Watch: 90 Years Ago with Magic Grandad

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started12th Jan 1993
ended26th Jan 1993
last rpt5th Jun 2007
15 school years
duration15 mins
subject 🏛️HistorySocial History
age rangeAge 5-7
languageenIn English
Magic GrandadNext unit: Famous PeopleHierarchyNext.gif

90 Years Ago with Magic Grandad is a unit of the BBC schools TV series Watch from the 1990s and 2000s, covering Social History for primary school pupils.

Geoffrey Bayldon as Magic Grandad

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.

This unit was originally titled "Switch On, Switch Off" as it is about the differences between the electrical appliances of modern times and the decidedly non-electrical life around the turn of the twentieth century. Since 1996 is has been billed as "90 Years Ago with Magic Grandad".

Grandad is played by Geoffrey Bayldon, and his first name is Albert.


Quick episode list

# Title Broadcast
1. In the Kitchen 12 Jan 1993
2. Cars and No Cars 19 Jan 1993
3. Bathtime 26 Jan 1993

Num Title 1st Broadcast
1. In the Kitchen 12 Jan 1993
Magic Grandad In the Kitchen.jpg

Grandad, Kimberley and Gary's modern breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast is interrupted when none of the electrical appliances will work. Grandad takes them back to a breakfast time 90 years ago, where the porridge has been cooking on the range all night and bacon is served up for the man of the house, while the children make do with bread and dripping. They discover the historical alternatives to central heating, washing machines and fridges.

Magic Grandad In the Kitchen title.jpg
  • Many of the details about the trips into history given in the teacher's notes for this series are different from the programmes themselves (this is not particularly unusual as notes for schools TV programmes were almost always written long before the programmes were made, but it gives an insight into earlier plans for the story). For episode 1 the notes explain that Grandad was born in the house and so was his mother, but in the programmes the Deakin family who live in the house 90 years ago are not related to the modern occupants, the Chadwicks. The notes also claim that "the baby in the cot is the present Grandad's mum", although in the programme the baby is called Freddy and is definitely a boy (Eliza is the "youngest girl, since her sister Nancy died"). In fact in the programmes Grandad transports the children back to the era of his own childhood - many of his songs refer to "when Albert was a lad".
2. Cars and No Cars 19 Jan 1993
Magic Grandad Cars or No Cars.jpg

Grandad, mum and the children are out in the car but they get a flat tyre. Grandad takes them back to see what happened when there were no cars, and they find themselves driving a pony and trap down an unpaved road at a time when most people still walked everywhere. They see old-fashioned signposts and shire horses pulling a large removals cart, and discover how the exhaust product of these old modes of transport was good for the garden. When the pony loses a shoe they visit the blacksmith to see how horseshoes were made and attached. They even see one of the first motor cars driving past.

Magic Grandad Cars or No Cars title.jpg
  • The teacher's notes for this episode thought that the characters would be caught in a traffic jam rather than suffer a flat tyre, and that the "strange popping noise" of the early car in the historical scenes would be their first sight of the vehicle and frighten everybody, "particularly the horse!".
  • While the other episodes of 90 Years Ago are all based in the studio, this one was recorded on location at Chiltern Open Air Museum.
3. Bathtime 26 Jan 1993
Magic Grandad Bathtime.jpg

Gary doesn't want to go for a bath, but Grandad says that when he was young they didn't even have a bathroom. With another song ("what if we needed the loo in the night? How did we wee without good light?") he takes the children back to the house 90 years ago, where gas lamps are lit and the olden-day children are given baths in a tin tub the front room on their weekly bath night. They discover how to get hot water, and they venture into the back yard by candlelight to use the privy. There is a knitting demonstration and all of the children are sent upstairs where there is one bed, and a "gazunder".

Magic Grandad Bathtime title.jpg
  • The teacher's notes said that Grandad would tell the children the latest story about the past when they were in bed, but in fact he tells it just as they are arguing about going for a bath (and actually they all have their baths in the past!). Apart from that the notes are accurate.



Geoffrey Bayldon as Grandad
Cheryl Hall as Mrs Chadwick / Mrs Deakin / passer-by
Kristy Bruce as Kimberley Chadwick
James Moreno as Gary Chadwick
Toyah Gibbs as Eliza Deakin

In the Kitchen with

William Ilkley as Mr Deakin

Cars and No Cars with

Rene Zagger as blacksmith's boy / mechanic
Barry Luck as blacksmith

Written by Margaret Simpson
Music by Peter Pontzen
Consultants Sandra Armstrong, Sallie Purkis
Design David Bevin
Production Assistant Alison Garland
Assistant Producer Scott Ross
Associate Producer Bob Parker
Executive Producer Judy Whitfield
Producer Ronald Smedley
A Spelthorne Production for BBC


Video Plus Pack / DVD Plus Pack

Video Plus Pack

The three TV episodes on a video in a huge box, accompanied by a set of teacher's notes and a "90 Years Ago" wallchart by the Pictorial Charts Education Trust (PCET).

