In the post-World War II years, Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers book series charmed children and parents alike. Following the adventures of Darrell Rivers as she attends the eponymous all-girls boarding school, the books touch on themes such as friendship, loyalty and much more. Now, the beloved novels have been adapted as a television series, currently in its second season, by King Bert Productions and WildBrain.
Adapting the content for a modern audience was not a particularly difficult task, despite the series taking place in the ’40s, according to Jo Sargent, managing director of King Bert and executive producer of the series. “What’s so brilliant about Enid Blyton is that her characters hold up today,” she says. Aside from adding diversity to the cast and avoiding some of the old-fashioned language, no major changes were needed.
David Collier, a freelance producer brought on by King Bert for the series, notes that many of the books’ themes touch on friendship, parental relationships, sibling relationships and basic school life, all of which are just as relevant to today’s children as they were to the kids of the 1940s.
Female empowerment is also a huge part of the story, “which is what we’re still, unfortunately, talking about today,” Sargent says. Indeed, Collier affirms that they have found that “a lot of the online responses have picked up on that,” and “that’s a very powerful message for modern audiences, as well as people who knew the books from their past.”
Though these themes are pertinent regardless of the time period, Sargent notes that King Bert ran into resistance when they first set out to adapt Malory Towers. “We were told that period programming for children doesn’t really sell internationally,” she says. “But we were really keen to do something. We could see how in the adult drama world [period programming] like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey had done so well internationally. And WildBrain took a punt, really. It was a bit of a risk for them, but they were up for it and incredibly supportive.”
Collier believes the program has been a hit because “a lot of modern audiences relish the detail, the texture of period pieces, to do with the fact there are no mobile phones, no internet, the fact they use phrases like, ‘You’re a brick.’ There’s a textural beauty to that, which I think kids and families really enjoy.”
Aside from running into resistance due to the series being a period piece, adapting books that multiple generations grew up with can bring its own challenges. “You’re very aware of that passionate audience that you have, the people who really care about the books,” Sargent notes. “You’ve got to be respectful to them.”
Collier says the best way to do so is to focus on the iconic qualities of the books and work to protect them. “The audience trusts you, once they see how carefully you’ve concentrated on keeping the essence of the characters and the essence of the themes,” he says.
Perhaps the most important part of the process of getting the adaptation right is the scriptwriting. When crafting the Malory Towers scripts, a diverse mix of new and established writers and executives are involved. “Each document, whether it’s a concept document, scene-by-scene draft, etc., everything is talked about and analyzed,” Collier explains. “Then there are read-throughs before the shoot to pick up on words and phrases to make sure the actors themselves are comfortable with their lines.”
This strict process and care for getting the adaptation right has clearly resonated with audiences if the popularity of the first season is any indicator. Those who enjoyed the first part can now tune in to season two on CBBC, airing through January 27, and can access the series on-demand via BBC iPlayer. An additional 13 episodes have been commissioned, so fans can look forward to even more adventures with Darrell Rivers and the girls of Malory Towers in the future.