Aunt Fanny and all

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
David Rudd sees adaptations of Enid Blyton for television and film from the back-to-basics model to the send-up.

Given the role of the "private cinema screen" in Blyton's creative process, it seems particularly appropriate that so many of her books are now being realised on the screen. This was something that Blyton herself encouraged.

The Adventures of Noddy, using marionettes, came first in 1955 and was one of commercial television's earliest successes. This was the only series to feature the Toyland golliwogs. They were banished in the 1975 series by Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall, narrated by Richard Briers, and in the hugely successful Cosgrove Hall animated series of 1992, which has become one of the BBC's most successful money-makers, selling to more than 30 countries.

Rumours of a full-length Hollywood film about the nodding doll, with narration by Macaulay Culkin, were unfounded, as was the notion that Big-Ears would have to become Whitebeard in order to be PC (and this from the country that made a movie of Bigfoot and made Goofy a national hero).

The Famous Five were next on screen. The Children's Film Federation made versions of two Five books, one of which, the 1957 Five on a Treasure Island, is available on video. This one generally stays close to the book, although the Federation thought it prudent to rename Aunt Fanny "Margaret" for Saturday morning cinema audiences. Surprisingly, the trendy 1978 Southern TV series which gave the Five flares, tank-tops and BMX bikes, kept her as Fanny.

For the latest series, made by Zenith North and shown nationally on ITV earlier this year, the Five have reverted to period (1952, to be exact) and are back in short trousers, Aertex shirts, cardies and sandals. Fanny, though, has now become "Frances". There is a back-to-basics flavour to this treatment with its rural settings, reasonably deferential children and ordered, if hierarchical, society. A second series has now been shot, with some last-minute rewrites needed when Marco Williamson, who plays Julian, broke his leg.

Of course, two rather more daring rewrites from the Comic Strip cannot be left out. The first, Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982), shown on Channel 4's first night, is now a classic. Fans of this will know that the Federation's fears about Aunt Fanny were fully realised.

Blyton screen series are now coming thick and fast. The new series by Cloud 9, loosely based on the Adventure books, is currently being shown on the Disney Channel and is scheduled for Channel 5's launch next year. These Adventures have been given a more cosmopolitan, James Bond flavour - action, gadgets, and even romance - with a budget to match. With apparent insouciance, the chief scriptwriter announced that "Not one word of Blyton's is in the script. " However, there are also two earlier, more faithful adaptations - The Island (1982) and The Castle of Adventure (1990). It's too soon for another Castle adaptation so the eighth Cloud 9 Adventure, The Woods of Adventure, will strike many as totally new. Readers of The Secret of Moon Castle, however, might recognise its origin.

Cloud 9 has also filmed others in the Secret series. Also in the pipeline are series of The Adventurous Four, Amelia Jane (about a disruptive doll), Secret Seven, Five Find-Outers, Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair.

Ironically, St Clare's (1991), an award-winning Japanese cartoon series based on Blyton's boarding-school stories, is deemed not to have enough appeal to be shown in the UK.

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