Monday, 30 August 2010

Catweazle (1969-70)

I got a Catweazle boxset for my birthday. I've been asking for it these past three birthdays and Christmases and finally the family caved in... they didn't cave in so much to buy me the 40th Anniversary special boxset with commentaries, documentaries, reunions and postcards in it, no, they bought me the boxset with dutch subtitles and no extras. But never mind, when I'm rich and famous it's at the top of my list.
I've been asking for Catweazle for so long because I really enjoy The Ghosts of Motley Hall- written by Richard Carpenter after he wrote his more famous children's sitcom. I bought Tony Robinson's Maid Marian and her Merry Men complete series recently and they're as good as I remembered them. There are lots of shit kids' shows out there, everything except Sorry I've Got No Head actually, but in the past there have been some real crackers. Big Kids with Imogen Stubbs was a nice one and the recently cancelled Young Dracula was brilliantly written and acted- something rare these days what with the shortage of good child actors on British screens, don't get me started on how I despise that kid from Outnumbered who I predicted would be the new Just William and ruin it for another generation... Thank God for audio books.
So I finally got to see Catweazle. And it was wonderful. It was magical and it was funny and it was quite sad. Beautifully shot and acted, the boy was lovely and likable, the guest stars- Brian Wilde, Peter Sallis, Peter Butterworth, all brilliant. And weirdly, that first series shot in 1969, looked timeless. Farms still look like that, boys still look and dress like that!! I adored it.
Series two by comparison was disappointing. Aside from changing the dynamic of the show- in the first series Catweazle just didn't understand anything and every episode was him being freaked out by modern times, in the second he knew about everything and had a mission, so you automatically knew what to expect from every episode- aside from the way it had somehow lost all it's sadness and soul by becoming almost slapstick, the main problem for me was the boy.
You cannot expect an audience to relate to- or like!- a snobby squirt who tells Catweazle he's too busy for magic in every episode and lives in a gigantic manor house, perfectly content. He was hateful from the get-go! Carrot was a slightly downtrodden yet permanently cheerful and interested farmboy! Owlface was a fucking twonk. I hated his specky gob and I wanted to punch him.
The final episode of the second series almost recaptured the poignancy of the first series when Catweazle at last gets his greatest wish and flies off into the sunset in his hot air balloon, I say almost, it would have done if the camera hadn't panned back to Milhouse's stupid smug face! Argh!!
Anyway, Carpenter obviously learned his lesson by the time he wrote and cast The Ghosts of Motley Hall, the boy in that was a lovely, eager to help, poor, dead stableboy. Freddie Jones played a brilliantly mad character similar to the one that Peter Butterworth played in the first series of Catweazle (not the part he played in the second- that was a waste of Butterworth), Sheila Staefel was a really strong and funny female character (there were none of these in Catweazle), Arthur English provided the soul and the same relationship that Catweazle and Carrot had with Matt the Stableboy, and because we needed some sort of fool, a young Nicholas le Prevost provided drunken comic relief and has been providing it ever since.

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