La Chasse au Trésor
La Chasse au Trésor is a French-language BBC schools TV series from the 1960s and 1970s, covering French Language for primary school pupils.
La Chasse au Trésor (The Treasure Hunt) was a thrilling drama serial for children in the higher years of primary school. It was about two 10-year-olds in a French town who follow the trail of a dangerous criminal, hunting for a lost treasure in the local woods with the ripped half of an old treasure map.
The villain was a memorable figure, with a black leather trenchcoat, large sunglasses, stubble and a scar down his cheek, and towards the end of the story he kidnaps the girl - however it was noted that the "sunshine and friendliness" of the town in the story "compensate for the genuinely scary impact of the villain".
It was presented entirely in French (including, as the teacher's notes pointed out, the end credits) and featured an entirely French cast, but it was intended that children of about 10 years old should be able to follow the action without help, so long as they had made reasonable progress over two years of studying the language. The vocabulary used was therefore basic - on several occasions characters count things out in French from un to dix, and there were many opportunities for close-up shots of words like "bureau" and "château" in the environment.
The serial was set against the backdrop of a typical French town, and the type of everyday French culture that primary school pupils would be taught was frequently included. There were long sections about the children's routines at breakfast and dinner time, and the kind of things to be found in the market (cheeses and sabots). A little background about the French Revolution was also necessary to understand the origins of the treasure. The characters had a tendancy to talk to themselves about what they were doing so that viewers would experience everything in French - the villain Lucciani especially is constantly muttering to himself about the instructions on the treasure map.
The incidental music in each episode was based on traditional French tunes, and the two children had their own songs, based on French nursery rhymes. "La chanson de Patrick" was based on La bonne aventure o gué with some of the lyrics changed, and "La chanson de Dominique" was Scions du bois. The serial was written by Michel Faure, known in education circles at the time from the BBC's adult education French series Bonjour Françoise of a few years earlier.
One of the main aims of the series was to enthuse children with a thrilling adventure story and give them, as the producer Ronald Smedley pointed out, "the pleasure of finding out that they can understand a foreign language".
One of the first uses made of schools television was to give an authentic taste of French language & culture filmed in France - by the ITV companies at least.
Initially these programmes were aimed at sixth forms (Ici La France) and experienced pupils in secondary schools (French from France), but the company Associated-Rediffusion in particular began making drama programmes in French for pupils with 2 or 3 years experience of the language (Chez les Dupré, Le Voyage du Jéricho etc). Indeed in the spring term of 1968, just before La Chasse au Trésor went out on the BBC, Associated-Rediffusion presented a new drama serial in French about a hunt for a lost treasure in a typical French town, for 2nd or 3rd year pupils of the language including those in primary schools. This was Le Mystère de Valbec, which has its own page on this site.
The BBC's schools television service on the other hand did not immediately offer programmes on modern languages, although BBC schools radio broadcast a variety of French programmes since its very beginnings. In fact the proficiency of schools radio in covering modern languages was apparently the reason that BBC television did not initially make any efforts in that direction: Kenneth Fawdry, BBC Head of School Television, wrote in 1967 that in respect of languages "(television's) advantages, in school conditions, over radiovision or recorded radio programmes plus pamphlets are questionable."
The BBC did screen a thriller serial in simple French language from January 1966, this was Suivez la Piste but it was a series for adult education shown on both BBC1 and BBC2, not a schools series. However a teacher's guide was issued to accompany Suivez la Piste so it could plausibly be used in schools.
It was well into the 1960s when the first pilot for a French series was made by the BBC schools TV department. This proposed series would be studio-based and run throughout the entire school year, the pilot programme which was made but never broadcast was presented by the Persian singer Shusha and produced, I believe, by Peter Montagnon, with a space-travel storyline. Kenneth Fawdry thought it was "very imaginative... and had great potential," but it was turned down by the Schools Broadcasting Council because it "lacked the flavour of 'real France'.".
