Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The magic of the 60s

Yesterday and today, while avoiding housework by trawling around the Internet, I uncovered a few stray bits of uploaded data about an Australian children's television show of 1965-67: "Magic Circle Club". What was frustrating was that no one had done any cross referencing, so the Wikipedia listing was very incomplete (and is still quite vague in many places), but at least it looks less patchy tonight, now that I've gotten stuck into it.

I was in Year 1 when "The Magic Circle Club" premiered. It was probably my first favourite show, and what a thrill when it even won a Logie Award! (Of course that usually dooms the great shows and, yes, eventually "The Magic Circle Club" was deemed too expensive, and many of the production staff and performers found themselves in a new, but similar, show called "Adventure Island".

The brainchild of a dynamic group of early TV identities, including Godfrey Philipp and John-Michael Howson, it owed a lot to the pantomime genre, and featured original songs, music and dance routines, which my brother and I watched in all their blurry, flickering, monotone haze, as Channel Ten was only very new, and our grandmother's television antennae received a very untrustworthy, twitchy signal from that frequency.

Cassius, Leonardo, Fredd, Nancy and Max, c. 1965

Its characters were the denizens of the Magic Forest: the mute Fredd Bear (Tedd Dunn) and his screechy sister Fee Fee Bear (hilariously played by John-Michael Howson in a hair bow and high heels); Mother Hubbard (a bustle-wearing pantomime dame, played by Fred Tupper); the handsome Max (Max Bartlett); Curley Dimples, a young Shirley Temple analogue; Marlena DeWitch (Marion Weir); Hep Cat the cat; and villain Sir Jasper Crookly (Ernie Bourne) - definitely a precursor to Snidely Whiplash and Dick Dastardly (and a full year before Professor Fate of "The Great Race")! Sir Jasper's sidekick was the sniveling, cowardly Gaspar Goblin (Colin McEwan), who was reminiscent of movie host, Deadly Earnest.

The show was hosted by Nancy Cato, cousin of a famous author, the other Nancy Cato. A later addition to the cast was Liz (Liz Harris), who also took over as hostess when Nancy Cato suffered temporary paralysis and was confined to a wheelchair.

The 550 episodes were serialised across five days, with the Friday program wrapping up each week's storyline. (This was a great frustration to my brother and I, since on Friday afternoons, we all often had to walk to Rockdale shopping centre - from Arncliffe, two suburbs away - to do any shopping my Mum and grandmother hadn't done the day before, ie. "Message Day"). Each episode finished up with the hostess sitting on a large toadstool (or indeed, the "Magic Mushroom"), with Fredd Bear crouched beside her (usually after dusting off the stool with a handkerchief), while the pair shared viewer letters and artwork. Another regular feature included knock-knock jokes with Cassius Cuckoo and limericks with Leonardo de Funbird, who were very expressive wooden and felt puppets.

A semi-regular guest character was Aunty Vale (Bunney Brooke) - what a highlight of my time putting together my (still uncompleted) "Number 96" book: to interview Bunney Brooke and get her chatting about being Aunty Vale all those years ago!

The "Magic Circle Club" was influential upon me in so many ways. Even though I was only in Year 1 and then Year 2 at school at the time, I have a very distinct memory of the day I wrote a "Magic Circle Club" play. There were scripted roles for all of my school friends, and I had my younger brother, who was one year below me at school, and couldn't read, to play the part of the silent Fredd Bear. Through trial and error, I realised why play scripts need to have everyone's parts written on each copy.

I remember making several working cardboard and paper models of Leonardo de Funbird, with an Origami "colour-changer" for a beak. I also recall making a tiny stapled book of character drawings from the show - obviously my very first fanzine production (a collector's edition: #1 of 1 copy!). I also remember making a matching volume for "Adventure Island" when it started the next year.

If you were around in 1965 and 1966, and remember any details of Australia's "Magic Circle Club", which I've omitted here, please do let me know!


judy said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to write your summary of the Magic Circle Club. I think I might be a year younger than you and I was raised in Melbourne. I have very fond memories of the Magic Circle Club and can remember my Mother taking me to a live performance during the school holidays once. I can remember the queue to go in went for miles and we had to endure that - but it was worth it. Of course it was done in a pantomine way where we all booed Sir Jasper and cheered Max. I just had look at Youtube and there is a clip of the opening and closing song.
It brings back so many good memories of a time when you could lose yourself in the tv - I guess because we were so young. I was also very in to the Faraway tree at that time - so the Magic Circle Club fit well with that genre. Sad to hear that Ernie Bourne has passed and I saw on your Facebook page that you had a call from Max. How wonderful! I hope he knows that he brought many happy hours to many people who fondly remember him.
I was going to start a group on Facebook for the Magic Circle club - but will just join the one that is there. Thanks for your blog. Nice one.

Therin of Andor said...

Hi Judy,

I have several blog entries dedicated to the panto ("The Stolen Smile"), and recently met with Max Bartlett and interviewed him. A wonderfully nostalgic experience for both of us!

Thanks so much for your comments!