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A celebration

Hello. There are some wonderful television programmes out there, aren't there. Some beautiful and moving ones, and some clever and dramatic ones, and some that really force you to think about life and issues and Stuff. Is it really my fault that I keep falling in love with the rubbish ones instead? Probably, but I don't care. Anyway.

Back in the days when Britain's Channel 5 had just started, and was shiny and new and enthusiastic, they made friends with a New Zealand channel called Channel 9. Channel 5 and Channel 9 made lots of television programmes together, mostly starring the same half dozen kids, and all with very little budget, and writers with probably more bounce than sense. One such show was The Tribe, which I loved, all about civilisation falling apart, and humanity going all Lord Of The Flies. Then it went rubbish and everybody stopped watching, but it was still good to begin with. Another thing they did was to film a bunch of Enid Blyton's books, and it's these that I feel it's time I celebrated. Because they need celebrating. Mostly because I'm the only person who ever watched them.

They made two series, one based on the Adventure books, and one on the Secret ones. The Secret ones were sadly rubbish, though I can't remember why, as the nineties were two thousand years ago. The Adventure ones were brilliant, though. For those who never read Enid Blyton as a child (approximately 0.1% of the English-speaking world), the Adventure series are eight books about four children called Jack, Lucy-Ann, Dinah and Philip. Jack loves birds, Philip loves animals, Dinah loves being grumpy, and Lucy-Ann loves cooking and sewing and being a proper little housewife. It was the forties. Presumably this was an exciting career prospect back then. Jack and Lucy-Ann are orphans, and get taken in by Dinah and Philip's mother Mrs Mannering, who is able to win custody despite being a: a single woman, and b: quite unable to prevent her charges from being kidnapped every school holidays. Adoption was a lot easier in the forties, clearly. Rounding off the cast is Bill Cunningham, a sort of secret agent/secret policeman type, who dashes about the countryside with a revolver, also failing to stop anybody from being kidnapped. He eventually marries Mrs Mannering, although one wonders what she sees in him, given that whenever he's around, she tends to get kidnapped as well. Still.

Anyway, so in the nineties, Channel 5 and Channel 9 turned this into a TV series. It was set in the nineties, so it was all updated, and everybody had shiny computers and things like that; although Lucy-Ann was still a complete wet blanket. For some inexplicable reason the children were all from New Zealand, but everybody kept referring to them as "the English kids", as though we somehow weren't supposed to notice the accents. This was especially bizarre in the episode when they went on holiday to New Zealand, and were fascinated by life in such a strange, far away place, that was in no way at all clearly their home. They lived in England, probably, and Mrs Mannering was clearly English, so goodness knows why her children weren't. This all got it a bit lambasted by purists, anyhow, as being from New Zealand is apparently forbidden if you want to be in an Enid Blyton adaptation. Still, purists are boring, and all four kids were really good. Okay, so Lucy-Ann deserved a good punching, but the other three were really good. And I mean that. They had great chemistry, and were very natural onscreen. It's sort of all of the rest of it that wasn't really very good if I'm perfectly honest.

The books are great. They're brilliant to read when you're a little kid, and perhaps aren't quite old enough yet for The Hardy Boys or Biggles. The kids have some splendid adventures, and get to be terribly heroic and exciting (except Lucy-Ann). For some reason though, the writers of the TV show decided to take all of the exciting things out, and turn all of the bad guys into insanely giggling cartoon types. They have comedy voices, hug teddy bears, sob and wail when things go wrong, and wear silly hats. Their evil plans all tend to be terribly ridiculous, and involve lots of cackling, and rubbing their hands together in glee. This is a shame, as the bad guys in the books were proper bad guys, and their plans were proper bad guy plans. Still, despite the peril being downgraded, it's still a brilliantly entertaining show. This is largely due to the kids having a whale of a time all the way through it; but quite a large part of it is down to Bill.

In the books, Bill was a stocky, balding fellow, always described as having a "ruddy face". Not any more. This being television, he's been transmogrified into a tall, dark Scotsman (although, like with the kids, everybody keeps insisting that he's English). He's also been turned into former hearthrob Malcolm Jamieson, a man completely incapable of taking the scripts seriously, except when they're at their most absurd, when he suddenly starts treating them like they're Shakespeare. For this alone he deserves awards. It's wonderful. He can't even tell his family the name of the boat he's hired without sounding like Mr Ham on a particularly hammy day; but confront him with a cackling bad guy, and he behaves like he's being menaced by James Caan in The Godfather. Bill also has the best moment of the entire series. Captured by the bad guys in "The Sea Of Adventure", he finds himself about to be fed to their pet shark. The shark is made of rubber. It's not just unconvincing - it's completely unable to propel itself through the water, and just floats about the place, bumping into the sides of its tank. When the bad guys call it over to menace Bill, it gets really obviously hurled up out of the water by a couple of blokes hiding off camera. It is, quite possibly, the most brilliantly absurd moment that television has ever produced. Bill has been managing splendidly so far with the script, being all defiant, and not at all as though he's been kidnapped by the Anthill Mob. For not falling over in paroxysms of giggles as the shark flies towards him, though, he surely deserves a knighthood.

