Jolly japes and lashings of irony! The Famous Five take on Brexit, clean food and corporate culture …

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at 2016.10.23
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Jolly japes and lashings of irony! The Famous Five take on Brexit, clean food and corporate culture …

Sarah Oliver

Golly gosh! What would Enid Blyton make of a wicked reboot of her classic tales – as the time-travelling Famous Five make some awfully strange discoveries?

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five starred in 21 books published over the same number of years but Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog never got any older, which their fans thought was pretty rum.

Now, however, there’s a new quintet of stories in which they’re all grown up and, instead of chasing traitors, spies and smugglers, are facing the more existential threats posed by Brexit, clean eating and 21st-century corporate culture.

This is a Five whose legendary picnics and lashings of ginger beer have been dumped in favour of courgetti and smoothies. 

Five On Brexit Island

Five Go Gluten Free

The titles take buzzwords and catchphrases of the millenial generation and combine them with a genuine love for Enid Blyton’s classic creation 

Enid Blyton in 1949 with her daughters Gillian and Imogen

Enid Blyton in 1949 with her daughters Gillian and Imogen

A Five who struggle to leave the house before lunchtime once they have baby to look after. A Five whose holiday hideaway Kirrin Island has declared Krexit from the mainland.

The five parodies by best-selling humour writer Bruno Vincent will be in print next month, bidding for a place in the nation’s Christmas stockings.

Publisher Quercus hopes they’ll enjoy the same success as Penguin’s spoof Ladybird books, which have sold two million copies and earned more than £11 million since their launch last year.

Like Ladybird authors Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, Vincent knows he’s re-engineering a country’s collective childhood memories.

‘There are some nostalgic parodies which are disrespectful to their subject matter,’ says 36-year-old Vincent, ‘but these aren’t. I’d never write “Five Go To a Sex Club”. I want the characters we knew as children to take a look at the things that frustrate us as adults. 

‘It’s no coincidence that of the hundreds of possible tales the ones that worked best were the big millennial buzz phrases.’

Thus in Five Go Gluten Free, the gang is dependent on nut and seed power balls for their energetic escapades while secretly longing for a pint of real ale and a bag of pork scratchings. 

In Five On Brexit Island they’re riven when ardent Outer Julian finds himself at odds with Remainer George, and in Five Go Parenting they leave the baby they’re caring for in a ball pool at a birthday party, each believing the other ones have got her. 

(This was inspired by Vincent’s own childhood when his mother and father twice arrived home from cricket practice without him.)

Five On Parenting is one hilarious title from the new series

Five On Parenting is one hilarious title from the new series

This cartoon has the satirical caption: 'So you think this island's worth £350 million then?' George asked

This cartoon has the satirical caption: ‘So you think this island’s worth £350 million then?’ George asked

But it’s Five Go On A Strategy Away Day that promises to become the UK’s instant favourite, with its team bonding exercises, jargon and petty jealousies over who gets the second best conference room and budget croissants compared with the proper stage and lavish bacon sandwich breakfast. 

Suffice to say, as the Famous Five leave their overnight tuck on a train and fight to get their tent up in a storm, Peter and the rest of the Secret Seven are glamping with roast quail and Dirty Martinis just a few fields away.

It’s clever and funny, as is the repeat appearance throughout the books of the Five’s huckster cousin Rupert Kirrin, who’s a wellness coach in one, a motivational speaker in another and the smarmy conman who makes the Five care for the baby he’s had with his glamorous mail order bride in the parenting spoof.

Like their Ladybird predecessors, the Famous Five books for grown-ups also include original artwork, only this time with witty contemporary captions amplifying the joke. 

So Strategy Away Day includes an image of a furious George trying to climb out of an open window while a pyjama-clad Julian tells her: ‘This is a togetherness exercise where we build trust, empathy, co-operation and concentration…’ 

Later in the same book a sketch of the Five poring over an Ordnance Survey map now reads: ‘Ahead of them about a quarter of a mile away was a copse of deciduous trees, a barn and a church spire. The map showed none of these things.’

Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy have been cruelly parodied in the past. 

Drugs, sex and bigotry have all found their way into Blyton’s blameless literary landscape, notably at the hands of Channel 4’s The Comic Strip Presents in 1982. 


