Chorlton and the Wheelies 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 magic book (called ‘Claptrap Von Spilldebeans’) and O’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” (Greater Manchester) 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 Israel declined to purchase it as a graphic artist mistakenly drew a Star of David instead of a Pentagram on the front of the German-accented spellbook, causing accusations of antisemitism towards the programme’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. His real name is revealed to be Arthur in season 3.
- 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 Dún 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).
Joe Lynch narrated the show as well as providing all the voices for the characters. The show’s theme tune was written and sung by Joe Griffiths. It ran for three seasons with a total of 40 episodes.