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   The Hound has a magic summer with "The Magic Ball" (Brian Cosgrove & Mark Hall / Network DVD / Granada Ventures)
  A Trip to Haythornswaite   (29.06.12

  So it's Summer. Or at least, it's supposed to be. T'is the season
  for sunshine and ice creams and sandcastles. But it's raining.
  Teeming, in fact. And it feels like it's been chucking down cats,
  dogs and no shortage of small mammals every bloomin' day since
  Easter. Oh, what is The Hound to do, stuck in his kennel all day?
  I know, I'll go on an adventure from my armchair. I'll pop on a DVD
  and head to the coast, to Haythornswaite with Sam and his Magic

   "The Magic Ball:  The Complete Second Series" from Network / Granada Ventures

  Network released the second series of Brian Cosgrove and Mark
  Hall's first tv show as a web-only purchase a wee while back,
  but, inexplicably, it escaped my attention when it launched.
  Then, earlier this year, Network's newsletter reminded us that it's
  disappearing from their catalogue towards the end of 2012, at
  which point I came to my senses and snapped it up, only to let it
  slip away down the pecking order in my viewing pile. Until now.
  And now I'm thinking there might well have been some higher reason
  for all this delay, because the rain and gloom has conspired to put
  me in just the right mood for this clasic toon, and these thirteen
  magic adventures have inveigled their way into my heart and soul.

  You see, there's something both shimmering and heartbreaking about
  this production. It's steeped in a seductive melancholia. It's in the
  illustrative backgrounds by Peter Clarke, Valerie Pownall, John Leech
  and Mark Hall, so evocative of their time. And it's in that mesmerizing
  narration from Eric Thompson, and the stories he put together with
  Mark Hall. It's shares much with Mr Benn, certainly. It has a shop
  and a visitor who is transported away on small-but-perfectly
  formed adventures in time and space, and Aunt Mill is as enigmatic
  as the fez-wearing Shopkeeper. But Sam's stories have a very
  particular lingering solemnity to them. He keeps encountering the
  same group of characters in different guises, and that brings with
  it a whole new perception, that maybe these stories are reaching
  for something still deeper. Oh, and that abiding sad sense.
  It's everwhere.

  This second series opens with Sam visiting Trooper Tarquin.
  He's a sad Mountie who's pining for his sweetheart, and fearing
  that their love may go unrequited unless he can impress his
  Commander.  And it goes on, one episode after another. A parade
  of sad souls turn to Sam for help. And occassionally, it steps out
  even further. In "The Story of the City of Machines" we are taken to
  a bleak existential realm where humans are ruled by tyrannical robots
  and all nature has been quoshed. Further still in "The Story of the
  Comic Book" we enter the blank pages of a strip cartoon, in search
  of its characters and creator. Yes, we're reaching towards some
  strange and intangible higher meaning here, I just know it...

  Or maybe not.

  Maybe, I've simply been seduced by that all-pervading melancholia.
  It's there again, in the music that crawls into your head, kaleidoscopic
  and twinkly, and so very haunting, as if Coogar & Dark's Pandemonium
  Shadow Show is about to appear. Even Haythornswaite itself appears
  oddly subdued and sun-faded. It's a busy little coastal town, we're told,
  yet its streets are empty and the high cries of the gulls are all we can
  hear above the narration and the music. It feels so out of season.
  The Daughters of Darkness might even be lurking behind those
  Victorian facades.

  Alright, so I'm taking Sam's ball and running with it, but this is truly
  a classic production to place beside those extraordinary SmallFilms
  series. Like Bagpuss and The Clangers it both seduces and saddens
  and intrigues. And in the end, it's not all doom and gloom, because
  Sam's adventures end rather favourably. He helps a Knight and an
  Eskimo and a Giant and a Witch and there are wry smiles all round
  as the lad returns to Aunt Mill's antiques shop and muses on events.
  Thus, as the series closes and I eject my disc I can spy a slim
  ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds above my kennel.
  And I declare, there really is some hope left in this drowned
  Summer, after all...
                                                       More: Network DVD


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