As the author behind book series such as The Famous Five, The Faraway Tree and The Secret Seven, Enid Blyton’s books still sell in huge numbers and she regularly features in the top ten list of the best-selling authors in the UK.
Many of her books have been adapted for comics, but The Famous Five – celebrating their 75th anniversary this year – is surely one of her series most associated with graphic re-telling. Many British comic creators have worked on those tales including Charlie Adlard, Barrie Mitchell, Mike Noble, Tim Quinn and John Ridgway.
The Famous Five books began with the publication of Five on a Treasure Island in 1942 and the series of 21 original novels has enthralled generations of children since. The series centres on the adventures of four children – Julian, Dick and Anne, tomboy cousin George (Georgina) and Timmy the Dog – who successfully manage to get themselves into all manner of scrapes. (No doubt to the despair and constant worry of George’s parents, Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny).
Blyton based some of her characters and locations on people and places in Dorset, especially Purbeck, an area she visited three times a year for holidays for over 20 years.
The original books were illustrated by Eileen Soper but there have been numerous interpretations and adaptations of the Famous Five over the years, including continuation novels written by French author Claude Voilier, cinema films (including two from the Children’s Film Foundation), stage plays, two television series and, back in 2008, a Disney cartoon series featuring the children of the Famous Five.
In 2012, we reported here that London-based Kindle Entertainment, makers of the critically acclaimed CBBC show Leonardo were to turn Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five into a time travel show, with some press reports suggesting both BBC and Sky were interested in the series, but the proposed project seems to be in limbo.
Along with many annuals down the years, The Famous Five’s perhaps best known appearance in comics in Britain is, possibly, in the Junior TV Times weekly anthology Look-In, the characters of that strip of course based on the eponymous 26-episode TV series produced by Southern Television and Portman Productions between 1978 and 1979 for ITV in the UK and was finally released on DVD back in 2012.
The TV series was scripted by Richard Carpenter, who also created Catweazle, Black Beauty, Dick Turpin and Robin of Sherwood, along with Richard Sparks (whose credits also include Not the Nine O’Clock News), Gail Renard (whose later credits include Echoes of Louisa and Chucklevision) and Gloria Tors. A huge success. It adapted all but three of the original novels and starred Michele Gallagher as Georgina, Marcus Harris as Julian, Jennifer Thanisch as Anne, Gary Russell as Dick, Toddy Woodgate as Timmy, Michael Hinz as Uncle Quentin and Sue Best as Aunt Fanny.
Look-In‘s “Famous Five” adventures were largely drawn by Mike Noble, who also drew strips such as “Follyfoot” and “Timeslip” for the weekly title. (Three parts of one story were drawn by Keith Watson, while Mike Noble took his annual break).
As well as The Famous Five adventures in Look-In, six comic albums based on the characters, drawn by Bernard Dufossé and scripted by Serge Rosenzweig and Rafael Carlo Marcello were released in France between 1982 and 1986, under the title Le Club des Cinq, most based on Famous Five books created by Claude Voilier and released by Hachette Livre.
The first three of these volumes were released in English in the 1980s by Knight Books.
In 1985, Egmont (the title credited on line as published by Gutenberghus) launched Enid Blyton’s Adventure Magazine, each issue featuring a full length illustrative comic book story adapted from Famous Five novels by Gail Renard (who also produced the 1970s TV series) and Les Lilley, a script writer who’s perhaps best known as the founder (and early chair) of the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain, and President of the Federation of European Cartoonists’ Organisations, plus feature material such as puzzles.and featured the work of several great British talents.
There were 17 issues in total, starting with a “pilot” issue telling the story Five On Kirrin Island, drawn by Barrie Mitchell, who’s perhaps better known for his work on Roy of the Rovers and many girls comics.
Sixteen regular issues of the magazine were published in all between 1985 and 1986, all opening with the team arriving at some idyllic-looking location by cycle or train, only, as in the novels, to be quickly plunged into mystery and adventure.
The art throughout is charming, as and although the characters have been updated the locations still often evoke a nostalgic look to Britain that captures the essence of the Famous Five’s timeless tales with panache.
In 1993, comics editor and writer Tim Quinn formed Quill Publications with the late Gillian Baverstock, elder daughter of Enid Blyton, to promote literacy to children. Together they published Blue Moon, a title based on Gillian’s stories rather than those of her mother, but it was not Tim’s last encounter with Blyton’s characters.
In 1995 the Famous Five returned to television in a co-production from Tyne Tees Television, HTV, Zenith North and the German channel ZDF. Unlike the previous TV series, this set the stories in the 1950s, dramatising all the original books. It starred Paul Child (as Dick), Laura Petela (Anne) Jemima Rooper (as George) and Marco Williamson (as Julian) and Mary Waterhouse as Aunt Frances.
In 1997, perhaps capitalising on interest in the The Famous Five generated by the new show, Egmont launched Enid Blyton Mystery and Suspense, initially edited by Tim Quinn, which not only featured The Famous Five but Blyton’s other successful troupe of child investigators, The Secret Seven.
The title ran for ten issues, and once again featured some great artists including Charlie Adlard and others.
Famous Five annuals published between 1978 to 1986 adapted one story each as a mix of text and strips for each chapter. Artists included Leslie Branton and Michael Strand.Other hardbacks contemporary with these, such as Five on a Treasure Island, published in 1980, and a Famous Five TV special, published in 1978, were largely photo illustrated from the TV series.
The Hachette Children’s Group acquired the worldwide rights to the Enid Blyton estate, excluding Noddy, in 2012. Today, the novels feature covers that are a far cry from the originals, but continue to appeal to children. Currently, there appear to be no plans for any new comic strips.
Bulldog Licensing began rolling out 75th anniversary merchandise earlier this year, including spoof titles such as Five on Brexit Island, aimed at adult fans of the Famous Five.
Of course, the Famous Five is far from the only Enid Blyton property to make it into comics. Her younger characters such as Noddy have had many appearances in the medium, while some others were short-lived. The 1970s comic Pixie included an Enid Blyton strip in each of its 30 issues (before merging with June); a three-page strip of “Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl in School” ran for 20 issues and a two-page 10 part run for “The Treasure Hunters“. Both were drawn by Tony Higham, who also drew strips for many other girls titles, including Tammy and Jinty.
More About Enid Blyton
The Enid Blyton has a great listing of every Enid Blyton-related periodical here
• The Famous Five – The Complete Collectors Edition DVD is available from amazon.co.uk – using this link helps support downthetubes
• Les Lilley died in October 1998; the Independent obituary is here
• Bulldog Licensing: www.bulldog-licensing.com
With thanks to Richard Sheaf and Tim Quinn for some of the images featured. Thanks to Shaquille le Vesconte for additional information on the annuals, Famous Five TV script writers and Keith Watson’s role in the FF story