The other thing about Bill is his fabulous readiness to take children with him into dangerous situations. His international espionage kit basically consists of binoculars, a pistol and four small kids. This gets added entertainment value when his wife asks to go along on adventures too. He always refuses, on the grounds that "It's too dangerous!" and "You're not trained for this!"; but somehow there's always still room for the kids to go along. He's no sooner met them than he's taking them to a secret island to fight counterfeiters on a day trip. This leads directly to them being nearly blown up and drowned, to which their mother's response is to suggest that Bill have dinner with her, and then go on a walking holiday with the family. If I was one of her kids, I might start to wonder if I should be reading something into all of that.

The Enid Blyton Adventures is not really good television, I must admit. There's precious little drama, except when Bill is doing his damnedest to invent some; and although the kids really are very watchable indeed, they should have been given a lot more to do than run around the countryside being completely unmenaced by a succession of comedy crooks. I know that the purists objected to the updating, but that's inoffensive enough. Jack, easily the most engaging of the kids, is a computer geek now, and frequently saves the day with his palmtop. I don't think that's really so bad. I do wish he'd had more to save the day from, though. Admittedly I've never known an actual child who watched it, so I can't comment on whether it's effective viewing for its intended audience; but if they've read any of the books, which they probably will have done, then they're just going to get confused over why Enid Blyton was so much better at being scary. I don't really know if this show was made for children, though. I think it was probably just made for me.

Liking The Enid Blyton Adventures doesn't make a great deal of sense. It's silly. Unashamedly so. It's in dire need of better scripts, better crooks and Enid Blyton actually being involved. Probably half of its attraction for me is the memory of watching it on weekend mornings at university. I do find it great fun, though. The cast is entertaining, the adults unpredictable, and also there's a large rubber shark. So I recommend it, obviously. Well, somebody had to; and let's face it, nobody else was clamouring to be first in line.

It's out on DVD, anyway. So I has pictures. Hurrah!






Mrs Mannering

Bill Cunningham

A rubber shark

A flying rubber shark!

The best moment ever in television. Possibly.

Also, there's a fabulously cheesy and sing-along-able theme tune. Hurrah!

I'll shut up now.


( 7 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Jul. 31st, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, the shark. I think my favourite one was when Philip set his deadly attack spider on the crooks. He even shouted kill.

i had high hopes for Malcolm Jamieson at one point. Not sure what happened.
Jul. 31st, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
"The River Of Adventure". I didn't even have to think about that. I need a new brain.

And I think the theatre probably happened to him. Britain must have run out of low budget swashbuckly things for him to do.
Jul. 31st, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
I remember seeing the first one of those, but wasn't impressed at the acting.

I have read a number of the 'Adventure' books in the past. With a lot of Enid Blyton, I don't know how they would stand up to reading now. I know when I look at any 'Famous Five', it seems just a bit twee.
Jul. 31st, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
You're not supposed to watch it for the acting. You're supposed to watch it for the flying rubber shark. ;)

The books still seem to be popular with kids. I know that my nieces have enjoyed them. I haven't looked at them in a long time, though. I remember being very uncomfortable with "The Valley Of Adventure" even as a little kid, because of the depiction of the black guy in it. There's the inevitable sexism as well. They always seemed more exciting that The Famous Five though, so they might stand up better now.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
Hello swordznsorcery! My name's Jennifer. I saw a comment you left in jekesta's journal and your Laramie and Simon and Simon icons caught my eye so I decided to come over here to your journal. When I was reading your user info and interests I noticed we have some things in common. We both like....dean martin, desi arnaz, doctor who, i love lucy, music, books and reading, the a-team, and the rat pack and I'm interested in learning more about Laramie (I'm a fan of both John and Robert as they both played in one of my favorite classic tv shows Emergency!) and Simon and Simon. I also noticed in your tags you have The Dukes of Hazzard, Battlestar Galactica, MacGyver, and The Lost Boys listed and I am a fan of those things as well. Anyroad, since we have quite a few things in common and you seem like a pretty awesome person I was wondering if you'd like to be LJ friends? I hope you don't mind me adding you as a friend and do hope perhaps you'll add me back? Well, maybe talk to you later!
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:27 am (UTC)
Cool icon! I used to love Miami Vice.

If you like John Smith and Robert Fuller, you really should check out Laramie. It's terrific; and I think most of it is up on YouTube now. Here's a link to the first episode. It's a bit wobbly, being a 1958 b&w show, but it's good. The same person has put most of the episodes up.
Aug. 4th, 2011 09:51 am (UTC)
Thanks! I've been a fan of Miami Vice nearly all my life! =)

Oh wow! Thank you so much for the link to some episodes of Laramie! I've been wanting to watch it ever since my one friend told me John and Robert were in it! I tried searching youtube before but, couldn't find anything so thank you so much for the link! I can't wait to watch some episodes!!!!!!!
( 7 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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