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Adventures of Black Beauty, The (1972-74)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Adventures of Black Beauty, The (1972-74)
London Weekend International Productions and Talbot Television for ITV, 7/10/1972-10/3/1974
52 episodes in 2 seasons (colour)
Series developed byTed Willis
ProducerSidney Cole
Directors includeJohn Reardon
 Charles Crichton
 Alan Gibson

Cast: Judi Bowker (Vicky Gordon); Stacy Dorning (Jenny Gordon); Roderick Shaw (Kevin Gordon); William Lucas (Dr James Gordon); Charlotte Mitchell (Amy Winthrop); Tony Maiden (Albert); Black Jet (Black Beauty)

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Rural medical man Dr Gordon and his children Vicky, Jenny and Kevin get involved in all kinds of adventures, with their horse Black Beauty taking a central role.

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This period adventure series had little basis in Anna Sewell's 1877 novel - it was more likely inspired by the success of ITV's present-day equestrian adventure series Follyfoot (1971-73). Sewell's 'autobiography of a horse' as it passes from one cruel owner to the next was nonetheless echoed in the TV series' first episode 'The Fugitive' (tx. 17/9/1972).

Widower Dr James Gordon moves from Victorian London to the village of Five Oaks to set up a country practice . After saving the life of the invalid owner of a magnificent black stallion, the Gordons are presented with him as a thank-you. His daughter, Vicky, names him Black Beauty. Thus ensued many exciting adventures for Vicky and brother Kevin, aided and abetted by Beauty. For the second series, previously unseen Gordon sibling Jenny arrived from schooling in London to replace Vicky.

Smarter than the average horse, Beauty usually took a central role as the blunt instrument charged with bringing the week's villain to heel without appearing as equus ex machina. 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.

The series was shot on film around the Hertfordshire countryside. Experienced directors like Charles Crichton and Freddie Francis helmed the most satisfying episodes.

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 later series The New Adventures of Black Beauty (ITV, 1990) saw Dr Gordon and the grown-up Jenny emigrate to New Zealand (William Lucas and Stacy Dorning resuming their roles), with stepdaughter Vicky (Amber McWilliams) charged with looking after a new black steed.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Opening sequence and titles (3:27)
2. The horsemen's society (2:11)
3. Fox is fooled (3:43)
Complete episode - 'The Horsemen' (23:52)
Carpenter, Richard (1929-2012)
Cole, Sidney (1908-1998)
Crichton, Charles (1910-1999)
Children's TV Drama
Children's TV in the 1970s