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Famous Five, The

MUCH-TRUMPETED “prestige” adaptation of the venerable Blytonian underage derring-do saga, adapted by RICHARD ‘FLYING KIWI’ SPARKS from the musty-smelling Hodder and Stoughton paperbacks that everyone read whether they wanted to or not, and lavishly filmed in various privately owned chunks of the New Forest for that idyllic “eternal summer of youth” vibe.

It was, of course, all updated for the go-ahead seventies. Starched collars and Pathfinder shoes were ditched to make way for zip-up cagoules, ten-speed Grifters and those lovely polyester polo shirts with an off-centre brown zig-zag up the front. Blyton’s busting out! But only by about so much, as the Enid Blyton Foundation, jealously guarding their intellectual property as well they might, weren’t too keen on that many liberties being taken with those timeless storylines. So despite the Tartrazine-coloured Year of Three Popes costumery, our intrepid heroes still found themselves going after gorblimey smugglers and swarthy gypsies, and the local bobbies still turned up on a rickety old bicycle in the nick of time. (“Constable! Thank goodness you’re here!”) We were still firmly in “lashings of ginger beer” territory, which to your average ’70s child was as exotic as Servalan’s homeworld. And what were the odds, in 1978, of happening across an Aunt Fanny still able to get about under her own steam? Yet here she is, baking scones in a sparkly top. Something doesn’t quite fit.

On top of the period elephant in the room, there was the small matter of the production values not being quite up to scratch. Lots of lovely countryside and stately old piles, yes, but, with all due respect to GARY ‘Dick’ RUSSELL and pals, the acting, direction and pacing were Children’s Film Foundation level at best. Every other shot ended in a pause so long you could practically hear the key grip lighting up a post-take fag. Line delivery was firmly of the posh-gosh declamatory style. The odd medium-big name guest star provided a bit of variation, but much of the action was as flat as the browned-out ’70s film stock that captured it. All kids telly is prone to this to some degree of course, but here it was acute and chronic. Luckily the crims were as stiff as everyone else, otherwise nationwide anarchy would have ruled by the end of the first season.

And yet… everyone watched it. Slothful story progress, niggling period worries and the suspicion that Julian was a bit of a git weren’t nearly enough to offset the fact that here were some kids getting to muck about outdoors on the telly. Which, as it turned out, was all anyone wanted entertainment-wise during those heady Callaghanian summers. Look-In strips and spin-off books (OK, the original books but with cagoules on the cover) abounded. The oddly tuneless school choir theme tune (“Julie and Dick Annan, Georgian TIM-my the do-O-og…”) was, as was seemingly compulsory for all Southern kids TV themes, released as a single for nobody to buy. Hay was well and truly made.

Ironically enough, none of the Five ever went on to become truly famous by themselves, although Dr Who conventions are occasionally set on a roar when some wag claims that old Who is best because at least Tom Baker could operate a punt without falling in the water. The best part of twenty years on, ITV went back to Blyton, this time keeping the thing firmly in the time of grey flannel shorts and postal orders for six shillings. They’d learnt their lesson. Don’t decimalise Dick!

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. jonboy

    July 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Our school version of the song was inevitably “Julian’s Dick’s in Anne” etc

  2. jozman

    July 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Nice to see a small Doctor Who reference, what with Gary Russell having done almost everything for the beloved Time Lord… editing his magazine, moderating his DVD commentaries; most recently, editing his scripts!

  3. paulus - bangkok

    July 20, 2010 at 5:43 am

    Shite then.. shite now!

  4. ZX Spectrum Games

    July 23, 2010 at 11:56 am

    This was crap even back then

  5. Damon

    July 24, 2010 at 3:01 am

    I was about 7 and loved it. I had all the 21 or so books in the series each with a photo on the front from the ITV series. In fact my mum and dad just found them all again in their loft, slightly off colour, they went to the charity shop.

    Do I remember all 4 kids and the dog appearing on The Saturday Banana one time? They were my heroes and I shall remember them thus. I won’t make the obvious mistake of buying a DVD of the series though, not like with The Tomorrow People which proved memories are best left ‘golden’ and in the past.

    The theme tune used to get regularly requested on Radio One’s ‘Junior Choice’. ‘We are the Famous Five’ was the A side and the B side was ‘We’re together again’ … both played by Ed Stewpot regularly.

  6. bbbeyer

    August 2, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    @jonboy – beat me to it! Finishes with “…George loves Timmy the do-O-og”

  7. Scott McPhee

    February 28, 2012 at 3:06 am

    We had the Famous Five books read to us by our teachers at school.

    I think the consensus was that the books were better than the TV show.

    One thing I remember about this show, was that one episode featured this imposing looking English country mansion. It had a mysterious automatic gate.

    I’m sure that this same mansion with the mysterious gate reappeared in the sci fi series, Chocky.

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