Rewind: ‘Enid Blyton’s Famous Five’ revisited

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‘Wherever there’s adventure to be found, just a clue or a secret message bring the Famous Five around…’


What’s it about?

Based on the classic children’s stories by Enid Blyton, Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog roam the South of England during unending summer vacations, solving mysteries, having picnics and annoying Uncle Quentin with their boundless enthusiasm for just about everything.


Who was in it?

The acting careers of Marcus Harris, Michele Gallagher and Jennifer Thanisch pretty much started and finished with their roles as Julian, George and Anne respectively, but Gary Russell (Dick) also starred in Dark Towers – the Look and Read story that petrified a generation – and is now better-known for his work on Doctor Who: script-editor of the show in 2009, co-founder of the Big Finish audio adventures and author of a number of spin-off novels.

At the behest of The Famous Five’s German co-producers, Berlin-born actor Michael Hinz played Uncle Quentin, but the majority of the adult guest stars were more familiar to British audiences of the time: Patrick Troughton, Brian Glover, Cyril Luckham and Ronald Fraser. Look out for a young Rupert Graves (Sherlock‘s Lestrade) too.


Best moment?

It’s easy to be sneery about this adaptation of the Blyton books and say the best thing about it is the Comic Strip Presents… pisstakes it inspired, ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’ and ‘Five Go Mad on Mescaline’ – and at times, it’s difficult not to laugh at the frequent exclamations of ‘Super!’ or the unfortunately named Dick and Aunt Fanny.

However, the extensive location filming around the New Forest and the Hampshire coast remains as evocative now as it was when the show first aired; and while the acting of the youthful stars is frequently as wooden as oak-panelled secret passages in old houses, their performances possess a period charm more reminiscent of the original books than the 1970s setting of the series.


Last seen?

All bar three of Enid Blyton’s stories were filmed by Southern Television, the last of which – Five Go Down to the Sea – was shown in August 1979.

A new ITV adaptation followed sixteen years later (with Aunt Fanny renamed ‘Frances’ out of deference to the smutty minds of modern viewers) while in 2008, the Disney Channel introduced a bizarre animated series featuring the children of the original Famous Five. According to the show, which is still running to this day, George married a man named Ravi – putting to bed the myth that her tomboyishness was a precursor to later life lesbianism.


The future?

The fact that the Famous Five books continue to sell by the shedload some seventy years after the first was published indicates there’s still a market for a new television version of the series. Yet unless producers are prepared to incorporate the internet and mobile phones to the world created by Blyton, any future adaptation will most likely be set during the 1940s or 1950s, when Fanny and Dick were just names and nothing more.

As long as they don’t have a choir of kids singing the theme tune again, that’s fine by us.


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Watch a classic clip…