Children’s television programs are one of those things that are very much a product of both their native environment and the time in which they are made. Just like fashions and music, what one generation grew up with may not always be something of interest to, or even understandable by, another generation. Perhaps this is why my parents could never figure out why I, and so many others, loved Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood when I was little. There was something in it that appealed to kids of my day, but older people didn’t get it, and I don’t think today’s kids would either.
Kids’ shows get made in droves; there’s always a market for more, it seems, as TV is always a handy babysitter or educator, depending on how it’s used. (Now, I don’t want to get into that debate, so before everyone drags out their soap boxes, let’s just take a step back.) In amongst all the very mediocre and all-too-throwaway children’s shows there are a few that are able to withstand the test of time. Sesame Street is one of these, although it has gone through a lot of changes since it first came out in the late 60’s. However, it is one of the more innocuous shows from that time period. There are several others that are much, much more rooted in the (counter) culture of the era.
One perfect example, known by many in North America, is H.R. Pufnstuf. This oddball mix of puppets and life action really is closer to a Cheech and Chong movie that it is to legitimate children’s entertainment, but it has a cult following and is well known among both adults and children of its era. However there is another show that had even longer lasting appeal, although it was in many ways just as whacked-out as H.R. Pufnstuf was. This show was “The Magic Roundabout”. What, you’ve never heard of it?
Well, neither had I. It was originally a French kid’s show, but it was brought over to England and redubbed with a completely new script. It ran for 441 five-minute episodes from October 1965 until January 1977. It was a stop-motion animation show about a Magic Roundabout (merry-go-round or carousel, to non-British folks) and the characters that interacted with it. I’ve watched a few of the episodes online, and they’re pretty darned trippy; consider when they were being dubbed! Almost none of the episodes I watched actually featured the roundabout itself. Instead, I got a face full of an odd singing cow (Emintrude), a simple snail (Brian) some kind of fuzzy-doglike thing (Dougal) and a rabbit that looks so high that he wouldn’t even pass the drug test to get into Wonderland. His name is Dylan, and is apparently, and appropriately, named after singer Bob Dylan.
So what, you’re likely thinking, does this have to do with me, or the Sprue Lagoon? Well, that’s a good question, and you can thank Corgi. Yes, that purveyor of “not-quite-Matchbox and not-quite-Hot Wheels that was a much bigger deal in Britain than it ever was in North America” is at fault here. I had to find out about all this Magical Roundabout stuff thanks to them. Still mystified? Stick with me…
One thing that has always puzzled me is “character cars”, as I call them. These were a big thing in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Matchbox, Corgi and Hasbro (under Playskool) made a lot of these. They were die-cast cars with a plastic character from popular kids’ shows in them. There were many examples from Sesame Street made by Playskool, and Matchbox had a line of Disney ones. There were even Playskool ones featuring Tiny Toons characters, which will tell you how long this practice went on! There are also a number of toys, including Tomicas, that are based on Peanuts characters. However Corgi, as often was the case, put out toys from less-popular shows, like Tom and Jerry and Popeye.
Many of these toys are quite interesting, and my Uncle has a great collection of them. Some were quite elaborate, but many were basically 1/64 sized, although much chunkier and heavier. I never really understood them, though, even as a child; since the characters were never in such vehicles in their respective shows, the whole concept just didn’t work for me. They are collectible enough now, of course, and because they were for young children, finding them in less than nearly-destroyed condition isn’t that easy.
There were, though, some character cars that were more elaborate; Corgi excelled at these. They made a few larger Muppets vehicles that were nicely detailed and make for interesting and colourful display pieces. They seem to be made more for adults than kids, but it could just be my perception as an adult that colours my view of them.
As it turns out, there was also a character car made for The Magic Roundabout. It was made by Corgi and must rank as one of their more deluxe efforts, especially considering it actually has three of the main characters from the show in it. However, I didn’t know who Brian, Dylan and Dougal were when I came across this odd piece at a local toy show. Try and imagine my reaction to seeing this thing knowing nothing of what I’ve already told you.
If you’ve got your head emptied and your “glassware” all set up, let’s take a look at Corgi No. 807, and see just how messed up the world of Character Cars can get!
Who or What in the World…?
