The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout was an English-language children's television programme that ran from 1965 to 1977. It used the footage of the French stop motion animation show Le Manège enchanté, but with completely different scripts and characters.

The Magic Roundabout
Created bySerge Danot
StarringEric Thompson (1965-1977)
Nigel Planer (1992)
Jimmy Hibbert (2000s)
Country of originFrance (original video)
United Kingdom
No. of episodes441
Running time450 × 5 minutes (1965–1992)
104 × 11 minutes (2006–2010)
Production company(s)Danot Production
AB Productions
Original networkORTF
Original release1963 (France) 1965 (UK) 
1976 (France) 1977 (UK) 2007 (UK)

The French series, created by Serge Danot with the help of Ivor Wood[1] and Wood's French wife, Josiane, was 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",[1] but later produced a version of the series using the French footage with new English-language scripts that bore little relation to the original storylines. This version, written and told by Eric Thompson, was broadcast in 441 five-minute-long episodes from 18 October 1965 to 25 January 1977. It proved a great success and attained cult status,[1] and when in October 1966 it was moved from the slot just before the evening news to an earlier children's viewing time, adult viewers complained to the BBC.[1]


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 talking jack-in-the-box with magical powers; Brian (Ambroise), a snail; Ermintrude (Azalée), a cow; and Dylan (named after Bob Dylan[1]) (Flappy) a rabbit; There are two notable human characters: Florence (Margote), a young girl; and Mr Rusty (le Père Pivoine), the elderly moustached operator of the roundabout.

Other characters included Mr McHenry (Bonhomme Jouvence, the elderly gardener who rode a tricycle), 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.

Dougal, Brian, Ermintrude and Dylan all reside in a place called The Magic Garden (Beautywood in the US version). The exact distance from where the roundabout and The Magic Garden are in relation to each other was never specifically stated, but given that Zebedee and Florence would always travel there by magical teleportation, it was either considerably far away or it was simply faster to get there by those means.

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).

English-language version

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.[2]

The first British broadcasts were shown every weekday on BBC1 at 17:50, just before the early evening news at 17:55.[3][1] Although the exact time of the early evening news varied over the years, The Magic Roundabout kept its slot before the early evening news for the duration of its original broadcasting, except for 16:55 time slots during October to November 1966, and earlier times during parts of 1972 and 1973. 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, who also re-narrated several of Thompson's episodes. These consisted of episodes from both the 1971 (most, if not all, have been previously narrated by Thompson) and 1989 series.

The English version of Dougal was generally disparaging and had similarities with the television character of Tony Hancock,[1] 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.

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.

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 2003 BBC4 documentary The Magic Roundabout Story). 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, "A Peaceful Day", when Zebedee called his catchphrase of "Time for bed.", Florence asked "Already?", and Zebedee replied that "It's nearly time for the news, and you've had 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. While The Adventures of Dougal featured republications of three exclusive book stories, the latter three featured scripts from the TV series.

For years, the series had re-runs on Cartoon Network, and was later moved to its sister channel, Boomerang. These airings mainly used episodes from the 1974 series, which have been re-narrated by Jimmy Hibbert, though some episodes from the Nigel Planer dub aired as well.

Foreign language versions

  • In Italy, part of the series was broadcast in the 1970s by the RAI state television network. In this version, Pollux/Dougal was renamed Bobo (initially Peluche) 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.
  • In Portugal, the series was known as "Carrossel Mágico" (spelled as "Carrocel Mágico"), and aired on RTP in 1966. The dub was based on the original French version (with the characters having their own voices), and several of the characters were renamed, with Pollux/Dougal being called "Franjinhas". It was also the first foreign children's series to be dubbed into European Portuguese.
  • In Germany and in Austria it was translated to Das Zauberkarussell. Most of the characters are given different names, except for Dougal and Zebedee who retain their original French names (Pollux and Zebulon, respectively).
    • In Austria there was in 1974/75 a special version in "Betthupferl" (the same as the German "Mr Sandman") called Gucki und seine Freunde (Cookie and his Friends), in which Cookie and his friend Apollonius always went through a hole in a tree to join the garden.
  • In the United States, the series was called The Magic Carousel and it aired in the 1980s 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, and the characters having voices strikingly similar to the French dub's voices. Dylan and Mr. McHenry also retain their original French names (Flappy and Bonhomme Jouvence a.k.a. Mr. Young, respectively) with Mr Rusty having Mr. McHenry's name. Aside from that however, most of the characters have their names from the British version.
  • 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 5 June till 30 September 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. 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 17 August 1976 and ended on September the first that year, being on air irregularly. The website ('What Did You Watch At The Time?') reports reruns from 1 June till 30 August 1980. This website should be regarded to as more accurate and better researched than the 'Beeld en geluid' database.

