Anna Sewell (1820-78) wrote only one book in her lifetime but it became an all time children's classic.
The book, for which Sewell received just £20.00, was published in 1877 just three months before her death, and told the story of a black mare who had been brutally treated by a succession of cruel owners until it was finally taken in by a kind family that nursed it back to health. The TV series, The Adventures of Black Beauty, with specially written scripts was not an adaptation but a 'continuation' featuring new characters created by Ted Willis, the creator of Dixon of Dock Green, Sergeant Cork and Mrs Thursday.
In the opening episode we meet Dr James Gordon (William Lucas), his daughter Vicky (Judy Bowker), son Kevin (Roderick Shaw) and housekeeper Amy (Charlotte Mitchell), all of whom have moved from London to the small country village of Five Oaks. Whilst out exploring their new surroundings the children discover a wounded black stallion which they bring back to their new house in the hope that it can be saved. But the horse's owner, determined to break its spirit, arrives to collect the animal. The family offer to buy it off him but cannot afford the price he wants. When Doctor Gordon saves the life of the owner's uncle, they are given the horse as payment.
Bowker's character, the thoroughbred's latest owner for series one, had left when the series returned for a second season, the actress having decided to pursue her career elsewhere and Vicky Gordon was replaced (without explanation) by fifteen-year-old Stacy Dorning as her sister Jenny who had previously been attending school in London.
Hot on the hooves of the previous year's equine success, Follyfoot, 'Black Beauty' debuted on 17 September 1972 and didn't hit the ground running - it hit it with more of a gallop. Taking the traditional Sunday teatime family slot, set on a beautifully spacious Victorian country estate (Stockers Farm in Rickmansworth) and with its evocative theme tune ("Galloping Home", which won the 1973 Ivor Novello Award for Best Theme Tune) it soon became a top twenty hit for London Weekend Television.
Four horses: Tramp, Ebony, Fury and Jet, were used for Black Beauty, the latter three were touched up with make-up to give them an identical white blaze to Tramp.
Sharing the directorial seat was Charles Crichton who later went on to make the hit movie A Fish Called Wanda.
A sequel, The New Adventures of Black Beauty was made in 1990 with Lucas and Dorning reprising their roles. 20 years after the last episode of the original series, Dr Jenny Denning, who has qualified as a vet and is now married, is preparing for a new life in New Zealand with her husband, Nigel, and his daughter from a previous marriage. He goes on ahead to prepare their new home, a farm in the south of the country, but the boat he travels on never arrives.
Convinced that her husband is stilll alive, Jenny and stepdaughter Vicky (Amber McWilliams), follow on, but when they arrive in New Zealand they discover the farm is deserted. Eventually, they settle down and make a life for theirselves. Then, one day, Vicky finds a beautiful black stallion who will allow nobody to ride him except Vicky. The horse reminds Jenny of her beloved Black Beauty, so christens him with the same name.
A second series was produced in 1972, filming moved from New Zealand to Australia but none of the actors or characters followed. The only connection between series one and two was the theme tune.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.