Watch: Magic Grandad
Magic Grandad is a unit of the BBC schools TV series Watch from the 1990s and 2000s, covering Modern History and Social History for primary school pupils.
A series that brings history to life for infant school children, as Magic Grandad is able to take his grandchildren back into the past to meet famous people and experience life as it used to be. Many of the adventures are about comparing the past and the present, and seeing how evidence of what happened in the olden days still survives.
The series was introduced in the early 1990s to support the then-new History National Curriculum at Key Stage 1, and new series have been made periodically to support new areas of the infant history curriculum such as seaside holidays , and the ever-growing emphasis on studying famous people. Almost every series has a different Magic Grandad, and almost every episode has a different set of grandchildren venturing into the past.
Magic Grandad has quite a bit in common with the famous and long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. The title characters of both series have been played by many different actors in different styles and different situations (in fact there is one actor who has played both roles), who travel in time and sometimes space to all sorts of different periods where they meet famous people, with a variety of young travelling companions. Technically both characters have even encountered the Daleks (in Magic Grandad's case this was as toys in 1969!). Both series began as historical dramas for children, so maybe in about 30 years time Magic Grandad could follow its predecessor and be resurrected as a blockbuster primetime drama series!
The Times Educational Supplement once noted that when the Magic Grandad series started, "Grandad was not just magic, he was also incredibly old. Now a trim figure in his baseball cap and trainers, Magic Grandad has finally gone digital.". The appearance of the various Magic Grandads has certainly been quite different over the years....
Kimberley and Gary's great grandad can magically transport them into the past. Grandad's magic extends to allowing he and the children, even in modern dress, to be accepted as guests of the people they visit. The trips to the past are a secret, as the children's parents think that Grandad simply tells vivid stories.
|1.||In the Kitchen||12 Jan 1993|
|2.||Cars and No Cars||19 Jan 1993|
|3.||Bathtime||26 Jan 1993|
Grandad and his great grandchildren Kimberley and Gary appear for four more adventures, in which Grandad takes them further back in time than he has ever travelled before, to meet famous people from hundreds of years ago. They even travel abroad, to France and the Crimea, where Grandad can magically translate everything that is said into English. All he needs for his magic to work is a song which would have been known at the time. Grandad later sings each song again with new lyrics about the famous person they meet. Grandad no longer arranges his visits in advance so the visitors have to introduce themselves to the historical figures, but the magic now extends to preventing people in the past from being able to see the time travellers if Grandad doesn't want them to, so they are able to sneak past the guard in the Tower of London to visit Elizabeth I for example.
|1.||Elizabeth I||21 Sep 1994|
|2.||Louis Braille||28 Sep 1994|
|3.||Florence Nightingale||5 Oct 1994|
|4.||Samuel Pepys||12 Oct 1994|
A different Magic Grandad who lives at the seaside appears in this series of programmes. This Grandad's magic relies on his collection of old cine films - when they are projected he is able to take his grandchildren Tom and Nikki 'into' the films and back to the time when they were made. They are all dressed in appropriate period clothes when they arrive.
|1.||The Promenade||17 Jan 2001|
|2.||The Beach||24 Jan 2001|
|3.||Entertainment||31 Jan 2001|
Magic Grandad is now a fully-fledged time traveller who regularly journeys around history and then, whenever he finds something "brill-a-brill", drops in on some of his grandchildren and invites them along. Grandad seems to be well known to the people in each era he visits (unless he is the sort of man who just naturally doesn't mind unknown children shouting "grandad!" at him in the street) but there are some restrictions to his magic: he often needs to return to the present before "the magic runs out" at half past four or risk being trapped in the past forever, and he often arrives with a violent crash landing.
|1.||in 1969||17 Mar 2003|
|2.||in 1953||24 Mar 2003|
|3.||in 1870||31 Mar 2003|
Magic Grandad is now capable of travelling thousands of years back in time if he needs to, and he seems to think that his crash landings have improved, although everybody else disagrees. This Grandad takes his various grandchildren to meet famous people from history, who tend to be expecting him and know the names of the child visitors. The children interrogate the famous people about what they do, and how and why they do it, which does not faze the subjects in the least.
