DR STRANGES PSYCHEDELIC GARDEN..
In an occasional series, we bring to your attention cult TV programs of yesteryear which are of interest to you, our 208 friendly audience.
In this edition, Dr Strange explores the strange role of psychedelia in the imaginary world of UK children’s TV , 1968 - 79.
On the release of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, it seemed the counter-culture was fit to explode throughout the media in the UK. Strange TV programs appeared, such as 'Twice a fortnight', 'The Corridor People', & of course, the wonderful Monty Pythons Flying Circus.
Look a little deeper, my friend, & you will find a nerds delight in the realms of kids TV.
Superficially designed for kids, but I am sure most loved by wacked out students on a combination of rough scrumpy & marijuana, in the text below I will set you on a beginners guide. Kids TV then featured psychedelic delights where Floyd-esque theme tunes heralded time traveling school-kids encountering astrophysics, local mysticism & folklore, Eastern block spies as well as cheesecloth shirts, power cuts, Black Sabbath LPs & student sit-ins.
The first example is the wonderful THE OWL SERVICE, made on film in colour by Granada in Spring, 1969.
This is an intensely claustrophobic story of relationships within a very English (step) family and the staff of their holiday home. Set in an oppressive Welsh valley it focuses specifically on the experiences and tensions between three teenagers who are forced to relive an ancient "mythical" conflict. Using a tale from "The Mabinogion" as the basis for the conflict it explores the difficulty of growing up and dealing with attraction, jealousy, alienation, the pressures of family, responsibility and even national identity but places it all within a subtly creepy supernatural setting.
Got that? No, nor did I, but don’t worry. The very psychedelic settings & subject matter transport you to a world where TV was not dumbed down mass market fodder. Get home, put your feet up, get SF Sorrow on the CD player, & behold, the sound, face & mind of hip GB 1969!
On a similar theme, made in Wiltshire during the long hot summer of 1976, CHILDREN OF THE STONES was another eerie tale of long lost legends. (No, it is not a channel 5 documentary on Mick Jagger. Pay attention). The storyline is supernatural with plenty of information about the occult, ley lines, history and tradition. It doesn't hold back on the images of alcohol consumed, the village is truly 'English' the characters truly menacing, the plot, is well, unintelligible, but, the atmosphere is everything!!
Happy Day! (you have to watch it to know what I am on about)
On a less phantasmagorically level, THE JENSEN CODE, made in 1973 by ATV Midlands is the story of an outward bounds course where one of the teenagers unwittingly stumbles on a sinister ministry of defence establishment & sees too much....
The story begins with 16 year old Terry Connor (David Bradley from KES), sat alone in a cavern 100 feet underground whilst on a pot-holing expedition. The senior outward bounds instructor, Alex, has long since been missing in the depths of the cavernous subterranean pot named 'Wilmer Deep' after going to retrieve a torch that Terry had dropped earlier. When Alex returns (without the torch) he is strangely convinced that he has been away for a couple of minutes, but Terry knows that Alex has been away for more than a couple of hours. Alex believes that Terry has suffered hallucinations, which he says can be a side-effect of the confined darkness of an underground cavern. When they surface Terry believes he has seen a man watching them, to which Alex again suggests it is a hallucination and that Terry he is not cut out for pot-holing. Returning to the outward bounds centre Terry is subjected to much ribbing by his fellow students including the ring leader Jacko. (Yep, played by Karl Howman from Brush Strokes, believe it or not..) Terry is convinced that the centre, or the students at least, are being watched, and when the others inform Terry that there is a Ministry Of Defence research establishment nearby he begins to feel increasingly uneasy. Another instructor at the centre, Gordon, becomes aware of Terry's concerns and tells him that he believes his story that Alex had gone missing for two hours, but that he can't say much more than that.
Creepy, eh? Add to this a spooky 'More' era Floyd theme tune & your trip is complete.
Next up is THE TIMESLIP. Made by Thames between 1970 & 1972.
When a young girl vanishes near a derelict naval station in St. Oswald, a fantastic series of events is set in motion which sends teenagers Simon Randall and Liz Skinner back in time to 1940 and the very night when the base was taken over by a group of German marines. It also re-awakens the nightmare faced by Liz's father who was stationed there at the time as his former commanding officer turns up in St. Oswald seeking answers to the situation and creating questions about his true motives.
Yet another series dedicated to expanding the mind with tales of mystery & imagination. The above would not even be considered for commission now (most adults, yet alone kids would not start to comprehend the plot & want to turn over to OMG! with Peaches Geldof, a series more acid casualty than psychedelic, truly bizarre in its awfulness...)
Fast forward now to Southampton, 1979. Punk rock has happened, a violent cynicism is in the air. Here is NOAHS' CASTLE, written by the great kitchen sink kids author, John Rowe Townsend, & made by good ol' Southern TV. Written at a time in the seventies when unemployment, strikes and inflation were rampant, there was always a severe threat that civil disorder and a breakdown of society could occur. (Recommended watching, all you Con-Dem voters). The T.V. series were very much of the time, & maybe this.
The part that stands out the most, was the ending each week. Soldiers wearing Northern Ireland style riot gear, surrounded by armoured vehicles were seen on a hilltop on the outskirts of a large town. Radio announcements were heard being broadcast & each week the situation seemed to be worsening. The news being broadcast was usually about people striking for higher wage demands or higher food prices & inflation running riot.
The series which was broadcast in 1980 was set in the near future. There is still a possibility that what occurred in the T.V. series could come true in real life. A Great Britain rocked by inner city rioting & looting, very similar to that portrayed in Noah's Castle. It was a frightening and worrying theme.
So, there you go. Great stories, soundtracks & clothes, all wrapped up on a few cheap time-warp DVDs. Go on - investigate!! None of 'em are as psychedelic as Mr Benn though....