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Brendon Chase (ITV 1981, Howard Taylor, Craig McFarlane)

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Period children’s drama serial Brendon Chase was set in 1925 and followed the adventures of three brothers who initially live with their wealthy aunt but run off to live as “outlaws” in the woods of Brendon Chase after they cause mischief at a tea party she is giving.

The trio learn to survive in the wild, whilst trying to evade the police and reporter Monica Hurling.

production details
UK / ITV – Southern / 13×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 31 December 1980 – 25 March 1981

Writer: James Andrew Hall / Book: BB / Music: Paul Lewis performed by James Galway / Producer and Director: David Cobham

cast
Howard Taylor as John
Craig McFarlane as Robin
Paul Erangey as Harold
Rosalie Crutchley as Aunt Ellen
Michael Balfour as Rumbold
Simone Francis as Hannah
Liza Goddard as Monica Hurling
Michael Robbins as Police Sergeant Bunting
Christopher Biggins as Reverend Whiting
Hilary Mason as Miss Holcombe

THE EPISODES

Episode One
Whilst their father is away on business in India, Robin, John and Harold Henchman are spending the summer holidays with their rich Aunt Ellen. On a hot sunny day, Aunt Ellen holds a tea party for her friends and they play croquette in the garden. Meanwhile, Robin and John are cycling along a lane, towing a kite and Harold is ill in bed. Harold gets up, looks out of the window to see his aunt has invited a boy he doesn’t like. As a result, Harold sneaks outside, armed with his catapult. Meanwhile Robin and John are so busy concentrating on the kite, they do not realise which way they are going… and crash straight in the middle of the tea party! At the same time, Harold fires his catapult causing even more damage – cups, plates, chairs, tables and servants are sent flying! Afterwards, Aunt Ellen talks to Robin and John inside. She says that they both require some discipline and decides to hire a tutor to teach them over the summer holidays. Harold will be joining them when he is better. Robin is very unhappy about this and decides to run away to live in the local woodland, Brendon Chase. John was looking forward to going back to school, however he isn’t happy about some tutor coming to teach them so he agrees to go with Robin. During the rest of the day, the two go around the house collecting what they need to survive. The following morning, before anyone else is awake, Robin and John leave the house and break into shed to steal their Uncle’s old rifle – as Robin says their survival depends on it. Afterwards they wander out into the woodlands to a new life outdoors…..

Episode Two
Aunt Ellen realises the boys are missing. She talks to Harold to see if he has any idea where they went but unfortunately he has none. Meanwhile, after wandering through the dense woodlands, John discovers a hollow tree, with a hole in the side just big enough to get through. They decide to make this their home, and shape a piece of bark to fit the hole. They also dig a hole in the ground, placing some large stones around it to form a camp fire. With the piece of bark plugging the hole in the tree and the rocks pushed into the hole covered with soil no one would know that this was their home. They also decide that an owl hoot will be their distress call, however due to them having a real owl living in the top of their tree, they later replace their distress call with a bird whistle that is not heard in this country.

Episode Three
Aunt Ellen informs the police about the missing boys and the local “bobby” heads out into the woodland to search with no success – and has some trouble with his bike! As Robin and John’s clothes have become torn to bits in the dense woodland they start making new clothes out of rabbit skins.

Episode Four
Robin and John return to Aunt Ellen’s mansion during the night for some supplies. While they are there, Robin wakes up a fully recovered Harold and tells him to come with them. As they take Harold to the tree, he notices a familiar looking bird in a nest high up in a tree and wants to steal an egg to add to his collection. John decides to climb the tree but nearly falls. Later Robin scolds Harold, telling him that under their present circumstances it was wrong to ask John to go after birds eggs – John could have broken his glasses and without them, he would be unable to evade capture. During the evening, the boys have a visitor – a small terrier, which they decide to keep.

Episode Five
Aunt Ellen puts out a reward for anyone finding the boys. This attracts the attention of all the locals who decide to comb all the local woodlands, along with a news reporter and her photographer, who wish to write an article on the search for the missing brothers. After being chased for miles around the woodland, John is eventually caught, but he escapes. The locals eventually give up, and as Robin and Harold were seen over ten miles away from where John was caught, they are still no closer to finding out where they are living. Later John returns to the tree to find Robin and Harold sitting around the camp fire – they believed John had been caught. Afterwards they check their supplies to find them very low. One of them will have to venture into the nearby town of Brendon, and Harold is the only one still wearing normal clothes. Harold reluctantly agrees to go.

Episode Six
Harold wanders into nearby Brendon, going under a new identity. After purchasing a number of items with the money Robin gave him, he goes to the local gun shop for some ammo. In the gun shop, the owner is reluctant to give Harold any ammunition due to his age, but when the local bobby walks in, Harold scarpers with the ammo and runs right into the reporter, who instantly recognizes him and raises the alarm. With the police on his tail, Harold runs into the local primary school, where a girl who lives with Aunt Ellen hides him in the school toilets. After the police have left the school, Harold tells all the schoolchildren how they have been living in the chase. Later Harold returns to the chase hitching a lift with a local baker, who recognizes him and tries to turn him in. Harold pushes the baker off and steals his horses and cart. Later the police and the baker find the cart abandoned up further up the track. Meanwhile, Harold approaches the chase, finding their pet dog waiting for him, with John and Robin not far behind.

