Catweazle was a series that began with a name painted on a gatepost, spotted by the series’ creator Richard Carpenter when he got lost in the Sussex countryside on the way to his brother-in-law’s turkey farm. To Carpenter the name conjured a mental image of a magician, combining the characteristics of the cat and the weasel. He was also inspired by an old man in a painting by Hieronymous Bosch entitled The Crowning of Thorns.

Carpenter, who had appeared in hundreds of television shows in the seventeen years he spent as a character actor, turned the idea into an idea for a thirteen-part children’s television series, and began a new career that would eventually lead him to become one of the industry’s most prolific and respected authors. Carpenter originally saw the series as a vehicle for teaching children about science. He was concerned that children seemed to accept technology with barely a thought about how it worked, and thought that a character who saw modern advances like electricity and motor cars with fresh, questioning eyes would help interest children in science. He also saw the comic possibilities of a “fish out of water” character. He decided to set the series on a farm so that Catweazle could live on the fringes of society, and to introduce a young friend who would reverse the usual father-son relationship.

Carpenter submitted his script to London Weekend Television (LWT), where they found a producer who was unusually receptive to new writers, Joy Whitby. She had been briefed to keep a sharp eye out for any suitable children’s material by ITV watchdog body the Independent Broadcasting Authority, who thought that children’s programming was being neglected. She asked him to develop the idea, and offered him the use of her office while she was on holiday. With the series given the official green light, and a full set of scripts commissioned, a decision had to be made about casting the lead role.

The production team had Jon Pertwee in mind, but their timing couldn’t have been worse: he’d just agreed to take over from Patrick Troughton in the title role of the BBC series Doctor Who. Carpenter, however, was focused on another actor, Geoffrey Bayldon, and was delighted when he was offered, and accepted, the part. Ironically, Bayldon had at one point been offered the lead role in Doctor Who, but had turned down the part, saying that he didn't want to play the part of an old man, or wanted to commit to a long-running series (at the time Doctor Who was shown almost all year round).

The first season of Catweazle was the first production of a department of LWT set up to exploit the possibilities of overseas sales, London Weekend International. The series was shot on film, making full use of locations around the base at the Halliford film studios.

Premiering on 15th February 1970, the series was an enormous success, immediately spawning  long-running comic strips in TV Comic (issues 949 to 1033) and in the children’s equivalent of the TV Times, Look In (January 1972 to December 1974). It also launched three special Christmas annuals, and several recordings of Ted Dicks’ theme music. At the peak of its popularity, when the series was regularly reaching audiences of over eight million viewers, Carpenter was highly amused when he walked past a pet shop with a sign for “Catweazle Toads” in the window! (Catweazle's toad was called Touchwood, incidentally!)

Carpenter also novelised each series as a children’s book. The first was published in 1970 and remained in print until quite recently, continuing to enchant new generations of children. Indeed, Carpenter often speaks to school groups, who often ask why he has never turned his book into a television series!

LWT made major changes for a second series of thirteen episodes, including a new setting (a country mansion, in reality Brickendonbury Manor in Hertfordshire), new regular cast and crew members, and the introduction of a running story in which Catweazle had to collect objects representing the twelve signs of the zodiac.

The "Catweazle - The Complete First Series" DVD, from NetworkCatweazle won Carpenter the prestigious Writers’ Guild Award for the Best TV Drama Script in 1971, (a feat he was to repeat with Black Beauty). Carpenter has been developing a script for a Catweazle feature film for some time.

Plans for a third series, (in which Catweazle arrived back at Castle Saburac to find the Bennet’s farm deserted), fell through not because interest in the series was flagging, but because of management changes at LWT. The series is one of the most widely exported, reaching over fifty countries in many different languages. It was regularly repeated across the many ITV regions for many years, gathering new generations of fans. The series is still shown in various countries. It was last shown in the UK in the late 90s, by satellite channel Granada Plus.

The first series was released by Network on VHS in July 1998; the second followed in January 1999, all now long-deleted collector's items. Both series are now available on DVD, from Network. There is also a box set containing both sets (see links, below). The discs are generally excellent, with spruced-up transfers, commentary tracks, and other worthwhile bonus features.


DVD Details - Incoming:

The Complete First Series

The Complete Second Series

The Complete Series


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Introduction by

J. Knott.

With thanks to David Marsland

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