The Animals of Farthing Wood was the antithesis of a majority of children’s entertainment. The writers had a flagrant disregard and opposition to the sentimental conventionalities of their contemporaries. There was a distinct lack of saccharine storylines, brightly coloured characters and backdrops. Instead, the BBC cartoon, adapted from a successful series of books published in the late 1970s, was dripped bloodied with the stark and harsh realities of unavoidable death and the extreme fragility of life.
Despite this atypical approach to storytelling, it was remarkably popular. Perhaps it was the fact that none of the characters, even the lead players, were safe from episode to episode that kept viewers hooked or maybe because it had talking animals; every kid loves that.
Led by brave Fox (the names weren’t very imaginative) a group of animals including a toad, mole, badger, kestrel and an array of other British animals attempt to escape a tidal wave of concrete which threatens their home of Farthing Wood and symbolises the cruel urbanisation and destruction of the countryside by man. It leads them on a quest to the sanctuary of White Dear Park, a promised land known to Toad where safety and tranquilly beckons.
The journey is far from straight forward, with mortality facing them at every corner both at the hands of humans and other animals.
It is easy to grow attached to cartoon animals and even more so when they are communicating in a language you understand. This is why it was so shocking and sad when the characters in The Animals of Farthing Wood were mercilessly picked-off. We are taught that humans are at the top of the food chain and animals are subservient to man, but when they are having conversations with each other, it is like being in the company of friends.
The newts were the first to go, stubbornly choosing to stay at their home. This was followed by a series of horrifying deaths, with one particular death scene burnt into the minds of children when the baby mice are impaled on spikes by a predatory bird in something akin to a Wes Craven nightmare.
It was not just the killing viewers had to deal with, but the reaction from the other characters – often parents or spouses.
An extremely traumatic moment everyone knows too well is the hedgehogs – frozen stiff by fear when crossing a motorway, the husband pleads to his wife not to curl up as massive vehicles hurtle pass, until the inevitable happens and the pair become just another roadkill. Thank god the show’s stoicism did not reach so far as to show their deformed remains either being picked apart by scavengers or scooped off the road by the local authority.
The death of the pheasants was even more heartbreaking, as Mr Pheasant whilst devastatingly witnessing his wife’s cooked carcass after being sent into a spiral of despair and bereavement over her death meets the same grisly end by the murderous hands of a farmer – absolutely horrific.
It was not all doom and gloom: Weasel had plenty of quips, Badger was filled with infinite wisdom, Adder was the villain that everyone loved, and in the end they made it to White Deer Park, which led to two not as strong sequel series.
The pinnacle of tragedy, however, was the death of badger, who was bestowed the most dignified death when he finally succumbed to old age.
Tele addicts these days herald Game of Thrones for its harrowing brutality, unflinching goriness, and unafraid stance to severely disfigure or brutally kill-off any character it sees fit without a care in the world for that person’s popularity amongst fans. George R. R. Martin takes the credit for this, but Animals of Farthing Wood was doing it decades earlier.
RIP Animals of Farthing Wood; what is dead may never die.
Created by: Colin Dann (author of the books)
Written by: Sue Butterworth, Alan Case, Valerie Georgeson, Gordon Harrison, Elphin Lloyd-Jones, Jenny McDade, Steve Walker
Cast: Jeremy Barrett, Rupert Farley, Jon Glover, Sally Grace, Stacy Jefferson, Pamela Keevilkral, Rob Moody
Number of episodes: 39
Episode Runtime: 25 minutes
Year: 1993 to 1995