There was a time in my life when Wednesday afternoons were the best part of the week. That was because, every Wednesday after school my brother and I would sit down together and watch the latest instalment of ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’. This is the first programme that I remember being obsessed with, my first taste of fandom.
It’s only now, 20 years later, that I realise how the pattern of fandom obsession was already in place. I never missed an episode, I spent all week discussing cliff-hangers and plot developments with my friends, I had a list of my favourite characters that was always under review. I willed couples to get together and cheered when they did. I cried over the traumatizing character deaths (of which there were many!). And in classic fan-mode became very disappointed with later seasons for not keeping up with the quality of the first one.
I wonder now, how important is our first experience of fandom? In a way it is a little bit like our first crush. How far does its influence reach? For me, at least, I would wager that the first fandom has quite a strong impact on our young impressionable minds.
Farthing Wood was revolutionary to me. Even as a child I remember understanding that the story was about something more important than talking animals. And that is not a slight to the characters, each one of these animals was unique, flawed and amazing all at once. But I sensed that there was something bigger going on.
Later when I was studying Classics at A Level I realised that my childhood fandom had a lot of references to the Odyssey and how similar Fox is to the legendary hero; resourceful Odysseus. The depth of good children’s storytelling, in any medium, can be surprising! Looking back now I realise that Farthing Wood contained themes and values that are still very precious to my heart today; leadership, friendship, team-work and the idea of following a vision to reach something beyond what we currently see.
I wonder now if the show influenced me to care about these things or did I connect to the story because these things, although undefined in my mind, were already important to me? Do we choose our fandoms or do the fandoms choose us? Interesting questions if you are of a geeky persuasion.
The character of Fox became my standard for leadership expectations. When I am deciding whether to put my trust in someone or not, I tend to judge them on whether they have the qualities of that fox that led a ragtag bunch of woodland creatures to the White Deer Park. Are they clever? Are they trustworthy? Do they pull people together? Do they rely on the strengths and knowledge of their team or do they insist on doing everything their way? To be clear, I didn’t deliberately set out to compare people to cartoon characters, but early on Fox became the picture of good leadership in my mind. It is only as I type this now that I realise the impact this fox has had on me!
The show also influenced me in less important ways. Fox became not only my standard of leadership but also my favourite animal. These somewhat controversial creatures have become special to me, and there is something exhilarating about catching a glimpse of one running along the shadowed edge of a meadow in the late dusk. They are beautiful, playful, resourceful animals and I do understand why they are a pain to some people with chickens or disturbed bins, you do have to admire their pluck!
In fact this leads to another point of influence of the first fandom. Does our first geek love influence what we buy? When I was six I picked up a fox cuddly toy in Ikea and begged my parents to buy it. I think they must have understood the importance of fandom, because they said yes. Nowadays marketers are clever enough to realise that children want toys to go with every show and that adult fans like collectibles but as far as I am aware, when ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ was airing in 1993, there was very little merchandise accompanying it, and none of it reached me. But that didn’t stop me translating my love for the show into purchases. As well as my fox, I bought little models of badgers and moles. In a craft class I made a lumpy hedgehog, and I saved my pocket money for any notebooks or stickers that had woodland creatures on them.
Just the other week, aged 25 years old, I bought these woodland animal badges. Now I don’t really think this is still as an expression of fandom love. These badges are charming in their own right and I genuinely do adore British woodland. My parent’s garden backs on to a small wood, which was my beloved playground growing up. But I do wonder how much my love of woodland was deepened by an innocuous children’s programme that used to be on every Wednesday after school?
Do you remember your first fandom? Does it still influence you today? Please comment and share below!