Starting in the mid-1960’s, the success of shows like Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie inspired a television trend of magic in sitcoms. Pretty soon, it seemed like every sitcom had at least one episode where a character experienced some kind of mystical occurrence. Not to be outdone, a few shows tried to sustain this magical feeling on a weekly basis, among them a little gem called Nanny And The Professor. Though it didn’t enjoy as long a run as the magical comedies that preceded it, this show became an enduring cult favorite thanks to a clever combination of a heartwarming family scenario and an otherworldly sense of humor.
British star Juliet Mills (sister of Disney live-action regular Hayley) top-lined the cast as Phoebe Figalilly, a woman who served as the housekeeper and governess for a widowed professor and his three children. The kids were a diverse lot: 12 year-old Hal was a budding scientist who loved to experiment, 8 year-old Butch was constantly on the lookout for mischief, and 5-year old Prudence was a musically-inclined tot who loved to practice the same piano piece over and over again. The household also contained two pets: a sheepdog named Waldo and a guinea pig named Myrtle.
This was a lot for one woman to handle, but Phoebe (known to everyone as Nanny) was always one step ahead of the game, thanks to a set of fabulous psychic powers. She had the clairvoyant ability to see what was happening in the near future and could also psychically communicate with the household. If asked about her mysterious ability to predict what would happen, Nanny merely explained this gift away as “a little bit of faith and lots of love.”
The storylines usually involved Nanny’s subtle use of these special abilities to help the family deal with day-to-day crises like when the city planned to tear down the tree the kids used for their clubhouse, or when Prudence believed a monster she saw in nightmares was real. In later episodes, the show added a relative for Phoebe, Aunt Henrietta, to add to the paranormal goings-on. The character was a hit with audiences and led to the introduction of other magically-inclined relatives like Uncle Horace, who could do ‘rain dances,’ and Uncle Alfred, who was a ‘human fly.’
Overall, Nanny and the Professor was a nifty combination of the magic-themed comedy of I Dream Of Jeannie and the sentimental family elements of Family Affair. This combination worked like a charm with audiences, earning Nanny and the Professor a successful two-year run on ABC. The show is also fondly remembered for Juliet Mills’ sprightly yet heartwarming turn as Nanny, which helped her earn an American fan base that remains loyal today.
No attempts have been made to revive Nanny and the Professor, but it pops up occasionally in reruns. It always attracts plenty of viewers when it does, proving that its magical charm remains as potent as ever.
A one off 60 minute animated special also called Nanny and the Professor aired on ABC 15 Sep 1973. All the cast provided the voices.
Theme song lyrics
“Since the day that Nanny came to stay with us,
Fantastic things keep happening,
Is there really magic in the things she does,
Or is love the only magic thing that Nanny brings?”
USA / ABC – 20th Century Fox Television / 54×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 21 January 1970 – 27 December 1971
Creator: Thomas L. Miller, A.J. Carothers / Producers: David Gerber, Charles Fitzsimmons, Wes McAffe
Juliet Mills as Nanny (Phoebe Figalilly)
Richard Long as Prof. Harold Everett
Eileen Baral as Francine Fowler
David Doremus as Hal Everett
Patsy Garrett as Mrs. Florence Fowler
Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Henrietta (1971)
Trent Lehman as Bentley “Butch” Everett
Kim Richards as Prudence Everett