For all that they might have gone on about their collective fear of typecasting, the various 'classic' Doctor Who lead actors didn't half jump at the chance of an in-character tie-in appearance. Whether it was Jon Pertwee tussling with Aggedor at Glorious Goodwood, Tom Baker dispensing pseudo-scientific facts about his favourite best aliens on Animal Magic, or Colin Baker going on a ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach for some reason, costumed-up 'canon'-taxing guest spots were a regular and recurring feature of Doctor Who in its original incarnation. Even Richard Hurndall got to do his "and greetings to you from The Time Lords!" gibberish on a couple of occasions, though nobody has ever been quite sure about what character he was actually 'in'. On rare occasions the companions got in on the act as well, particularly on Crackerjack (don't) for some reason, and that's not even getting started on Celation from The Daleks' Master Plan guest-presenting Points Of View.
Sadly, Celation's little chat - if ever a chat as was - with Robert Robinson no longer exists, but at least it was actually recorded and televised in the first place. During the sixties, before anyone really had the means or indeed the inclination to preserve them in any form, there were literally hundreds of tie-in appearances - particularly at the height of 'Dalekmania' - that came and went and faded into hazy memory with only the odd press cutting to prove they happened, from stage plays to charity events to pop single-plugging to visitors at a Daily Mail-sponsored exhibition being ferried past a collection of Doctor Who aliens in a 'Brainy Train', whatever one of those was exactly. And then there was William Hartnell's disconcerting enthusiasm for making appearances at airfields.
Presumably as an adjunct of his previous starring role in long-running ITV sitcom The Army Game, Hartnell appears to have been invited along to air shows and open days roughly every three minutes, and he also appears to have never turned any of them down. Quite often he would show up in character and costume as The Doctor, sometimes with Daleks in tow, and there was even a vague accompanying 'mini-adventure' narrative of sorts; after his speech is interrupted by an 'Anti-Magnetic Device', The Doctor discovers that the Daleks have constructed a 'fort' on the airstrip, and dashes off to alert his good friends at the RAF who promptly unleash a couple of torpedoes and blow the malevolent interlopers sky high. Terry Nation's feelings on this somewhat off-agenda use of his creations are sadly not recorded, although the escapade did usually involve the nobody-would-ever-suspect-a-thing deployment of a 'double' for Hartnell during the more action-packed moments, which was at least in keeping with the usual mode of practice for his actual television adventures.
Needless to say, very little evidence of any of these events now remains, apart from - staggeringly - some full colour cine camera footage of one of them. On Saturday 18th September 1965 – the same day that Trap Of Steel, the long-lost second episode of the decidedly Dalek-free Galaxy 4 was transmitted by BBC1 – TV’s Doctor Who William Hartnell took part in an RAF Finningley air show along with some Daleks. Well, we say ‘Daleks’, but that's a very loose interpretation of the term. Anyway, we may not have the sights and sounds of that thrill-packed day, but the few existing seconds of moving footage give us a good idea of... well... not very much at all really.
In an unexpected new twist to the big news story of 1963, William Hartnell arrives at Dealey Plaza; controversy and debate will subsequently rage over whether The Thin White Crochety Old Man was giving an 'inappropriate' salute or simply waving to a fan.
Dangling from a helicopter due to some unspecified 'mini-adventure' plot detail, Hartnell's stunt double puts in an unconvincing bid to secure the role of the next Milk Tray Man. Meanwhile, down on the ground, you can just about make out one of the 'Daleks'. Looks pretty convincing from this distance, doesn't it? Well, just you wait.
With full strength undiluted 'Dalekmania' taking full effect, the crowds are clearly enthralled by the unfolding spectacle. So much so, in fact, that they haven't noticed The Queen arriving to take a look. She preferred The Voord anyway.
After someone realises that the audience would probably feel a bit short-changed without one, some sort of cage box thingy that we're probably best off not knowing the real purpose of is hastily redecorated as a vague approximation of a 'Tardis', which some high-spirited youngsters promptly attempt to upend. Clayton Hickman is reportedly 'concerned' by this turn of events.
