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Brendon Chase is a children's novel by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, writing as "BB". It was published in 1944, but is set at an earlier, unspecified date. It was later made into a 13-part TV serial (described as being set in 1925), adapted by James Andrew Hall, produced by Southern Television in association with RM Productions and Primetime Television in 1980, and shown on ITV in the United Kingdom from December 31, 1980 to March 25, 1981 (other than in Wales where HTV Wales transmitted it between April and July 1981, after it had been displaced by Welsh-language programmes before the inception of S4C). The series was also shown in many other European countries, including Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. In the United States it aired on HBO.
Both the novel and the TV series were based around the Hensman brothers, Robin (played in the TV series by Craig McFarlane), John (played by Howard Taylor) and Harold (played by Paul Erangey (died 2004), who spend eight months living as outlaws in the forest of Brendon Chase. As in much British children's literature of the era, their parents are absent, and living in India, at the time part of the British Empire, while in the TV series their mother has died and it is only their father who is abroad. They are cared for by their Aunt Ellen, a strict and somewhat cold spinster (played in the TV series by Rosalie Crutchley). At the end of the Easter holidays, Harold falls ill with the measles, so Robin and John are unable to return to boarding school (described as "Banchester" - the name is similar to Winchester College, but it was inspired by Rugby School where the author taught Art). They decide to run away and fend for themselves, taking some food from their aunt's house, and also taking a rifle and ammunition so they can survive in the wild.
Despite continued attempts to catch them (usually involving Police Sergeant Bunting, played in the TV series by Michael Robbins, and the Reverend Whiting, played in the series by Christopher Biggins) the three brothers - Robin and John are later joined by Harold when he recovers from his illness - prove sufficiently quick-witted and ingenious to evade capture for eight months, surviving on what they can kill (the acceptance of which is one of the most interesting aspects of both the book and the TV series today) and on supplies occasionally taken from other sources. In the book, though not the TV series, Robin is known as "Robin Hood", John as "Big John" and Harold as "Little John".
A recurring subplot only in the TV series involves the brazenly cynical journalist Monica Hurling (played by Liza Goddard) from a fictional newspaper called "The London Planet" (clearly based on the more populist papers of the 1920s, such as the Daily Express), who has written a number of stories stirring up public interest in the Hensman boys, while the paper has offered a £50 reward to whoever can find them. She represents an amoral, sophisticated London, and the conflict between her and the conservative rural community where she is reporting has wider resonance in terms of social history. This character, however, does not appear in the book.
In the later part of their time living in the wild, the boys - who by this time have long been wearing rabbit skins, their clothes having worn out - encounter an eccentric elderly charcoal burner called Smokoe Joe (played in the TV series by Paul Curran), who becomes a close friend. When Smokoe Joe is seriously injured, one of the boys saves his life by running for the doctor, thereby risking capture. After a Christmas spent with Smokoe Joe in his hut, the boys are 'run to ground' when the doctor, who has kept their secret until that moment, arrives with their father who has returned, and the story ends there in the forest (Christmas is not specifically referred to in the TV series). The bear that had escaped in the forest near the end of their adventure settles down to hibernate for the winter in the hollow oak tree where they had lived.
Behind the book were hidden tragic elements in the author's own life: Robin, like several of his characters, was named after his son who had died at the age of seven, and the camaraderie of the boys was BB's imagination of the friendships he had never had as a child (having been considered too physically weak to mix with others).
The TV series was filmed mainly around the New Forest and in Portchester, Hampshire (although the setting of the book was inspired more by the author's native Northamptonshire), and was produced and directed by David Cobham with music by Paul Lewis (flute played by James Galway). It contains much striking and poignant wildlife photography.
Although it was shown more than once in some other countries it only received one transmission in Britain, mainly because of Southern's loss of its ITV contract from 1982 (although Runaround and Worzel Gummidge were repeated after the company had gone off the air). The series has until now never received any kind of commercial release, whether on video or DVD. A 2 Disc DVD Set is slated for an August 2012 release in Germany, containing (so it seems) only the dubbed German language version. However, it has been available in full on YouTube since May 2009.