This rundown of the numerous albums based on children’s programmes released by BBC Records And Tapes under the ‘Roundabout’ imprint in the early seventies was originally published on my previous site, and was specifically written to promote my book Top Of The Box – The Story Behind Every BBC Records And Tapes Single, which is available in paperback here and from the Kindle Store here. Yes I know these are albums rather than singles. We’re getting to that. Anyway, this proved more popular than I expected and is still getting hits now to be honest, and while it doesn’t quite fit with my current style and has some in-jokes in that only longer-term readers might get, it still deserves a fresh outing. For reasons that will become clear as the list progresses, these albums were often more musically weighty than you might expect, crammed with primitive funk and polite Acid Folk, and it’s a shame that they haven’t had more attention. If anyone wants to reissue any of them and needs someone to write the sleevenotes, though, give me a shout. Incidentally, you can hear some of the highlighted tracks (and lots more interesting obscurities besides) in Auntie Takes A Trip, a mix I did of hidden highlights from the BBC Records And Tapes catalogue, which you can find here. Meanwhile, if you want to find out the actual stories behind all of these albums, you’ll be wanting Top Of The Box Vol. 2 – the story behind every album released by BBC Records And Tapes, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Between 1969 and 1973, BBC Records And Tapes released twenty five albums on their short-lived ‘Roundabout’ imprint. Specifically aimed towards younger listeners, and presumably named in honour of a certain animated show that would have been very much on their radar at the time, the Roundabout series of albums started out strange and got even stranger, with a short and unwarranted outburst of sensibility in the middle. Here is a guide to what you might expect to find if you chance upon one of these decidedly odd records lurking at the back of the ‘Soundtracks’ section in one of the larger charity shops…
RBT1 Fun At The Zoo
Leading naturalist Eric Simms invites us along on an All Back To Mine-style rifle through his personal collection of ‘found sounds’ from London’s many zoos. All immaculately recorded and sounding nice and nice and punchy in that mono field recording kind of a way, but it’s debatable how much ‘fun’ this actually is for the young listeners, let alone the poor old elephants and tigers (and indeed kangaroos). You had to be there, I guess. Paul Simon’s views on the album are not on record.
RBT2 Come To A Party
Perhaps indicating that BBC Records And Tapes weren’t quite ready to fork out for any actual actors or presenters to do the roundabouting duties just yet, BBC Radio producer Gordon Snell takes the frightfully well-spoken lead for a series of party games and songs, including quick Radiophonic Workshop-assisted rounds of Musical Bumps, Guess The Noise, O’Grady Says…, Polly Put The Kettle On, Oranges and Lemons, and, erm, ‘Islands, Balloon and Parcel’. No, us neither. He also gets to read out one of his self-penned nonsense stories, ‘How The Plonks Got Their Hair’. It’s even weirder than you’re thinking.
RBT3 Listen With Mother
Only three whole releases in, they’ve finally opted to put one out based on an actual recognisable children’s programme, with the cast of long-running stories, songs and percussion radio hoedown Listen With Mother ushered into a recording booth to re-interpret some of their greatest hits for the listening masses. So basically the tambourine-thumped expected likes of Ring A Ring O’ Roses, Little Bo Peep, This Is The Way The Ladies Ride and The Grand Old Duke Of York, alongside such slightly more esoteric fare as A Fishing Rod For Carlos, A Pig With A Wig, From The Cabbage Patch To Australia and, erm, Gay Go Up And Gay Go Down. Moving hastily on…
RBT4 Animal Magic
Still persisting with that off-putting generic front cover branding, though at least they’ve wheeled out a potentially interest-attracting big name this time around, in the form of veteran anthropomorphist and Public Enemy Number Fifty Three Million Johnny Morris, indulging in much the same sort of skidding-penguin-saying-‘look-out-below-fellars!’ antics as on the television version of Animal Magic, only this time without the televisuals. And what do you know, it works pretty much just as well. Plus, thankfully, he doesn’t start warbling on about Gemini The Sealion here either.
The kaleidoscope-fronted storytelling slot makes a hazardous book-TV-vinyl triple-jump with a quartet of readings of traditional folk tales – one each from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – culled from the show itself, complete with that never-explained ‘hallucinogenic tree’ iconography on the back cover. One-woman vaudeville act and pre-war TV mainstay Maureen Potter, Dempsey And Makepeace-botherer Ray Smith, Jackanory Week One helmsman Lee Montague, and Magnus Magnusson – with nary a ‘started so I’ll finish’ gag in sight – do the royalty-free reading out honours. Distinctly short on grooves.
