This 13 part black and white French series, which was dubbed into English when shown on BBC2 from 2 October 1967, has become one of the most fondly remembered and asked about children's series on Television Heaven from those of 'a certain age.'
The tale begins when two customs officers (Albere and Geo) are patrolling the mountains during a night of heavy snowfall. In the distance they see a figure approaching and on closer inspection they realise it is a young woman carrying a baby in her arms. Frozen and fatigued the woman collapses just as the officers, aided by a mountain hunter called Cesar, rush to assist her. The three men take the woman into a shelter but are too late to save her. Cesar decides to adopt the baby and take him back to the French Alpine village of Saint-Martin, close to the Italian border where he lives. As it is Saint Sebastien's Day, Cesar decides to call him Sebastien.
Six years later we rejoin the story to find Sebastien living on Cesar's farm along with the old mans daughter, Angelina -and son, Jean. One day, news reaches the village of a dangerous white dog loose in the mountains and the police issue a 'shoot to kill' order. But it's Sebastien who encounters the dog first and the two of them begin to form a friendship, with Sebastien choosing to call the dog Belle. And so begins the morally wholesome adventures of boy and dog as they wander through the hills enjoying a series of escapades outwitting smugglers and avoiding disasters.
This heart-warming series starred (as Sebastien) a young man only credited with the name of Mehdi, although he was in fact the son of French film star Cecile Aubrey who both wrote the original story and adapted it for television. A second series Belle, Sebastien and the Horses (also 13 episodes) followed a year later.
Polished, professional and heart-warmingly wholesome while deftly avoiding the curse of being overtly anodyne, Belle and Sebastien is a bona fide children's classic with a decided touch of Gallic charm.
Note: In any mention of the series in British publications that we've come across, the child's name is spelt Sebastian. There may have been a change of title for UK transmission but it is more likely that past British reviewers have simply adopted the Anglicised spelling.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.