It is amazing how this gem of a series has been bypassed by DVD distributors for so long. This classic series was shown only once on ITV in 1978 (episodes 1 - 13) and in 1979 (episodes 14 - 26), and NEVER repeated following the demise of the regional ITV company that made it (for those too young to know, every 10 years, various companies had to bid to transmit their programmes on the ITV network, hence the old fashioned regions of "Granada, HTV, Anglia, etc; Southern TV which made this disappeared in 1981 when the franchise for the south of England was won by TVS). Interestingly, many viewers never got to see the very last episode, part 2 of "Five go Down to the Sea" as - just days after part 1 was screened - ITV was hit by a long and protracted strike through several months of the summer of 1979.... the days when, with only 3 channels in the UK, we had to make do with just BBC1 and BBC2. When ITV flickered back to life in the early autumn, some ITV stations showed the last two episodes, but some didn't.
At least viewers were lucky enough when the series was one of the first to be released on sell-thru video when the home video market took off in the early to mid 1980s. So how come it has taken until now to be officially released on DVD? According to the Enid Blyton Society website, it was "copyright issues" which prevented this from happening, with DVD distributors apparently reluctant to release it incase someone popped out of the woodwork claiming the copyright belonged to them.
So Congratulations to the German company Koch Media for finally doing what UK distributors should have done over 10 years ago. "German?" you ask! This is because the series has remained extremely popular in Germany where it was repeated on tv a number of times over the years. I bought their German release when it came out some time ago with a number of extras not mentioned in Amazon's description above. This included a booklet about the series and how it was made, whilst the disks contained new interviews with the surviving cast members. "Surviving"? - you ask again. I'm sorry to upset anyone who didn't already know, but Michelle Gallagher who played George died over 10 years ago. This is very sad, as those of us who grew up watching the series as children almost felt as if we knew her, as we took her's and the others' performances to our hearts. I hope Koch include the same extras on the English version.
So now you are asking why am I, a 49 year old going on about a children's television series? This is because this particular version of the Famous Five is once seen but never forgotten. It was so well made with incredibly well adapted (and shortened) scripts that did not always follow the books, had child actors who you could believe in, and was sumptuously filmed on location around the New Forest area of Hampshire. I bought the German release to show the series to my daughter, who loved it as much as I did when I was her age.
My message to parents of children of all ages today is to buy this series and let your kids see how good quality television drama made specifically for them looked in the 1970s. For those of us who watched it the first time round as children, buying it for your own children or even grandchildren is a perfect excuse to wallow in some 70s nostalgia ... a time when things were less complicated than they are now.
And before I finish, I must add - before anyone starts asking - why the first story on the disk is not "Five on a Treasure Island" as written by Enid Blyton, and is - instead - a totally new story called "Five on Kirrin Island" that introduces us to the characters in a different way. This is because, at the time the series was made, the Children's Film Foundation still had the rights to make a film of the first book, so Southern Television had to commission a brand new story to replace it. Southern wanted to make a third series of 13 episodes with more brand new stories specially written for them to screen in 1980, but the Enid Blyton Estate apparently refused to authorise this. Instead, Southern looked to make something else, and turned to Barbara Euphan Todd's "Worzel Gummidge" which they subsequently filmed starring ex Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee.