Tag Archives: geoffrey bayldon

Catweazle 1.2 – Castle Saburac

Four months ago, we watched the first episode of Catweazle and our son wasn’t crazy about it. I figured he needed a little time, and while I’d planned to wait until 2018 for more, it actually works pretty well for our schedule to start it up now.

“Castle Saburac” is set the day after the silly events of the first episode, and sees Catweazle further flummoxed by the weird world of 1970. Baths horrify him, and he catches sight of an airplane – a winged fish that roars – with intense worry. I think most of this episode might have been scripted around the available location, because there’s a fun game of hide and seek around a really unsafe-looking abandoned house that’s missing most of its upper floor.

Our son was more pleased with this outing. I think he realizes that Catweazle is in no real danger from anybody, but there are silly chases and magic spells. He makes himself invisible to the maid, which is handy because she’s one of those only-on-television females who start screaming whenever she sees a nearly naked man. It ends with Catweazle and Carrot finding a new and safe place for him to live, an old and abandoned military water tower which he coins Castle Saburac, after the apparent name of the spirit who sent him to the 20th Century. Its strong walls can withstand a barrage of enemy arrows. Our son says that he’d like an abandoned water tower of his own to make a castle, which means he’s probably going to handle the next eleven episodes just fine.


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Catweazle 1.1 – The Sun in a Bottle

Catweazle is a much-loved children’s series that ran for two series in 1970 and 1971. A wizard called Catweazle, played by Geoffrey Bayldon, fumbles a spell and, instead of flying, transports himself 904 years into his future, when all sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Hiding in a small barn, he is flummoxed by the power of “elec-trickery.”

I watched the first episode of the show on YouTube a few weeks back and showed it to our son this evening. To my huge surprise, he wasn’t really taken with it. I thought it had all the ingredients for a hit with him, including a kid protagonist, played by Robin Davies, who helps Catweazle hide out, some silly wordplay, slapstick, and the great comedy of the tramp-like wizard encountering tractors, windows, and orange juice and thinking they’re all terribly dangerous. It’s also got Neil McCarthy, who we’ll see in Doctor Who in a couple of months, as the amiable farmhand who needs the kid to fix the TV set when the picture goes all wobbly.

I also enjoyed the glimpse of one aspect of British life in late 1969 when this was made. When the kid pours Catweazle orange juice, he pours it about one part straight orange to three parts water. I have never seen that done before.

Sadly, our son didn’t like it as much as we hoped. He giggled a few times, but the threat of Catweazle being discovered by either the dad or the farmhand had him more worried than entertained. I’d planned to order the Network DVD set and add it to our rotation later this summer, but in light of his reaction, we’ll table it for now and try again next year.

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RIP Geoffrey Bayldon, 1924-2017

I’m very sorry to read of the death of actor Geoffrey Bayldon yesterday at the age of 93. He had a really interesting career, with a huge number of guest star roles in all kinds of British television comedies and dramas. He appeared in several Hammer and Amicus horror films, and played Q in the 1960s Casino Royale, which I probably enjoy more than you do. But he’s best known for two iconic roles in children’s TV dramas. In the early seventies, he starred for two seasons as the timelost wizard Catweazle. At the other end of the decade, he was the Crowman, creating scarecrows and trying to keep some order in their fields for four years of Worzel Gummidge.

I’d recently decided that we’ll watch the first episode of Catweazle for the blog in a few weeks, after this season of Who, as a sample to see whether our son enjoys it and if I should buy the series. I hope that he likes it and we can give it a little spotlight. Our condolences to Bayldon’s family and friends.

Photo credit: Memorable TV.

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What We’re Not Watching: Worzel Gummidge

We’re not watching Worzel Gummidge for our blog, and that’s a shame. Three months ago, I wrote another entry in this occasional series, about The Space Giants, a program that’s never been available in English on home video. Worzel Gummidge has been released, but the DVDs that you can track down from Amazon UK have apparently been made from very poor condition prints. Since I’ve read so many complaints about their quality, I’ve decided against making the investment, though I hope somebody will remaster and reissue the show in the next few years.

I did see about ten episodes of the series quite some time ago, back in the VHS tape trading days. I was skeptical, as perhaps you might be. It’s a children’s series starring Jon Pertwee as a scarecrow. But holy anna, it’s so much more than that. This program is absolutely intoxicating, charming, anarchic, and completely hilarious.

Worzel Gummidge is set in a world where anything that has been built to look like a human can come to life. That includes scarecrows, mannequins, fairground aunt sallies, the statue of a busty woman on the prow of a ship, you name it. Mayhem ensues. Outright lunacy.

Two kids, played by Charlotte Coleman and Jeremy Austin, get let in on the secret: there’s a strange tramp called the Crowman (Geoffrey Bayldon) who goes around building scarecrows and giving them life. The scarecrows have laws, rules, regulations, and different heads for different occasions. Worzel Gummidge, dirty and uneducated unless he’s wearing the correct head, dreams of the good life, a fine house, a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and the hand of the beautiful Aunt Sally. She is a scheming, double-crossing, jealous, manipulative masterpiece of TV villainy played by Una Stubbs, and she only has eyes for Worzel when it suits her.

As the show went on, a who’s who of British comedy made thunderously funny appearances, either as shocked upper-class toffs or other creatures with weird life that upend everything. Joan Sims shows up frequently in the first two series as Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, and with a name like that, you know a dirty, horrible scarecrow is going to destroy her garden fetes. Other people cruising in for craziness include Bernard Cribbins, Barbara Windsor, Bill Maynard, Connie Booth, Billy Connolly, John Le Mesurier, and Talfyrn Thomas.

One of the UK’s commercial channels, Southern TV, made 31 episodes between 1979-81. The whole show was made on 16 mm film on location in various villages in rural England, so it doesn’t have that stagey videotape feel. I think almost the entire series was directed by James Hill, who’s probably best known for directing Born Free and the 1971 Black Beauty, but also a lot of ITC dramas and some of The Avengers.

After Southern TV was closed down in a franchise change with the ITV network, the show was shelved for a while, and TVNZ then continued the program with Hill, Pertwee, and Stubbs with 22 episodes of Worzel Gummidge Down Under from 1987-89, but there was a different Crowman in New Zealand, played by Bruce Phillips. I’ve never seen any of these, but understand that they’re lacking a little of the original’s spark, possibly because they had different writers and they didn’t have the same deep bench of well-known comedy guest stars.

Anyway, my interest was reignited when I read about Stuart Manning’s The Worzel Book, published by a small specialist company in the UK called Miwk. The book had enough rave reviews for me to take the risk, and it turns out to be one of the best books about TV that I’ve ever read, dense with photographs, interviews, and background information. Click the image above to get a copy from Miwk yourself. If this book doesn’t leave you badly wanting to see this series, something may well be wrong with you.

Unfortunately, the only way to get all 53 episodes in one place is to shell out a pretty fair chunk of change (£69.95 now) for an out-of-print box set, and if my old VHS boots and the samples you can see on YouTube are any indication, the picture and sound quality is just too poor at that price, especially with cash a little tight at home right now. My fingers are crossed that somebody will remaster the program very soon, because I’d love to watch it with our son before he gets too old and jaded. Anytime between now and 2022 will do just fine. How about it, Network? Simply? Do it fer ol’ Worzel!

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