How did you first get involved in working on The Magic Roundabout?
I think the French realised that the success of the old show was all about them making it and then coming to England and Eric Thompson [the original voiceover] revamping it. I think it was like a touchstone to them, and they thought the way to get this series made was to do it with an English director, and Theresa Plummer Andrews, our producer. So I think they were thinking 'that was successful, so let's do it again.'
So had you worked with Action Synthese before?
No, they were more involved in the  feature film but they hadn't done a TV series before, so they came to England to work with people with a track record. Theresa Plummer Andrews being an ex-BBC head [of children's acquisitions and creative development] - she was the first port of call for them. I'd worked with Theresa several times, and she probably recommended me along with others. I simply went along and said what I thought about the show and they seemed to like what I said.
We differed from the first feature film they [Action Synthese] they did, as what I wanted to do was bring it back more to like the original series in terms of spirit. They had Robbie Williams in the feature film as Dougal. We weren't going to use famous names in the series - cost for one reason - but I wanted to bring it back to Tony Hancock, which is where Eric Thompson saw Dougal. He was the Victor Meldrew of pre-school TV as far as I was concerned. I did want him to be bland; I wanted him to be a grumpy old dog, like Blackadder. You know, always thinks he's better than everybody else. It seems to me the humour would come out of that sort of character much better, so we went back to those roots. In fact Theresa and I were given pretty much free reign to bring these characters back to where they were in the original series.
What about the others?
I pushed to be Brian a little more anally retentive than he was, and because he's slow it struck me that that would be quite a good character for him. And Dylan we kept pretty much as he was in the old 60s and 70s show - a sort of laid back hippy rabbit. We wouldn't want to touch that as he was such a brilliant character. Ermintrude, we just stretched her a little bit more to being more a sort of Dowager Lady singing opera, who can crack a glass at five paces. She's quite a sort of Margaret Rutherford character. When you put characters as diverse as that into one little village, it was always like Last of the Summer Wine. We kept all the stories within the parameters of the village, but because the characters were so fabulously drawn they bounced of each other and we got tonnes of humour out of it.
Outside of the UK and France people really struggle with the idea of this little man with a spring up his bottom, so to have a bad bloke with a spring up his bottom (as well as a good bloke) was a challenge - for the Americans, at least. So we got rid of ZeeBad. Zebedee's the little trickster - he's the little imp that lives inside The Magic Roundabout, so we kept him, of course. Sam's there, he turns up, but there's no other new characters. Other than doubles of the characters - there's an episode where Dougal meets a lady dog. So we took Dougal's character, made it a slightly different colour, put big sexy lips on it - and it was funny.
Does the series still have the surreal quality the original stop frame animation did?
Not as much, because you can't make that same psychedelic madness for today's kids. It was of its time - it was the time of The Beatles and Carnaby Street in the 60s. Television was The Avengers and Prisoner - there were weird things going on. I don't think it was as ratings led and the freedom of creativity seems to have been a lot better in those days. I couldn't see this show being made exactly as it was - kids just wouldn't get it. So the challenge we had was to make it for today's kids. Those old stories just didn't end - they were little whimsical five minutes that just stopped abruptly. This is different - you've got to accept that - but what we wanted to do was preserve the tremendous spirit and surreality of the show, meaning there's this young girl called Florence in a magic garden with a dog and a cow and a hippy rabbit. I think that's surreal enough.
Eric Thompson (and then Nigel Planer) narrated the original series', but in the new series the characters have individual voices. What was the thinking behind that?
In mine and Theresa's experience five minutes is okay to have a narrator, and also we didn't want to have it quite as 'young'. And nor did the French. We didn't want it as a tiny, five year-old kids' show and a narrator tends to be a little embarrassing for kids above five, I believe. We needed to bring in much more emotion and interaction into the characters, and voices help that a lot. We have aimed it for above five year olds - it's not Tellytubbies - it's got more pace and wit to the script. We raised the bar on the writing.
You mentioned that in the film there were some famous names voicing the parts and you wanted to get away from that. How did you go about selecting new voice artists?
There is a stable of brilliant British animation voice artists that are around and they do multi-voices very, very well. They did an absolutely fantastic job on this show - wonderful voices. We found that children don't react to famous names quite as much as the parents when they buy DVDs. So it's really not necessary for a TV series, especially where the budget is going to be slightly less than a feature film.
And the characters are so strong, you don't need the personality of a famous name as well.
Exactly. For instance, I wanted Zebedee sounding like Ken Dodd. He never had a voice but I always thought it would wonderful if he went around going "What a wonderful day, what a wonderful day," or sticking a cucumber through a letterbox and saying "The aliens have landed." That kind of character seemed to be quite jolly. He's quite a sinister bloke really, being red and with a spring on him, so we wanted to make him jolly.
It's taken about a year and a half to do the series. When you do a 52 x 11 minutes, you start with the writing process and then as each script gets approved, they all overlap. You don't finish one and then start the other one. The writing was all done in the UK and that usually took about four to five weeks to get that done. Then it's about three weeks of story board and then it's a good five to six weeks of solid animation for each episode.
What's the collaboration been like between the English and French operations?
The team work has been magnificent. The French animators have been stunning over there - they're been bringing feature film quality to a television series. So I'm thrilled with the whole team - they've been wonderful. The relationship in terms of the production has been absolutely wonderful.
It's been over forty years since the original series first aired - why do you think The Magic Roundabout has such an enduring appeal?
That is extremely hard to say. People always want to make these old shows because the branding is so strong, and they want to bring back the wonderful spirit and the sense of creativity. I don't think a show will ever get made again like The Magic Roundabout because it was so crazy in the 60s. When you see it, you'll see that we haven't remade it exactly as it was but we have retained the sense of this family that have come together in one mad village, in one magic place.
There are a lot of people who still love the type of stop-frame animation used in the original Magic Roundabout - do you think you lose anything by using CGI instead?
In this case, no, but in general, yes. I actually feel that it can be quite a sterile world in CGI. I'm a bit of a Nick Park fan, and I love the organic feel to Nick's work which I think is beautiful. I don't think it's the case with The Magic Roundabout and when you see it you'll see what I mean. The level of talent we have on this series has given us texture and warmth and light that is unparalleled with CGI for kids, which can often leave you in a sterile and cold CGI world. I think there's room for both - Tim Burton did Corpse Bride as puppets - so I don't think one is better than the other. Pixar's CGI work includes some absolutely stunning examples. In our case CGI for Magic Roundabout was exactly right.
The world premiere of the first episode of the new Magic Roundabout series will broadcast on-air and online on Monday October 22 at 8am on Nick Jr and the channel's website. Nick Jr is available on Sky channel 615, Virgin Media channel 715 and Tiscali TV.