Watch: Famous People with Magic Grandad

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started21st Sep 1994
ended12th Oct 1994
last rpt11th Mar 2008
14 school years
duration15 mins
subject 🏛️HistoryModern History
age rangeAge 5-7
languageenIn English
Magic GrandadHierarchyPrevious.gifPrevious unit: 90 Years AgoNext unit: Seaside HolidayHierarchyNext.gif

Famous People with Magic Grandad is a unit of the BBC schools TV series Watch from the 1990s and 2000s, covering Modern History for primary school pupils.

Geoffrey Bayldon as Magic Grandad

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.

As well as simply witnessing history, this time the children begin to question what they are told - how they can know what is really history and what is just a story when they compare Elizabeth I with Rapunzel, how we know about events like the Great Fire of London, and why the statue of Florence Nightingale might have been made with the wrong sort of lamp.

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


Quick episode list

# Title Broadcast
1. Elizabeth I 21 Sep 1994
2. Louis Braille 28 Sep 1994
3. Florence Nightingale 5 Oct 1994
4. Samuel Pepys 12 Oct 1994

Num Title 1st Broadcast
1. Elizabeth I 21 Sep 1994
Magic Grandad Elizabeth I.jpg
Magic Grandad Elizabeth I title.jpg

The children are arguing about the story of Rapunzel, so Grandad takes them back 400 years to meet Princess Elizabeth, before she became queen when she was locked up in the Tower. They see a young boy bringing fresh flowers to the Princess and how kindly she treats him. Kimberley learns how to curtsey and address a lady, and Gary to bow and greet a lady. They discover how dangerous a time it is for supporters of the princess, as the flowers are confiscated by the jailer and threats made to search the Princess's cell. Grandad and the children hurry back to their own time and Grandad explains what became of the Princess.

Song: Greensleeves

2. Louis Braille 28 Sep 1994
Magic Grandad Louis Braille.jpg
Magic Grandad Louis Braille title.jpg

Kimberley, Gary and Grandad go out for pizza with Auntie Pat, who is blind, and her guide dog Punch. The children are interested in the Braille menu that Auntie Pat is given, so later that night Grandad tells them about Louis Braille and takes them back in time to visit him at school when he was 15. They discover how the blind boys live and work, and in particular how they attempt to read letters, and get of preview of the system of raised dots that Louis has devised. The school governors visit and receive a demonstration of how to read and write the Braille alphabet, but find a number of reasons not to adopt the system. Back in modern times Grandad explains that the system was finally adopted after Louis Braille's death.

Song: Frère Jacques ("ding, dang, dong" becomes "small raised dots")

The cast of blind pupils at the school, including Louis Braille himself, were all played by boys from RNIB New College Worcester.

3. Florence Nightingale 5 Oct 1994
Magic Grandad Florence Nightingale.jpg
Magic Grandad Florence Nightingale title.jpg

Gary is in hospital, which he doesn't like, after falling off his bike. Kimberley wants to be a nurse when she grows up, and Grandad explains that hospitals were not very nice places in the olden days, and women were not always welcome. They travel 140 years into the past and 1000 miles away, to the foul rat-infested hospital in Scutari where the British wounded are lying. They meet a young messenger boy who has been badly injured and is being nursed by Florence Nightingale. A doctor orders the nurse to leave the ward as it is no place for women, and dismisses her concerns about the lack of care for the patients. Grandad takes the children forward in time, when the hospital has been transformed and nurses lead by Florence Nightingale patrol the ward by lamp light. The boy they met previously has survived. Back in their own time Gary has recovered and Grandad takes the children to see the statue of Florence Nightingale in London.

Song: Cheer, Boys, Cheer

4. Samuel Pepys 12 Oct 1994
Magic Grandad Samuel Pepys.jpg
Magic Grandad Samuel Pepys title.jpg

The children see a news report about a fire on their street and imagine what would happen if the other houses caught fire too. Grandad explains that this could happen in the olden days when houses were different and there was no fire service. They travel back 300 years to meet the diarist Samuel Pepys, who is busy writing a diary entry about his plan to blow up houses and prevent the fire from spreading. Kimberley is unable to read the diary due to the coded writing. Suddenly the fire outside changes direction and heads for Pepys' house, so the children are enlisted to dig a hole in the garden to save important papers, paintings and even cheese. Gary goes off with the servant boy Tom to get a closer look at the fire, causing a panic, but they soon return having recovered an injured pigeon. Pepys explains that it can't fly and should be buried. Back in the present Grandad reads an extract from Pepys' diary, showing that he survived the fire and his house didn't burn down after all. Grandad uses a final bit of magic to show the children Pepys without his wig getting undressed down to his drawers!

Song: London's Burning (I doubt this song was actually known in the time visited, in the midst of the Great Fire itself!)

This episode is illustrated liberally with colourised footage from the 1922 silent film The Glorious Adventure portraying the Great Fire of London, accompanied by suitably melodramatic music.



