The Unbearable Lightness Of Boing

Zen And The Magic Of Roundabout Maintenance by Roger and Nigel Planer

The Comedy Cash-In Book Book, Ben Baker's book on the history of the TV Comedy tie-in large format paperback, has recently been reissued in an expanded form with even more on the shows that shouldn't have made it into print but somehow did. You can find out more about it here. At the time of the original release, I wrote a piece to promote it about my favourite example of the genre, Zen And The Magic Of Roundabout Maintenance, which you can now read again below...

Letter of complaint from Sooty, Barbara Woodhouse and Muffin The Mule, from Zen And The Magic Of Roundabout Maintenance by Roger and Nigel Planer

Like Tin Machine, Carry On Columbus and, well, any other early nineties wheel-reinvention of a much-loved cultural phenomenon, history tells us that Nigel Planer's redubbing of The Magic Roundabout was a best-forgotten excursion into artistic self-indulgence that nobody asked for. In fact, like Tin Machine and, well, probably not like Carry On Columbus, it was a little more complicated than that.

Co-written with his scriptwriting Not The Nine O'Clock News/Spitting Image alumnus brother Roger (who also narrated some episodes when Nigel was otherwise engaged), these new scripts never sought to replicate Eric Thompson's much-loved original loose reinterpretations of the French originals, but instead pursued their own comic agenda, mixing topical satire with hefty and often obscure swipes at the late sixties counterculture (which, of course, Nigel had originally made his name parodying) that The Magic Roundabout had more recently found itself bizarrely tied in with, courtesy of planks who insist that anything that ever showed a bit of imagination had to have been all about teh drugz. Admittedly this approach didn't come across too well when slapped over the top of actual episodes of The Magic Roundabout, especially when most viewers - and it originally went out as part of a straight-faced breakfast news show - were probably looking for a quick fix of childhood-recreating nostalgia.

Where it did work better was in two long-forgotten spinoffs; the bizarre spoof 'making of' documentary The Return Of The Magic Roundabout, which saw Nigel drawn into a Cold War-like world of backward messages, missing tapes and 'silenced' BBC employees, and the accompanying book Zen And The Magic Of Roundabout Maintenance. With a surprisingly large number of pages to fill and no particular brief, the Planers simply let their countercultural amusements run riot, telling the history of the show's characters in a wild psychedelic blur of references to celebrated drug literature, Oz magazine's unintelligible design stance, and what may or may not be a genuine photo of Dylan with The Beatles. There are also Zebedee-driven meditations on Stephen Hawking's recent theories, a map of where far-out sixties pop hits have become lost in Dylan's subconscious, and plenty of swipes at The Magic Roundabout's one-time scheduling rival Hector's House. And did the latter ever get his own peculiar obscure sixties reference-heavy spinoff book? No he didn't. Stitch that, 'Hector'.

Mr Rusty's Magic Roundabout Scrapbook, from Zen And The Magic Of Roundabout Maintenance by Roger and Nigel Planer

You can also find the podcast that myself and Ben did to promote the book, featuring us talking about the best and worst examples of the genre, here. And if you want to hear more of me talking about The Magic Roundabout, then you can find that here.