|1.||Boudica||3 Oct 2003|
|2.||Dr Jenner||10 Oct 2003|
|3.||Brunel||17 Oct 2003|
|4.||Mary Seacole||17 Oct 2003|
This Magic Grandad is a well-seasoned time traveller with no sign of any crash landings, he appears in a simple flash of bright light with a bit of lip quivering. He can also take his grandchildren on more than one journey at a time, visiting famous people at different times in their lives. This means that each episode can be neatly divided into two individual "clips", the preferred method for disseminating video material in schools these days. The full episodes were available on the BBC's Class Clips website, with the second part of each story preceded by extra narration from Grandad explaining the story so far.
|1.||Amy Johnson||11 Jun 2009|
|2.||Mrs Beeton||11 Jun 2009|
|3.||The Unknown Warrior||18 Jun 2009|
|4.||Charles Darwin||18 Jun 2009|
There has been one more incarnation of Magic Grandad - he appears in animated form in a series of Magic Grandad CD-ROMs, and in photographs in the Big Book classroom resources, and he narrates the CD-ROMs and the electronic versions of the Big Books.
Magic Grandad's voice on the electronic resources is provided by Geoff Leesley, an actor who has featured in Bergerac, Brookside and Little Britain, and I believe it is the same actor who appears in visual form when required! If you can confirm or deny that this is the same person, please get in touch by email!
Sources & References
- BBC (1992) BBC Education Annual Programme for Primary and Middle Schools 1992-93. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1993) BBC Education Annual Programme for Primary and Middle Schools Ages 4-13 1993-94. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1994) BBC Education Radio and Television for Primary and Middle Schools 1994-1995. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1995) BBC Education Television, Radio and Resources for Primary and Middle Schools 1995-1996. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1996a) Watch teacher's notes, summer 1996. London: BBC Educational Publishing. ISBN 0 563 37269 9
- BBC (1996b) BBC Education Television, Radio and Resources for Primary and Middle Schools 1996-1997. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1997) BBC Education 5-14 Television, Radio and Resources for Scottish Schools 1997-1998. London: BBC Education.
- BBC (1999) BBC Primary Video Catalogue 1999-2000 for ages 4-11. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2000) BBC Primary Catalogue 2000-2001. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2001) BBC Primary Catalogue 2001-2002. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2002) BBC Primary Catalogue 2002-2003. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2003a) BBC Primary Catalogue 2003-2004. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2003b) BBC Television, Radio and Online for Primary Schools 2003-2004. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2004) BBC Television, Radio and Online Guide Primary 2004/2005. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2005) BBC Primary Guide 2005/2006. Wetherby: BBC Educational Publishing.
- BBC (2007) BBC Active Primary History Catalogue 2007. Harlow: BBC Active.
- DigiGuide television & radio listings, 2000-2009.
- Education Guardian television listings, 1993-1999.
- Fraser, Lindsey (2004) 'Critics' Choice: Magic Grandad's Seaside Holidays' in Education Guardian 27 April 2004. (available online)
- Lang, Seán (1994) 'Celebrity Squares' in Times Educational Supplement 9 September 1994 p.27.
- Starkey, Dinah (2006) 'Early Object Lessons' in TES Magazine 30 June 2006. (available online)
- Times Educational Supplement television listings, 1993-2000.
- TRILT: the Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching
- and many of the original videos / DVDs / books / CDs mentioned on these pages, BBC termly timetable wallcharts and order forms, and schedules released directly by BBC Learning
- "Incredibly old" quote from Starkey (2006). The article is reviewing the CD-ROMs not the TV series and the "trim figure in baseball cap and trainers" is a reference to Grandad's animated appearance on the CDs. But still, the Grandad of Seaside Holiday is seen in full roller-blading regalia, and the Grandad of Famous People 2 gets done up in biker gear...
- Geoff Leesley is the main voice actor credited across different Magic Grandad CD-ROMs: From the Homes Today and in the Past CD-ROM manual p.2, "Narration: Geoff Leesley, Liz Southwell and Michael Fosker", and from the Toys Today and in the Past CD-ROM manual p.2, "Narration: Geoff Leesley, Charlie Brock, Emma Taylor, Lisa Miles, Matt Cliff, Margaret Thacker and Michael Fosker" (I have not seen any of the other CDs - if you can confirm their credits please get in touch by email. I believe it is the same actor in the photographs of Magic Grandad in the Big Books, because of his distinctive eyebrows, compared to some of his other TV appearances!
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