New titles

The Watch opening credits are replaced by "Video Plus" graphics and each episode is given an on-screen title. A short clip from a David Attenborough documentary which the children are watching on TV at the beginning of episode 3 is removed from this version, possibly for copyright reasons but I'm not sure. Otherwise the programmes are complete.

The Video Plus pack was released in 1995 costing £36.00. It then crept up to £38.00 before BBC Education's big video price reductions in 1998, when it came down to £29.99. By 2003 it was back up to £34.99+VAT (all previous prices were including VAT). ISBN 0 563 39816 7.

The pack was re-released as a DVD Plus Pack in 2006, initially for around £49.99+VAT. By 2009 it had gone up to £52.99+VAT. I am not sure whether the DVD pack still includes the wallchart from the video pack. ISBN 978 0 563 51653 8.

Available to buy

The DVD Plus Pack is still available to buy.

Available to UK schools only. BBC Active (Pearson) Trumedia 

Switch On Switch Off Booklet


A 24 page factual booklet for children, one of a series of six Watch booklets for children released in 1994.

The booklets were available in packs of 5 (intended for classroom use) at £4.99, ISBN 0 563 351 934, or as part of a pack containing one of each of the 1994 Watch booklets at £5.99, ISBN 0 563 39761 6. They were offered for sale until around 1996.

Teacher's Notes

An individual booklet of teacher's notes for all Watch programmes in a particular school term was issued in every term from autumn 1967 (when it started) to summer 1999. The Magic Grandad programmes were covered alongside the other units of Watch each term, with descriptions of the episodes, various suggestions for follow-up work and photocopiable worksheets.

From autumn 1999 onwards single, reusable sets of notes were produced, each covering a variety of linked units. Notes for the 90 Years Ago and Famous People units of Magic Grandad were included in a history booklet which also covered Time Treasures and Within Living Memory. The booklet originally cost £3.00 and the last time it was advertised was in 2002-3, when it was going for £3.99. ISBN 0 563 46496 8.

Magic Grandad Software

Software for Acorn computers for children to investigate family life and homes in 1995, 1965, 1935 and 1905, along with a teacher's manual.

The software was released in summer 1996 and was available until around 1999. It originally cost £29.95 for one copy, ISBN 0 563 95773 7, or £88.15 for a site licence.

Homes Big Book

Big Book
Early prototype of the Big Book cover, with a different (and much older-looking) model playing Grandad

A very large, colourful book, full of pictures, designed to be propped up in front of a class full of children. "Homes" was one of the very first in the series of "Magic Grandad's Big Book of History", released in autumn 2001 (the other was "Seaside Holidays"). It cost £19.99, ISBN 0 563 54367 1.

A smaller, booklet sized edition for children to handle themselves was published in autumn 2003 as part of the "Magic Grandad's Little Book of History" series, costing £17.99 for a pack of 4, ISBN 0 563 54897 5.

The whole Big Book series was re-released in 2006 as "Magic Grandad's E Big Book of History". This is basically a CD containing an interactive PDF copy of the Big Book and teacher's notes. It originally cost £49.99+VAT for a single copy, ISBN 978 0 563 51574 6, or £74.99+VAT for an unlimited user licence, ISBN 978 0 563 51602 6.

Available to buy

The E Big Book version is still available.

BBC Active (Pearson) Trumedia 

Homes CD-ROM

Homes Today and in the Past An educational game for Windows PCs and Macs, in which the animated Magic Grandad takes children on a tour of the homes of the 1900s and of today.

The CD-ROM was released in 2006 at £49.99+VAT for a single copy, ISBN 0563 51681 1, or £249.99+VAT for an unlimited user licence, ISBN 0563 5164 2. By 2009 the unlimited user licence was available for a slightly more sensible £82.50+VAT.

Available to buy BBC Active (Pearson) Rickitt Educational Media Sherston Trumedia 


This unit was first broadcast in the spring term 1993 under the title Switch On, Switch Off, on Tuesdays at 11:00am, repeated on Fridays at 9:45am on BBC2. The very first episode on Tuesday 12th January 1993 was not broadcast in Northern Ireland due to an extra long episode of the secondary schools series Study Ireland - so the series did not actually reach Northern Ireland until Friday 15th January 1993[1].

It was then repeated in almost every school year on BBC2 for the next decade, which was an unusually large number of repeats even for the 1990s on BBC2. Only 1994-5 and 1997-8 did not include a broadcast of these programmes. The final outing on BBC2 was in the summer term 2003, on Thursdays at 10:35am. But even then the programmes continued to be broadcast on the Class TV service of schools programmes on the CBBC Channel. The last broadcast on CBBC was on Tuesday 5th June 2007, when all 3 episodes were shown one after the other.

Sources & References

See the main Magic Grandad page for a full list of sources. All references to teacher's notes within the episode guide are to the summer 1996 Watch teacher's notes. Most details of the resources, including prices and release dates, are based on the various BBC annual programme guides and primary catalogues.

  1. The pre-emption of the first broadcast of the first episode in Northern Ireland was explained in the BBC timetable wallchart for spring 1993. The television listings in the TES wrongly stated that Study Ireland would finish at 11:00 on that day, which would be correct for all future episodes but not for this particular one.