A Beastly Omission

Sunday 14th November 2021

In my role behind the camera on the production of the soon-to-be released new documentary ‘Britain’s Big Cat Mystery’ by ‘Dragonfly Films Video Production’, I was given the task of making sure no stone was left unturned as we attempted to cast a spotlight on the shadows of the enveloping mystery and conspiracy surrounding the British big cat phenomenon, so as to be as certain as possible that nothing had been missed. Matt Everett (the creator and director) asked me to revisit historic cases, old news reports, ‘Freedom of Information’ requests, and to do as much as possible to substantiate rumour and myth with fact.

However, as those of you who may have found yourselves obsessed with different aspects of mythology and folklore will be aware; the more layers of the ‘onion’ of conspiracy which are peeled back, will often reveal more complications and twists, as opposed to providing the answers we may be seeking; here is one such curious example upon which I did not expect to stumble…

The incredibly popular 1990s children’s television cartoon series ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ was based on a series of books written by Colin Dann, the first of which was published in 1979.

In an era when ‘catch-up’ and ‘on-demand’ viewing was not an option unless your family was affluent enough to afford one of them fancy new-fangled VHS recorders, (Betamax was probably still around at this point in time, but reserved exclusively for the sophisticates and die-hard tech buffs). As such, it was a frantic concern of the vast majority of school kids not to miss any episodes of ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’, lest they be excluded from the excited conversations in the playground the following morning as their classmates discussed the latest episode whilst queuing up to enter the classroom.

Now here is where things start to get weird; the TV adaptation included every character and storyline from Colin Dann’s original books; all apart from one…

In the book titled ‘The Siege of White Deer Park’ there is a character who causes fear and hysteria to surge, as the animals of Farthing Wood come to realise that they are living with a new neighbour that they eventually come to know as “The Beast”.

The animals soon notice that individuals in their community are disappearing, whilst many report a powerful and fast-moving dark animal hiding in the shadows. The speed, agility, strength, stealth and dangerousness of the mystery animal cannot be matched by any of the animals of Farthing Wood. Eventually there are so many terrifying encounters that Owl, Fox and Badger investigate and in doing so come to learn the truth; although, they quite possibly wished they hadn’t, as what follows results in more terror, chaos and dead animals!

“The Beast” eventually leaves the area when it hears distant mating calls from another of its kind…

The suggested reasons as to why this was omitted from the TV adaptation vary, with some citing the graphic scenes in the book as being too frightening to include, (an explanation doubted by many at the time, as there were multiple scenes of gore, violence and death depicted in the cartoon which did make it to our screens); whilst others suggested that the BBC were championing the animated series as serious educational vehicle to explain multiple aspects of wildlife and conservation science to young children, and as such the inclusion of a wild leopard as a creature of the British countryside would be unhelpful, (especially given that ‘Panthera Pardus’ is not included on the established list of scientifically accepted flora and fauna of the United Kingdom)…

For more about mystery big cats CLICK HERE

Tim is an award-nominated author and journalist, and an award-winning film producer. He is one of the co-founders of the Fortean Film Festival.