The Comic Strip Presents… Five Go Mad in Dorset

When I was big into Doctor Who fandom (the first time around) during the late 80s, I remember the Five Go Mad In Dorset episode of The Comic Strip being this really cool comedy to have seen and name-check when hanging out with other fans. I couldn’t tell you why that was. It just was. I don’t even think it was particularly related to Doctor Who, outside of us fans being generally very interested in UK programs in general and, for some reason, this one was head and shoulders above the others.

The film is basically a parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, with Adrian Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, and Dawn French being the most recognisable performers. The film absolutely skewers Blyton’s writing style and storylines, largely in the areas of sexism, racism and class. Of course, as a parody, this is Blyton turned up to 11; a Blyton that doesn’t really exist in the same way (and some aspects like the suggestion of bestiality between George and Timmy the dog are, of course, right off the planet), but if you understand the source material, the parody is extremely well done indeed.

I particularly enjoyed the way the storyline just lurches from improbable moment to sexual innuendo to ludicrous plot twist, and back again, throughout the episode. Although, again, real Blyton isn’t like this, you can absolutely see how, if you take her style to the extremes, you get something like this.

One thing I did notice while watching this is that in today’s very PC climate, the dialogue in Five Go Mad In Dorset had me sometimes stopping and thinking, wait, can you still say that? And generally the answer was yes, in the context of parody. Which it was always intended to be, I might add. This isn’t an older program that’s genuinely problematic, but the ways it tackles it’s topics are, I think, quite different to how it would be done today. And that’s not unusual. Even something like Little Britain – a far more contemporary comedy which hit TVs in 2003, twenty years after Five Go Mad In Dorset – would do things differently if it started now, showing just how much has changed on TV ‘recently’.

This is an episode of The Comic Strip that I can see myself watching again at some stage in the future, over many others. Growing up on The Famous Five (both in the books, and the TV series that Doctor Who alum, Garry Russell starred in, as Dick), I get all the jokes and references and playing up the group as snooty 1950s kids who really are as awful as they are earnest is just fantastic to see.

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