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.
Catweazle is usually amusing and entertaining, but tonight’s episode was downright hilarious. My son and I laughed all the way through it, even if one terrific exchange was over his head.
The problems start when Catweazle attempts to send himself backward in time, but instead he’s sent sideways a few miles, ending up on the spire of a nearby village church. This leads to a delicious bit of comic misunderstanding with the vicar, who’s played by the wonderful Brian Wilde (Mr. Peacock in my favorite surviving Ace of Wands story). Catweazle thinks that he’s a sorcerer and the vicar thinks the disheveled old fellow is a suicidal Christian, and they have a wonderful conversation where they completely misunderstand each other but agree all the same!
Things get even more wonderful at the vicarage. Catweazle mentions the farm that he knows, and so the vicar rings them up on his “telling bone.” Catweazle doesn’t understand the technology, of course, and thinks that his host is talking to him at first, which had me in stitches, and then he hears the strange voice from the bone…
Things get even more ridiculous when Carrot has to rescue his friend without Sam, and Sam’s sleeping mother, finding out what he’s up to. The kid comes up with a pretty terrific plan, I have to say! I just loved this one. Even enjoying the others, it is by far the funniest adventure on the first disk of this set. I hope that they sustained this level of comedy through the rest of the series.
The previous episode of Catweazle didn’t have many belly laughs, but this one sure did. Our son really enjoyed the slapstick in this one, and there’s a deliciously funny bit that the grownups both liked regarding Catweazle’s misunderstanding of the word capture, in an artistic sense.
In this one, Carrot is concerned when a photographer who’s shooting the derelict cottage on the family farm gets a snap of the old wizard. But Catweazle’s concerned for a different reason: he concludes that to own an image of somebody is to own them outright. So he glumly prepares himself for a life of servitude to the woman with a magic box, which suits her. She thinks he has such an expressive face that he’ll make a terrific model, and if he wants to help around the household as well, that’s just fine with her!
The fifth episode of Catweazle honestly isn’t as funny as the previous ones, despite the casting of comedy star Hattie Jacques as a so-called fortune teller. I did enjoy the misunderstanding between Catweazle and the charlatan: she thinks he’s an entertainer like her, and he thinks – at first – that she’s a legitimate sorceress and her caged, talking bird some kind of demon.
I’m actually not familiar with Hattie Jacques. She was incredibly popular in her day, appearing in more than a dozen Carry On movies and over a hundred episodes of Sykes, a sitcom that ran, in various formats, for nineteen years, but I’ve never seen the show, nor a single Carry On. I know, it’s a hole in my edermekation.
I’m afraid that while our son enjoyed some of the gags in this episode, he really didn’t understand the plot at all, and didn’t ask for our help. This time out, Carrot asks for Catweazle’s help in coming up with a spell to help his father lose interest in a Jaguar-driving posh lady played by an Australian actress named June Jago. The price of the spell? One box of matches. Wizards work cheap when they don’t understand the value of things.
Catweazle comes up with a spell that requires a little hair from the target, which is handy as she has an appointment in a beauty salon. The series appears to have been filmed in the summer of 1969, and this salon is the most 1969 thing ever. But while the wizard’s antics had him giggling, our son had absolutely no idea what he was up to. It turns out that he didn’t understand what a voodoo doll was, and so Catweazle’s magic had him stumped. How odd. Children’s television used to be full of voodoo dolls. I wonder where they all went?