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If I Could Talk to the Animals
on 24 March 2010
In the 1960s, I remember thinking Hammy the Hamster, Roderick the Rat and all the other animals in Tales of the Riverbank really could speak. I thought the same about Animal Magic, too, and was I upset when I realised it wasn't true. Johnny Morris, someone whose mimicry made everything believable, delivered all those voices, and more, to great effect. And such was his storytelling that he was employed by the Post Office to read stories over the telephone to anyone who called the 'Dial-a-Bedtime Story' service - I think the number was 150. In 1972, fourteen of those stories were released on an LP, which now gets a CD reissue.
This 45-minute release could actually be classed as something of a `concept'. Morris acts as the zookeeper going round all the different animals in turn saying goodnight to them, and with all those stories beginning, "When I went to say goodnight to...", you can imagine him walking round the cages and putting them all to bed, so to speak, before closing the zoo for the night. The narrative in the stories relates to what sort of day the specific animals had and each has a name that connects to the animal in question; Tubthump the Gorilla, Snapper the Crocodile, Hooter the Elephant, and Chatterbox the Budgerigar are just a few. However, with the 21st Century's seemingly reliance on instant gratification, this might have been better had it been issued with a picture book that the listener can follow.
Animal Magic, etc. was a visual program and whilst the format of listening to bedtime stories down the phone may have worked 40 years ago, the BBC might have missed a trick here by not packaging this CD with some sort of pictorial material. This is a product to be listened to over time, as the market at which this is aimed may not have the attention span for much more than one story at a time. But at the price it's currently being sold, no one can complain.