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Phoenix and the Carpet on DVD

Monday, 20 May 2019 17:27

This is the classic BBC adaptation of the novel by E Nesbit, first broadcast in 1976. The story centres on four children who discover hidden treasures and adventures by chance, thanks to a trinket they acquire. This was the middle part of a trilogy of novels that started with “Five Children and It” and ended with “The Story of the Amulet”.

The eight part TV drama, out now on DVD from Simply Media, begins when a family buys an old carpet from a junk shop in Edwardian London. When unrolled, this worn old relic reveals a large shiny egg. One of the boys accidentally knocks the egg into an open fire, from which an irascible talking phoenix emerges. He has the power to grant wishes and send them off on adventures, all made possible with the flying carpet now laid out in their playroom.

The series was nominated for a British Academy Television Rediffusion Star Award in 1978. The book was first published in 1904, and this adaptation by John Tully worked by not referencing what had gone before in the trilogy. However, it was made in an era which relied on Chroma-key to put the more fantastic elements on screen, and as such the effects aren’t up to very much modern scrutiny. The story makes up for this by beguiling you into seeing past its meagre budget.

In fact, Monica Sims, Head of Children’s Programmes for the BBC, said at the time to The Stage and Television Today in the edition dated 30 September 1976: “The production has all the difficulties of children, animals, magic and the technical tricks required for a magic carpet. Not to mention a haughty bird as the leading artist”.

Robert Warner (who had played Dr Craven in 1975’s The Secret Garden) provides the voice of the Phoenix, which at times makes you think of Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss. There’s a snooty arrogance to the bird, and a humorous misunderstanding of, what was then, the modern world which he finds himself in.

The children are Cyril (Gary Russell), Robert (Max Harris), Anthea (Tamzin Neville) and Jane (Jane Forster). Gary became something of a child star – he would go on to play Dick in The Famous Five (1978-9) and eventually worked on various Doctor Who productions (“Real Time” and “Dreamland” as Director; “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” parts 1 and 2 as Script Editor – something he also did on various episodes of Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Wizards vs Aliens).

In terms of adult casting, the parents were Daphne Neville (Mrs Howard in the very first Prime Suspect) and Edward Brooks (a character actor who popped up in the likes of The Human Jungle, Z Cars, Please Sir! and The Long Case).

Robert Dorning (Stacy and Kate’s father, who played Hesketh Pendleton in Bootsie and Snudge, and worked with Spike Milligan on a couple of series of Q), played the Shopkeeper. Bernard Holley (Doctor Who – Haydon in “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Axon in “The Claws of Axos”; Turnbull in The Gentle Touch and CATS Eyes, Power Master in The Tripods) was The Burglar.

Nigel Lambert (Moonbase Operative in UFO “Computer Affair”, Reverend Norris in Cuffy) played Reverend Septimus Blenkinsop. John Rolfe (Terloc in Blake’s 7 “Project Avalon”, Summers in Survivors “Manhunt”, and three roles in Doctor Who – Captain in “The War Machines”, Sam in “The Moonbase” and Fell in “The Green Death”) plays a Policeman.  Magician Ali Baba even turns up as an Entertainer.

Deddie Davies was Mrs Wigson (and played Mrs Little in Chance in a Million). Susan Field (Alta Morag in the first episode of Blake’s 7) was the Cook, who despite her hostility to the children, they make her dreams come true. Hilary Mason (Gladys in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men) pops up as church fete organiser Mrs Biddle, who is trumped by goodies which the children blag from India.

Director Clive Doig had begun as a vision mixer on numerous episodes of Doctor Who from the beginning of that series – working uncredited on and off from “An Unearthly Child” to “Galaxy Four”. He was a Producer and Director on We Are The Champions and latterly Jigsaw and Eureka.

Overall, those of the right age in the 1970s remember this series with great fondness, despite it being the case that even at the time they were not convinced by the special effects. You wouldn’t say the children heightened the realism with their performances, but the adults around them convince in their belief of what is happening around them.

There are no DVD extras within the package,

The Phoenix and The Carpet is out now from Simply Media. It has a ‘U’ certificate, a running time of 3 hours 47 mins approx, and a RRP £19.99 – or why not get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Friday, 24 May 2019 17:32