As everyone knows, Daleks should only be demonstrated to youngsters by qualified experts in lab coats, and the organisers of the air show have gone one better and added to an already star-studded bill by persuading The Prof from Vision On to do the honours. Here he is also introducing some young attendees to a haphazardly repainted diving bell with random number labelling and some kind of lurid red jagged symbol on top. Meanwhile if anyone can identify that crater-festooned planet, please get in touch.
"But how did the Daleks get up stairs? Eh? Eh? The stairs? How did they get up them? Eh?". By walking on their feet. A fact so widely known and recognised that these two youngers cannot even be bothered turning their heads to have a look.
The most convincing Dalek yet achieves speeds in excess of 234.9mph, before breaking off and heading for Brand's Hatch, where it effortlessly beat Lorenzo Bandini and Graham Hill into second and third place.
In a neat bit of cross-promotion, The Mystery Machine tows two reconfigured shuttlecocks past the awestruck crowds. How this fitted into the 'story' is anyone's guess, frankly.
And finally, the fun family day out concludes with a precision-targeted explosion in which everyone's favourite TV villains are seared from existence in a torrent of smoke and flame. In fairness, it's amazing to think that any visual record of an event of this kind exists at all, let alone in colour. In equal fairness, it's also amazing to think that this and many, many, many other examples of harmless yet decidedly off-message ridiculousness were signed off, approved and authorised where nowadays they would be sent packing at the very first hint of a Brand Awareness meeting. Honestly, providing a bit of cheap and cheerful extra-curricular entertainment for average everyday mainstream viewers of a popular television show - what a thought. It's almost worth writing to Points Of View about.
You can read more about Doctor Who's early extra-curricular activities, including a little-known radio appearance by the Daleks, in Not On Your Telly.
While Alan McGee’s failure to transform Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub overnight into globe-straddling millionaire megastars was almost entirely down to both the ultimately uncompromising nature of their music and, in most cases, the varyingly ‘difficult’ nature of the artists concerned, it is still true to say that any such ambitions were decidedly at odds with an industry that was heavily weighted against allowing independent labels to succeed on their own terms.
Indeed, there was some suggestion around this time that The British Phonographic Industry felt that it was time that the troublesome independent sector was brought into line. Amongst several moves seemingly intended to weaken its constitution and assimilate it comfortably into the mainstream were a series of showcases for indie bands in 1991 under the banner ‘The Great British Music Weekend’, from which no participants seemed to walk away with anything short of serious misgivings, and a concerted push to replace the Independent Chart with a wider Alternative Chart, which would have allowed major label million-sellers like Nirvana to dominate at the expense of smaller scale acts; this latter ambition was seen off by a particularly sustained rebuttal from the NME. If the independent sector was to retain its integrity, then clearly it would have to stand apart from any attempts to get it to play by everyone else’s rules.
Perhaps sensing all of this, on 12th February 1992, The KLF brought the curtain down on the artier end of indie music’s association with the mainstream in fine style. Rumours had been circulating for some time that the million-selling yet defiantly uncoinventional dance music duo were struggling with the pressures and demands of the industry and their unexpected and indeed unprecedented level of success, and that Bill Drummond in particular was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Reports had filtered out that the follow-up album they were working on, tentatively titled The Black Room, combined solidly commercial hooks with hardcore techno and ugly guitar noise. With a likely award for Best British Group in the offing, The KLF were booked to open the 1992 Brit Awards, the annual music industry corporate bash notorious for lavishing more attention on money men and high earning artists – even if they hadn’t released a record in several years – than on any actual developments in the music scene. For two erstwhile punk rockers and art students who had already developed a serious grudge against the industry ‘suits’, the temptation to create havoc was too great to pass up.
