1 9 7 2 – 1 9 7 4 (UK)
54 x 30 minute episodes
Set in 1887 on a spacious English estate in the (fictitious) village of Five Oaks, Black Beauty was based loosely on the classic children’s novel by Anna Sewell.
The series, shot around the Hertfordshire countryside and first broadcast on 7 October 1972, starred the eponymous black stallion who had been badly treated by a succession of cruel owners before Vicky Gordon and her family took him in and nursed him back to health.
Brother Kevin and sister Jenny lent a hand, and their father (a doctor) was also drawn into the horsey goings-on and adventures. Always on hand to give Beauty some well-earned oats (or whatever horses eat) was the Gordons’ faithful Housekeeper, Amy.
Predictably for a children’s TV show, the kids would get involved in all kinds of dangerous situations, but Beauty was always there to lend a helping hoof, and with a whisper from Vicky he would gallop off to get help. The series never quite fell into the ‘I think he wants us to follow him’ tradition of animal heroism, though the pacy half-hour format could make some endings seem slightly convenient.
Like Follyfoot, the series brought a breath of fresh air to Sunday teatimes, offering something different from the BBC’s literary serials. Appealing to the whole family, it made eight appearances in the Top 20 ratings, with up to 6.5 million homes regularly tuning in.
A belated sequel called The New Adventures of Black Beauty was made in 1990. In the new series, Dr Gordon and the grown-up Jenny emigrate to New Zealand (William Lucas and Stacy Dorning reprised their roles), with stepdaughter Vicky (Amber McWilliams) charged with looking after a new black steed.
Anna Sewell only wrote one book in her lifetime – Black Beauty – for which she was paid the grand sum of £20. It was published in 1877 just three months before her death.
The theme tune to the series (below) was called Galloping Home. It was written by Denis King.
Dr James Gordon