Enid Blyton's Famous Five

The Famous Five on DVD

two delightful vintage releases which no Famous Five fan should be without

Mention Saturday morning Pictures to anyone of a certain age in the UK and they will tell you that, as children, it was the highlight of their week.

The two most popular cinema chains in the early 1950s were Odeon and ABC. ABC Cinemas (Associated British Cinemas) was a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated British Picture Corporation which operated between the 1930s and the late 1960s. The cinema is also famed to have had one of the biggest impacts on British children with the first major kids club, ABC Minors. The morning's programme commenced with a resounding rendition of the ABC Minors Song belted out by about two hundred kids - and if it was your first time at the theatre you need not fear of being left out as the words were presented on the screen, with the classic bouncing red ball keeping you in time to the tune. There followed a series of action/adventure films, mainly b-movies and mainly Westerns but there was also the obligatory film series like Batman or Flash Gordon which ended each week on a cliff-hanger so you had to come back the following Saturday to see how your hero escaped.

The Odeon chain also led the way and in 1951, J(oseph) Arthur Rank, chairman of The Rank Organisation that owned that particular cinema chain, helped set up the Children's Film Foundation (now the Children's Film & Television Foundation or CFTF for short). Its remit was to make films specifically for children to be screened at Saturday morning matinees and used in schools. Now British children didn't have to cheer on American heroes but home grown ones. The Foundation initially made five or six low budget films a year which were hugely successful and inspired a whole generation of new cinema-goers. They also gave an opportunity for a number of child actors and actresses, who later became stars, to begin their careers. These included Francesca Annis, Michael Crawford and Dennis Waterman.

Enid Blyton

One particular author's work was a prime source of material for the Film Foundation: Enid Blyton. Blyton was enjoying a golden period in the 1950s and her work seemed to embody the ethos of the day. The tone of her children's adventure novels hardly strayed from story to story, always featuring a 'gang' of derring-do-gooders who always managed, with well-mannered wholesomeness, to outwit the villains - and with an uncanny knack, they managed to fit their many adventures into their school holidays. Spiffing!

Enid Blyton fans, young and old alike, are in for a nostalgic treat with the BFI releases of two rare film serials on two DVDs, made in the 1950s and 1960s of the much-loved Famous Five adventure stories. Filmed mainly on location in Dorset, both serials were made by the Children’s Film Foundation. They were originally shown at cinemas around the country, and all over the world. Both volumes feature original illustrations by Eileen Soper on the sleeves and contain comprehensive booklets with essays and biographies. Contributors include Enid Blyton expert Norman Wright, author of The Famous Five: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know!; BFI Curator Vic Pratt and Natalie Morris, Senior Curator of BFI Special Collections.

Enid Blyton's Five on a Treasure Island

Five on a Treasure Island, which stays true to the spirit of Enid Blyton's perennially popular first Famous Five novel, is a ripping adventure tale in eight exciting instalments. The author herself helped to cast this serial which follows the celebrated chums as they search for buried treasure in the ruins of Kirrin Castle. Will the intrepid Five manage to foil dastardly antique shop owner Luke Undown’s desperate attempt to steal Kirrin’s treasure from under Uncle Quentin’s nose? Chock-full of cliffhangers and mystery, the popular Children's Film Foundation serial remains close to the spirit of the book.

Enid Blyton's Five Have a Mystery to Solve

Five Have a Mystery to Solve, the Children’s Film Foundation’s second Famous Five serial - with a new cast - sees the Five head off to discover the secrets of the closely-guarded Whispering Island. Befriending young Wilfred, whose strange gifts include an ability to communicate with animals; the gang find themselves in grave danger when they try to find the truth behind the mystery. Made by Rayant Pictures Ltd. Villainous gamekeepers, perilous cliffs, secret passages, hidden treasure, buns and cocoa await the Kirrin cousins as they explore the mysteries of eerie Whispering Island.

Five on a Treasure Island (1957) and Five Have a Mystery to Solve (1964) featuring Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog, have been re-mastered to High Definition from original film elements preserved in the BFI National Archive and were released in September 2010 but are still available from Amazon (see below).

With enthusiastic and memorable performances from the well-cast young actors and offering a glimpse into gentler, more innocent times, these are two delightful vintage releases which no Famous Five fan should be without. Never shown on television, or previously released on video or DVD, this is essential for Blyton aficionados.

Published on February 22nd, 2023. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.

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