The nature of Monkey is irrepressible

It’s a fine moment when cult TV from your childhood and cult comics artists from your teens and 20s come together. It’s just regrettable that the Beijing Olympics are also involved.

If you were looking for a recipe for a hit kids’ TV show, you probably wouldn’t choose a badly-dubbed Japanese saga about seeking Buddhist enlightenment, containing plenty of distinctly adult humour and a cross-dressing priest, and based on a 16th-century Chinese legend.

But someone did, and the result is that anyone young enough to be impressionable between 1979 and 1981 is cheering at the BBC’s decision to re-invent Monkey and his enlightenment-seeking companions. Even if it is as the BBC’s logo for the Chinese Olympics.

The fact that the creator is Jamie Hewlett redeems it quite a bit.

Here’s a piece from BBC Magazine recalling the glory days:

What was Monkey Magic all about?

Say the two words “Monkey Magic” to a man in his late 30s and he’ll turn into a child, putting on a funny voice and then moving his lips in exaggerated fashion.

A Japanese television series based on a 16th Century Chinese novel, badly dubbed in English, does not sound like a sure-fire children’s hit. But Monkey – or Monkey Magic as it became known in the UK – was an unlikely success.

Fed a late-70s television diet of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, The Six Million Dollar Man and the Red Hand Gang, youngsters watching Monkey on BBC Two one evening a week saw something completely different. And in the coming months, the characters that gripped a generation could find a new legion of fans.

An opera based on the famous Chinese novel that inspired the series, Journey to the West, opens in London a year after its Manchester premiere. Monkey: Journey to the West is another collaboration between Gorillaz creators Damon Albarn, who pens the music, and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett. Read full story here…

My nod to all this will be to try to read the original book, Wú Chéng’ēn’s Journey to the West, on which Monkey is based. This will not be an easy undertaking – it’s a Penguin Classic, despite being disguised in a sexy blue cover with a picture of Masaaki Sakai on it.

I don’t think I’m going to feel particularly inspired to have anything to do with the Olympics…