The Famous Five: What has changed in the latest adaptation of Enid Blyton's famous books

The BBC has reimagined Enid Blyton’s childhood favourite The Famous Five for today’s audience. Catherine Scott pulls up an armchair to find out what has changed in the series.

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books may have been written as early as 1942, but they continue to be a mainstay for British children, and they have now been given a TV makeover.

As with the iconic books, the new BBC series follows five daring young explorers as they encounter treacherous adventures, remarkable mysteries, unparalleled danger and astounding secrets in what is described as an “unforgettable odyssey that evokes the power of camaraderie between the fearless young heroes”.

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The Famous Five showcases four rising star actors who will lead as the young protagonists at the helm of the series: siblings Julian, Dick and Anne and their cousin George, plus Timmy the dog.

The Famous Five returns to our screens on New Year's EveThe Famous Five returns to our screens on New Year's Eve
The Famous Five returns to our screens on New Year's Eve

Matthew Reid, executive producer for Moonage Pictures who wrote the screenplay for episode one and created the series with Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn, says: “When we first formed Moonage Pictures, we sat down and decided that we really wanted to make TV that was both inspirational and that we could watch with our children.

“I brought Nicolas Winding Refn on board because, having worked with him before, I knew he always wanted to be the sixth member of The Famous Five.

“Our approach to The Famous Five books was not to simply adapt the novels but to look at the entire series of the books and take inspiration from the source material.

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“Rather than taking the individual stories and making straight adaptations of the books, we looked at the books as a jumping off point. We wanted to weave our own stories which were inspired by the whole cannon of The Famous Five books.”

The Famous FiveThe Famous Five
The Famous Five

He adds: “Whilst the series is set in the late 1930s, we wanted to create a drama series that is set in the timeless space of childhood. We wanted to draw on viewers’ memories of the long summers in their childhood rather than trying to specifically tie it down to one moment in time.”

The three feature-length episodes were as shot on location in Cornwall and Gloucester and in studios in south Wales.

James Lance, who plays Uncle Quentin and read Blyton’s books when he was younger, says the producers have made the adaptations fresh to bring them to a modern audience.

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“There's sort of a sassiness to the dialogue within The Famous Five. It's just as relevant today and it has just as much of an impact as it would have done then.

“We see that the adult characters aren’t just there as borderlines to hem in these little spirits, there’s a lot more to Quentin and Fanny. Now I'm an adult and I can see things from the adult’s point of view as well as the children’s.”

Ann Akinjirin, who plays Aunt Fanny says, she was attracted to the changes made to her character compared with the way Blyton depicted her.

“I really loved the vision, the team and the scripts. Early on, I was sent a really great description of Fanny, and how they saw her, what they were thinking of doing with the character, which really excited me.

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“I think, especially in the books, Fanny just isn’t Fanny really, she's Quentin's wife. I'm so excited for people to see it because I really love the way it's been shot, it is so delicious on screen. It was those things that made me think, yes, I'm absolutely going to do this.”

She is hopeful that today’s audience will love to reimagining of Blyton’s classic books. “I think back to my favourite films, I'm an ‘80s baby, my favourite films even now are The Goonies, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, those type of films that as an adult still make me feel warm and excited, gripped and engrossed.

“That’s what I want the audience to take away from this. No matter where you are in life, we are still children inside. Being able to engage our inner child, our inner imagination, our inner adventurer and explorer, those things never die. I think it's always special when you find a show that ignites that in you or allows you to explore that. We can’t forget to have fun and this is a really fun show to watch.”

Diaana Babnicova, who plays George, says: “George is an independent girl who grew up without brothers and sisters. Later she finds Timmy the dog and they become like a family. She lives by her own rules and likes to have fun. She’s quite a cheeky person.

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“We started filming in Cornwall, on the beach, where we did some sailing. Then we filmed on a train, which was so much fun. We couldn’t stop laughing as the train kept moving us about. We also filmed at a circus, which was amazing. I’d never been to a circus so I was like ‘wow!’. We had fire breathers and clowns, it really was so cool.”

Elliott Rose, who plays Julian, adds: “Julian is the oldest and he's the muscle of the group, he's more physical. Plus as the oldest, he’s like a father figure when the parents aren’t around. He’s very caring, specifically toward Anne and Dick. He has his arguments with George but overall he seems like a pretty nice guy. If he was a real person, I’d probably be mates with him.”

Kit Rakusen, who plays Dick says: “There are some jobs that from the very start you really, really want because they're similar to you. My mum had told me there was no news and when I got the call from my agent, my mum secretly got her phone out and started filming me. I was speechless!

“He's really clever, he can tell you anything about history, Latin and times tables but he's also funny in his own way. He's definitely the brains of the group, he’s like the walking internet.”

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Flora Jacoby Richardson says her character Anne is “quite sassy”, adding: “She likes to get her brothers to do things for her. She treats them like her servants, she presumes people are there to serve her. She gets Dick to do things for her, like look after her torch, and she gets Julian to carry her bags.”

Episode one of The Famous Five is on BBC iPlayer and will also air on BBC One at 11.30am on New Year’s Eve. Two more episodes will follow in 2024.

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