Comic Strip Presents… Five Go Mad on Mescalin – A Review


This is the third and final episode of the Comic Strip Presents Famous Five episodes that I’ll review, though it was the second to be made and aired. I started with the most recent one (Five Go to Rehab) and then did the first one (Five Go Mad in Dorset).

Five Go Mad on Mescalin seems to have the reputation for possibly being the worst of the three episodes, or second worst depending on what you made of Rehab. It was made back in 1983 (before I was born) and I’ve never seen it before so I will try and not let any preconceived notions spoil it for me. As before I’m watching it on 40d where you can also see Five Go Mad in Dorset (but not Five Go to Rehab as that was shown on Gold.)

The synopsis on 4oD for the episode is While on their way to stay with Mrs French at Hot Turkey Farm the intrepid youngsters learn that their Uncle Quentin, a well-known scientist and homosexual, has escaped from prison.

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So it seems the episode picks up some time after the events of Dorset.


FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD

It opens with the Five having a very typical picnic complete with their usual sort of banter. Dick remarks he’s eaten thirteen rounds of ham and turkey sandwiches, but he’s still hungry. That’s a bit of an exaggeration on the book but it is a running joke throughout that the Five have huge appetites.

Mrs French at the farm says she supposes they’ll want to start stuffing their faces immediately, to which they chorus rather! She also says that Aunt Fanny wrote to her to tell her about their excessive gluttony, and that she had prepared a meal that would kill an elephant. The Five celebrate that news. When we see them at the end of their meal there’s a whole pig on the table, picked clean apart from the head.

They rattle off the list of things they had at breakfast (though it never becomes a chant like in the last episode) and end it with lashings of alka seltzer. They immediately then ask what’s for dinner, and Mrs French says I thought I’d slaughter Daisy here, and a few chickens. The boys worry that won’t be enough, but George says they could have it with bags of broccoli and new potatoes, and that seems to satisfy everyone.

Another recurring joke is their upper-class attitudes, such as implying starving people are starving because they breed like rabbits. But, as Julian points out, they also die in childbirth so it evens out. I don’t really find the whole classist thing funny in the first place, and those lines are just really tasteless.

Slightly funnier is the scene in the little shop. The girl is young and pretty, and smoking a cigarette. She’s also very uninterested in serving the Five. They ask for gingerbeer and are told the only have 7up. The Five are incredulous and ask for home-made ice-creams instead. They don’t do ice cream, just ice lollies.

Lollies? George echoes in disbelief.

Unfortunately they rather spoil it by making lots of derogatory remarks about the girl, how she’s queer and cheap, mentally retarded and probably from a broken home. Or maybe she’s adopted.


A FAMILIAR FACE

Robbie Coltrane appears briefly in the scene, though only for a minute or two. I usually enjoy his appearances and find them the funniest part but his lines are fairly poor this time. Janeyyy it’s time to come and feed your illegitimate baby he calls from off-screen, and then appears as a woman again. (S)he apologises to the Five and says she’s not mine, she’s… adopted. As if that explains something huge.

Coltrane does get to explain about the farm they’re going to. Mrs French was apparently a Dear old soul until the menopause. Sometimes I feel they just try to throw in as many modern and adult themes as they can, but they’re not funny really. What’s funny about the menopause? So it’s Mrs French with that wicked son of hers with his… comings and… goings… and that strange love island across the water. 

It’s a bit like the spiel he got in the last episode but not as funny, and it doesn’t get repeated either.


They get some ice creams anyway, and are sitting to eat them (after Dick has had a good look at Janey’s bottom), when a message plays on the radio.

Uncle Quentin (not Mr Kirrin, or Quentin Kirrin!) the well-known scientist and homosexual, has escaped from prison.

Anne shows a little more feeling than they have in the past at such news. Oh it’s horrible to think of Uncle Quentin on the loose again, I do hope they catch him soon!

Dick assures her that the police will be doing everything they can to catch him, and that he will soon be in a special prison.

Oh yes, just like Rudolph Hess George replies brightly, despite the fact it’s her father they’re talking about. Nazis are another repeated ‘joke’ in this episode.

Dick later says that Nazis are preferable to Americans (and that it’s a pity the Germans didn’t win WWII) as at least they cared about racial purity and didn’t litter the country with bubblegum wrappers. Let’s just gloss over the war atrocities for a cheap laugh shall we? Not that I laughed.

Anyway, when the Five arrive at the farm they hear a loud man’s voice berating his ma, and him slapping her. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a few characters from the Famous Five books (Mrs Janes in Five Go to Billycock Hill, the old lady at Blue Pond Farmhouse in Five on a Hike Together for example) but taken much further. There’s no violence on screen but the sounds are there.

She shouts after him about falling into bad company and he roars about selling the farm.

Julian is super polite to him and introduces them (as he does a few times) as the Famous Five. When the mother appears she is younger and sexier than anyone from the books, wearing a corset top under her over-all.

She asks the boys if they want to shack up with her or share with a nice, rich American boy. Dick’s keen to share with her but Julian says he’d rather sleep in a ditch.


GEE SHUCKS, THOSE AMERICANS

It all becomes very Finniston Farm like then. Exaggerated, of course. There’s the young American boy, staying with his father at the farm. Pop is there to buy anything he can get his uncultured hands on. 

Willie (the son) is exceptionally loud and whiny so much so it’s almost painful to listen to. Gee shucks Pop, I’m hungry. Tell that woman to fix my dinner NOW. 

mescalin-3Blyton gets a bad rep for writing stereotypically about Americans, making them rather brash etc but this parody takes it much, much further than that.

Pops says in front of Mrs French that he wants to buy the farm and all the heritage crap, then sell it in the states for a profit. (His American accent is terrible by the way.)

