I recently discovered that 4 on Demand has all the episodes of the Comic Strip Presents show available to watch, and found myself watching Five Go Mad in Dorset. It was the very first episode of the show made and was originally aired on the second of November, 1982.
Like last time I had a document open and typed up some notes and thoughts as I watched (pausing it frequently so I could make it a bit more coherent.)
On the whole I thought this was a better episode than Five Go to Rehab and I will hopefully be able to explain why as I talk about it.
CERTAINLY STILL A SPOOF, THOUGH NOT OVERLY CRUEL
Aunt Fanny is very made up and full of figure, not the homely scientist’s wife we expect though at least she isn’t played by a man! And Timmy’s a decent sort of dog. The initial banter is all in good fun, Aunt Fanny saying she’s made them a slap up meal and there are plenty of goshes to go around.
Less than a minute in we have Dick say I say Ju, that man looks foreign!, pointing at the porter, and George suggests his name might be Golliwog and they perhaps ought to call the police.
And someone must, because the poor porter is arrested after running all the way to Kirrin Cottage with their cases.
This is an obvious jest at the inherent racism of Blyton’s books. I’m not daft on those sort of “jokes” as they perpetuate the idea that Blyton was an all out racist and she wasn’t. However the joke is played and is over quickly so it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the episode. Later though, Julian spots a car that has no road tax and George asserts it must belong to an illegal immigrant.
Kirrin Cottage is very cute and there’s a nice tea-time scene alongside the porter’s drama. It’s mentioned that Anne’s happy to just be a girl, a little ‘joke’ about Blyton’s misogynistic qualities but it’s just a brief reference again. Funnier are the little things like them having lashings of cream, and the surprisingly blasé conversation about how Uncle Quentin has been kidnapped.
I didn’t want to spoil your holiday but I’m afraid… your uncle’s been kidnapped again, says Aunt Fanny.
Bad show! the children groan.
That must be a bit of a blow for you Aunt Fanny, Julian comments casually.
Yes twice in six months? someone else says (I can’t work out who though.)
Yes, well I expect it’ll all sort itself out, Aunt Fanny says calmly.
Uncle Q isn’t kidnapped quite as often as that in the books but far more often than anyone would ever expect to be!
There is an odd subtext though that there’s something going on between Julian and Aunt Fanny though. It’s hard to pin down what it is, something in their facial expressions and the way Aunt Fanny says something about Julian being very mature now. I’m not sure what it’s all about and it’s not referenced again in the episode as far as I could tell (except perhaps at the very end but I can’t explain that without giving it away).
The actors are all much younger (and thinner!) here as it’s more than thirty years earlier, which makes it all more believable and realistic. The Five could easily be in their late teens here.
LASHINGS OF GINGERBEER
Later we get a perfect Famous Five picnic, complete with heaps of tomatoes and lashings of gingerbeer (not lashings and lashings though!) Poking fun at the Five’s ability to fall into trouble, we have some criminal types behaving oddly not ten feet from the picnic rug. They have big noses, thick lips and mean little eyes as well as unshaven cheeks, ergo, they must be up to no good! They’re not exactly quiet either and mention how they’re out of jail and must lie low. The Five automatically assume they are escaped convicts or traitors to the country, as opposed to recently released prisoners. Another cliché is revealed later, as one of the baddies is called Jake. Blyton did have a lot of baddies by that name.
I like their list of food which almost gets chanted at every meal. Hard boiled eggs, bags of salad, heaps of tomatoes and LASHINGS of ginger beer. It’s almost a quote from a book that. Almost.
Perhaps the Five have had just too many adventures as they barely react when the men poison Timmy. Anne casually says Oh look, Timmy’s fallen over, and instead of George’s usual over the top panic she simply says, Oh crikey! in a less excitable manner than the words might convey. She at least sounds a little upset as she goes over to check on him and says He’s been poisoned! Later she very casually asks Do you think someone’s got it in for Timmy?
To which one of the boys, Julian I think, says Never mind George, we’ll get another.
One quick telephone call later and they’re being congratulated by the police for helping them catch the two criminals red handed. The criminals are none too happy and one calls Julian a little b******! Not Blytonian language at all!
FAMILIAR NAMES AND FACES
Robbie Coltrane appears as the ice cream woman this time, and is very ominous as he talks about Strange comings and goings in this village. Secrets and signs and threats.
We then run into another familiar face, if you’ve seen Rehab, Toby Thurlow. I mentioned last time how the name is
an amalgamation of names used in the series. Toby is the boy from Five Go to Billycock Hill and Thurlow is actually Richard Kent’s father’s first name.
He wants to join them on their cycling holiday but they aren’t too keen. Sounds a lot like Five Get Into Trouble to me (again). We’ve also got Dirty Dick (Five on a Hike Together) who works for Toby’s dad.
I admit I giggled when they all said look! because a man had parachuted down, and we weren’t allowed to look. Obviously the budget didn’t extend to stunts!
It was around now that my other half made a comment along the lines of
Is it odd that this doesn’t sound any different to the audio books you listen to?
Which I thought was quite appalling! But Dawn French does do a good job as George a lot of the time.
The Five are also very casual after Toby is kidnapped. (At least they get the right boy this time, unlike in the book!). It’s said it serves him right for being Jewish and nouveau riche. Presumably another dig at Blyton’s attitudes.
I’m not sure about the baddies. They seem a trifle too silly even for this show. They go through their plans and keep adding BLAH BLAH BLAH to the end of every other line, as the boys repeat all the important phrases they can clearly overhear. This does get explained in the end, however.
The names on the map are funny though, Kneecap Hill. Crutchley. Thigh Woods. Ankle on the Water. And we get to see the original Coltrane gypsy scene which they redid in Rehab. Coltrane’s on top form again here. No telephone. No eelecticity. No gas. No water laid on. Just secrets, and signs and THREATS.
More jokes are made about how predictable the adventures are.
Perhaps there will be a secret way in, just like there has been in our previous adventures! Yes I’m sure this will be no exception!
I wouldn’t be surprised if this ladder led up to a little cupboard with a hidden room beyond full of government secrets and strange machinery.
Are two good examples but they’re delivered with such honest enthusiasm it makes them very funny rather than annoying.
The ending was pretty good I thought. I won’t give it away but the boss surprised me, and he got some very funny lines explaining how it all came about.
I think the episode benefited from being thirty minutes instead of an hour, so there were no unnecessary sub plots needed to flesh it out. Some jokes fell flat for me, such as a lot of the scene at the camp where they argued about Toby staying or not, based on the fact that Julian and Dick always shared a tent. A lot of it was very amusing though as you could see exactly why each joke or line had been included. It seems like the writers had a decent knowledge of the books.
So, if you don’t mind a few roll-your-eyes moments as they over-do the casual racism, I recommend this as a fine way to spend half an hour.