Incidentally you can read more about Jackanory in the sixties here.
RBT6 Party Time
Gordon Snell’s back, and this time he’s armed with tongue-twisters, games of I-Spy and, well, more or less exactly the same as before, basically. The only real difference being that the generic cover art has undergone a less-than-subtle overhaul that might lead more suspicious minds to question exactly what refreshments were on offer at said party. Tizer, Caramac and blackcurrant jelly, obviously.
RBT7 The Wizard Of Oz
The optical cause for concern may well continue, but here for the first time ever the cover-mounted roundabout gets ditched in favour of some of the Hilary-Hayton-meets-Jelly-Tots interpretations of the lead characters from Jackanory‘s celebrated 1970 reading of Frank L. Baum’s film-inspiring fantasy novel, as narrated (and indeed re-narrated for this release) by Bernard Cribbins with bits and pieces of hamfisted sound effects and loungey keyboard music. Nobody has tried syncing this up with The Dark Side Of The Moon as far as anyone knows.
RBT8 Magic Roundabout
Eric Thompson, the theme music, and straight-ahead no-nonsense re-recordings of ten original nonsense-crammed stories complete with obscure characters, incessantly-volumed boings, and Dylan and Brian apparently trying to play Rainy Day Women #12 And 35 on bits of old furniture. Do you need any more qualification? Oh you do? Right, well, maybe somebody’s been going on about The Magic Roundabout on the radio…
RBT9 Listen With Mother No.2
The cover art experiments continue and everything’s gone a bit E Arth Welcome, suggesting that we’re about to be treated to a downbeat spoken word version of There’s A Hole In My Bucket over a looped bit of Etienne de Crecy. Sadly, though, it’s just a bunch of typical Listen With Mother stories with names like Mrs. Moppingdust And The Lettuce Thief and The Six Thin Brothers, though you do have to wonder if Thom Yorke was listening in for The Unhappy Computer.
RBT10 Play School
As the back cover photos which make the presenters look like they’ve just spilled out of a ‘psychedelic’ nightclub in a late sixties British spy thriller suggest, you’ll find a far more far-out calibre of stories on offer here, including bleepy retro sci-fi tone poem The Moon Rocket, freestyle-inviting break-heavy animals-go-prog jolliness Fearless Fred’s Amazing Animal Band, and the Radiophonic Workshop-assisted tale of everyday existentialism amongst the Splodges. Sampled by more than one dance artist, despite being a spoken word record. Stitch that, Gordon Snell!
It seems that there never was an RBT11, so instead it’s straight on to…
RBT12 The Adventures Of Sir Prancelot
John Ryan’s oft-forgotten post-Mary, Mungo And Midge middle ages tomfoolery steps into stereo for this epic-length crusade to the Holy Land, which would make this one of the highlights of the catalogue if it wasn’t for one major drawback – while the sleeve makes a big deal of the inclusion of the bonkers electric sitar-led Jester-mimed what’s-that-got-to-do-with-medieval theme music, it’s actually only in heavily edited form and in one speaker. Tell those moogs funks breaks merchants on eBay where they can moog funk break it.
RBT13 Camberwick Green
A straight reissue of 1966’s Welcome To Camberwick Green, giving listeners another chance to enjoy Peter Hazel and Windy Miller wandering aimlessly about in a flimsy pretext to cram in crisp clean mono versions of pretty much all of the songs from the show, some of them in vocal and instrumental versions to boot. It’s OK, you can come back now. ‘The Clown’ isn’t on the cover.
RBT14 Music Time
In its original black and white incarnation, Music Time was a very different show (you can read more about the more familiar version here), and leaned very much towards the the Corn Riggs Are Bonnie end of the musical scale. Here letter-e-deficient duo Mari Griffith and Ian Humpris take us through some stark acoustic renditions of folk songs from around the world, including Deaf Woman’s Courtship, Goodbye Old Paint, O Waly Waly and the ever so slightly dubious Man In The Wood. Cadet Rousselle was not available for comment. Other than to confirm that he has houses three.