It was obvious that the BBC needed to produce an authentic, filmed story, on location in France, but to make a single school term's worth of such programmes would cost as much as a whole year's worth of the studio-based alternative - and a single term's worth of programmes alone could not make a major contribution to the schools' work. Nevertheless the SBC insisted this was what they wanted, and the BBC duly began production on La Chasse au Trésor with "the active participation" of the Schools Council, the Nuffield Foundation and practising teachers.
The series was reportedly very well received by teachers who used it - reviews in the press welcomed "a happy blend of adventure and local colour," with "none of the Christmas charade atmosphere which ruins some other programmes." The Chief Schools Inspector commended the BBC on the quality of the programmes and their value in teaching French.. Kenneth Fawdry later recalled that "it enhanced our reputation among modern linguists", and over a decade after the series was last shown BBC schools producer John Prescott Thomas reported that:
no broadcast seems to hold fonder memories for language teachers (than La Chasse au Trésor) and there is still scarcely a meeting or conference at which it is not recalled with nostalgia.
But the series seems not to have been very widely used in practice, nor was a great deal of successful follow-up work done to make the series really useful. It's appeal seems to have been as much based on the thrill of a filmed story as any educational benefit, and a BBC schools radio producer is reported to have said later that "were the dialogue in Chinese the programmes would still be instantly comprehensible and greatly enjoyable." And so, after repeats of the series in 1969 and 1970, it was quietly dropped and not replaced with another similar series, as the demand for significant French teaching in primary schools was also quietly dropped.
It was several years before BBC schools television returned to the field of modern languages, and when they did so they offered documentary rather than drama series, beginning with Tout Compris in summer 1973. Much later, in the early 1980s, John Prescott Thomas said that the time may have come for "a new, simple five-part dramatised serial in French for beginners. Grandson of La Chasse au Trésor, perhaps?". It was not until 1984 that this offspring reached the screen, when the resounding success of the Look and Read series in fostering English reading prompted the BBC to produce a French-language thriller for slightly older children called La Marée et Ses Secrets (The tide and its secrets). André Maranne also played the villain in this drama, 16 years after his turn as the criminal Lucciani in La Chasse au Trésor - perhaps Robert Lecoz, Maranne's character in La Marée, could be considered Lucciani's grandson!
La Chasse au Trésor was filmed in the town of St Pourçain-sur-Sioule, near Vichy in Central France, in 1967. The name of the town was simplified to simply St Pourçain for the story.
The producer and director, Ronald Smedley, directed his francophone cast in perfect French throughout, but took pleasure in using one particular anglicism at the end of each day's filming - he would say "nous sommes fini" (literally, "we are finished") where the correct French phrase would be "nous avons fini". This intentional slip amused all of the French actors and production team greatly!
In early November 1967 the actors went to the BBC studios in London to record some dialogue. They spent bonfire night in Ronald Smedley's garden, setting off fireworks and enjoying boiled potatoes and cups of tea - the perfect British counterpoint to the French culture shown in the series!
The programmes were first shown in the summer term 1968, on Tuesdays at 2:30pm with a repeat on Fridays. They were repeated over the next two summer terms. There were 8 episodes altogether:
|1.||L'homme de la rivière||19 Apr 1968|
|2.||Patrick n'écoute pas||6 May 1968|
|3.||La police cherche un homme||13 May 1968|
|4.||Les enfants n'ont pas peur||20 May 1968|
|5.||Bonne nuit, Ulysse||27 May 1968|
|6.||C'est le trésor||10 Jun 1968|
|7.||Au secours!||17 Jun 1968|
|8.||Brave Ulysse!||24 Jun 1968|
|Num||Title (with English translation)||Broadcast|
|1.||L'homme de la rivière (The man from the river)||29 Apr 1968|
Two children are playing by a river in France -
Patrick is fishing and his friend Dominique is throwing stones into the river. Dominique is completely bored and goes for a walk in the woods. There she spots a man with a compass, counting his steps. She goes to fetch Patrick and when they return the man has started digging. As the children watch he keeps digging but eventually gives up, having failed to find what he was looking for. The man spots the children and they flee back to the river bank.
