‘The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm’ preview

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If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember with great fondness the books about a peculiarly British nutty professor by Norman Hunter, starting with The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm.

You’ll also no doubt be somewhat dismayed that you’re now old enough to be referred to in online reviews as being ‘of a certain age’.

Like a parent only allowing us to open the little presents under the tree before Christmas itself, BBC One haven’t released their new one-off adaptation to reviewers, instead providing us with a compilation of clips. On the strength of these, we’re in incredibly safe hands: Harry Hill makes a remarkably effective Professor Branestawm, surrounded by the sort of cast – Simon Day, Ben Miller, and David Mitchell, to name but three – that the BBC can proudly wheel out for these seasonal specials.

Hunter’s linguistic wit appears to be retained, and it looks like the programme has managed to keep to the spirit of the books: silly jokes for clever children.

Norman Hunter’s books are in many ways the spiritual father of Jasper Fforde’s books about Thursday Next, with lots of smart wordplay and set in a fantastical world that is so beautifully old fashioned that Miss Marple would feel right at home: old army colonels and flittery housekeepers, but laced with a sense of delicious anarchy (explosions with a break for toast and jam). It’s a fair bet that Douglas Adams would have read the first of these books as a child.

This adaptation by Charlie Higson beautifully captures the bowling green nostalgia of the book while inventing some brand new ideas: one of the clips we’ve seen has little girl Connie (Madeline Holliday) complaining that her school is less interested in teaching her science, more about telling her how to find a good husband. There are some very clever jokes about mobile phones (including one that certainly doesn’t come from the books, and is a neat reference to a very famous, incredibly mobile phone).

In this digital age, there’s no reason for the Christmas Eve movie to be some Disney fare that we’ve all have seen twenty times already. A better gift to the nation is something like this: and with twelve books to plunder, we might well make a Christmas wish for a whole new series.

Airs at 8.30pm on Wednesday 24 December 2014 on BBC One.

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