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Sunday 18 February 2024

The Dark is Rising (radio play)

Wyrd Britain reviews the Radio 4 adaptation of 'The Dark is Rising' by Susan Cooper.
Published 8 years after it's predecessor, 'The Dark is Rising', returned Susan Cooper to her Arthurian world but relocated the action from Cornwall to the Thames Valley.  

The story of Will Stanton, last of 'The Old Ones', is another episodic quest as the newly minted magician comes into his power by locating lost artifacts.  What elevates this beyond that first book however is Cooper's commitment to developing a coherent, mythic storyworld that is interwoven with icons of folkloric Britain, something she would continue to elaborate on across the rest of the series.  

This excellent adaptation was made for Radio 4 in 1997 and unfortunately was the last one they made which was a real shame as it's from the next book, 'Greenwitch', that entwines the characters from the first two books that the series truly shines but don't let that stop you listening as this is fabulous.  

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Sunday 11 February 2024

Over Sea and Under Stone (radio play)

Susan Cooper published 'Over Sea and Under Stone', the first in what would become known as 'The Dark is Rising Sequence' through Jonathan Cape in 1965.  It's the story of the Drew children, Simon, Jane and Barney, visiting with their great uncle Merriman Lyon in the (fictional) Conish town of Trewissick where, following their discovery of an old map, they become involved in a hunt for the Holy Grail. 

I first read Cooper's series as an adult and shorn of the wonder of a child I've long been of the opinion that this first book is definitely the weakest of the five, far too firmly entrenched in the Enid Blyton tradition of children's books whereas the others increasingly embrace a more complex Alan Garner-esque mythic storyworld and are all the better for it.  This adaptation made for Radio 4 and broadcast in 1995 is the first time I've revisited it since and I enjoyed it far more in this format.  An entirely sympathetic dramatisation with a strong cast it works well in this format with the tension kept at a peak as the three kids race around the village.

Unfortunately only the first two books of the sequence were dramatised (I'll return to the second soon) which is a real shame as the others - particularly books 3, 4 & 5 -  really are quite wonderful and I'd have loved to hear what they would have done with them.


Sunday 4 February 2024

Ancient Sorceries

Wyrd Britain presents 'Ancient Sorceries' by Algernon Blackwood read by Philip Madoc.
Algernon Blackwood's 'Ancient Sorceries' was first published in 'John Silence' the 1908 collection of five stories featuring Blackwood's titular occult detective.  The story revolves around the tale of meek and mousey Arthur Vezin who after impetuously disembarking from a train somewhere in France finds himself curiously disinclined to leave the sleepy little village of surreptitiously watchful people.  With Silence sidelined for the majority of the story we get is a fabulous, slowly unfolding story of a man entangled in history.

This adaptation was made for the BBC in 2005 and is, for the most part, beautifully read by Philip Madoc although his French accent has a distinct whiff of 'Allo 'Allo about it.


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Thursday 1 February 2024

The Birds (radio play)

Wyrd Britain reviews the BBC adaptation of 'The Birds' by Daphne du Maurier.
Although published in 1952 it was the Hitchcock movie adaptation eleven years later that thrust Daphne du Maurier's short story of a world held hostage by angry avians, 'The Birds', firmly into the wider public consciousness and gave every sighting of a flock a degree of menace.  

Unlike the movie du Maurier's original story revolves around the family of a disabled farm labourer, recently returned from the war, and struggling to find work in Cornwall and this adaptation by Melissa Murray for Radio 4 , featuring Neil Dudgeon ('Midsomer Murders') and Nicola Walker ('The Last Train'), keeps that premise whilst making some judicious changes to the narrative, both narrowing it's focus and widening it's scope, but retaining the essential character of the original in a bleakly claustrophobic story.

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Sunday 28 January 2024

A Short Film About John Bolton

Wyrd Britain reviews 'A Short Film About John Bolton' by Neil Gaiman.
John Bolton is a British artist known for his work, predominantly in the horror field, for British comics like 'Look In', 'House of Hammer' & 'Warrior', US comic publishers such as Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, card games publishers Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf, his paintings of vampiric ladies and, perhaps most crucially to Wyrd Britain readers, for his drawings of the ghouls in the graveyard in the movie 'The Monster Club'

The film is presented as a roughly cut documentary, fronted by Marcus Brigstocke, focussed on the first gallery exhibition of Bolton's vampire paintings.  Bolton - who appears in the film as an interviewee at the exhibition launch - is played by actor John O'Mahoney, and is shown as socially awkward and reticent of both the gallery show and the film eventually relenting to allowing Brigstock access to his studio located in the crypt of an old church at the centre of a suitably gothic graveyard.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'A Short Film About John Bolton' by Neil Gaiman.
Developed from his own fictionalised biography ('Drawn in Darkness') this mockumentary written and directed by Neil Gaiman - who's worked with Bolton several times on stories such as  'The Books of Magic' & 'Halequin Valentine' - is, in his words, "an investigation into where artists get their ideas from".  Gaiman's status as a novice film-maker works to his advantage here and the occasional clumsiness plays to both the mockumentary form and the 'unfinished' nature of the documentary and the end result is a fun, tongue in cheek tribute to Bolton and his influences that owes a debt to H.P. Lovecraft’s 'Pickman’s Model'.


