“Don’t panic, don’t panic” – Mrs Rabbit
CBBC back in its heyday was great fun to watch. Whether is was because of Andi Peters in the broom cupboard with Edd the Duck or watching Ant go blind on Byker Grove, there was something for everyone.
The schedule was laid out for younger more colourful cartoons earlier in the afternoon for all the 5-8 year olds to marvel over, followed by arty shows like SMArt while later in the afternoon came gritty-for-kids-television programmes like Grange Hill, for those who had spent the hour after school shooting up cocaine or beating up the ugly kid.
It was a schedule that made sense, given that primary schoolers really didn’t want to be seeing a lot of anger, death and drama when they got in from school and would much rather watch Dave Benson Phillips cover a man in goo or some teenage turtles eat some pizza while being groomed by a giant rat. It just made sense.
Well, apart from one show. A show that wasn’t afraid to talk to its viewers like they were mature 5-8 year olds who read The Guardian and liked fishing. Perhaps the most vicious cartoon on children’s telly boxes at the time and probably since; a happy colourful cartoon called The Animals of Farthing Wood. It had your usual characters; serious, forgetful, slapstick, moany, morally confused, nasty and sarcastic, was very colourful and had lots of animals traipsing around having adventures together. How on earth could it be so vicious?
Well, it may have had something to do with the huge body count. You don’t see death a lot in CBBC-land, which is why something like a boy going blind because his friends are really bad at paintball (seriously, it’s their own teammate!) is so infamous., but the ways and amount of deaths over the two series (two, definitely two. There were only ever two… that mattered and were decent) was mesmeric.
To see animals burn to death, shot repeatedly, caught in traps, run over, eaten and strangled at 3:40pm on a weekday afternoon takes balls to schedule and was infinitely better value than a short stumpy fox with a hand up his arse. In one episode, you see some field mice decide they want to stay in a place on their travels. They bid their farewells and leave. Later, on of the travelling animals wonder how the mice are getting on. Cut to perhaps the most horrific scene in a cartoon where you see a gore bush covered in blood – a butcher bird appears with a baby mouse in its mouth and impales it on the bush, and then follows by showing grieving mother mouse crying her eyes out.
This is just the most extreme example, but throughout the show, the scenes are just as bad. As Mrs Rabbit is being eaten by a blue fox at the wildlife sanctuary the group were travelling to, she continuously screams “don’t panic, don’t panic!” for a good 30 seconds until she is a lifeless rabbity carcass.
My other favourite death in the series was Mrs Pheasant. She and her husband were a bickering couple right at the start of the adventure. Unfortunately for them, they wandered into a farm with the group and got stuck in a barn over night. Mrs Pheasant was keeping watch for the farmer and on trying to alert her friends, she was shot. Her husband, Mr Pheasant, was sure she had died, but wanted to go look for her in case. On his return to the farm, he saw her alright; roasted and cooling down in the window. At which point, he is also shot. And presumably eaten with some excellent stuffing.
The show was not afraid to push this point home and I feel it needs to be commended for that. It got a preachy about other things, such as human intervention in the wild, but the deaths were just deaths that people dealt with and moved on from, like in real life. Also, it had a fantastic theme song.