A new series of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories is to be broadcast on the BBC – but has been filmed hundreds of miles away from the Purbeck countryside which inspired the chums’ adventures.
The Curse of Kirrin Island, the first of three feature length programmes which will be shown on BBC1 on Saturday 9th December 2023, was shot on location in Cornwall and Gloucester and in studios in South Wales, despite the original books famously describing the landscape of Lulworth Bay, Corfe Castle and the Isle of Purbeck.
The Famous Five are up to adventures again, but in Gloucester Cathedral, not Corfe Castle
Solving mysteries and thwarting thieves
The ‘modern reimagining’ of Enid Blyton’s timeless tale, first published in 1942 as Five on a Treasure Island, arguably misses a golden opportunity to showcase the towns and villages which provided the author with her inspiration.
Generations of children have since been brought on holiday to Purbeck to enjoy the beaches, coves, castles and cliffs which featured in many of the Famous Five’s 21 adventures, unravelling mysteries, thwarting thieves and discovering secret passages.
But Kirrin Bay, which was based on Lulworth Cove, was filmed near Port Isaac in Cornwall in summer 2023, and the ruins which Enid Blyton recalled from her visits by steam train to Corfe Castle, have been recreated at Gloucester Cathedral.
Other locations used during the filming included Eastnor Castle near Ledbury in Herefordshire, Tyntesfield House near Bristol and Cardiff Mansion House.
In the first episode, viewers are introduced to siblings Julian, Dick and Anne, their cousin Georgina who only answers to the name of George, and her dog Timmy, who together become known as the Famous Five.
Spending a holiday together at the house of George’s mother and father, the cousins discover a body on the beach, seemingly linked to a local curse, and set out on a dangerous quest to uncover the truth behind Kirrin Island.
Spot the difference – George’s boat is filmed in a little cove at Port Gavane, Cornwall
Whereas Enid Blyton set her adventures in Dorset’s Lulworth Cove
Return of Jack Gleeson as a new villain
Teenage actors Diaana Babnicova, Elliott Rose, Kit Rakusen and Flora Jacoby Richardson take on the title roles along with Kip the bearded collie playing Timmy.
Much excitement was caused by the casting of Jack Gleeson as villain Thomas Wentworth, in his first major role since playing King Joffrey in Game of Thrones – the most hated TV character ever according to some polls.
James Lance, familiar to audiences of the US TV programme Ted Lasso, plays George’s father while Ann Akinjirin, who has appeared in TV programmes Moon Knight and I May Destroy You, takes on the role of George’s mother.
The show’s creator and executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for violent, dark thrillers with shocking visuals, such as Copenhagen Cowboy and The Neon Demon, was seen as an unlikely choice to reboot Enid Blyton for a 21st century audience.
Jack Gleeson in Gloucester Cathedral, taking on the ‘Moriarty like’ role of Thomas Wentworth
George’s father and mother, Quentin and Fanny, are played by James Lance and Ann Akinjirin
“We wanted to weave our own stories”
Executive producer Matthew Read, who scripted The Curse of Kirrin Island, said:
“Our approach to The Famous Five books was not to simply adapt the novels but to look at the entire series of the books and take inspiration from the source material.
“Rather than taking individual stories and making straight adaptations of the books, we looked at the books as a jumping off point. We wanted to weave our own stories which were inspired by the whole cannon of the Famous Five books.
“Whilst the series is set in the late 1930s, we wanted to create a drama series that is set in the timeless space of childhood. We wanted to draw on viewers’ memories of the long summers in their childhood rather than trying to specifically tie it down to one moment in time.”
Five set out on an adventure – but in Cornwall rather than Enid Blyton’s beloved Purbeck
“Staying in adventure land for ever”
Nicolas Winding Refn, whose childhood love of mystery solving kids was inspired by watching Scooby Doo, added:
“All my life I’ve fought vigorously to remain a child with a lust for adventure. I’ve always liked the concept of not really wanting to be an adult and staying in adventure land forever.