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Friday 26 January 2024

The Art Of Punk - Crass - The Art of Dave King and Gee Vaucher

A video created by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for a short series of videos under the 'Art of Punk' banner which also featured Raymond Pettibon's art for Black Flag and Winston Smith's for the Dead Kennedys.

Graphic designer and musician David King met future Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud and artist Gee Vaucher at college in the 1960 and later moved into the Dial House commune with them and many of the other Crass members.  Once there he designed, what became, the bands iconic logo that has adorned a milliion bus shelters and underpasses, a design that mixed a cross, the ouroboros, the Union flag, and a swastika.

Whilst this short film predominantly focuses on King and his logo it would be as remiss of me as it was of the film makers not to highlight the importance of the work of Gee Vaucher, the visual artist to the Crass music.  Vaucher's designs for the group were every bit as essential to the experience as the words and the music.  As profound as they were provocative and as insightful as they were incisive her artwork was the perfect visual catalyst to the musical storm. They provided a visual element that enhanced and deepened the listening experience and I cannot even begin to quantify the amount of time I have spent lost in her work.

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Sunday 14 January 2024

The Kraken Wakes (Radio Drama 1998)

Newly weds Michael (Jonathan Cake) and Phyllis Watson (Saira Todd) have, via his job for the English Broadcasting Company (EBC), intermittent front row seats at the beginning, middle and end of the end of human civilisation as they know it as they pursue the apocalyptic theories of the vilified scientist Dr. Alistair Bocker (Russell Dixon) with regard to the arrival and intent of the extraterrestrial visitors who have taken up residence at the bottom of the ocean.

This BBC Radio 4 adaptation of John Wyndham's alien invasion / monsters from the deep / ecological disaster classic was made in 1998 but sounds far, far older which is testament to the care of the creators but does give it quite a dated feel.  It is though a solid performance of what I personally think to be a prescient but fairly stodgy book as Wyndham weaves a slowly unfolding story of goverment misinformation and misdirection and the general public's inability to react appropriately in the face of an obvious threat.  Some narrative corners are cut, not entirely successfully, particularly in the middle when Michael 'goes on holiday', but they tell the story concisely, conclusively and enjoyably if perhaps just a touch too reverentially.

 
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Wednesday 10 January 2024

The Last Laugh

'The Last Laugh' by D.H. Lawrence
First published in 1928 D.H. Lawrence's 'The Last Laugh' is the story of a manifestation of the God Pan in Hampstead on a winters night. 

Miss James and her friend Marchbank's, along with a young policeman they meet on their journey, are walking home through the snow when they experience the God's return, an event that impacts them all in profound ways.

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Sunday 7 January 2024

The Exorcism of Amy

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Exorcism of Amy' from Dramarama Spooky.
There were only three TV shows that scared me as a kid, Assignment 4 of Sapphire & Steel (the photograph one), the shadow sitting in the armchair in the opening titles of Armchair Thriller and, when I was thirteen and off school ill, watching the Dramarama episode, 'The Exorcism of Amy', which freaked my fever riddled brain right out.

The story is partly narrated by Elizabeth (Annabelle Lanyon) an only child whose family gives a home to a troubled young girl named Amy (Lucy Benjamin - Eastenders' 'Lisa Fowler') who brings with her, Amelia (also played by Benjamin), her malevolent imaginary friend who has spoiled all her previous homes.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Exorcism of Amy' from Dramarama Spooky.
Made for the 'Spooky' series that preceded ITV's long running 'Dramarama' series, written by Paula Milne ('Gemini Factor') it hasn't aged as well as some of the things we feature here but appearing to be filmed in a translucent, minimalist, dreamscape complete with a nightmarish fancy dress party, a shattering sting in the tail and with strong central performances from the two girls it was certainly fun to revisit and a reminder of just how much film-makers of the time loved to terrify their young viewers.


Wednesday 3 January 2024

Smith: An Episode in a Lodging House

Read by Hugh Ross for 'Book at Bedtime' in 2006 this Algernon Blackwood short story concerns a Doctor (although not John Silence) and an occult communion gone array.

The vital and materialist young doctor is disturbed in his lodgings on several escalating occasions by his enigmatic downstairs neighbour, Smith, a source of mystery to the other residents, which culminates in a terrifying midnight rescue and, perhaps worst of all, an unreturned book.

