Comic Strip Presents: Five Go Completely Mad (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Gonzo Multimedia
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (6th December 2019).
The Show

Double DVD set. Three episodes of the 1980s British comedy series. Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982), set in the 1950s, follows the escapades of Julian (Peter Richardson), Dick (Adrian Edmondson), George (Dawn French), Anne (Jennifer Saunders) and their dog Timmy as they visit their aunt and uncle on holiday in Dorset.

In Five Go Mad On Mescalin (1983) the group meet an American billionaire and his spoilt son while staying at Hot Turkey Farm.

Finally, in Five Go to Rehab (2012) the group reunite in Dorset for Dick's birthday and embark on a new adventure. Also includes bonus material.

In the summer of 1982, the Comic Strip made their first film FIVE GO MAD IN DORSET - a spoof of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books enjoyed by millions of children since the 50s.

These stories were exciting adventures about four children and their dog who were allowed to wander off in their school holidays, on their own (with no phone) to an unknown destination and get entangled with unshaven criminals stealing our country’s secrets! In satirising the Famous Five, the Comic Strip bluntly highlighted the sexist and casual racism of the period in a way that’s no longer acceptable on TV. In 1982, with The Black and White Minstrel show barely off the air and Robertson’s Jam still handing out gollywog badges, these attitudes were still prevalent but hardly commented on.  Five Go Mad in Dorset won the Press Award and was welcomed for playing a small part in changing this.

THE STORY  Home for the holidays the Famous Five are given the news that their Uncle Quentin a famous scientist has been kidnapped yet again and as usual their Aunt Fanny can’t wait to get them out the way. So, Julian (PETER RICHARDSON), George (DAWN FRENCH), Dick (ADE EDMONDSON) Anne (JENNIFER SAUNDERS) and their dog Timmy, set off on bikes into deepest Dorset., a landscape of hidden lanes and ruined castles riddled with thieves burying treasure or rendezvousing with suspect light aircraft. And not forgetting the sinister gypsy (ROBBIE COLTRANE) always there ready to scare passers-by! When the Five are not stopping for enormous picnics, they’re at the village shop buying yet more food. Here they meet Toby, a boy with far too much money and clearly lower class. Despite being patronised, Toby wants to be their friend. Begrudgingly the Five allow him to join them for a short while providing he’ll then ‘clear off ‘. However, Toby is kidnapped (for a ransom) and the Five at last have a crime to solve. Going in search of clues they get an unexpected shock. Their famous Uncle Quentin was not kidnapped and nor was Toby!  When finally cornered, Quentin tries to explain that he and Toby are both gay and planning to ‘flee the country that night in a fishing boat ‘...This cuts no ice with the Famous Five  “Homosexuality is still against the law Uncle Quentin and you’re going to jail! Looking even more smug than usual the Five watch proudly as the police arrest their Uncle and Toby and take them away for a long stretch inside. Then remounting their bikes, they head off for another huge picnic and lashings of ginger beer. Hurrah!

From fifties English values to FIVE GO MAD ON MESCALIN, the Famous Five meets 60s flower power head on when gay Uncle Quentin buys his very own Love Island. A beautiful rocky paradise where he can supplement his scientist pension with a bit of drug smuggling. But no, the priggish Famous Five have to go and spoil it all. 30 years on from FIVE GO MAD IN DORSET’s opening on the 1st night of Channel Four the Comic Strip reunite for FIVE GO TO REHAB to see how this self-righteous bunch have fared in later life. Not too good it seems…Julian and George having had a rackety time with failed marriages, bad business deals and lashings of vodka are in rehab to clean themselves up for a planned reunion that Dick has organised and so wants it to be like the old days. Sadly, after their thrilling childhood adventures, Dick’s life has been rather dull, having spent twenty years as the manager a car rental company. Anne, meanwhile, far from being ‘shy and pretty.’ is a radical feminist and vegan who’s not going to take shit from Julian or anybody…and so it begins.


The '80s TV episodes ...
Typical of the era this series was produced mainly on PAL 625 line broadcast standard video tape for all interior sequences and 16mm film for the opening and closing credits and all location work.

Anyone familiar with DVD releases of vintage UK television from this era will know the story: soft, fluid 40 fields per second videotape usually shot under fairly bright lighting and somewhat dingy, gritty film sequences which have flaws baked into the transfers because the negatives would have been discarded soon after the final takes had been edited into the master broadcast tapes and therefore are only as good as film to tape transfers of the era.

Serviceable, but were the original elements to still exist then massive improvements should be possible; see Network's The Sweeney (Series one) and all five sets of The Professionals on Blu-ray for how amazing 16mm film of this era can look when given top notch treatment. Under the circumstances tape sequences come off better than the film.

The masters have had little or no restoration applied but they are in very good shape generally with only the very odd dropout or shimmer. Encoding is also reasonable; I didn't notice anything too untoward bar the odd bit of brief macro blocking in darker scenes. Colour values are standard for the elements with modest colours and decent black levels; florid colour was not standard for videotape productions at this time, with a more naturalistic palette the norm.

The 2012 productions ....

The image on these HD-lenses productions is generally good if a little soft with a reasonable amount of detail in both exterior and interior scenes; all shot in the filmic single camera style with a trace of that modern edginess where the camera is moving slightly to increase the drama. The colour palette is muted in a way that suggests it's a stylistic choice seemingly. I never noticed any black crush.

I noticed no artefacts or other distractions but obviously these programmes should be seen in 1080/50i to replicate the original UK broadcasts. Sadly, a Blu-ray doesn't seem to be on the cards.

PAL / 1.33:1, 1.78:1 / 99:22


English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Five Go Mad in Dorset & Five Go Mad on Mescalin)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Five Go to Rehab)
Subtitles: None

Mono ...

A solid, robust mono track typical of the period benefits greatly from the lossless treatment, especially when compared to the lossy mono of the DVD.  Plenty of base and no distortion with dialogue always allowed to shine through amongst the music and sound effects.

Stereo ...

Straightforward, modern 2.0 stereo track.  Music is pushed mainly to the surrounds, dialogue remains front and centre and is very, very clear.   It's primarily designed to be supportive of the presenter so like the video:  new and well up to the usual standards capable of DVD for what it is.

No subtitles is unforgivable in this day and age; folks who're hard of hearing will have to do without these three releases.


"Five Go Mad: The Insane Truth" featurette (10:10)

Short promo pieces rather than trailers that seem to be vintage (early 2000s?). Picture quality is acceptable but nothing to write home about.
Photo Gallery (3:04)

Decent, brief still gallery.
- Bad News (1983) (0:43) 
- A Fistful of Traveller's Cheques (1984) (0:45) 
- The Bullshitters (1984) (0:26) 
- Stella Street (1997) (1:05) 
- The Hunt for Tony Blair (2011) (1:12)

Short promo pieces that seem to be vintage (early 2000s?). Picture quality is acceptable but nothing to write home about.


Standard 2-disc DVD case.


Simple, tacky menus; off the shelf masters; minimal extras. Thankfully the prices aren't bad for these releases so they get a pass. Image and sound are unrestored but essentially decent with the 2012 productions obviously looking better but fans will snap these up.

The Show: B- Video: C+ Audio: C- Extras: C- Overall: C+


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