the spirit of the original TV series.

The Magic Roundabout will be viewed differently in France, England, and America.

The French version of the series appealed to very young audiences, (as opposed to appealing to young and old alike in this country).

And the series was never shown in Americans so there will be “three different markets” for the film, said Andy.

But he added: “I think the film, in terms of the humour and the characters, is very much the British market.”

For the American market, it will be seen as a “one off thing with no history.”

Andy took his own son Robbie to see a preview of the film, for his fifth birthday. “He really enjoyed it,” said Andy, who added that Robbie also liked that other '60s cult classic the Clangers.

So, once again, Andy believes The Magic Roundabout will appeal to old and new fans alike, at the cinema. “I think it will do good business… I think it will be very popular.”

He added: “It keeps coming back and finding new generations of fans, one after the other.”

And that goes, he commented, for five-year-olds, like his son, drunken students and pensioners!

So who was the biggest fan of The Magic Roundabout: Andy or his co-writer Paul Simpson. “We are probably about equal,” said Andy. “We both remember it… both remember specific things from it. It's part of our childhood. It's part of what makes us what we are today.”

The Magic Roundabout and those other cult children's classic of the '60s and '70s, form part of our collective memory – especially if you happen to be aged between 35 and 45.

Andy has a theory as to why. “I think children consciously or subconsciously can spot that some care and time has gone into making those programmes.”

In 40 year's time, will the children of today remember their children's TV programmes with such affection? He doubts it.

He sounds as though he cannot believe his luck being asked to write not one but, two books on The Magic Roundabout for this, the anniversary year. “They paid me to do this and I enjoyed myself as well – it can't be right!” t

t The World of the Magic Roundabout by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson is published by Boxtree on February 15, priced £15.99.

t The Magic Roundabout film is released on Friday February 11; previews February 5-6.

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