From Five Go Gluten Free 

It’s Anne’s birthday. She’s been given a spiraliser as a present and is keen to use it to make dinner… 

Come suppertime, they were somewhat surprised to be presented with a very pale, spaghetti-like substance, which proved extremely soft to the touch of a fork. 

Hardly daring, quite yet, to question her, they waited while Anne presently piled roasted vegetables on each of their plates, poured them a glass of something odd and cloudy, and then sat to eat her own. 

‘Looks fascinating,’ said Dick quietly. ‘Looks jolly interesting, at least,’ said Julian. 

‘What the hell is this?’ asked George… ‘The drink is magic water,’ said Anne. 

‘Magic water?’ asked Julian. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve exchanged our only cow for this?’ 

‘Very funny, Julian,’ said Anne. ‘It’s a revitalising health drink that contains ginger and fruit juices. The food is called “courgetti”.’

But these 15,000-word skits are gentle and kind, with Vincent mocking modern habits, not the Five, who remain as earnest and honest as they always were.

His fondness for his characters shines through and won’t disappoint fans, the ones who, reading by torchlight under the bedclothes, used to imagine themselves part of Blyton’s adventurous and joyful little gang. 

The magic of his writing is that in the Five’s endless quest for self-improvement, the playing of corporate politics, the divisions of Brexit, and of course serious parenting fails, we still see ourselves.

For this reason, the books have the backing of Anne McNeil, senior publisher of Enid Blyton Entertainment. 

She says: ‘Enid Blyton is something of a national obsession and these are cherished books, but it is important not to set an estate like hers in aspic.

‘The Famous Five celebrate their 75th anniversary in May next year and allowing Bruno to reimagine them is one way to ensure they’ll still be in print 75 years from now.’

There will be more Famous Five titles next year. We can hope for Five Get Beach Body Ready next summer and Five Go Home For Christmas after that. 

Vincent is also lobbying for Five Help Gran With Her Computer on the back of a recent tech session with his grandma.

As for the publishing industry, it’s looking forward to Five Find Their Niche In A Jolly Lucrative Market.

The first five books in the ‘Enid Blyton For Grown-Ups’ series will be published by Quercus on November 3, priced at £7.99 each


From Five Go On A Strategy Away Day 

The Famous Five encounter The Secret Seven out camping… 

‘Julian!’ Peter called, the firelight flickering in his eyes, and his cheeks ruddy. ‘What a special treat to see you again. You chaps are off course, I notice – perhaps you smelt the barbecue and came to see if there was any leftover quail meat. Well, you’ll have to wait and see, I’m afraid. Jack’s made these marvellous Lebanese flatbreads, and we’re making wraps with salsa verde and some radish, pear and celery slaw.’ 

‘Coleslaw,’ said Julian. ‘But what am I thinking?’ 

Five Go On A Strategy Away Day sees them encounter the Secret Seven on a camping trip

Five Go On A Strategy Away Day sees them encounter the Secret Seven on a camping trip

Peter chuckled at his own forgetfulness. ‘You must be stuffed after eating all that delicious food you were telling us about on the coach. I’d gladly offer you a drink instead, but I see you’ve already got some cans of delicious cornershop cider on the go. Alcohol’s not allowed on these outward-bound exercises, don’t know if you realised?’ 

‘Well, it’s hardly—’ ‘Oh, don’t worry; I shan’t tell, if you don’t,’ Peter said, holding up his martini glass as Barbara offered him the shaker. 

‘I’ll have an olive. Dirty, please,’ he said with a twitch of the lips, and she giggled. 

‘Best of luck finding your way back in the right direction,’ said Barbara. ‘Don’t try it,’ said George, standing over her, ‘because I’d win. There’s a good girl.’ 

Janet jumped up to defend her teammate, but George stopped her with a look. 

‘Sit back down with the other forgettable ones,’ she said. ‘Betsy, Pedro and Archibald, or whatever they’re called.’ 

‘Nice to see you, Anne,’ said Peter, as she passed. ‘Whatevs,’ said Anne, crumpling up her empty cider can and drop-kicking it with her wellington boot, clean over the roofs of both tents.

The books have the backing of Anne McNeil, senior publisher of Enid Blyton Entertainment

The books have the backing of Anne McNeil, senior publisher of Enid Blyton Entertainment


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Published at Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:15:01 +0000

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