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Sunday 24 December 2023

Playmates

'Playmates' by A.M. Burrage.
A.M. Burrage was the author of numerous stories of the supernatural but, with the exception of a couple of well known tales that have often appeared in ghost story collections - 'Smee', 'The Waxwork', 'One Who Saw' and 'Playmates' - and having been chamioned by such ghost story luminaries as M.R. James and Richard Dalby he has remained outside the awareness of many readers.  Happily this seems to be changing with the British Library's recent Burrage collection, 'The Little Blue Flames', placing him in a series of releases that stands him shoulder to shoulder with the likes of James, Algernon Blackwood and Edgar Allan Poe.  

Benign but aloof historian Stephen Everton unexpectedly adopts, Monica, the daughter of a distant, and dissolute, artist aquaintance.  Everton's whim is to allow the child to essentially raise and educate herself by providing for her needs whilst allowing her free access to his extensive library.  Within this loveless environment Monica slowly matures exactly as one would expect until that is a relocation of the household to the countryside elicits a change in the girl as she discovers new playmates.

'Playmates' was first published in Burrage's 1927 collection 'Some Ghost Stories' and is a gentle and rather lovely story that only hints at a darker world beyond. It's primary concerns are far more earthly and it tells a story of the importance of love and companionship and it's long been my favourite ghostly tale.

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Friday 22 December 2023

Doctor Who: The Scorched Earth

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Doctor Who: The Scorched Earth' read by Geoffrey Beevers.
Taken from the 1975 Doctor Who annual and read by Geoffrey Beevers (The Master in 'The Keeper of Traken') this is a lovely little daft Third Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith tale.  Here Doctor Who (as they call him here) and Sarah-Jane are held captive by farmers whose crops have died due to "fire from the sky".  Given only until nightfall to help make the ground fertile again the doctor does so in the most unscientific way possible.  

It's a story very much from another time and for another audience but you have to kinda love the charm of these old stories written to entertain a sugared out kid three quaters of their way through a selection box on Christmas Day evening while the parents sleep off their dinner.  

It's fun but rubbish, or perhaps that should be, it's rubbish but fun or possibly both, just take it with a pinch of salt.


Tuesday 19 December 2023

Voices in the Valley

'Barrowbeck, in the north of England, has a reputation for strangeness. It is a place that brings out the sin in people. But despite the dark isolation, people have lived there for centuries until the river got the better of them.'

Andrew Michael Hurley ('The Loney', 'Devil's Day', 'Starve Acre') presents 10 Aickman-esque tales revolving around the Northern English village of Barrowbeck.  Made for the BBC the stories are read by Maxine PeakeReece Shearsmith, Alexandra Hannant, David Schofield, Siobhan Finneran, Paul Hilton, Toby Jones, Tamsin Greig, David Hounslow and Jessica Raine and tell the story of the town and it's troublesome river in stories that touch on science fiction and folk horror and tell of fertility and fairs, divorce and drownings, hibernation and hauntings in perfectly formed - and performed - little vignettes.

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Sunday 17 December 2023

The Image

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Image' starring David Bowie and Michael Byrne.
Here we have a no budget black and white short film from 1967 that would have possibly been of no interest to anyone beyond being an early curio in the filmography of director Michael Armstrong (future director of The Haunted House of Horror and screenwriter of House of the Long Shadows) but for the casting of a 20yr old David Bowie, still two years away from 'Space Oddity', in his first film role.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Image' starring David Bowie and Michael Byrne.
The film purports to be "a study of the illusionary reality world within the schizophrenic mind of the artist at his point of creativity" and I have no intention to gainsay it and what we get is a silent, staring Bowie enigmatically tormenting the artist (Michael Byrne) of the painting from which the elegantly beautiful young man seems to have emerged.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Image' starring David Bowie and Michael Byrne.
The music by Noel Janus (father of actress Samantha Womack (née Janus)) is wonderfully strange but the general sound work is brutally clumsy and far too loud in the mix whilst Bowie who often displayed more enthusiasm than ability in is acting is decidedly, and perhaps deliberately, wooden here.  But, it's a fascinatingly hallucinatory and violent slice of 60s arthouse cinema that must have made for a successful ardour dampener in it's original screening at the Jacey Cinema in Piccadilly Circus sandwiched, much to Bowie's delight, between two porn films.*



* (My thanks to Collin Brennan for this article which provided that info)
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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain 

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Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Music on the Hill

Wyrd Britain presents 'The Music on the Hill' by Saki from Jackanory Spine Chillers.

Taken from the 1980 BBC1 Jackanory spinoff 'Spine Chillers' that featured abridged readings of classic spooky stories by the likes of H.G. Wells, M.R. JamesJohn Wyndham and in this instance Saki, read by Jonathan Pryce.

First published in 1911 in 'The Chronicles of Clovis', 'The Music on the Hill' tells the story of Sylvia who, having finally coaxed her new husband Mortimer away from town to his country home, falls foul of the God Pan after she spurns his existence and interferes with his shrines.


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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain


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