The Corgi No. 807’s base vehicle is likely recognized by most of us; it’s a Citroen DS. Well, the front half is. However, the DS I’m used to seeing is a sedan, not a pickup truck. It turns out that the basis for Dougal’s car is actually a DS converted for use as a team car in the Tour de France bike race. The original has a driver in front and a fellow in back shouting through a megaphone. It also has a rack of bike wheels on it, to help repair any damage a team may take during the race. I’m not familiar with bike racing at all (I have a car, I don’t use a bike…), so I may be misunderstanding it, but it’s only somewhat relevant anyway.
In order to capitalize on the incredible popularity of The Magic Roundabout, Corgi wanted to create a Character Car that would showcase a few of the main characters. I can see why they’d chose the DS for this; since it’s got a nice big open back end, there’s lots of room to put big figures of characters in the bed. The kids would easily recognize the characters and Corgi would be able to sell a few more units of what must have been a less than popular model.
Putting the “Character” in “Character Car”:
And, so it was that the humble DS got drafted for duty as Dougal’s car. The first thing that Corgi did was to make good use of the driver’s compartment. They chose to put the snail, Brian, in the front end, stretched all across the seats, with his head (and his trademark hat) out in the breeze. Don’t let it bother you that he’s looking out to the back and side, rather than forward. I mean, if you saw a car driven by a giant behatted snail on the road you’d give it plenty of room, right? Thus, I’m thinking that while not safe, Brian’s less-than-ideal driving posture really isn’t that big a deal. I mean, he seems happy regardless, so why bother him with the facts about head-on collisions…
As a side note, can you imagine being the person who would have to clean up that interior? And you thought winter slush and salt was bad?! Try scrubbing of snail goo; no amount of ArmorAll can make that right again…
A DS with a giant, goofy/trippy snail at the wheel just wasn’t enough, though. Ooooh no. This thing needed to be a LOT weirder, it seems. What better way to increase the recognition factor than by adding large versions of Dougal and Dylan to the “box” of the DS pickup? This is where the vehicle goes beyond being just cute or funny and goes into the downright weird/trippy/kinda-horrifying territory.
Firstly, look at Dougal. Dougal is a hairy fellow. He’s all hair, actually, except his face. The original “puppet” used in the stop-motion animation was like this because they didn’t want to worry about filming feet. So, if you look at the plastic Dougal, you’ll see that he’s essentially a furry blob with a face. The good folks at Corgi did a nice job of texturing him so that he looks furry. Well, actually, he looks corrugated! The “fur” is very lumpy and if Dougal were painted in Aluminum, he’d likely look like a crappy tool shed! However, he’s brown, so he could also be something else. (A rusty tool shed?) To try and reinforce his furry nature, Corgi’s painters went all out and highlighted his fur with a goldish-tan colour. This actually works quite well even though the effect is a bit crude by modelling standards. Unfortunately, though, Dougal now looks more like a living piece of shag carpet, or perhaps a living macramé plant holder/beaded seat cushion, than a dog. His beady eyes and large nose help draw attention to the one non-furry part of him, and his gaping red mouth completes his face.
Now, as if that still wasn’t enough, Corgi wanted to also add a figure of Dylan to the vehicle. Dylan is a rabbit, and even back in the day it was assumed he was high on something (likely weed). Well, even if he wasn’t, you can sure assume the moulders and painters were! Dylan, standing in the back of the DS, more than doubles the height of the entire piece. He’s definitely an attention grabber, but for all the wrong reasons.
Look at him! Before you go any further, just look. For one thing, he’s a mouldy pinkish-red! He’s the colour of some long-forgotten-in-the-back-of-the-fridge Mott’s Fruitsation that’s taken on a life of its own! What the heck kind of rabbit is that colour? Now look at that grey mess of hair on this head, and the way in which his ears almost grow from it. This leads to a very pertinent, but disturbing question. Since rabbits aren’t usually pinkish-red, but skin can be, and since rabbits are often greyish, and Dylan’s hair is, does this mean that Dylan is, by and large, bald? Did he get so high that he shaved himself on a dare? JUST WHAT IS GOING ON HERE??
If the thought of psychedelically-fuelled self-depilatory action isn’t enough, then look further. Check out those eyes! I didn’t think it was possible to convey “being high” using a children’s toy, but Dylan does it, and does it well. Those are the most unfocused, glassy eyes I’ve ever seen on a figure! That dude has totally checked out, and this is only reinforced by the fact that his eyes are only half open and his bushy, black eyebrows are sort of all over the place. If this guy isn’t four bags of Doritos and a 2L bottle of Mountain Dew deep into it, I don’t know who is!