|2.||Patrick n'écoute pas (Patrick doesn't listen)||6 May 1968|
|Dominique's father shows her an old book with a picture of the supposed treasure, and tells her the story behind it - at the height of the French Revolution an aristocrat and his son fled their chateau with their treasures and, with a mob on their heels, buried it safely in the woods. Dominique informs her father that she and Patrick are going to find the treasure.|
Next morning Patrick rushes through breakfast at the farmhouse where he lives, then boards the bus for school. Dominique brings the old book to show him the treasure, and leaves it with Patrick when she goes to her own girls' school. Patrick reads the old book in class instead of paying attention to the lesson about sentences with the word "manger", and when the teacher calls on him he offers "je mange le trésor" ("I eat treasure"). Patrick tries to explain his new quest to the teacher, but he doesn't know where the treasure is hidden or who the man was, so there is not much to his story.
|3.||La police cherche un homme (The police are looking for a man)||13 May 1968|
|On Saturday morning Patrick and Dominique go to the market in St Pourcain. They spot the man from the river and decide to follow him. The man steals a newspaper, which has a picture of himself on the front page and headlines saying he is a dangerous criminal and the police are looking for him. He immediately buys the biggest pair of sunglasses he can to disguise the distinctive scar on his cheek.|
The children continue to follow the man as he leaves the market and walks through the back streets of St Pourcain. He breaks into a van which Patrick recognises belongs to a Mr Bonvin. The man has a large collection of keys, and he finds one which will start the van. The children climb into the back of the van and the man drives off, just as Mr Bonvin the owner comes out of his house to witness the theft.
|4.||Les enfants n'ont pas peur (The children are not scared)||20 May 1968|
Lucciani drives to a large wood and gets out. He keeps referring to a piece of paper in his pocket. The children follow him as he walks into the wood, locates a fairly large rock and begins counting ten paces to the east. Patrick suggests they fetch the police but Dominique says not yet. Then Patrick steps on a twig and the man spots the children watching him. He asks if they are scared, and when Dominique says they are not he tells them menacingly to get out of the wood. They run away, but Dominique shouts to Patrick that she has taken the paper from the man's pocket. Lucciani starts running after them in a rage, but he trips and stuns himself.
The children hide up a tree and when Lucciani comes round he returns to his car, dazed. They come down and examine the piece of paper - it is only half of a torn sheet, but it refers to treasure in a wood near a chateau, and ten paces to the east of a large rock.
|5.||Bonne nuit, Ulysse (Good night, Ulysse)||27 May 1968|
|That night Dominique's father takes a photograph of the piece of paper which they are sure is half of a treasure map, and places the original in the drawer of his desk. At 9 o'clock he sends Dominique to bed.|
At midnight Lucciani creeps into Dominique's garden and drugs her dog Ulysse. He quietly mounts the front steps and uses another of his keys to open the door. By torchlight Lucciani searches the house, first Dominique's father's jacket and then into the study where he eventually locates the treasure map in the desk drawer. In his delight at having found the map Lucciani knocks over a lamp. He hides as Dominique's father comes downstairs to investigate, but concluding that it must have been the cat that awoke him, father returns to bed. Lucciani makes to leave, but first he places a card with his initial "L" in the drawer.
Next morning Ulysse is awake again and Dominique joins her family for breakfast (croissants - "chic alors!" again). Her father is reading the newspaper, and sends Dominique to get the treasure map from the desk drawer. When she can't find it he comes to look himself. He finds Lucciani's calling card and realises what has happened. At least they still have a photograph of the treasure map.
|6.||C'est le trésor (It's the treasure)||10 Jun 1968|
|Patrick and Dominique go round all the shops in St Pourcain asking after Lucciani. Eventually coming to the baker's shop they discover that Lucciani had been there earlier that day, and he had asked the way to the Château de Bellefontaine. They immediately set off for the historic chateau - it is a long journey and a hot day, but they make it. The chateau seems to be deserted, they enter through an open door and walk quietly through the dark rooms, finally coming to the main hall. Patrick spots a suit of armour and calls Dominique to have a look at it. The suit of armour grabs Patrick.|
The man inside the armour is not Lucciani but the owner of the chateau, Mr Giraudon. The children tell Mr Giraudon that Lucciani is looking for the treasure and show him their photograph of the treasure map. The chateau owner tells the children to follow him to a bedroom, where he opens a safe in the wall and reveals the other half of the treasure map. They now have the full instructions to find the treasure, and Giraudon says he knows where to start looking.
