Maureen McTaggart goes on the trail of the Famous Five - still strictly Enid Blyton.
The sun shone, the ginger beer fizzed and the cream buns oozed deliciously as Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy, the hyper-intelligent dog, relaxed on the beach and gazed at the Dorset coastline. Then suddenly their idyll was rudely shattered by the sound of Uncle Quentin running towards them waving a piece of paper in his hand.
"Children," he puffed, "I have just received a letter inviting you all to embark on a series of interactive adventures."
"Gosh," said Julian "That sounds like a jolly jape. I hope there will be lashings and lashings of ginger beer."
After 50 years of squeezing along dark passages, walking through tunnels, searching for lost treasure, breaking into sealed caskets and catching beastly baddies, Enid Blyton's Famous Five are being dragged into the interactive CD-Rom age.
As stars of the latest CD-Rom titles from Systems Integrated Research (SIR), the four children and their pet dog aim to captivate a new generation of streetwise fans. They will be bringing with them Enid Blyton's idealised England of bike rides, picnics, long socks, short trousers and water-logged footballs.
Purists who still read these books in their Forties and Fifties editions need not be anxious - the publishers have resisted the temptation to modernise, keeping firmly to the period with not a Nike trainer in sight. And children will now be able to read and listen on their home computers to 21 titles chronicling the exploits of Dick, Julian, Anne, George and their dog.
The trouble is that SIR is having a rather unjolly adventure all of its own. A half-year operating loss of Pounds 1,135,000 has led to redundancies, but it insists that the CD-Roms will not be affected.
Geoff Glossop, the research and development director, who was made redundant, says a lot of today's children would love to have grown up in the Fifties. There is nothing odd about the Famous Five appealing to computer-literate children, he says. "Interesting fiction that has good moral values built into it is a good thing. The Famous Five offers a good read and is popular with parents too. Speaking as a parent, I think it would be undesirable not to keep those values intact when putting the stories into a modern technology format. "
In this spiffing production, children can interact with the adventures by taking part in quizzes and games and viewing video clips from the television series as the wholesome quintet tackle smugglers, spies and barmy scientists.
The CD-Roms, aimed at youngsters from 7 to 12, are designed to be educational as well as entertaining. They are presented as "talking books" with bells and whistles to capture children's imaginations as they read the story and become involved in adventure games. They can test their literacy interactively by clicking with the mouse on a word and calling up its dictionary definition. The text can then either be read or heard being spoken by famous actors like Susannah York. As the story is narrated, the words are highlighted.
These 35,000-word talking books each have 40 learning units which include dictionary, spelling, punctuation, crosswords and comprehension exercises. The three titles, Famous Five on a Treasure Island, Five Go To Smugglers' Top and Five Fall Into Adventure, have been developed in collaboration with education authorities and teachers and are expected to sell at Pounds 29.99. Two will be on show at BETT 97 and a further 18 over the next 18 months.
"Crikey," said George. "we're on to something. I think this is going to be a terrific adventure that could keep us in ginger beer for years."
* BETT CONNECTION
SIR stand 660