Instead of the expected high-concept spectacle, the audience were treated to a flashing blue police light and Drummond – walking with the aid of a crutch – announcing "this is television freedom" before yelling the lyrics to their previously radio-friendly singalong 'Stadium House' chart-topper 3am Eternal at a ferocious speed, accompanied by hardcore punk-metal band Extreme Noise Terror, and closing the performance by firing blanks at the audience from a machine gun while the band’s publicist Scott Piering announced "Ladies and Gentlemen – The KLF have left the music business". The audience had in fact got off lightly – only at the very last minute did Extreme Noise Terror manage to talk Drummond out of catapulting a dead sheep into the middle of the parade of expensive evening wear.
The final close-up of Drummond – who would subsequently devote himself exclusively to art and writing (though occasionally with musical elements) – shows a man clearly feeling like a huge burden has been lifted from him; the audience – apart from classical conductor Georg Solti who had laughably walked out in ‘protest’ - simply clap out of politeness with disgusted expressions, although a longshot reveals veteran agit-prop singer-songwriter Billy Bragg applauding with great enthusiasm. Rarely has the distance between art and commerce been so neatly – if accidentally – encapsulated. It would be left to bands more willing to play the game – amongst them Blur, Suede and Pulp, who in time would all have their own hair-raising escapades at The Brits – to pick up the baton a couple of years later.
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Well, that last instalment was very definitely One We Made Much More Boringly. Anyway, we're not going to be spending any more time than we have to on Blue Peter. Instead, it's time to move on to track four of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, and a show that is probably going to end up being discussed in such depth and from so many different angles that it will most likely leave you feeling as though the coverage of John Noakes and company was almost insultingly fleeting.
It's been journey of somewhat mixed fortunes through Music From BBC Children's Programmes thus far, remaining resolutely rooted in the shallow end of any hoped-for psychedelic blast of retro-iconographic pre-school far-outness, with only the Play Away team and their bubblegum pop funkateering really coming up with the Toffo-infused psychoactive goods. Throughout all of this, though, there have been hopeful and continual references to other more suitable shows - and one in particular - that would not merely fit the theoretical bill but blast all thoughts of that jolly stylised sailing ship out of the water in a shockwave of primary-coloured stop-motion puppetry and badly aligned end credit slides. But as Barnaby has yet to put in an appearance, it's time to turn instead to the show that played Chemical World to his For Tomorrow - The Magic Roundabout.
The Magic Roundabout, as doubtless most of you reading this were aware already, began in France in 1963, where it was known as Le Manège Enchanté. When the BBC bought the series for transmission in 1965, they decided not to go for direct translations of the original scripts - which had a more simplistic and educational quality that was sort of lost in, um, translation - and instead roped in Play School presenter, absurdist, jazz enthusiast and all round Father Of Emma Eric Thompson to make up his own storylines and characters based on what he thought was happening onscreen. The result was a surreal and dryly humorous exercise in Zen-based storytelling set to distinctively offbeat visuals, which remained lodged in a pre-news slot at the tail-end of the BBC's children's schedules right up to the end of the seventies, and infamously found as much favour with adult viewers as it did with its target audience. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes with decidedly less than good reason, but we'll get round to all that in due course. More to the point it was, in its own unselfconscious way, about as psychedelic as the BBC's children's programming ever got (discounting Zokko! as a 'bad trip'), though again this was much misunderstood and again we'll be coming back to that in due course. For the moment, all you need to know is that The Magic Roundabout was, give or take the occasional power struggle with Barnaby and Mr. Benn, the high watermark of exactly the sort of sub-cerebral mindset that I was hoping to unlock within Music From BBC Children's Programmes' grooves. Though not by means of chemical assistance.
