Watch: Toys with Magic Grandad

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started17th Mar 2003
ended31st Mar 2003
last rpt23rd May 2008
6 school years
duration15 mins
subject 🏛️HistorySocial History
age rangeAge 5-7
languageenIn English
Magic GrandadHierarchyPrevious.gifPrevious unit: Seaside HolidayNext unit: Famous People 2HierarchyNext.gif

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

Tim Healy as Magic Grandad

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.

As well as looking at the different toys in each period they visit, all of the trips are to specific dates which have some significance in the grander scheme of history. At the end of each adventure the children imagine what it would be like to show their modern toys and computers to the children from the past, and Grandad asks the viewers to think about how they would like to have lived in the historical period.

Grandad is played by Tim Healy and his name is Mr Thompson.


Quick episode list

# Title Broadcast
1. in 1969 17 Mar 2003
2. in 1953 24 Mar 2003
3. in 1870 31 Mar 2003

Num Title 1st Broadcast
1. in 1969 17 Mar 2003
Magic Grandad Toys in 1969.jpg

Matthew and Leah have been sent outside to play with real toys instead of the TV & computer, and find some modern Star Wars merchandise. Grandad arrives and transports them back to 21st July 1969, the day man first walked on the moon, when people were space mad. They meet a West Indian family living in a tower block and try out their huge array of toys including space hoppers, pogo sticks and remote-conrolled cars. The older girl Selena is taken out to a "space party" by a boy, while everybody else settles down to watch a very scary black and white episode of Doctor Who (which the modern children have never heard of).

Magic Grandad Toys in 1969 title.jpg

The children are sent to bed, where there are lava lamps and even more space-related toys. They sneak out for a midnight feast of sweets, chocolate and cake and fall asleep. Later they are woken to watch the moon landing on TV.

  • Alternative title: this episode is sometimes billed as TV Toys.
  • The original publicity for this episode[1] said that the children would visit a 1960s toy shop where the shopkeeper would show them Ivor the Engine, Batman and Pinky & Perky toys. None of those brands actually make an appearance in the episode as produced, as it is mainly about space toys with Dr Who and Thunderbirds the only TV series represented, but Pinky & Perky toys do appear on the BBC2 continuity slide for this series.

2. in 1953 24 Mar 2003
Magic Grandad Toys in 1953.jpg

Tom and Melissa are fighting over turns on their Game Boy Advance when a loud crash announces the arrival of Grandad. He shows then his go-kart, which is made of a cardboard box and a dustbin lid, and explains that you had to use your imagination to play when he was their age. They go for a ride back to 4th February 1953 and meet children called James and Katie who are playing Cowboys and Indians. They all join in the game, including Grandad, and ambush another boy called Paul who is playing the Cowboy.

Magic Grandad Toys in 1953 title.jpg

Paul summons them all to the sweet shop where they discover that rationing of sweets has just ended and they can buy as many as they like. The children go off to build a go-kart out of whatever they can find, while Grandad goes for a doze on a bench. As they complete the go-kart James and Katie's Uncle Tom suddenly arrives back from America. He surprises Katie with a new plastic doll that grows real hair, and James with a brand new pedal car made of metal. They set out for a race between the pedal car and the home-made go-kart, and Grandad wakes up just in time.

  • Alternative title: this episode is sometimes biled as Outside Play.
  • The original publicity said that the children would be seen on a steam train in this episode to show it is the 1950s!
3. in 1870 31 Mar 2003
Magic Grandad Toys in 1870.jpg

Harry and Maddy dash home from school and start to play on the PlayStation. Grandad arrives with a loud yell, he has been to visit the time over 100 years ago when his great grandad was young, and shows the children some of the wood & metal toys they had then. They all go back to 8th September 1870, but the children find that rather than taking them to play Grandad is sending them to school. This is the first year of mass education and all of the working class children are being educated in a barn.

Magic Grandad Toys in 1870 title.jpg

The children are given slates on which to copy letters from the blackboard. Harry is caught playing with a yoyo and told to stand in the corner with a dunce's cap. Grandad comes into the school to demonstrate a new object to the children - a zoetrope. At playtime they see a variety of playground games and a servant girl sneaks them into the big house where they creep into young master Albert's bedroom. He has a rocking horse and a music box as well as many mechanical toys, but he is having his hair cut ready to be sent away to boarding school. Harry and Maddy return to modern times and decide that they would have liked to live in the big house with lots of toys, but would not have liked to be sent off to a strict boarding school.

  • Alternative title: this episode is sometimes billed as Victorian Toys.
  • This big house in this episode is the National Trust property Berrington Hall, near Leominster.

Watch Online Update 15th August 2009: Lots of clips from these programmes were available online in the Learning Zone Broadband section of the BBC website, for teachers to embed into their whiteboard presentations and build into lesson plans. Unfortunately they were all removed without warning in late July 2009 and are not currently accessible.

The BBC says that there were "unforeseen issues" with the Magic Grandad clips - presumably this means problems with the rights to show the clips online, but I'm not certain. They are trying to make the clips available again but it is likely to take several months.



Tim Healy as Magic Grandad

in 1969 with

Leah-Verity White as Leah
Matthew Thomas-Davies as Matthew
Suzette Llewellyn as Carmen
Victor Romero-Evans as Leroy
La-Charne Jolly as Selena
Ann Warungu as Roni
JJ Angel as JJ

in 1953 with

Melissa Suffield as Melissa
Tom Hoffman-Lagro as Tom
Duncan Harrison as Paul
Angus Harrison as James
Ivana Mazzacoates as Katie
Maggie Lynskey as sweetshop lady
Paul Greenwood as Uncle Tom

in 1870 with

Scarlett Gee as Maddy
Sam Friend as Harry
Janet Dale as school teacher
Julia Tobin as nanny
Lucy Parry as Beth
James Ellis as Johnny
Torin Allen-Thomas as Albert

Written by Emma Collins
First assistant director Richard Lindsay (episode 2), Nic Jeune (episode 3)
Second assistant director Helen Benbow
Location manager Richard Lindsay (all), Nick Eastwood (episodes 2 & 3)
Director of photography David Meadows
Designer Petra Cox
Production manager Sue Grant
Production co-ordinator Mimma Paone
Researcher Neil Garfath-Cox
Toy consultant Robert Opie
Toy advisor Gill Burns (episode 3)
Education consultant John Stringer
Executive producer Glasshead Hazel Graham
Executive producer BBC Karen Johnson
Director Christos Georgiou
Producer Lambros Atteshlis
Glasshead production for the BBC


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  1. The 'original publicity' for the Toys episodes is the descriptions in BBC (2003) and BBC (2004), which continued to be reprinted when the episodes were repeated even though they were wrong.