“Scooby Doo had something that just magically transported me into this adventure land, so this feels like a very full circle that’s coming to completion.
“The Famous Five feels like one of the very few things that you literally hand down the generations – and I’m finally making something that my kids would actually watch.
“By reimagining The Famous Five, I am preserving that notion by bringing these iconic stories to life for a progressive new audience, instilling the undefinable allure and enchantment of childhood for current and future generations to come.”
Enid Blyton, with typewriter on her lap; she was able to finish a book in little more than a week
“These stories are loved around the world”
Patricia Hidalgo, director of children’s content at the BBC, said:
“Bringing these books to life with a new reimagining of the Famous Five is a real treat for BBC audiences and a celebration of British heritage.
“These stories are loved around the world and bringing families together is a key part of our strategy so we hope it introduces a new generation of viewers to these wonderful adventures.”
Two more 90-minute episodes of The Famous Five have been produced to be shown on the BBC, again adapted from Enid Blyton titles.
Enid Blyton visited Corfe Castle by steam train on many occasions and used the location in her Kirrin Island books
In the latest series, a film set in South Wales doubles as Corfe Castle’s dungeons
“Purbeck Hills are lovelier than ever”
Enid Blyton, who was born in London in 1897, first visited Purbeck in 1931 and fell in love with the area – so much so that she returned for holidays three times a year over two decades.
She regularly stayed at the Ship Hotel – now the Ship Inn – the Grosvenor Hotel and the Grand Hotel in Swanage, swimming around Swanage Pier daily before supper and became president of Swanage Carnival in the 1950s.
Enid Blyton said at the time:
“Although I do not live in Swanage, it is almost like a second home to me because I have come down to its lovely blue bay countless times, ever since I was a small child.
“Old Harry Rock still looks the same, the Purbeck Hills are lovelier than ever with their unsurpassable views, and the fine sandy beach is still a magnet to innumerable children.”
Enid Blyton’s original putter being used on the green at the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, once owned by her husband
Strong connections to Purbeck
Enid’s husband Kenneth Darrell Waters bought the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club in 1951, extending the original 18 holes to 27. Enid, an excellent golfer herself, was the club’s ladies’ captain at one point and could often be seen writing outside the clubhouse.
The golf club’s greenkeeper, Gordon ‘Johnny’ James was Enid’s caddie, who she included as the character Lucas in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.
The family were also frequent guests at the Knoll House Hotel in Studland, where they always stayed in the same room, ate at the same table in the restaurant and where there is still a permanent display of Enid Blyton memorabilia.
Other Purbeck locations which are featured in the original Famous Five books include Kimmeridge Bay, the Clavell Tower, the Blue Pool, Stoborough Heath and Stair Hole.
In celebration of Enid, part of a display at the Knoll House Hotel where she stayed in Room 40 on many occasions
BBC’s Countryfile films in Swanage
While the BBC chose not to film the Famous Five in Purbeck, the BBC’s Countryfile programme will be making the most of the local stunning scenery with Swanage featuring in the episode about Poole Harbour to be broadcast on BBC1 at 5.20 pm on Sunday 3rd December 2023.
Ellie Harrison – filming her last ever Countryfile episode – was spotted filming on Swanage Beach on Thursday 16th November 2023 talking to divers, while Anita Rani has been filming at RSPB Arne to see the work done to protect the land for nesting birds.
Earlier in 2023, the BBC’s Springwatch programme broadcast live over 12 evenings from RSPB Arne, while Antiques Roadshow filmed three primetime shows from Prince Albert Gardens in Swanage in June.
Also in June 2023, Netflix took over Durdle Door beach for filming scenes from their blockbuster hit The Sandman, although Disney’s plans to record part of a second series of Star Wars spinoff Andor at Winspit Quarry were called off at the last moment because of safety fears after new cracks appeared in the caves.
Countryfile’s Ellie Harrison filming on Swanage Beach in November 2023
In one of her last pieces for the Countryfile programme, Ellie spoke with local divers
- Be inspired to visit the Enid Blyton Trail around Purbeck at the Visit Dorset website