Five Go Mad in Dorset
Five Go Mad in Dorset was the first of the long-running series of Comic Strip Presents... television comedy films. It first aired on the launch night of Channel 4 (2 November 1982), and was written by Peter Richardson and Pete Richens, and directed by Bob Spiers.
Plot and satire
The film is an extreme parody of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books, in which the titular Five — children Julian (Richardson), Dick (Adrian Edmondson), George (Dawn French), Anne (Jennifer Saunders) and their dog Timmy — investigate the disappearance of their Uncle Quentin (Ronald Allen). Daniel Peacock and Robbie Coltrane also made appearances, the latter in his first television role.
The satire on display parodied established aspects of Blyton's books in addition to placing newer, sinister overtones onto them. Examples of the former include repeated demeaning reference to Anne as a "proper little housewife", the gang's propensity for overhearing shady conversations between criminals (portrayed in the film by burly thugs muttering "Blah blah blah, stolen plans, blah blah blah, missing scientists" and so on) and their taste for outdoor picnics of "ham and turkey sandwiches, bags of lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, heaps of tomato, and lashings of ginger beer". (Indeed, the film's catchphrase "lashings of ginger beer" became so well known that it is now often mistakenly attributed to Blyton herself, although it never appears in any of the Famous Five books.)
The film also portrayed Uncle Quentin as a "screaming homosexual" and his wife Fanny as an "unrelenting nymphomaniac", as well as implying a homosexual relationship between Dick and Julian and a bestial one between George and Timmy:
Timmy's wagging tail is seen sticking out of the girls' tent.
GEORGE (groans): Oh Timmy. You're so licky!
ANNE: You shouldn't let him do that George. It's not hygienic.
GEORGE: We like it, don't we, Timmy?
In addition, much was made of the children's apparently racist and extreme right-wing views — a reference to the controversy that has retrospectively haunted Blyton's work. Despite all of this, however, Blyton's estate were said to have "loved" the film.
Reviewing Channel 4's launch night for the Financial Times, Chris Dunkley wrote that it was a "deliciously accurate parody of Enid Blyton's mind-numbingly repetitive adventure stories", but compared it unfavourably to Ripping Yarns.
Five Go Mad on Mescalin
A sequel, Five Go Mad on Mescalin, was produced for the second Comic Strip Presents... series in 1983, but was seen as an unworthy successor to the first, despite being created by the same writer/director team. The plot, involving a pushy rich American with a spoiled son, is loosely based on Enid Blyton's Five on Finniston Farm (1960). Notably, it implies that the Five might have sympathised with Nazi Germany because the Nazis were not as "vulgar" as Americans.
Five Go to Rehab
The original cast reprised their roles, now well into middle-age. Reuniting for Dick's birthday after decades apart, the four and Toby lament how their lives took unexpected paths whilst Dick drags them on another bicycle adventure which he had meticulously planned for fourteen years. In a reversal, George had married a series of wealthy men whom she cuckolded with, among others, one of her stepsons (her continuing penchant for bestiality with the latest Timmy is also implied); whereas Anne has become a strongly opinionated vegan spinster and is suspected by Dick of being a "dyke" - an accusation made against George by Toby in the original Five Go Mad in Dorset. George and Julian have been committed to an alcoholics' sanatorium, the latter owes a large debt to African gangsters, and Anne recently served a prison sentence for setting her nanny aflame. Robbie Coltrane reprised both of his roles.
Five Go to Rehab utilized a form of a floating timeline; although the original films' events are said to have taken place thirty years in the past and "five years after the war", the reunion film appears to be set approximately contemporaneous to its filming.
- Julian – Peter Richardson
- Dick – Adrian Edmondson
- George – Dawn French
- Anne – Jennifer Saunders
- Uncle Quentin – Ronald Allen
- Aunt Fanny – Sandra Dorne
- Toby – Daniel Peacock
- Shopkeeper / Gypsy – Robbie Coltrane
- Dirty Dick – Ron Tarr
- Fingers – Nosher Powell
- Police Inspector – Raymond Francis
- Railway Porter - Marcus Ford
Music was used in both programmes which had previously been used by the BBC as themes for radio programmes. Titles include: "In Party Mood" (the theme to Housewives' Choice) by Jack Strachey, "Puffin' Billy" (the theme to Children's Favourites and also CBS's Captain Kangaroo) by Edward White, and "Calling All Workers" (the theme to Music While You Work) by Eric Coates.
- Ian Jones (July 2001). "Blah Blah Blah". Off the Telly.
- "The Arts: Television - The morning after Channel Four". Financial Times. 3 November 1982.
- "South West England". The Comedy Map of Britain. 9 December 2010. BBC. GOLD (TV channel).
- Five Go Mad In Dorset on Hulu.com