Geoffrey Bayldon as Grandad
Kristy Bruce as Kimberley Chadwick
Georgi Fisher as Gary Chadwick

Elizabeth I with

Christopher Benjamin as Sir John Gage
Robin Weaver as Princess Elizabeth
Rory Jennings as Ned

Louis Braille with

Terrence Hardiman as school governor
Simon Slater as Dr Pignier
Carolyn James as Auntie Pat
Matthew Brown as Louis Braille
Sam Beer, James Berry, Mark Higgins, David Turner, Simon Webb as his classmates

Florence Nightingale with

Kate Isitt as Florence Nightingale / hospital nurse
Randel Hurley as Dr Menzies
Andrew Falvey as Billy

Samuel Pepys with

John Warnaby as Samuel Pepys
Elli Garnett as Jane

Written by Margaret Simpson
Music by Peter Pontzen
Consultants Sandra Armstrong, Sallie Purkis
Design David Bevin
Production Assistant Alison Garland
Education officer Shelagh Scarborough
Assistant Producer Scott Ross
Associate Producer Bob Parker
Executive Producer Stacey Adams
Produced by Ronald Smedley
Directed by Ronald Smedley (episodes 1-3)
Scott Ross (episode 4)
A Spelthorne Production for BBC


Video Plus Pack / DVD Plus Pack

Video Plus Pack

The unit was released on a BBC Video Plus Pack in 1995, containing a video with all 4 programmes and a People in the Past Resource Pack with reproductions of paintings and photographs of the famous people and events from their lives.

The Video Plus Pack originally cost £36.00, it then went up to £38.00 until the video price reductions in 1998 brought it down to £29.99. It then crept slowly back up and by 2003 it was sold for £34.99+VAT (all previous prices were without VAT). ISBN 0 563 39817 5.

The People in the Past Resource Pack had actually been released separately in 1994 and continued to be available as a separate item until 1999, for schools which did not want to shell out for the full Video pack. It originally cost £7.99 and by 1999 it had climbed all the way to £13.99. ISBN 0 563 39653 9.

The video and resource pack were reissued in 2006 as a DVD Plus Pack, originally costing £39.99+VAT. ISBN 978 0 563 50077 3.

Available to buy BBC Active (Pearson) Trumedia 

Teacher's Notes

There were separate teacher's notes for each term of Watch until summer 1999, and after that there was a combined booklet of history teacher's notes which covered these programmes. Further details are given on the 90 Years Ago with Magic Grandad page.

Famous People Website

A BBC Schools website on Famous People was launched in 2002, initially covering Florence Nightingale (from these Magic Grandad programmes) plus Pocahontas, Christopher Columbus and George Stephenson. It was expanded in 2004 to include Samuel Pepys (from these programmes), Edward Jenner, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mary Seacole (all from the Famous People 2 with Magic Grandad series), Elizabeth Fry and Henry VIII.

It is still available online:

Florence Nightingale Big Book

E Big Book

A big classroom book with lots of pictures, going over Florence Nightingale's life and the differences between hospitals today and in the past. It also includes a section on Mary Seacole, comparing Nightingale and Seacole. The book was written by Grahame Sherfield.

It comes with a book of teacher's notes giving background and suggesting activities, and including photocopiable activity sheets. The E Big Book version is a CD ROM containing an interactive PDF of the Big Book and teacher's notes, plus copies of all the individual pictures to work with. There is a big blatant spelling mistake on activity sheet 3 which has not been corrected for the E Big Book version, and because the PDF you get on the E Big Book is password protected teachers can't even correct it themselves before they print the worksheet!

Magic Grandad's Big Book of History on Florence Nightingale was released in 2003 for £19.99, ISBN 0 563 54540 2.

The reading book version for children, Magic Grandad's Little Book of History, was released shortly afterwards costing £17.99 for a pack of 4, ISBN 0 563 54827 4.

The E Big Book was released in 2006 at £49.99+VAT for one copy, ISBN 978 0 563 51577 7, or £74.99+VAT for an unlimited user licence, ISBN 978 0 563 51603 3.

Available to buy

BBC Active (Pearson) Rickitt Educational Media Trumedia 

Great Fire of London Big Book

Big Book

Another Big Book for classroom use. This one looks at the Great Fire of London so it goes with the Samuel Pepys TV episode. It was also written by Graham Sherfield.

It was originally released in 2003 at £19.99, ISBN 0 563 54541 0.

The Reader version for children was released in the same year at £17.99 for a pack of 4, ISBN 0 563 54899 1.

The E Big Book was released in 2006 at £49.99+VAT for a single copy, ISBN 978 0 563 51579 1, or £74.99+VAT for an unlimited user licence, ISBN 978 0 563 51601 9.

Available to buy

BBC Active (Pearson) Rickitt Educational Media Trumedia 

Great Fire of London CD-ROM

A series of educational activities based on the Great Fire of London (and hence on the Samuel Pepys TV episode) introduced by an animated Magic Grandad. Children can explore how the fire started and spread and what happened afterwards.

The CD-ROM was released in 2006 costing £49.99+VAT for a single user copy, ISBN 978 0 563 51682 8, or £249.99+VAT for an unlimited user licence, ISBN 978 0 563 51685 9. The price of the unlimited user licence was later reduced drastically!

One of the activities from the CD-ROM can be played online at the Sherston website.

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


The programmes were first shown in the autumn term 1994, on Wednesdays at 10:25am and repeated on Thursdays at 10:55am on BBC2. They have been repeated regularly, in almost every academic year since then on BBC2 and the CBBC Channel.

They are still shown on BBC2 as of the latest update to this page (2009), but instead of repeating the whole unit of 4 programmes in one go they are split up and shown occasionally throughout the year.

Sources & References

See the main Magic Grandad page for a full list of sources. Most details of the resources, including prices and release dates, are based on the various BBC annual programme guides and primary catalogues.


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