2007 reboot

In 2007, a new TV version of The Magic Roundabout was created, with 52 x 11-minute episodes. The series was produced by Action Synthese, Films Action, Ellipsanime and Play Production with the participation of M6, Nickelodeon UK and Disney Television France. The 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 2005 movie also produced by Action Synthese, the only new characters taken from the film are Mr. Grimsdale the baker and 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 such as Fly and Dougal's Auntie Primrose.

Unlike the original series, every episode would begin with Zebedee giving a brief summary to the audience of what will happen, before the plot begins. The episodes would also end with Zebedee throwing a party after the problems have been solved, with Dylan droopily remarking, "I wish it was time for bed, man..." before drifting off to sleep.

The series was first broadcast in the UK from Monday 22 October 2007 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 and was briefly available on Netflix in the US.

In 2010, a second season of 52 11-minute episodes was created. This season included ZDF as an additional participator.

Theme tunes

The show's theme by Alain Legrand, was a cheerful organ tune. On the earliest episodes during the black-and-white series, it was played more slowly with a degree of sadness. There were also two different additional theme songs for reruns of the French version; the first from 1983, "C'est moi, Pollux" was a pretty popular single in France, while the theme from 1989 was an upbeat Hammond organ pop tune with children's vocals.

Film versions

Unlike the series, both films featured a villain in the Magic Roundabout canon.

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 story centers around Dougal, who becomes suspicious when a blue cat arrives at the Magic Garden. It turned out the cat, named Buxton, was working for an unseen voice (named the Blue Voice) of an abandoned factory, who wanted to take over the garden and turn everything into the color blue. Upon this takeover, the residents of the garden also ended up being imprisoned, except for Dougal, who made a plan to rescue his friends. Among the film's many highlights, Buxton made a disguised Dougal face his ultimate weakness by locking him in a room full of sugar. The Blue Voice was voiced by Fenella Fielding and was the only time that Eric Thompson called in another person to voice a character.

2005 film

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 Zeebad, 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,[4] while Total Film ranked it as the 45th worst children's movie ever made.[5] 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 U.S. as Doogal. To make the American version of the movie more sense, the American English writer Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents) proposed giving it live-action sequences of a grandfather reading the story to his grandchild, similar to that of The Princess Bride; however, these sequences would be cut due to budgeting issues and be replaced with a narration from Judi Dench. Butch Hartman rewrote the script to make it more appealing to American audiences, but in the end, The Weinstein Company rewrote the script again without his consent (Hartman eventually claimed that only 3% of his script was accepted into the final film) and the final version featured the 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 or Butch Hartman's script). 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 final North American version was panned. It currently has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[6] 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).

Musical spinoffs

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, reaching #5 in the UK singles chart. 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".

UK home video releases

VHS Title Release Date Episodes
The Magic Roundabout (BBCV 4278) September 1984
October 2, 1989 (first re-release)
May 3, 1993 (second re-release)
All episodes included are from the 1974 series.

"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) April 1, 1991
May 3, 1993 (re-release)
All episodes included are from the later-model episodes from the 1970-1971 series.

"Bubbles", "Piano Moving", "Let's Play at Cats", "Watch the Birdie", "Dylan, Sculptor", "The Orchestra", "Pack of Cards", "Toffee River", "Oil Wells", "Banana Skin", "Spaghetti Party", "Rain", "Baking A Pie"

The Magic Roundabout 3 (BBCV 4734) February 3, 1992
May 3, 1993 (re-release)
All episodes included are from the early-model episodes from the 1970-1971 series.

"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) July 6, 1992 All episodes included are from the 1970-1971 series.

"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) April 5, 1993 A compilation of episodes previously released on VHS.

