Catweazle acquires a new home in this episode, a disused railway station called Duck Halt. He also obtains his second sign of the Zodiac: a literal sign of “The Bull” which a pub by that name has discarded in favor of something more modern, “a bit Picasso.”
There’s the usual very amusing goofball slapstick and wordplay. The high point is Catweazle’s first trip on a bicycle and not knowing how to stop. But our son was probably most pleased by my solving a mystery I didn’t know needed clearing. The pub sign is removed by a “rag and bone man” played by Bill Owen. Owen would later find fame as Compo over about a quarter-century in the long-running Last of the Summer Wine, but he’d been acting for about twenty years at this point already, including a stint as Lestrade in the BBC’s 1951 version of Sherlock Holmes opposite Alan Wheatley.
The side of Owen’s truck reads “Scrap Metal Rags,” but our son complained that much of his stock wasn’t metal. I explained what a rag and bone man was and he was very pleased. There’s a rag and bone man in one of his Beano Books and that never made sense to him before now!
There was a rather huge change when Catweazle returned for a second series: the entire supporting cast was new. In part because there’s only so much you can do on a farm and in part to spotlight a little of that upper class toffery that international audiences were said to enjoy, when Catweazle returned to the 20th Century for thirteen more episodes filmed in the summer and autumn of 1970, it was around the grounds of the estate of Lord and Lady Collingford, played by Moray Watson and Elspet Gray.
The Collingsfords’ son, Cedric, is home from his school and becomes Catweazle’s new ally in learning magic. This time, he’s trying to find all the symbols of the Zodiac to fuel a spell to fly. And there seems to be another grownup who will be suspicious of what Cedric is up to, a combination groundskeeper and tour guide played by Peter Butterworth.
Interestingly, there’s a delightfully detailed booklet that comes with Network’s DVD issue of Catweazle that explains that LWT suggested the country house and aristocrats to appeal to American audiences because they hoped to sell the show here and British culture and accents were still very trendy back then. Catweazle would have fit in as a Saturday morning show just perfectly. The BBC had actually presold their kids’ series Here Come the Double Deckers to ABC before they finished filming it; that show debuted in September 1970 and its 17 episodes ran for two years, while The Bugaloos, an American production starring four British teen idols, took off on NBC the same day.
This is pure speculation, but Catweazle might have been under consideration by ABC as well for the fall of 1971, but in the end the program was never shown here. If ABC was thinking about buying it, that would mean that they eventually passed it up in favor of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Lidsville, which is by far my least favorite of all the Kroffts’ programs. There must have been some deeply bad magic behind a result that tragic.
If the last episode of Catweazle‘s first series had been made today, it might have had a slightly different vibe. This time, Carrot’s aunt is visiting, and she’s convinced that the farm has been haunted for many years. She saw a ghost there four decades before, and this ghost, amazingly, seems to have looked and sounded like Catweazle. When she meets him in Carrot’s room, she describes their earlier encounter, and he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
It might have been a bit above the heads of the kid audience in 1970 to have Catweazle briefly materialize in 1930 on his way back to his time, just long enough to provide Carrot’s aunt with the memory of seeing him. That’s the problem with looking back at older television: we’re slightly spoiled by all the fun time travel stuff that came later on in media – the Back to the Future movies, the “Future Echoes” episode of Red Dwarf, all of Steven Moffat’s silliness on Doctor Who – that it’s a little unfair to expect a much more straightforward kids’ show in 1970 to go that same route.
Anyway, there really weren’t very many laughs in this last half hour, although Catweazle’s departure scene is actually quite beautifully shot. Our son said that he didn’t really like this episode all that much, but he loves the show overall, and had a good time watching it.
We’ll have a look at the second series of Catweazle in a couple of months, so stay tuned for that!
Here’s another odd little coincidence in our old TV-watchin’. Last night, after our son went to bed, us alleged grown-ups watched a 1964 episode of The Saint. Because I recognize so many actors from the period from their appearances in Doctor Who, I recognized Philip Latham (Borusa in “The Five Doctors”) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Radnor in “The Seeds of Death”), but I missed Geoffrey Bayldon completely. He plays the villain and I guess I’m so used to him in that wig and whiskers going “tch-tch-tch-tch!” that he was unrecognizable to me as a normal human!