|7.||Au secours! (Help!)||17 Jun 1968|
|The chateau owner takes the children to the large rock. They walk ten paces to the east and then begin digging three separate holes in the right area. They dig for a long time in the heat, but eventually Patrick hits something and stops digging. The three of them unearth a very heavy chest, and open it to reveal the long lost treasure.|
They rush off to get Mr Giraudon's car to transport the heavy treasure. On the way Dominique realises she has forgotten her pull-over and goes back to retrieve it. Lucciani is waiting for her. Dominique shouts for help, but Lucciani ties her up and puts her, and the treasure, in a stolen black car.
Patrick and Mr Giraudon go back to look for Dominique and discover that the treasure has disappeared. Patrick realises that it must be Lucciani who has stolen the treasure and kidnapped Dominique and they go to telephone the police immediately. Meanwhile Lucciani drives up to an adandoned farm. He tells Dominique that she will have to sleep on the hay, he cruelly thanks her for the treasure and declares that he has won. He puts on a false beard and a large overcoat and prepares to leave the country. He doesn't know that the police intend to close all the roads around St Pourcain.
|8.||Brave Ulysse! (Brave Ulysse!)||24 Jun 1968|
Ulysse knaws at Dominique's ropes and frees her and they set off for safety. They spot a strange man leaving the farm and Dominique realises it is Lucciani in disguise. She memorises his number plate. The girl and her dog set off walking down the long road to St Pourcain, but before they get too far they meet the police car containing Dominique's father. Dominique describes Lucciani's appearance and his car to the police chief and gives him the car number. The policeman transmits the details over the radio.
|Narrator||Emile de Harven|
Sylvia Declercq as Dominique Gobert
|Written by||Michel Faure|
|Music by||John Hosier|
A 28-page pamphlet referred to as the "reader", containing extracts from the script of each episode which children were encouraged to re-enact in class after viewing the programme, and various exercises to do with the French vocabulary in the story such a drawing the time "sept heures et demie" on a clock face and answering yes or no ("oui" or "non") questions.
There were illustrations throughout by Roger Payne, and the front and back covers had a green-coloured drawing of Lucciani chasing the children (Lucciani was on the back cover, and Patrick & Dominique on the front).
The teacher's notes basically contained the entire script of each programme, in French, although there were a few minor contractions and deviations between the text in the teacher's notes and that in the pupil's pamphlet. There were occasional stage directions given in English so that teachers could understand what was happening in the text before they viewed the programmes with the class. There were also brief suggestions for follow-up work after each episode.
The consultants for the series credited were:
- Miss N. Mulcahy, HMI, Schools Council
- Mr A. Spicer & Mr D. Grant, The Nuffield Foundation Foreign Language Teaching Materials Project
- Miss W. Newell, Oak Farm School, Hillingdon
- Mrs C. Coatsworth, Chideock Junior School, Bridgport, Dorest
Sources & References
- BBC (1968) La Chasse au Trésor Notes for the Teacher Summer Term 1968
- Education (1968) 'French without fears' in Education 19 January 1968 p.89
- Faure, Michel (1968) La Chasse au Trésor reader, London: BBC
- Fawdry, Kenneth (1967) 'School Television in the BBC' in Moir, Guthrie (ed) Teaching and Television: ETV Explained Oxford: Pergamon Press
- Fawdry, Kenneth (1974) Everything But Alf Garnett: A Personal View of BBC School Broadcasting, London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 12763 5 pp.111-112
- Radio Times television listings, 1968-1970
- Siegel, Paul (1973) 'Suivez la Piste' (review) in The French Review volume 46 number 3, February 1973 pp.683-684. (available online from JSTOR)
- TES (1968/I) 'Spot the B.B.C.'s villain' in Times Educational Supplement, 19 January 1968 p.194
- TES (1968/II) 'Only three episodes left' in Times Educational Supplement, 7 June 1968 p.1920
- Thomas, John Prescott (1980) 'Close Encounters - of four kinds: The development of BBC Schools Television language broadcasts' in British Journal of Language Teaching volume 9 numbers 2 & 3, autumn 1980, pp.107-113
- Visual Education (1968) 'La Chasse au Trésor' in Visual Education, February 1968 p.19
- With thanks to Philippe Paulino and Trevor Wells
- "sunshine and friendliness" quote from TES (1968/I)
- BBC (1968) p.2 - "don't switch off when the end credits begin as they are in French too!"
