‘Jaym-eeeee, Jaym-eee, Jaym-ee and the Magic Torch!’ There can’t be many children of the late 1970s who don’t still feel a flush of nostalgia on hearing the instantly recognisable, guitar-heavy, rocking theme tune of Jamie and the Magic Torch. Migraine-inducing psychedelic colours fleshed out the basic, shuddery but cute animation that accompanied this strange little programme, with its eccentric characters and very often insane dialogue. It was narrated by Brian Trueman who, along with the wonderful production of Cosgrove Hall, also brought Chorlton and the Wheelies, Dangermouse and Count Duckula (amongst others) to life.
The first view you got of Jamie’s real-life world felt like the intro to a horror film; a moon-lit suburban street, accompanied by ever-so-slightly creepy piano music, a cat yowling and an owl hooting. Zooming up the side of a house, you then entered a window (which had a warm yellow light emanating through it from the outside, but actually was a room with no light on once you got inside!) and saw Jamie for the first time. Everything seemed normal; just another little boy being tucked up at the end of a busy day. The shadow of Jamie’s always-unseen mother said ‘Sleep well Jamie’ before leaving him snuggled under his blanket, seemingly to begin a good night’s snooze. Unbeknownst to her however, Jamie had other ideas. Once his door was closed his English Sheepdog Wordsworth appeared from under his bed with the Magic Torch of the programme’s title in his mouth. Jamie turned on the torch, opening up a disco-lit sparkling portal in his bedroom floor just where the light hit it, which led to a stripy helter-skelter. Jamie threw himself down it with enthusiasiam, Wordsworth following slightly more reluctantly (possibly because the hole was just slightly smaller than he was) and after an unfeasibly long ride down the slide they bounced out on to a trampoline and into the bonkers world of Cuckoo Land.
Purple trees, blue mountains, multi-coloured toadstools and orange skies provided the background for this world of strange and eccentric characters. During their time there Jamie and Wordsworth encountered Officer Gotcha, a policeman on a unicycle who ate truncheons; Wellybob, a large and frazzled-looking Scottish cat who did everything backwards, and Strumpers Plunkett, who was never short of a tune to play on his trumpet-shaped nose. Mr Boo couldn’t stop counting things, the Yoo-hoo Bird couldn’t stop pranking Officer Gotcha and Nutmeg the rag doll kept an assortment of objects in her pockets. There was also Jo-Jo Help, an unhandy handyman who appeared through a hole in the ground whenever the word ‘help’ was mentioned but was never actually available at that precise moment to be able to give you a hand. The last crazy citizen was Bully Bundy, a giant-footed rabbit with show business pretentions; he would often burst theatrically out of his top hat and begin quoting Shakespeare. Well, why not?
Jamie was always polite, and spent his time trying to sort out their problems with the aid of his torch’s magical properties. Wordsworth offered his own helpful ideas and provided a witty and often slightly cynical commentary (yes, he was able to talk and, for no apparent reason other than presumably it sounds funnier, has a West Country accent) on the inhabitants – most of them are described as ‘bloomin’ cuckoo!’
At the end of their adventure Jamie and his faithful friend would reverse their journey (literally, the animation just ran backwards) back up the helter-skelter, through the portal back into his bedroom and into/under the bed respectively. From out of shot you then heard his mum say ‘Settle down now Jamie. Come on Wordsworth, out of there,’ which implied that time in Cuckoo Land works slightly differently to that of Jamie’s real life and he hadn’t been missed. You left Jamie asleep – and presumably no dream he went on to have could be more peculiar than what he had just witnessed.
It ran from 1976 to 1979 on Thames Television; three series and 39 weird and wonderful episodes that enthralled children and left their parents slightly mystified.