Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Foxbusters (1999)

The subject for this blog post has a first-and-last theme to it. It was one of the first books written by the famous Dick King-Smith (Babe, the Water Horse) which set the bar for a lifetime career as a children's writer, and one of Cosgrove Hall's last "great" shows before turning their focus to the pre-school market for the remainder of its lifespan.

The original book, first published in 1978, tells the story of the chickens of Foxearth Farm, a special breed by the fact that they could fly - in particular, three of the more gifted hens (Ransom, Sims and Jeffries) help rage war against their age-old enemy the foxes, in what has been described as "Dambusters for kids"!

Many of Dick's stories were based on his years as a farmer himself, which comes as no surprise here. This particular book has a slightly dark but comedic tone, in which blood is spilt, feathers ruffled and containing "fowl language" throughout (all hen-related puns, of course!). And where the balance between predator and prey is thrown off completely with logical, clever storytelling.
How this came to animation was an interesting one. Before the turn of the millennium, David Freedman and Alan Gilbey (The Mr Hell Show) developed the book for Cosgrove Hall Films. A "pilot" had been made in 1997 to promote the series, which was intended to be based during WW2 (in fact, some of the original animation from there was reused in the final title sequence). However, such is the way, further changes were made until few elements of the book remained saved for character and location names, although by then only the titular characters themselves could fly.

Still, it seemed to have been worth it. Along with co-writer Joel Jessup, the show ran for two seasons and picked up several BAFTA awards along the way. Thanks to its sparkling comedy, perfectly British through 'n' through, it sits very nicely alongside Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and Victor and Hugo for insane plots and even madder characters.

Credit also due to the voice actors involved, with old favourites Jimmy Hibbert and Rob Rackstraw supporting the leading ladies - Jane Horricks as "Jolly Jeffries", Joanne Lumley as "Serious Sims" but most surprising of all, Whoopi Goldberg as "Ransome the Ringleader". How I'd love to hear the story behind that casting...!!

Sadly, only the first season has been made available to DVD in the UK. And as always it's a shame on account that the episodes become madder and funnier in the season that followed. Still, perhaps there's hope yet if only the rights to the series weren't quite so "scrambled"...!



  1. I think I first heard of The Foxbusters as an ad/article or such in "Animation Magazine". I don't remember if it was ever picked up in the US or not, probably didn't.

  2. Looking back its surprising to see how morbid the book was...of course as a kid I think that's what I liked the most about it! Mayhaps a more faithful adaptation should come round