Hit children’s TV show The Magic Roundabout is being brought back by a French production company. Beloved by an entire generation growing up in the UK, it was originally adapted from a French stop-motion animation called Le Manège enchanté.
The latter was first broadcast, in black-and-white, on October 5, 1964, a year before the English version debuted on the BBC.
Now French production company Method Animation, part of Mediawan Kids and Family, has announced it is working on a reboot, with a first series of 52 episodes of 11 minutes each.
It will be produced by Camille Oesch, who told The Connexion they are in discussions with Manchester-based studio Factory, which specialises in stop motion, to create the animations.
Stop motion is part of this culture
“The interest we have had from British channels and studios has been pretty incredible,” Ms Oesch said.
“That’s when we realised that in England it’s not just part of BBC history, but a series which laid the foundations for animation culture in the country. Stop motion is part of this culture, and Le Manège enchanté was the first, well before Wallace & Gromit.”
Le Manège enchanté, created by French animator Serge Danot, ran for 500 episodes and was translated into 28 languages, but it was in the UK that it became a phenomenon.
Writer and broadcaster Tim Worthington, who contributed to the Radio 4 documentary Let’s Go Round Again: The Story Of The Magic Roundabout, said: “You only have to look at the amount of merchandise there was and how much it sold.
Different from children’s shows of the time
“The thing that gets played down is, in the 1960s and 70s, how visually arresting it would have been. Other 60s children’s programmes from the BBC and ITV didn’t look as vivid.”
While the English version used the same footage as the original, the scripts were completely different. As were the names: Dougal the dog was originally Pollux and had an English accent; Zebedee was Zébulon; and Brian the snail was Ambroise in France.
Eric Thompson, creator and narrator of the UK version, would watch the French show with the sound turned down and make up his own stories to go with the images, which is perhaps why many are surprised to learn the show was a French creation.
“Dougal is forever threatening to write to the Queen. There doesn’t seem to be a counterpart in the French version,” Mr Worthington said.
Another specificity of the British version was its ability to appeal to parents as well as kids, with a satirical humour that amused adults. “Although they didn’t do anything outrageous, they were pushing in terms of respectfulness towards politicians and the royal family.
“For scripts full of cultural references, I think they stand up very well. As it was for children, although references to some individuals and events were specific, they were dealt with as archetypes rather than as topical gags.”
The original was “more of a conventional children’s story”, Mr Worthington said, adding that it was common for the BBC to buy the rights to European children’s shows and rewrite the scripts.
They were cheaper than American shows and would otherwise have needed transcribing and translating. “I think it was more cost-based than a radical artistic departure.”
The theme tune was also born of pragmatic considerations. “The second theme used in France is like somebody hitting you, trying to wake you up in the morning, but the original one sounds like the sort of records people like Serge Gainsbourg or France Gall were making in the 1960s.
“The problem is, when the BBC buy it, it has lyrics in French, so they use a speeded-up barrel organ version, which appears in an early episode.”
Challenge to find middle ground
The challenge is now to find a middle ground between both versions. Ms Oesch said: “We want to return to the show’s origins but also add that touch of English comedy Eric Thompson put in place,” .
The new series will be produced in France, but with the support of British animators and authors. They include writer Jenny Landreth, who worked on CBeebies series Hey Duggee, which Ms Oesch said was “a reference in terms of tone”.
After a 2005 film version was made using CGI, the reboot could see a return to the series’ roots. “Factory has done initial tests using stop motion, which we like a lot.”
While that will be music to the ears of nostalgics, the show will be targeted at children aged three to five, with “more madness” than the original, but not as satirical as the BBC’s effort.
“We have kept the characters, the idea of this world and the roundabout, but the stories and formula will be updated to speak to a modern audience.”
Mr Worthington said he was optimistic about the reboot. “It needs to retain the ambiance, the quirkiness of how the characters interact with each other. I thought that was missing from the more recent film version.”
The series will be co-produced by Magic, which manages the rights on behalf of the Danot family. It should be released some time in 2024 or 2025.
Florence and Dougal in six dates
1964: Le Manège enchanté was first broadcast on French TV
1965: English adaptation The Magic Roundabout debuted on the BBC, narrated by Eric Thompson. It ran until 1977
1972: The film Dougal and the Blue Cat, directed by Serge Danot, was released in the UK (after coming out in France in 1970)
1992: The show returned to British TV as Channel 4 broadcast a new set of episodes narrated by Nigel Planer
2005: CGI film The Magic Roundabout was released, to mixed reviews
2024? The Magic Roundabout reboot is likely to be released in 2024 at the earliest