Episode Seven
Now that Harold’s clothes have deteriorated, all three are now wearing rabbit skins. A pig wanders into the area and dies. The brothers decide to cook and eat it, however the first job is to skin and gut it, which isn’t a very pleasant job! They also discover someone is stealing the “rationed” chocolate. John gets the blame, but they eventually discover the culprit is a field mouse, whom they name Roundtree. Harold discovers John has a photo of the girl who lives with Aunt Ellen and realises he fancies her, and he uses this to blackmail John into keeping quiet to Robin about the fact that he has been playing with the rifle and wasting ammo.

Episode Eight
After telling Harold not to pollute the woodland stream that passes the hollow tree, Robin says that at the top of every stream, there is usually a lake, possibly full of fish. As this could be a new source of food, Robin wanders upstream with the dog to search for it.

Instead, he discovers a dark area of woodland, where no birds whistle, and there is not a single breeze. He hears a clanging noise in the distance and goes to investigate. As he approaches, he finds the trees are covered with rabbit skulls, and at the centre is an old hut with two lanterns clanging together just as if someone had walked past and knocked them. He goes to look closer at the two lanterns and a piece of wood slides down from the roof nearly hitting him. Robin and the dog run off in terror! Later Robin tells John about the haunted hut and mentions that it could belong to a strange old hermit the vicar once told them about, called Smokoe Joe. The episode ends with dusk falling on the old hut, with the lanterns continuing to clang together.

Episode Nine
Whilst out hunting butterflies, the vicar runs into Robin Henchman, who tries to persuade him to turn himself in. During their conversation, the vicar spots a rare butterfly and goes after it, allowing Robin to make a discreet exit. Later, Aunt Ellen arranges a birthday party for the girl lives with her, and the vicar suggests having a picnic in the chase – in fact in the same place where he saw Robin. The idea is that the boys may decide to turn themselves in to them, rather than the police. Instead the boys steal the hamper, only to discover a birthday cake for the girl. John picks up the cake and runs to take it back, but Robin trips him up, telling him that he will be caught if he does – the cake ends up all over the soil. Back at the picnic, they discover the hamper is missing and the girl says “I’ll never forgive those Henchman boys!”

Episode Ten
Robin spots a deer in the chase and decides to shoot it. Just as he is lining up to shoot, John sounds the distress call and the deer runs off. Later, Robin decides to search the woodland for the deer, and comes across another hut, this one has smoke coming out of the chimney. He turns round to see a shotgun pointing at him…

Episode Eleven
Robin finds the man with the shotgun is Smokoe Joe! He is an old man with a large nose. Smokoe intends to turn him in to his Aunt Ellen and claim the reward, and he also mentions about the fact that his dog went missing some time ago. Robin tells him he found a dog that could be his. Just then the local bobby knocks at the door and Smokoe hides Robin under his bed. The bobby is trying to find his missing bike and searches the hut for it (he doesn’t look under the bed as Smokoe tells him “It’s awfully smelly under there!”. Robin takes Smokoe to the tree, and it appears their pet dog does belong to him. After seeing his pet, Smokoe has a change of heart and tells the boys to come and live with him (winter is setting in and they will not survive in the tree during the cold months). He also makes them some boots out of rabbit skins. The boys tell him all that has happened – it appears the pig belonged him and the haunted hut used to be his home! The reporters and the vicar visit Aunt Ellen with distressing news – something very dangerous has escaped from the zoo and could be in the area. They ask the girl if she knows the boys whereabouts – she tells them what she knows and the vicar decides to ask old Smokoe if he knows of the hollow tree.

Episode Twelve
Once again, the villagers comb the chase. One of the villagers finds the hollow tree, now empty apart from the piece of wood shaped to fit the hole. They also come across the “thing” that escaped from the zoo – it appears to be a large grizzly bear. The two reporters arrive at the tree, take photos of the camp, and when the photographer says how did they cook anything, he falls over the buried camp fire! The episode ends with the vicar saying he is going to visit “Old Smokoe”!

Episode Thirteen
At the local railway station, Mr Henchman arrives back from India to sort out the trouble his sons have caused. Meanwhile the villagers continue to search for the bear, which finds it’s way to Smokoe’s hut. Smokoe fires his gun at it, but ends up injured as a result. John decides to turn himself in to get help. Meanwhile Robin has found another deer, he lines the sights up on it, however cannot bring himself to kill it. Arriving at his sister’s mansion, Mr Henchman notices someone wearing rabbit skins running down the road towards him in the pouring rain. He is quite surprised to find it is John. John collapses at the gate from exhaustion. Later a group of locals journey up to Smokoe’s house with a stretcher and take Smoko down to the hospital. Back at Aunt Ellen’s mansion, after a hot bath and a change of clothes, the Henchman boys walk into their Aunt’s study, where their father has a serious talk to them and orders them to apologise to their Aunt. Robin apologises and explains that the reason why they ran away was due to the trouble they had caused – they thought it was better if they were out of the way. Aunt Ellen accepts their apology. Harold reaches into his pocket and takes out their pet mouse Roundtree, and gives it to the girl – he tells her it is a present from John! They are told that Smokoe is alive and well and they are looking to fix his swollen nose! That night, Robin, John and Harold lie in their beds, talking about their adventure. Harold is curious as to what happened to the bear, and Robin tells him that it must have gone into hibernation for the winter. Robin says it’s a shame it’s all over, but John suggests that maybe next summer Aunt Ellen would let them camp in the chase. Robin replies “It’ll never be the same again though”. Meanwhile, out in the chase, the bear wanders through the darkness, climbs through the hole in the hollow tree and goes to sleep.

An episode guide by Richard Clark.