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 very (very) 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 widower Dr James Gordon (William Lucas), recently moved from London to set up a country medical practice, received him as a thank-you after saving the life of his invalid owner.
Gordon’s daughter, Vicky (Judi Bowker), named the horse Black Beauty and nursed him back to health.
Thus ensued many exciting adventures for Vicky and brother Kevin (Roderick Shaw), aided and abetted by Beauty. In the second series, previously unseen sibling Jenny (Stacy Dorning) arrived from schooling in London to replace Vicky.
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 – smarter than the average horse – 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 £40 by Norwich publisher Jarrolds on 24 November 1877. 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