Drugs duo set to rival Famous Five

15th August 1997 at 01:00
In the week that it emerged that Enid Blyton grew quickly bored with the Famous Five's adventures, the company which put them on screen says it wants to do the same for Melvin Burgess's controversial novel Junk.

As Britain celebrates the centenary of the birth of its best-read children's author, Zenith North is in talks with BBC and Channel 4 to create a TV version of the book that won this year's Carnegie Medal for outstanding children's fiction.

Junk might be described as the anti-Blyton: it tells the story of two 14-year-olds who become caught up in a world of drugs, squats and prostitution after running away from unhappy homes.

Author Melvin Burgess has a long way to go to match Blyton's prodigious output (with seven novels to her 600-plus) but he has been praised for stories more relevant to his young readers than tales of boarding-school adventures and idyllic summer holidays.

Junk is also due to be adapted by the Oxford Stage Company for a tour of UK theatres beginning in January. The theatre tour, entitled Making The Future, aims to promote new writing for young people and to attract a younger audience to the theatre - one not made up of school parties dragged along to see set texts.

Artistic director John Retallack, who is adapting and directing Junk himself, said the novel, with its multiple narrators, was an obvious candidate to headline the tour.

"Melvin Burgess writes for and about teenagers quite brilliantly," he said. "Junk is naturally dramatic material because it has so many voices."

Zenith's director of children's and family programming, Peter Murphy, said that Junk was most likely to be turned into a serial for BBC or C4 schools' programming, with a feature-length version screened later in an evening slot. "If you tackle something like Junk in schools' drama, in schools' time, it's being shown in context in a learning situation," he said.

"You can't put some material on children's TV at 4.30pm. We make Byker Grove, which tackles strong issues very responsibly, but a novel like Junk is just too strong."

Enid Blyton's centenary was marked by the unveiling of a blue plaque on the Surbiton house where she wrote her first book, Child Whispers. Her books have proved controversial in their own way, with allegations of sexism, racism, poor plotting and simple, repetitive prose which does not help children develop their language.

That has not damaged continuing astronomical sales or last year's Pounds 13.5 million deal with the Trocadero leisure group to market Noddy, Big Ears and her other characters - particularly in the largely untapped American market.

Comment, page 12

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