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Lassie

Generations of children have grown up wanting a dog just like Lassie. The fictional rough collie was created by author, Eric Knight, in his classic 1940 novel. Despite the book being written 77 years ago, the timeless story of a boy's special bond with his dog is still relevant today.

Lassie

Born in Yorkshire in 1897, Knight was the youngest of three sons, whose family emigrated to America in 1912. After serving in the Armed Forces, he began writing in the 1930s. His early novels were gritty portrayals of life for the working classes in northern England.

Knight and his wife, Jere Brylawski, raised collies at their home on Springhouse Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The story of Lassie first appeared as a children's short story written by Knight in 1938 for the Saturday Evening Post newspaper.

It was expanded into a novel in 1940 and told the heart-warming story of an impoverished family in Depression-era England, who were forced to sell their rough collie, Lassie, because they had no money. Lassie has other ideas and undertakes a long journey to be reunited with her young owner.

The book was made into an American TV series in 1954, which ran until 1973 on CBS. Spanning 17 seasons, it became the fourth longest-running series on prime-time television. Telling a different story each week of Lassie's adventures in a rural farming community, the plot was transferred to America.

Lassie was also the inspiration for seven Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films between 1943 and 1951, with a dog actor called Pal playing the title role. The first film, Lassie Come Home (starring Roddy McDowall and a very young Elizabeth Taylor), paved the way for the hugely successful franchise of feature films.

Sadly, Eric Knight wasn't around to see his story's massive success, as in January 1943, he died at the age of just 45 serving in the US Army's Special Services - he died in a C-54 plane crash in Dutch Guiana, in South America.

In 2005, a new Lassie film featuring the famous dog was made by Samuel Goldwyn Films, starring Peter O'Toole, Edward Fox, Jonathan Mason and Samantha Morton. It focused on the unique bond between Joe Carraclough and his dog, Lassie. Joe's father Sam was a miner struggling to feed his family, so he sells Lassie to the Duke of Rudling as a pet for his granddaughter.

However, Lassie keeps trying to go home to Joe, mainly because the duke's servant Hynes continually scares her. However, Hynes denies this and wrongly blames Joe for taking her. During a summer holiday in the Scottish Highlands, Lassie runs away from the duke and his family and begins a 500-mile journey to get home to Joe, having lots of adventures on the way.

She evades cruel dog-catchers and spends some time living on a circus, before running off again and finally arriving home on Christmas Day, collapsing with exhaustion outside the church where her family are inside celebrating Christmas. When they emerge from church to find Lassie cold and very sick, they rush her to the vet, who warns she may not survive.

Of course, it's a happy ending, as Lassie does survive, and evil Hynes gets his just desserts when the duke finds out he mistreated Lassie - he is sacked. Seeing the bond between Joe and Lassie, the duke relinquishes ownership of the dog and even gives Sam a job on his estate, so the family can move into their new home there.

The film won the Women Film Critics Circle Awards' Best Family Film award of 2006 and the Irish Film and Television Awards' Best Sound in Film/TV Drama in 2007. It also received nominations for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards' Best Family Live Action Film in 2007 and the Young Artist Awards' Leading Young Actor award of 2007, for Jonathan Mason's portrayal of Joe.

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