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Bestselling boys' adventure book set for big and small screens

Paul Bignell
Sunday 06 April 2008 00:00 BST

It sold 1.5 million copies and has been widely credited with introducing a generation of young couch potatoes to the joys of conkers, outdoor games and tree houses, complete with bumped heads and scraped knees. Now The Dangerous Book for Boys is to make its debut on large and small screens.

A new "factual" series based on the book, featuring celebrity fathers and their sons, is to appear on TV screens later this year.

The six-part weekly series being made for Channel 5 will feature celebrity fathers and their sons on adventurous expeditions, experiencing Boy's Own-style adventures. The book will also be adapted for the big screen after Disney bought the film rights.

The Disney film will be the latest of a series of classic children's books being adapted by top Hollywood directors for the big screen. Among those currently filming or scheduled to shoot soon are award-winning director Spike Jonze's version of author Maurice Sendak's book Where the Wild Things Are.

One of the celebrities lined up to take part in the TV adaptation of The Dangerous Book for Boys is comedian Vic Reeves and his son Louis. According to the producers, the programme, which is currently being filmed in the UK for Channel 5, will show the sons following in the footsteps of their fathers' childhood heroes such as the Dambusters, Captain Scott, Nelson and the Black Knight. Quite what the celebrity fathers and their sons will be expected to do is currently being kept secret.

Malcolm Clark, executive producer for the TV company Mentorn that is putting the show together, said: "We've got the chance to explore the relationship between fathers and sons – one of those touchstone contemporary subjects – but in a really fun, warm-hearted way." The pilot will be transmitted later this year.

The Dangerous Book for Boys, written by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, was written to drag the PlayStation generation off their parents' sofas and encourage boys to rediscover the pastimes enjoyed by previous generations.

Covering around 80 topics, including tips on how to build a tree house, build and race your own go-kart and identify Shakespeare's best quotations, the book reached No 1 in the UK non-fiction charts several times.

Conn Iggulden, said: "I'm delighted to see fathers and sons celebrated on TV. I haven't had so much fun with an idea since I blew my eyebrows off making fireworks." But it's not just the small screen the book has been adapted for. It will also make its debut on the silver one after Disney and US producer Scott Rudin teamed up to buy the film rights to the book after a bidding war.

Celebrated horror director Sam Raimi is directing Terry Pratchett's book The Wee Free Men, while Wes Anderson and Oscar-nominated Guillermo Del Toro are directing film versions of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches.

It is yet to be revealed, however, how Disney will adapt for successful interpretation on the big screen the Igguldens' book, with its "how-to" manual style and absence of a traditional narrative structure.

Fans of the book also question how faithfully Disney will keep to the ethos of the book. It was extensively rewritten for the American market when it made its US debut. The authors replaced such British childhood staples as conkers with the US game of stickball. They also traded the section listing the kings and queens of England and Scotland with the "most valuable players" in baseball.


As celebrated Hollywood directors go they are not renowned for their family-friendly films: some of their output is more likely to frighten children than entrance them. Guillermo Del Toro's 'Pan's Labyrinth', Sam Raimi's 'The Evil Dead', Spike Jonze's, 'Jackass: The Movie' and Wes Anderson's 'The Darjeeling Limited' were never likely to get PG certificates.

Yet all four of Tinseltown's most unconventional directors are at the forefront of a new wave of film adaptations of modern classic children's books. Anderson is working on a stop-motion animation version of Roald Dahl's 'The Fantastic Mr Fox'. Jonze, Oscar-nominated for 'Being John Malkovich', is finishing off a hotly anticipated take on the much-loved picture book 'Where The Wild Things Are'. And Del Toro, whose allegorical fantasy of the Spanish Civil War, 'Pan's Labyrinth', won massive critical acclaim, has lined up another Dahl classic, 'The Witches'.

Others making their first films aimed explicitly at children include Sam Raimi, pencilled in to direct Terry Pratchett's 'The Wee Free Men', and Peter Jackson, who will work with Steven Spielberg on a remake of the 'Tintin' books.

"All these books are nailed-to-the-wall classics," said Helen O'Hara, reviews editor of 'Empire'. "Hollywood has decided that you have to give these odd little directors a chance with stuff like this."

However, the US failure of 'The Golden Compass', which was critically slated, may yet give the studios pause. There have already been rumours of trouble on the set of 'Where The Wild Things Are', with Jonze reportedly forced into reshoots to make his vision a little less petrifying.

Not that Dave Eggers, who adapted the screenplay for 'Where the Wild Things Are', was discouraged by that.

"They're too often washed clean," he said, "so Spike, Maurice [Sendak] and I just decided we needed to make the book really wild and dangerous again, and unexpected. The movie is really unlike anything anyone will expect."

Anderson set out with the same goal of remaking a classic. "There's a whole new bit at the start and a new section at the end," he said of 'Mr Fox'. "But we've tried to do something Dahl would love."

Other Dahl adaptations, including a previous disastrous version of 'The Witches' were far from the writer's taste. According to Alan Garner, whose 'Elidor' books terrified adults and children alike when they were adapted for the screen, that would be because they didn't take children seriously enough. "The assumption is that children need to be talked down to," he said. "They are not given the credit they deserve."

Archie Bland

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