The dank, airless tunnel seems to have run for miles, twisting and turning
beneath the limestone cliffs. Panting breathlessly, their eyes wide in the
flickering torchlight, Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina - better known as George
- slither to a halt and listen. Even Timmy the dog has his ears cocked
apprehensively. At first, only the steady drip of moisture from the rough-hewn
walls… but then, horror of horrors, the distant footfalls of pursuit; the far-
off mutter of voices, weird and sinister in the echoing gloom! "The smugglers
are still after us," breathes Julian… And then - "Cut!" bellows the director. "
Lights, please!" The actors relax, another fragment of Famous Five in the can!
Every youngster (and that actually includes plenty of adults as well)
loves the world of make-believe. And these actors are no exception to the rule.
Marcus Harris, who plays Julian in Southern Television's popular series, based
on the evergreen Enid Blyton books, admit that there are times when filming can
be hard going. "The waiting about between takes. Things that have to be done
over and over again until the director is satisfied." But when it comes to
being trapped underground, or chased for their lives, or acting spooky
sequences, then all five - yes, even the dog - are in their element. "If only
life was really like this," grins Michelle Gallagher, who is the tomboy George,
"children would never get bored!"
Both Marcus and Michelle were new to acting when they passed their auditions
for The Famous Five, so it could be argued that they'd naturally find it all a
lot of fun. In fact, their colleagues Jenny Thanisch, who plays Anne, and Gary
Russell, who's Dick, agree with them. Jenny has appeared in The Sweeney, and
also played the young Lorna Doone in the BBC production, while Gary has
appeared in The Phoenix and the Carpet and several other plays.
Part of the magic for them was living in a farmhouse together, with a walk down
leafy lanes every morning to begin filming at Exbury House, the location for
the series. Set in huge estate down near Southampton, Exbury House belongs to
the millionaire Rothschild family, and was taken over by Southern TV as a
complete studio complex. Cellars and kitchen were transformed into winding
tunnels, rocky coves, and a mine - and so delighted were the Rothschilds with
the sets that they asked to keep them after the production ended! Add to that
the natural surroundings - moors, woodland, remote beaches - and all the
formula for high adventure was right on tap. The estate, famous for its
rhododendrons, was still open to the public during filming, and the young
actors were often amused at the surprise on visitor's faces as they unwittingly
came upon the Famous Five in action!
Working amongst such a mass of flora posed problems for Michelle Gallagher. She
suffers with hay fever, and it plagued her so much during the first series that
she always tended to sound husky. Viewers commented on the fact - and so for
the second series, it was deliberately written into the scripts that George was
a hayfever victim. " I felt better knowing that the audience wouldn't forever
be imaging I had something wrong with my throat," smiles Michelle.
Hand-in-hand with flora goes fauna - and though not exactly wildlife, Timmy
the dog ( played by a black and white border collie named Toddy) gave the
series his share of laughs during shooting. There was one scene where Timmy was
supposed to jump up into a basket carrier on the back of one of the youngsters'
bikes. The problem was, could Toddy be trained to do it? Owner Ben Woodgate
wasn't sure, and there were long discussions about it. "We'll see how it goes
on the day," was the eventual verdict. Everyone thought the script would have
to be changed. Everything was set up, and then - without the slightest coaxing,
and with no training at all, Toddy pricked his ears - and leaped nimbly up into
the carrier! Could be that dogs are smarter than humans think!