RBT15 Bedtime Stories
Johnny Morris rattles through a selection of self-penned yawn-friendly yarns, apparently derived from ‘The Post Office Dial-A-Bedtime-Story Service’, and introducting us to the likes of Snapper The Crocodile, Snowdrop The Polar Bear, Tubthump The Gorilla (who presumably gets knocked down, but he gets up again), and… well, you get the picture. He doesn’t tell one about that lamp, though.
RBT16 Mary, Mungo And Midge
TV’s premier Girl/Dog/Mouse ensemble make it to vinyl with a handful of ‘your favourite stories from BBCTV’ (which doesn’t include the one about the clock so that’s false advertising for starters), which might lose something with the absence of the minimalist cardboard cutout animation but at least you get lovely medium-fi versions of the opening narration and closing music. There’s also reputedly a ‘break’ hidden away on there somewhere, but even Spinderella hasn’t been able to locate it.
RBT17 Bang On A Drum – Songs From Play School And Play Away
Oh yes, this is everything that cover promises. And so much more. Ridiculous Pickettywitch-meets-Mike-Westbrook Pop/Acid Folk/Brit-Jazz hybrid musical mismatch very much to the fore as various frustrated singer-songwriters who’d been reduced to presenting Play School to make ends meet get the opportunity to rework some of their back catalogue flops for younger listeners, going absolutely musically overboard on the way. Rammed from start to finish with hidden delights like Early In The Morning, Sunbeams Play, The Israeli Boat Song, I Like Peace I Like Quiet, and of course the much-sampled Bang On A Drum itself. Notice also how Hamble appears to just be attacking the air with her fists. Just adds to the mounting evidence, frankly.
If you’re up for getting a cymbal and going and clanging it, you can hear Bang On A Drum itself in Auntie Takes A Trip.
RBT18 Adventures Of Parsley
Ten retold tales from the post-The Herbs excursion into free-form scattershot five-minute surrealism, with Parsley and Dill (who – controversially – ‘narrates’ a handful of them) joined by a procession of Guest Herbs and that Farfisa-blinking-in-and-out-of-dimensional-plane theme music in all of its bass speaker-blowing glory. Wonder if that geezer who was always looking for ‘THE HERBS LP’ in the Record Collector ‘Wanted’ listings ever found a copy?
RBT19 Play Away
A pretty good attempt at doing a full edition of Play Away in sound only, meaning that there’s sketches, gags, poems and free-form parlour games in between all of the music. Famed combination of Blaxploitation funk and Dawkins-esque rationalism Superstition (which you can hear in Auntie Takes A Trip) is the obvious standout, though the likes of The Party Is About To Begin, Words Words Words, Umbababarumba and an energetic rattle through If I Had A Hammer are also ever so slightly good, and then on the non-musical side there’s the word-walloping playlet Captain Kipper’s Clipper. Note also the use of Toni Arthur’s arse as a selling point. Incidentally there’s more about the various commercially released versions of the Play Away theme – and there were tons of them – here.
As there was no RBT20, let’s give thanks to The Lord for…
RBT21 Songs Of Praise For Young Folk
They’re all we need to lift our lift our lift our lift our hearts. BBC Records And Tapes’ early output was full of these Pete Seeger-inspired ‘making worship fun’ efforts performed in cahoots with then-struggling now-collectable Acid Folkies – previous offerings had involved the likes of Heather Jones, Dana Stirk and The Crown Folk – and this collaboration between a load of caterwauling kids and the label’s in-house psych-heads Trane (whose Kinks-aping Mansion Of Cards from their stint as ‘Pop Group’ in Waggoners’ Walk can be heard in Auntie Takes A Trip) was no exception, treating listeners to renditions of such oddly-titled God-botherings as There Is A God, O Ru-Ru-Ru, Fisherman Peter and, erm, Love Came A-Tricklin’ Down. But while it may be talked about in hushed tones by pillocks with wonky hats nowadays, was it a turntable favourite with youngsters back then? More than likely not.
RBT101 Bobby Lamb And The Keymen
What happened to RBT’s 22 to 100 is something we may never know, and sadly listeners would be denied the chance to hear albums based on On The Farm and Mandog, as we leap straight on to… um… Radio 2 favourites Bobby Lamb and his Hammond-hammering wah wah-peddling backing ensemble taking a psych-lounge stroll through a handful of recent top pop disc hits. From a modern day Exotica fan’s point of view there’s no arguing with the escalating mayhem of their take on The Fool On The Hill, or the slow-burning funk of Harlem Nocturne and Cinnamon And Cloves, and it’s rounds of applause all round when Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop shows up to splatter some elastic Moog all over Aquarius, but you really do have to feel for any child who might have been inadvertently bought this when they were hoping for a selection of songs from Hope And Keen’s Crazy Bus or something.