So, as the boys decline to sleep with either Willie or Mrs French they end up sleeping in the barn. (A la Finniston Farm, sort of.)


A lorry is driven into the barn in the night and a huge consignment of secret packages (in the words of the men) is loaded onto it. They’re exceptionally obvious about the fact they’re up to no good as all criminals in the Comic Strip world always are.

The boys assume the police wouldn’t believe such a queer story, and that the wires at the farmhouse have probably been cut. They usually are in those sorts of situations! (Which is semi-true. They are cut on a few occasions). They both agree there’s absolutely no point in going to check, though and that they ought to go visit Love Island first thing in the morning.

George wants to row first, but Julian says absolutely not as there are jagged rocks and it’s much too dangerous and Dick adds that the girls might panic and get hysterical. Of course we all know that George is the best at rowing of the Five as she’s had the most experience, but the Comic Strip never misses a chance to play on the sexism of Blyton’s work.

There are no oars however, so the plan is immediately abandoned for a game of rounders. It’s cringeworthy stuff as the boys prance about and do the worst ‘moves’ for bowling and batting, not to mention the uncomfortable cricket-ball cleaning that Dick does.

Anne seemingly catches the ball by mistake and Julian tells Dick to bowl underhand for George as she’s a girl. She insists he bowl normally and she smashes the ball far across the beach.


STRANGE HAPPENINGS

The plot just gets plain strange from here on in. Dick finds a cave while looking for the ball and inside are sacks of objects. A woman appears behind him and says kiss me.

Back on the beach the Five are wondering where Dick has gone. Julian said not to worry he’s probably just meeting the Duke of Windsor or having a Jane Eyre. Maybe I’m naive but I have no idea what those jokes mean.

They go to investigate and find his underpants, and on the wall is painted love & peace. They decide this is a clue to Love Island and decide to head there, as Julian says, something will turn up to help them. That ends up being an outboard motor complete with fuel right outside the cave.

They find Dick on a rock, signing badly and playing a guitar and there’s an altercation with Julian who tries to stop him. Dick proclaims he loves him, loves everyone and gets a slap. George calls Anne something I don’t feel like I can repeat on the blog and after a ducking in the water Dick seems to be behaving normally again.

The baddies turn up again and this time they’re doing their routine of saying blah blah blah and random phrases.

Doctor Love is mentioned and the Five briefly wonder who he is (it’s fairly obvious…) and they meet Toby Thurlow again, though he has a very pointless and short scene where nothing happens apart from he spouts some nonsense as he seems to be high.

I think it might be Janey with him, and she’s wearing a really see through mesh top and implies she knows Dick rather well.


AND THE BIG REVEAL

So, Doctor Love is Uncle Quentin. No big surprise there. He has his men put the Five in a cage – Timmy (who’s barely been seen in the episode) goes in meekly beside George without even a bark. Anne tries to sell the others out for her own freedom before Uncle Q explains his dastardly plan. He wants to turn the island into a love colony and use the Five in his experiments.

mescalin-12

Not only am I an outrageous homosexual… I’m an incurable drug addict too.

I’m glad it wasn’t just me thinking there must be drugs involved.

The henchmen prepare to ?spray the Five with some sort of drugs but the police arrive in a boat before they can do so. Willie is with them as he found out his Pop was a faggot and called them. The Five suddenly like him and Uncle Q is led off with Toby.

They all comment that it’ll be the last time they see the two of them.


I think it’s fair to say it deserves to be known as the worst of the three episodes. There was very little to laugh at. The things that were funny in Dorset – Robbie Coltrane, the repetition of lines – are either underused or missing and there’s no real plot to speak of. Pop being arrested off screen for being gay is a let down, there’s no real resolution for Mrs French, and nothing really ties together.

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3 Responses to Comic Strip Presents… Five Go Mad on Mescalin – A Review

  1. Francis says:

    Thanks for the excellent synopsis, Fiona. I agree with your comments – it is not a patch on the original. It uses rudeness and abuse to hide its’ lack of good ideas.
    Francis

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  2. Matt says:

    Mescalin is a very good episode, I can’t agree with this review. There’s some errors here too: “uncultured hands”, not unkosher! Duke of Windsor is most likely a euphemism for Dick’s going to the toilet (Windsor was not a popular man with the establishment). It was also made in 1983, not 93.
    I love the scenery in this episode, the island etc. The radio newsflash is brilliant, as it the scene with Willy and his father. The reviewer here doesn’t seem to grasp that this is an extreme parody of Blyton, hence the ridiculous overplayed American accents. I actually think the interactions between the four have improved here, especially George to Anne, berating her for thinking Love Island sounds romantic (or rather queer!) and calling her a p****tease- it’s all part of exaggerating the 40s/50s attitude that the Comic Strip is going for. No time for getting emotional, a cold bath was just what was needed! And finally, Anne’s selling the others for her freedom was gold, as was George’s reaction (you lying b****!). Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders could have decided to become a double act after this, their interactions are that good!

    The closing piano music I always feel is a bit sad, it really is the last time we’ll ever see Uncle Quentin. As well, at least he’s in prison, where he belongs!

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  3. fiona says:

    Thanks for the corrections Matt – I’ve edited the review (and caught a couple of other typos I missed the first time around). In case you notice I’ve edited your comment to remove the bad language as we’d like this site to remain appropriate for Blyton’s target audience.

    I have actually grasped the fact that this is a parody and that it’s an extreme one at that – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not funny to me! The accents aren’t just overplayed they’re just plain bad in my opinion, but if other people find them funny then there’s not much I can do about that.

    I much preferred Five Go Mad in Dorset as I actually found that quite funny.

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