Let's get the tedious bit out of the way, then. The Magic Roundabout, so conventional 'wisdom' has it, was at best the acid-frazzled creation of someone who had scoffed a hazardous quantity of hallucinogens and had 'seen' the hat-sporting pink cows lurking on the periphery of human sensory awareness, and at worst crafty pro-drug propaganda for the under-fives with Dougal cast as a sugarcube-scoffing acid visionary, Dylan as a weed-smoking layabout, Mr Rusty as a cart-toting pusher in the mould of Bubbles from The Wire, the Roundabout itself as a giant psilocybin mushroom, and Ermintrude/Brian/Zebedee/The Train/Delete Where Ohhangonaminute somehow representing 'speed', however that works exactly. Notice, however, how this perfect fit analysis invariably omits Mr McHenry, Florence, Paul, Basil and Rosalie, not to mention Penelope The Spider and Tweet & Tweet Tweet. Notice also, more importantly, that there is absolutely no truth in this nonsense whatsoever, and no amount of nudging and winking from third-rate standups nor indeed bare-faced insistence from 'talking heads' on clip shows will ever make it so. If you were alighting on these pages hoping for some zany lolz about how they must all have been on those crazy drugs!1, then please go elsewhere and take that bloody Half Man Half Biscuit song with you.
What all this sub-Michelle From Dazed & Confused rumourmongering annoyingly obscures is that, well, The Magic Roundabout really did chime with the times. Like all of the best 'accidental psychedelia', from Colour My World by Petula Clark and The Great Jelly Of London to The BBC Schools Diamond and Bedazzled, it was made in all 'straight'-ness but still allowed itself to be influenced by the fashion, design and style of the day, and as such ended up more effective in its kaleidoscopic otherworldliness than many more humourless and contrived attemps at 'being psychedelic'; this was even more true of the Thompson-reworked version, which was far from averse to throwing in chortling references to countercultural totems. What's more, it had across-the-board appeal, drawing in as many appreciative adult viewers who understood the idiosyncracies of Thompson's wit as it did target audience members fresh from taking their Pelham Puppets Dougal for a 'walk'.
Oddly enough, it found itself unexpectedly chiming with the times in the early nineties too. Not only were Channel 4 screening some previously unseen episodes with writing and narrating dutes taken on by Nigel Planer, but it had also been adopted on a more iconographic face value by the post-Acid House 'rave' generation - who, let's face it, were so blatant in their 'E'-centric hallucinogen propaganda that they didn't need to look for any 'hidden' messages anywhere else - not just as fashion-appropriate t-shirt fodder but also in musical terms. No less than three superb examples of neo-psychedelia - Too Much Fun by The Chillin' Krew, Summers Magic by Mark Summers, and Everlasting Day by, erm, Magik Roundabout (who also apparently did a cover of The Porpoise Song that nobody seems to have heard) - either making lyrical references to or sampling the theme music of The Magic Roundabout. But could it chime with the times a third time? Was that all-too-familiar eighteen-note refrain what was needed to forge a psychotropic pathway to Cheggers Plays Zen and obliterate all memory of sodding Barnacle Bill?
If you've ever heard the original French theme music from The Magic Roundabout, or rather Le Manège Enchanté, you'll know that, much like the show itself, it's broadly similar to the version you're familiar with, but at the same time subtly yet significantly different. It's built around the same chords and melody but is performed at a much slower pace, and is bolstered by some very sixties organ work and an arrangement not unlike that of a Françoise Hardy record. At one point it even had lyrics, sung as a duet between Margote and Pere Pivoine (or Florence and Mr. Rusty in 'old money'), which basically just do little apart from describe how a roundabout habitually turns round but at least it sounds nice and exotic in the original French. Later on, for some reason, the producers saw fit to replace it with Pollux (or 'Dougal' in old money) singing a bland song with a peg on his nose about how he was "friend of all adults and children", which sounds about as far removed from a Françoise Hardy record as you're liable to get. Even if she was to stick a peg on her nose.