RBT102 The Many Voices Of Peter Ustinov
Explorer! Fitness Instructor! Croupier! Lord Mayor’s Croupier! It seems we’re straying a bit from the original Roundabout brief here, as rather than showing off his best Frank Spencer, TV’s That Bloke Where You Were Never Quite Sure Exactly What He Did spends an entire two sides of vinyl deep in ‘After Supper Conversation’ with those teen sensations all the kids were going crazy for, Cliff Michelmore, Kenneth Allsop and Derek Hart. The latter clearly having left The Bishop Of Woolwich and a Nude Man at home on this occasion.
RBT103 Girl On the Test Card
Pete Winslow and his not-particularly-onomatopaeic ‘King Size Brass’ tootle their way through a selection of commercially-available renditions of the non-commercially-available instrumentals regularly heard behind BBC Test Card F; the sleevenotes suggest that this was due to overwhelming viewer interest, though it’s more than possible that TV’s Scariest Bastards simply marched on BBC Records And Tapes and demanded the release themselves. To be honest, from Take Your Time to Menorcan Mardi Gras, it’s all rather jolly, perky and ultimately ‘beat’-free fare – even the misleadingly promisingly-titled Six Two Five 405 – but hidden away right at the end you’ll find the nigh-on seven minute intergalactic groove of Space Chariots (which you can hear as part of Auntie Takes A Trip). How come it suddenly gets so interesting? You are not entitled to ask.
You must remember that huge seventies craze for big band swing, when all the kids downed spacehoppers in favour of dusty old wax cylinders of The Edison Concert Band? No? Well it clearly happened, as here’s BBC Records And Tapes’ attempt to cash in on the phenomenon with a handful of lively toe-tappers cobbled together from other previous non-Roundabout releases and a distinctly un-childfriendly cover. Either that, or ‘Girl’ and ‘Clown’ really did manage to get their feet under the musical table – indeed, as if to underline this, there’s a track from Girl On The Test Card included here – and this change of direction was taken merely in the desperate hope of keeping them happy. In which case we would like to categorically state that this is all jolly good, and well done everyone involved, and now please move on as there is nothing more to see here.
RBT106 Jumping To Fame – The Story Of Showjumping Today
At least some semblance of an acknowledgement of what young people like here – well, a certain percentage of them won’t shut up about wanting to own a horse – with a cut-down version of a Radio 4 series featuring Jeanine McMullen chatting to equestrians great and small about their Square Oxer shenanigans. It also clearly jumped RBT105 too, as there’s no record of that ever having been released.
RBT 107 With Brass And Strings
Another collection of dusty brass shoft shoe shuffles culled from other extant Big Band-friendly releases, including renditions of the themes from those top children’s favourites Softly Softly, Owen M.D., Van Der Valk and the Shipping Forecast (and another tip of the blue triangular hat to TV ‘Clown’ and ‘Girl’). And with that, the Roundabout experiment was quietly retired. Or, if you will, stopped rotating. Sorry.
Buy A Book!
Top Of The Box Vol. 2 is the story behind every album released by BBC Records And Tapes, from Play School Play On to Russell Grant’s Zodiac Jukebox. Top Of The Box Vol. 2 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Slip in a shot from Peter Ustinov’s decanter, will you?
Out In The Dark is a feature taking a look at what might have happened in the long-lost two hundredth edition of Jackanory; you can find it here.
There Was A Gentleman From Way Up North, And Kije Was His Name is a look at Music Time‘s animated adaptation of Lieutenant Kije; you can find it here.
If You’re Feeling Happy, Tap Your Feet is an attempt to untangle the various commercially released versions of the Play Away theme, none of which ever sounded quite like what was heard on screen… you can find it here.
Christmas With Children’s BBC: Play School, Christmas Eve 1970 takes a look at the earliest surviving Christmas edition of Play School; you can find it here.
Must Be All This Talk Of Witches… is a suitably spooky look at the episode of The Herbs with Belladonna The Witch; you can find it here.
You can listen to Auntie Takes A Trip, a selection of rare grooves from the BBC Records And Tapes archive, here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.