Five Go Off in a Caravan is one of my favourite stories; I love the magic of the circus and it feels like a proper adventure mystery, the characters are full of charm, wit and villainy. Tiger Dan and Lou are two of Blyton’s scariest creations, clever with an air of bumbling about them which makes it possible for them to be under estimated.
Now both adaptations of the book onto screen do the adventure part fairly well, apart from in the 90s version Marco Williamson had a broken leg (see here). Marcus Harris does not have one in this version which is good because we get to see some of the heroic jumping about that Julian gets to do in the book. Unfortunately Harris still doesn’t get to throw himself off the top of a caravan to help Nobby, but then given that the production wouldn’t let them film at nighttime, you can hardly blame them for not wanting one of their stars up on the roof of a caravan.
We start half way through the first half of the book in this adaptation, with the Five already on the road in their caravans. This time they have two, one for the girls and one for the boys each drawn by a horse. The introduction to Nobby comes when they spot an elephant bathing in the stream. In the book as you probably know the elephant plays a big role because it’s the first thing they see of the circus passing their house so it ties up quite nicely to the book in that respect.
I know i have viewed the series backwards in effect because I watched the 90s TV series first, but the 70s version seems much less cringe worthy. Mostly because the lines weren’t being hammed up and laced with double meanings. The actions seem very smooth and genuine and there’s a great big gripping story line to work with as well, which always helps.
As I said earlier the two villans in Caravan are by far same of the best ones Blyton created, up there with Rooky and Perton in my humble opinion, and Brian Glover and Sean Lynch give very good page to screen translations as Tiger Dan and Lou the Acrobat respectively. They have the right edge of nasty and cunning, even if Glover’s Dan can come off a little bit thick sometimes when you consider that in the book he’s the brains behind it all. At least they weren’t made into a comedic duo by the writer Richard Sparks which is a trap that some of the writers, especially twenty years later, fell into. The rogues aren’t meant to be funny, they are meant to be deadly and scary, so this is a very well written episode.
There are a few slip ups from the cast when it comes to the names of the animals. Gary Dundavin has two that I noticed clearly. First of all he calls his dogs Barker and Growler by different names when he wants them to do a trick to impress the Five when they first come to the camp, and secondly he calls the chimp playing Pongo a “lucky girl”. Now I know in reality the chimp was probably a girl which is why he said “lucky girl” and this assumption of mine might be wrong but I always assume that Pongo is a boy! Now it’s late and I haven’t got my copy handy so feel free to correct me if you have a copy at hand to check, but I just feel that is something that could have been picked up on.
I rate this episode quite highly in the scheme of the series, it’s good, thorough and sticks to the storyline really well. A few over sights and bits cut off and moved around but only because they had that silly twenty-five minute episode length to work with but this episode really works, all the key components are there and the cast are on top form. Lets see if its the same story for Five Go Off to Camp next time!