Written by Anne Miller


Fully Booked

Kids can be a nightmare on holiday, right? So why not take a tip from the Famous Five and send them somewhere on their own? Anne Miller tells us more.


“No lifejackets? Don’t worry; we’ve got Timmy.”

I love the Famous Five. The 21 adventures starring Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog are an idyllic blend of sandwiches at the seaside, bike rides to butterfly farms and sailing out to their own island.

Less ideally, they also feature the near-constant presence of nearby criminal activity. The gang have a knack for choosing the same remote spots as those favoured by kidnappers, smugglers and petty thieves, which makes their parents’ somewhat laissez-faire approach to supervision all the more surprising.

They are generally OK with the kids going wherever they want so long as they bring Timmy with them (because otherwise that would be irresponsible).

Of course, it is the parent-free nature of their holidays that lets the children have such fabulous adventures. The books wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if Aunt Fanny had rung Crimestoppers, then moved them to a different campsite.

However, if you look through the books there are some absolutely marvellous reasons as to why the adults did not accompany their children on holiday. Here are five of my favourite examples of Five Going on Holiday Unsupervised:

1. Their parents wanted to holiday without their children.

At the start of the first book, Five on a Treasure Island, siblings Julian, Dick and Anne haven’t met their cousin Georgina (and are yet to learn that she prefers to go by George). They are sent to stay with her family, not because their parents realised that cousins of the same age might like to spend time together but because they want a child-free holiday:

“Daddy wants me to go to Scotland with him,” said Mother. “All by ourselves! And as you are really getting big enough to look after yourselves now, we thought it would be rather fun for you to have a holiday on your own too.” Their kids are 10, 11 and 12 at this point, although at least Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin stick around for the rest of the book.

In later adventures they’re left on their own while sets of parents travel to Spain, attend conferences and go off on a cruise.

Famous Five books
2. Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever strikes in Five Go Adventuring Again, and lands the whole gang back at Kirrin Cottage after Julian, Dick and Anne’s mother catches the illness and their father is quarantined.

As a concession to responsible parenting, the grown-ups engage a tutor for the holidays, but then lose points as it doesn’t appear they did any background checks on his character first. Another adventure occurs after a perfect storm of Aunt Fanny being rushed to hospital and the cook being off with a broken leg leads to the children being left in the care of what turns out to be a gang of kidnappers.

Luckily, they manage to outsmart them, and are free to adventure another day.

3. A tree falls on the house

Things start off well in book four – the gang are happily settling in for their first night at Kirrin Cottage and Uncle Quentin is looking forward to taking them out in a boat and going for walks together. Unfortunately we don’t get to see his jovial side because that night a tree falls on the house, smashing through the attic and destroying the children’s bedrooms.

Quentin bemoans that “a thing like this would only happen once in a blue moon!” and sends his drama-prone daughter, niece and nephews off to stay at the not-at-all-dangerous-sounding Smuggler’s Top.

4. Their parents forgot they were coming

In Five Get into Trouble they arrive the same week Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny are due at a conference. They can’t stay in the house alone because the cook is ill and so head off out alone. Eleven books later Quentin and Fanny still haven’t bought a calendar and the Five’s visit is double booked with one from Professor Hayling – an important scientist.

"Remember us? No?"

“Remember us? No?”

Quentin isn’t at all apologetic about the mix-up, instead retorting, “How can I possibly be expected to remember exactly when the children’s holidays come.” They can’t go to Julian, Dick and Anne’s house as their parents are away and the house is closed up. Instead, they head off with Hayling’s son Tinker to stay in his family lighthouse at the ominously named Demon’s Rocks.

5. Scarlet fever (again)

You never really hear much about scarlet fever these days but it pops up a second time in the last book of the series Five Are Together Again to scupper the family’s holiday plans.

This time it is George’s parents who are in quarantine so the kids are sent to stay with Tinker and Professor Hayling. You’d think this would be a slight red flag after what happened last time (or in their 20 previous adventures) but everyone is fine with it so off they go.

The Famous Five style of parenting is perhaps best summed up by this glorious line in Five Go off to Camp: “It’s absolutely wizard, being allowed to go on a camping holiday all by ourselves,” said Dick. “I never thought our parents would allow it, after the terrific adventure we had last summer.”

Catch up on Anne’s previous Fully Booked columns here.


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Written by Anne Miller

Anne is a QI Elf. She has two Blue Peter badges, reached the semi-finals of Only Connect and really likes puffins. @miller_anne