Chorlton and the Wheelies was an animated children's television series that ran from September 1976 until June 1979 on British Television Channel ITV. It followed the adventures of Chorlton, a fictional happiness dragon, in Wheelie World.
Chorlton and the Wheelies was created by Cosgrove Hall for the ITV station Thames Television, and the eponymous lead character gets his name from the suburb of Manchester in which the Cosgrove Hall studio was based: the legend "Made in Chorlton Com-Hardy" is found written on the inside of the egg from which he hatches in the very first episode of the series.
The series takes place in "Wheelie World", which is inhabited principally by the "wheelies", a race of anthropomorphic creatures who locomote by means of wheels. They have three wheels each: two large ones at the front, and a smaller centred one at the back. The wheels are replaceable, and suitable wheels grow on vegetation found in Wheelie World.
The wheelie society is in conflict with Fenella the Kettle Witch, who lives in Wheelie World but separately from the wheelies, in Spout Hall, an oversized kettle. She has magical capabilities, including a form of teleportation which is her main mode of transport, and enchanted assistants including a talking book (called 'Claptrap Von Spilldebeans') and Reilly the Telescope, which advise her on magic spells. Minions include spikers (sinister looking objects like conker shells with baleful eyes, which roll everywhere) and toadies (pointed toadstools with similar eyes, which travel by bobbing through the ground as though it were water and who speak with a Chinese accent). Fenella hates happiness, and uses her powers primarily to make the wheelies unhappy. She also has a very strong Welsh accent.
The wheelies have adopted into their society a "happiness dragon", Chorlton, who appears in Wheelie World at the very beginning of the series, hatching out of an egg. Chorlton is perpetually good-natured and perpetually clueless. For example, he fails to perceive Fenella as a villain, and affectionately refers to her as a "little old lady". Nevertheless, his presence negates the unhappiness magic, so the wheelies treat him as a hero. Despite being "Made in Chorlton-cum-Hardy" (Lancashire) he has a strong Yorkshire accent, although this is probably due to the voice talents of Joe Lynch more than any planning by Cosgrove Hall.
Plots are extremely simple, mainly revolve around Fenella's schemes to make the wheelies unhappy and Chorlton's accidental rectification of everything that goes wrong. Around these events, the characters' simple and exaggerated personalities are on show.
The idea of 'wheelies' came about after the difficulties of moving many different characters using stop-frame animation. Characters on wheels were easier to manipulate than those with limbs that needed fractionally moving many times for each second of filming. Similarly choosing teleportation as Fenella's principal means of transportation means that usually Chorlton is the only character whose walking needs to be animated.
The show was sold to numerous countries around the world. However it was never sold to Israel after a graphic artist mistakenly drew a Star of David instead of a Pentagram on the front of the talking spellbook, which spoke with a Germanic accent, causing accusations of antisemitism towards the show's creators.
The characters include, amongst others:
- Chorlton the Happiness Dragon - where he goes happiness follows.
- Fenella Fellorick the Kettle Witch - who does not like anyone to enjoy themselves.
- Zoomer - a wheelie, notable for his speed of locomotion.
- Jenny - a wheelie girl with blonde hair who fancies Chorlton.
- King Otto and Queen Doris - The monarchy of Wheelieworld.
- The Minister of wheel estate - the political wheelie, who bears a striking resemblance to Harold Wilson, who had recently been Prime Minister of the UK.
- Claptrap von Spilldebeans - A German spellbook who often speaks in rhyme and comes up with Fenella's schemes.
- O'Reilly the one eyed telescope - An Irish telescope that Fenella stole from the end of Dun Laoghaire East pier.
- Clifford - Fenella's giant son, who is so tall the only part of him that ever is in shot is his leg.
- Pablo Perdito - A world famous Latin American dancing duck.
- Floyd - The only toady to have pink spots rather than green (first called by name in the series two episode "Toady Trouble" - possible hidden reference to the band Pink Floyd).