The earliest Eric Thompson-redubbed instalments did use an instrumental version of the original theme arrangement, but avoided the temptation to hastily pen some mechanic rotation-centric lyrics in favour of swapping it for a manically sped-up reworking that sounded like it was being played on a steam-driven barrel organ held together with springs and on the verge of exploding. The only resemblance that this would bear to a Françoise Hardy record would be if you were to play one at 16rpm while throwing your record player down the stairs. This would stay in place for the entirety of The Magic Roundabout's run, and while the original versions featured dozens of admittedly rather inconsequential songs, Thompson preferred to leave the 'clean' instrumentals on the undubbed film prints simply as vocal-free backing music, and get on with the more serious business of wisecracking about mouthy tea-strainers forming unions. Though he did once see fit to incorporate a self-recorded approximation of Dylan and Brian jamming an instrumental cover of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. No, really. How and why said worryingly haphazard everybody-take-cover arrangement came to be used for the BBC versions, and indeed where it came from in the first place, are questions to which there seems to be no straightforward answer. There's not even an easily identifiable artist credit, more a confusion of series creators and music publishers and what appears to be some initials too, so it's not so much a research dead-end as something that gives you a headache just by looking at it. But it was used at the start and end - and sometimes in the middle - of close to four hundred editions of The Magic Roundabout, so small wonder that it's come to be so firmly embedded in the national subconscious, and indeed so powerfully evocative of a surreal kaleidoscopic mindset that all of those tedious rumours about it being 'about drugs' could only hope to even begin to hint at.
And here it was, at the start of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, poised ready to evoke that selfsame surreal kaleidoscopic mindset without the aid of psychotropic substances or a peg on Mireille Mathieu's nose. But would it work? And, more to the point, what made up the remainder of that fourth track? Well, the theme from The Magic Roundabout may last little more than thirty seconds, but within those little more than thirty seconds - helped in no small part by the trebly audio-strobing sound quality - there is an entire quasi-hallucinogenic lost world of gaudy crudely-animated entertainment and black and white Radio Times pages. It's a very different kind of psychedelia to that usually ascribed to The Magic Roundabout by tedious drug bores who insist that it's all a drugs analogy about about drugs (drugs), and this ability to tap into 'the past' of popular culture - a phenomenon that itself, ironically, is also becoming a thing of 'the past' thanks to pop-cultural artefacts of yore actually tending to be available these days rather than hovering on the haziest fringes of the collective memory - is, well, exactly what I was hoping that Music From BBC Children's Programmes might provide.
So, how are we scoring so far on the putative, fictitious and not entirely logically applicable Sort Of Chart Rundown Thing-O-Meter Of Just How Pan-Cultural Retro-Symbiotic Music From BBC Children's Programmes Actually Is, then? Well, Mary Mungo & Mindfulness-Pickers, what we have so far is roughly half of the tracks hitting the desired Professor Jordan's Magic Soundshow-esque mark, a couple more sort of but not quite doing so, and one not doing so at all. It's all starting to resemble a Derek Griffiths-slanted take on Tinkerbell's Fairydust, the legendary elaborately-named UK Psych band who recorded the fantsatic singles Twenty Ten and Lazy Day (b/w, coincidentally enough, In My Magic Garden) and an unreleased album, which was the stuff of minor musical holy grail-related speculative music press agogness until it actually eventually was released, and turned out to be a collection of nice-enough-but-nowhere-near-as-good-as-the-singles harmony pop covers. Mind you, it did have a naked fairy on the cover, which at least holds slightly more visual appeal than those loathesome youngsters from the cover of Music From BBC Children's Programmes.
As mentioned several millennia and a lot of references to France Gall ago, though, The Magic Roundabout was merely the first half of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, and if it had acted as a sort of retronostalgic knight in shining armour galloping up to smite Blue Peter, then the cavalry were also about to appear on the horizon, riding on the footplate there and back again...
Top Of The Box, The Complete Guide To BBC Records And Tapes Singles, is available as a paperback here or an eBook here; a sequel covering the albums is coming soon! In the meantime, you can hear me talking to BBC Radio 4 about The Magic Roundabout here.