If you were to venture deep within the trees of Doyley Wood, it’s possible you might just bump into Willo the Wisp, or one of his friends. That’s if you’re watching cult 1980’s cartoon Willo the Wisp of course, rather than the real Doyley Wood which is somewhere in Oxfordshire, apparently.
The cartoon was voiced by Kenneth Williams, who brought to life all the inhabitants in a way only he could. In fact, the cartoon representation of Willo the Wisp was even drawn to look a bit like Kenneth. A real Will o’ the Wisp is a strange quirk of nature, also given the latin name ignis fatuus, which appears over bogs and looks like a flickering lamp. Superstitious folk thought they were spirits, and they have also been called Jack o’ Lanterns and Spooklights!
Anyway, back to the cartoon series. Here Willo the Wisp was the narrator of the stories that took place between the trees. The main two characters to feature in each episode were Mavis Cruet, a rather overweight fairy who had trouble flying and even more trouble casting spells, but saw the good in everyone, and Arthur, an orange caterpillar who was probably the most practical inhabitant of the woods. The average episode saw Mavis and Arthur helping one of the other characters out, whilst avoiding the plans of Evil Edna – a spooky witch who was actually a television set. Edna was nasty to everyone, calling people names and zapping them with magic spells from her antenna.
Other characters to make regular appearances were The Moog, a pale pink creature that was presumably some kind of dog, and a little lacking in the brains department. Carwash was an intelligent blue cat that wore spectacles and was a bit of a luvvie. He wanted to be an actor, and usually had some scheme or other on the go at any one time. There was also The Beast, who was actually a prince that had been turned into a furry monster by Evil Edna. Despite originally being a fully grown prince he was a little childlike, speaking with a lisp (in particular, pronouncing R’s as W’s) and referring to his parents as Mummy and Daddy.
26 episodes were made in all during 1981, but a second series was made in 2005. Since Kenneth Williams had passed away long before, the character of Willo the Wisp was redesigned a little, and the series was instead voiced by James Dreyfuss, best known for his roles in BBC sitcoms The Thin Blue Line and My Hero (which he took over from Ardal O’Hanlon). Mavis was made a little slimmer (she still can’t fly) but best of all was the redesign of Evil Edna, who became a widescreen TV!
If you’d like to see an episode check out the movie below. It’s one of the original 1981 episodes entitled The Dragon.