Once you add in his odd white scarf and bizarrely coloured outfit of blue pants and vest with a yellow shirt, it’s pretty plain that either his mother dresses him funny, or he was just not into caring about much beyond the “hydro” while he was getting ready for his sojourn. I guess we should be glad he remembered his pants, because really… well, you know…
To finalize the weirdness of it all, and to help reinforce to future generations that this is indeed from the era of Flower Power, the DS is painted in a very attention-grabbing bright yellow with flower decals on the doors and roof. On the hood is a large decal that shows the titular Magic Roundabout on a blue background, with a few extra flowers for good measure. There were some other decals that came with the car originally; a few series of dots or smaller flowers, but they weren’t applied on this particular piece. To put the cherry on, or under, the cake, as it were, the normal Corgi wheels have been replaced by large red wheels with gold trim the normal “hubcap” detail is also gone; in its stead is a golden flower on each wheel centre.
If you turn the car over, the weirdness wraps around too. Whereas I expected to see a normal Corgi chassis, telling me this was a Citroen DS, there is a custom chassis in painted grey metal that proclaims this car is indeed from The Magic Roundabout. I’m glad of that, though; if it hadn’t said that, I’d have had no idea what to Google to figure out where this was from. (What do I look up? “Yellow Corgi Citroen Snail Driving + High Rabbit”?) There are also many flowers stamped right into the metal on the chassis. Told you; weird all over!
So, in short, this thing is trippin’ from top to bottom and front to back.
A Mismatch on the Bill:
What’s really weird about this thing, other than everything (especially when you don’t even know what you’re looking at), is the quality of it. The DS body shell is nicely done. The paint is great, the headlights are well rendered and the wheels, while odd, roll very well. This is a tough piece to stop from careening around your display, as if it was part of some cannabis-fuelled, low-speed chase prosecuted by a number of 1/43 police cars! Even the decals are quite good, and must be sturdy, since mine are in pretty good shape, despite this thing being a near ball-of-grime when I picked it up originally.
On the other hand, the figures, while definitely entertaining and a major part of the vehicle, aren’t all that well done. If you look closely, you can see that the painting on the figures is incredibly sloppy in spots. Dylan’s outfit is particularly bad, although a lot of Dylan’s paint appears to be “out of focus”. (Now THAT’S appropriate!) In places, like his sleeves and even his face, the painting is worse than I’d expect to see on a Dollar Store knockoff item, not a legit Corgi, especially one from over 40 years ago. The thing is, if you look this vehicle up on the internet, you’ll see different mistakes made, again especially on Dylan, but the overall lack of precision is startling. I don’t know if it’s because these things were hand painted or what, but the end effect is to create a very startling contrast between character and car.
As with all character cars, finding a Corgi No.807 in good shape is tough. I was very lucky to come across this one, and many out there aren’t as good. However, it’s impossible to be choosy when it comes to the paint on the characters. Even a perfect example still sealed in the box is going to delivery character painting that looks like a novice modeller did it with a paint roller!
Whether you know The Magic Roundabout or not, and whether you are a collector of Character Cars or not, you have to admit that Dougal’s Car is one heck of an interesting piece. It oozes zeitgeist the way Dylan blows smoke rings, and is just as eye-poppingly ridiculous regardless of what time period it’s seen in. It hasn’t lost anything in terms of charm over the years, that’s for sure!
Dougal’s Car was something I picked up on a whim. I didn’t know what it was, or why everyone in this Citroen was high, but it had a snail driving it and that was good enough for me. I was lucky to find such a good example, and all it needed was some careful work with a toothbrush to get back into nearly-new condition. I’m not going to go out of my way to become a devotee of The Magic Roundabout because I got this, mind you; I think it’s more fun when you know as little about the source material as possible!
One thing that gets me is this: Why is it called Dougal’s car when he isn’t even driving? I’m assuming it’s because Dougal is a very primary character on the Roundabout. It may also be because Brian has had the fewest pulls on the bong, and thus was voted “DD” – Designated Don’t-look-forward-while-you-driver! Either way, that’s a minor quibble, since I don’t know why they would be in a Citroen DS anyway.
If you love weird and wonderful display pieces that you don’t have to build yourself, this is a good one to get. For many it’s nostalgic, for the rest of us, it’s just utterly bizarre. Either way, it’s a solid piece of Made-in-GT. Britain die cast and an eye-catching item to put in a display. It’s light-hearted, silly and improbable; it’s the perfect counterpoint on a shelf full of meticulously built and researched models. For that alone, I think everyone should have one.