1 9 6 6 (UK)
6 x 25 minute episodes
Two pairs of bike-riding brothers and sisters are on their school holidays in the New Forest when they stumble across a gang of international crooks hiding out in the abandoned old Ridgeway House, planning to steal a priceless painting.
Boys Bill (Paul Guess, pictured above) and Freddie (Michael Sarson) are all for investigating while Fiona (Gina Clow) and Pat (Daphne Foreman) are more interested in ponies and ice skating.
The storyline included all the elements you might expect: a disbelieving police inspector, single-propeller planes buzzing curiously over the forest, a cute foal to be rescued . . .
The only oddity was singer Anita Harris (in her acting debut) as a “mysterious ice skater” who appeared to be in league with the crooks.
The New Forest Rustlers aired in October and November 1966. It was based on the books A New Forest Adventure and The New Forest Smugglers by Stephen Mogridge.
To have brought Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to the screen would have involved lengthy rights negotiations and the Blyton Foundation has always demanded close approval. But if ITV could screen a series as clearly derivative of the Blyton formula as this and get away with it, why would they even bother?
Tom de Ville
The House in the Trees | The Secret of Ridgeway House | Enter the Law | Trouble among Thieves | Operation Stampede | The Round-Up