"The Orchestra", "Dougal's Glasses", "TV Announcer", "Rustlers", "The Lost Boing", "Baking A Pie", "Ermintrude's Folly", "The Magic Carpet", "The Chimney Sweep", "Dylan, Sculptor", "Hide and Seek", "Pancakes", "Watch the Birdie", "The Experiment", "A Starry Night", "Road Signs", "Dougal - Film Director"

The New Magic Roundabout (087 5663) 1993 All episodes are narrated by Nigel Planer. Unlike the previous VHS releases with the Eric Thompson episodes, these versions don't show episode titles.

Certain episodes include re-tellings of "Alarm Clock", "Land of Feathers", "Mushroom", "Jumping Competition", "Dylan Plays the Bagpipes", "Dougal's Glasses", "The Scarecrow", "Hide and Seek", "Sad Onion", "Musical Box", "Cow Railway", "Glasses" (parts 1 and 2), "Road Signs", "The Lost Boing", "Plans for Rusty's House", "Dougal's Jam", and "Penelope is Lazy" (8 of these episodes were previously released on volume 3, with Thompson's narration.)

The New Magic Roundabout (Partial Re-Release) (0463543) 16 June 1997 All episodes are narrated by Nigel Planer. Unlike the previous VHS releases with the Eric Thompson episodes, these versions don't show episode titles.

Includes only the first ten episodes from the previous release. The episodes included are re-tellings of "Alarm Clock", "Land of Feathers", "Mushroom", "Jumping Competition", "Dylan Plays the Bagpipes", "Dougal's Glasses", "The Scarecrow", "Hide and Seek", "Sad Onion", and "Musical Box". (6 of these episodes were previously released on volume 3, with Thompson's narration.)

Apart from the original film Dougal and the Blue Cat, the series has yet to receive any standalone release on DVD, but five of the original black-and-white episodes, including the series premiere, "Mr. Rusty Meets Zebedee", have been included as a bonus on the second disc of the UK Special Edition DVD of the 2005 CGI film. The other episodes included are "Camping", "Perfume", "Jumping Beans", and "Rocking Chair" from March 1967. Except for the series premiere, those four episodes also feature their original French versions with English subtitles.

  • Giant versions of Dougal and Zebedee, both the size of a small house, are featured in The Goodies episode "The Goodies Rule – O.K.?" Dougal also makes a brief appearance in another Goodies episode, "It Might as Well Be String".
  • A slightly inaccurate competitor based on Dougal, named Ruf Ruf Dougal, appeared in Seasons 5–6 of the British game show Robot Wars.
  • In the episode Dough from Series 3 of the TV comedy Bottom, one of Eddie's forged banknotes depicts "Sylvester Stallone fisting nice Mr. McHenry from The Magic Roundabout".
  • The title and characters appeared as a regular weekly feature in the "Jack and Jill" children's comic. In Playhour Gordon Hutchings drew a comic strip based on The Magic Roundabout.[7]
  • No. 8 Squadron RAF nicknamed their Avro Shackleton early warning aircraft after characters from the show and also characters from The Herbs
  • In an episode of Porridge, the sit com set in a prison (A Day Out), one of the characters is told he reminds the assembled company of Dylan. "Bob Dylan" he asks "No the hippy rabbit on Magic Roundabout" comes the reply
  • The Bournemouth University student bar, Dylan's, is named after Dylan the Rabbit.

Road traffic namesake

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, being called "County Island" for a time, 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".[8]

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.[9]

Engineering namesake

A kind of engineering nut with a spring attached, for using in metal channels, is often called a 'Zebedee nut' for its similarity to the character.[10]

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'.


  1. Magic Roundabout, The (1965–78) BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  2. The Independent, 29 January 2005 "The Magic Roundabout"
  3. "Listings for 18 October 1965". Radio Times 1923 - 2009. BBC.
  4. "The Magic Roundabout (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  5. Winning, Josh (8 November 2011). "50 Worst Kids Movies". Total Film. GamesRadar. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  6. "Doogal (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  8. "Capital's 'Magic Roundabout' is picked for 2008 calendar". Wales Online. 15 November 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  9. "Go North East adopts new route branding". 15 August 2006. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  10. The Zen Cart™ Team; et al. "M8 Long Spring Zebedee Nuts [SNM8L] - £0.23 : Cable Management Warehouse, CMW Ltd".

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