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Classic TV Revisited: Magic Roundabout



Sorely missed cult ’60s puppet show Magic Roundabout was set in Mr Rusty’s blue, red and white garden with a cast of unforgettable characters. It aired on BBC1 from 1965-1977 and on Channel 4 from 1992-1994. Eric Thompson provided the voices for the BBC and Nigel Planer for C4.

Why was it so good?
A kids’ classic with a pioneering mix of animation and marionettes. Who can forget the bed-obsessed Zebedee, sensible Florence, stubborn dog Dougal, dopey rabbit Dylan, Brian the snail, Ermintrude the cow and biker Mr McHenry?

How did it begin?
It was created by French animator Serge Danot. Shot in a derelict house in Paris, fuses kept blowing because the lighting for it used so much electricity. Play School’s Eric Thompson, late father of Emma Thompson, provided the British scripts and narration. The five-minute episodes were shown on BBC1 before the 6pm news and seen by a staggering eight million viewers.

Didn’t it have a subversive message?
What “Boing”! Seriously, some suspected it was about French politicians and that Dougal the dog was actually De Gaulle! Others thought it was a chance for pre-schoolers to learn about drug culture. Mr Rusty was always going on about “trips” on his roundabout, while hippy rabbit Dylan seemed permanently spaced out on some substance or other. And it had very psychedelic colours.

What was it actually about then?
The original French stories were aimed at kids but the BBC version was spiced up. Eric Thompson made it into a vague satire on ’60s pop culture, especially with Dylan. As a result, millions of adults loved it – particularly when springy Zebedee ended the programme with the words “Time for bed”. When the BBC tried to move it back to 4.40pm there were howls of protest and the plan was dropped.

Magic Roundabout

Why is it so timeless?
Who could fail to love Dougal the dog who lived on sugar? Then there was Dylan’s languid catchphrase “Hey, mannn!!” and the wide-eyed innocence of Florence. Ermintrude the cow constantly chewed a flower and had a distinctive revolving head, while Brian the snail drove a Citroen and Mr Rusty had a train. But best of all was spring-loaded, moustachioed Zebedee.

Could it be revived?
The original show, which ran for 252 episodes between 1965 and 1977, has been constantly repeated. Another 52 episodes, narrated by Nigel Planer and made by Serge Danot, were screened by Channel 4 from 1992-4 but they weren’t a patch on the original. There was a spin-off film, Dougal And The Blue Cat and in 2005 there was another big screen outing with voices that included Tom Baker, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Bill Nighy and Lee Evans.

Distinguishing features?
Springs, dog hairs, sugar cubes, rumours of subconscious drug references.

Do say:
One of the best kids’ series ever.

Don’t say:
Wasn’t that Dougal a canine drug dealer?

Not to be confused with:
Black magic; The Magic Roundabout in Swindon (a real road system); Florence, the Italian city; Bob Dylan.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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