- Ronald Smedley "the pleasure of finding out" quote from Education (1968).
- The first BBC schools broadcast in French that I am aware of from the Radio Times listings was a series given by Albert Le Grip on the Glasgow station 5SC beginning on 6th June 1924. The first that I am aware of on the London station 2LO was a series of French Talks "under the auspices of L'Institut Français" which began on 3rd October 1924. The Early Stages in French series broadcast by the well-known Monsieur Stéphan began later in the decade. By 1960 there were weekly BBC school radio broadcasts in Early Stages in French (restarted after the war, but no longer with E. M. Stéphan!), Intermediate French and French for Sixth Forms, as well as two German series.
- "Television's advantages... are questionable" quote from Fawdry (1967) p.24
- According to Siegel (1973), Suivez la Piste was accompanied in America by a course pack containing a 224-page textbook, a set of tape reels or cassettes with dramatised readings of all 25 episodes of the series, two records with "listening comprehension tests" for each episode, and a 13-page teacher's guide. The article also promotes its use in schools.
- In his account of the French-language pilot, Kenneth Fawdry simply says that the programme's producer went on to co-produce Kenneth Clarke's Civilisation series, but does not name him. The co-producers of Civilisation were Michael Gill and Peter Montagnon, both of whom had worked in BBC schools television (for Gill this is confirmed by his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, 26 October 2005, and for Montagnon by John Cain & Brian Wright (1994) In a Class of Its Own... BBC Education 1924-1994 London: BBC, p.53). I believe Fawdry was referring to Montagnon rather than Gill for various reasons, for instance Gill was also the director of Civilisation, but Fawdry cited only the co-producer role.
Peter Montagnon went on to become the first head of the BBC Open University Production department in 1970 (Cain (1994) op cit).
- All information and quotes about the BBC schools TV pilot for a French-language series from Fawdry (1974) p.112
- Organisations providing "active participation" to La Chasse au Trésor cited in TES (1968). See the Teacher's Notes section for a list of the individuals from each organisation who acted as consultants to the series.
- "Happy blend" quote from Education (1968), "Christmas charade" quote from TES (1968/II), "commended the BBC" material attributed to L. John Burrows at a preview of the programmes in early 1968, in Visual Education (1968)
- Material about the general reception of the series & "enhanced our reputation" quote also from Fawdry (1974) p.112
- "Recalled with nostalgia" quote from Thomas (1980) p.107
- "were the dialogue in Chinese" quote also from Thomas (1980) p.107, attributed to "a distinguished radio colleague."
- "Grandson of La Chasse" quote from Thomas (1980) p.113
- The town where the story was filmed identified in BBC (1968) p.1
- Mes remerciements à Philippe Paulino, qui avait 12 ans à l'époque, pour ses souvenirs du tournage de la série!
- I have never seen the programmes, this page is based entirely on the sources listed above, including the original teacher's notes and pupil's reader. If you have seen them or have any more information , please get in touch by email.
- I would also like to read the 1969 IBA Fellowship report by K.J. Brown, Report on the role of television as a resource for learning in the field of Primary French, which apparently covered this series in some detail as well as the ATV series Primary French. Please get in touch by email if you can track down this or any other reports on the series.
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