This morning, my son and I watched the twelfth episode of Catweazle, in which one of his magic potions works incredibly well. Carrot has started school and his father has taken on a housekeeper and her monstrously unpleasant son, who are constantly belittling the Bennets behind their back. Catweazle devises a potion that forces them to speak “from their black hearts,” with massively satisfactory consequences. Would that every politician and lawmaker be forced to drink from the same well!
In another weird coincidence here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon, we saw John Junkin this morning in Wombling Free and again tonight in the eleventh episode of Catweazle.
This time, I noticed that our son didn’t actually grasp the comedy of misunderstanding that this show does so well, so I paused the action to explain it, and we watched a deliciously funny exchange between Charles Tingwell and Neil McCarthy a second time so he could appreciate it better. The new police sergeant, a city snob played by Junkin who’s convinced all these “country people” are into pagan black magic, is investigating the theft of dozens of brooms, some of which have been returned somewhat burned. By chance, the farmhand has just accidentally burned the end of one himself, making him the sergeant’s prime suspect for running a coven. Sam thinks that he’s actually after him for an expired tag on his car. So he sadly confesses to one minor crime to his boss while giving him the idea that he’s actually a modern witch.
Of course, as soon as Carrot hears that somebody seems to be practicing magic, he knows who’s really stolen the brooms. The sergeant was onto more than he realized! Catweazle was trying some other ridiculous spell to jump through a “time fire.” At least he was good enough to try and return the brooms that he ruined in the attempt, I guess.
Much of Catweazle‘s comedy comes from one character completely misunderstanding another. This time, everything starts to fall apart when Catweazle believes that Sam the farmhand has been murdered by a powerful sorcerer and Carrot agrees… only he thinks the killer is a foreign spy. Of course, Sam isn’t dead, and the fellow in the caravan is neither a sorcerer nor a spy, but a folklorist who also collects the sounds of birdsongs and chirping toads. This meant we needed to pause the episode to explain just who this odd man is.
Naturally, the misunderstandings don’t stop there. The folklorist, played by Bernard Hepton, thinks that Catweazle is an old fellow from down the pub sent by Sam to tell him old stories and tales. “You come from an England long past,” he tells the dirty old wizard. “Aye, ’tis true,” he sadly agrees. The whole episode is very funny, but that was my favorite bit.
They missed a trick in not giving this episode the name “The Demon Drink,” because that’s what we got to talk with our son about this time. Catweazle gets drunk! Boy, that doesn’t happen on American children’s shows. In point of fact, since I average about one pint of beer maybe every nine months, our son actually had no idea what I was talking about when I told him that Catweazle is going to get drunk. He remembered from a recently-viewed episode of The Avengers that you’re meant to sip wine and not guzzle three glasses of it, but had no idea what might happen if you do. So I had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.
This is a very funny little episode. The main guest star is Peter Butterworth, who would return to this show in a different role in its second series. He was another semi-regular in the Carry On movies (16 of them!) and also appeared in many popular comedies like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but he may be best known in the US as the Meddling Monk, the first, and until the debut of Roger Delgado’s Master, only recurring villain in Doctor Who.
Butterworth plays an eccentric retired colonel who is hosting a lecture by an explorer named Nat Wheeler. He mishears Catweazle and thinks the wizard is Wheeler, and Catweazle thinks that the colonel is a great magician who can create thunder from a stick. Between them, they have a riotous misunderstanding about the colonel’s squirrel monkey, and whether the colonel’s thunderstick can put the monkey out of its misery by transforming it back into a human boy.
This was a great episode that our son enjoyed, and also left him curious whether you can see a muzzle flash from the end of a thunderstick. I don’t know much about guns, but I told him that I believe that a bolt-action rifle’s barrel is usually too long for that. Let me know if I told him wrong, won’t you?
This is another very, very funny episode, centered around Catweazle losing his magic dagger, which is called Adamcos, and worrying himself to near-death over it. He believes that he will literally die without it because of some curse or magical requirement. Who can tell if that’s true?
Anyway, the trail leads them to an antiques dealer in Westbourne. He’s played by Aubrey Morris, who we saw in the most recent episode of The Avengers that we watched, just last month. Morris had lots of small roles in ITC dramas and in movies from the period like A Clockwork Orange and The Wicker Man, but I remember him best as the captain of the pointless bunch in the B-Ark at the end of the TV version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I like the way they find new modern horrors to terrify Catweazle, and how Geoffrey Bayldon goes to town with his overreactions. This time, he runs across a music box and a mirror in the antique shop and we howled with laughter, even if I had to ask whether he hadn’t been in the same room as a mirror in a previous episode. This is great stuff.