Sunday, 26 August 2018

Sky

Sky (1975) title screen
Made by HTV West - who were also responsible for such wyrd wonders as 'Children of the Stones', 'Into the Labyrinth', 'Arthur of the Britons' and 'Robin of Sherwood' - 'Sky' is the story of a young man with solid blue eyes and strange powers found, buried under some leaves, in the woods who turns out to be a traveller from another time and dimension who has landed in 1970's Britain by mistake (as if anyone would go there on purpose).  Needing to find the 'Juganet' (a circle of power) that will enable him to complete his journey he co-opts the help of a trio of kids but ranged against them are the forces of nature in the shape of trees (leaves seem to particularly dislike him), wildlife and a spontaneously generated 'human' named Ambrose Goodchild (Robert Eddison) as the Earth tries to rid itself of this anomaly.

Sky uses his powers to stop Arby from leaving the cave.
Sky - the character - is an utterly alien presence who considers himself almost a god and views his helpers with a disdain bordering on contempt which makes him difficult to like.  We assume his motives are pure - he is the title character after all - but his manner is less than endearing.  Marc Harrison plays him with an ethereal otherworldliness that keeps him above and beyond his mortal helpers.

Written by the Doctor Who writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin the show is unapologetically odd. It makes no bones of it's contempt for the short-sightedness and self-destructive nature of contemporary society and like many of it's contemporaries it has at its core an ecological and almost neo-pagan sensibility that revolves around earth magic and, of course, ancient stone monuments.

Sky (1975) stonehenge
There are some definite pacing issues and it certainly could have benefited from trimming off an episode but it is, on the whole, a wonderfully disconcerting watch and another in that great 1970s tradition of making shows for kids that had the power to actually terrify them.  Scenes of Sky and his cohort being attacked by plants and animals soundtracked with a tumultuous, synthesised, atonal, sonic squall (courtesy of Eric Wetherell) are still as effective as they were 43 years ago and the series remains as disturbingly strange and enjoyable as it ever was.

Buy it here - Sky - The Complete Series [DVD] - or watch it below.



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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Alan Moore on the 20th Century

Alan Moore talks about the 20th Century
I became a fan of Alan Moore immediately on reading D.R.& Quinch and The Ballad of Halo Jones in 2000AD as a kid and I remained so over the intervening years with books like Swamp Thing, From Hell, Lost Girls, Miracleman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and so very many more holding very dear places in my heart.

Here, in a free-wheeling discussion with journalist and author John Higgs, Mr. Moore gives forth on his theories of the artistic and cultural life of the 20th century via H.P. Lovecraft as a barometer of his time, the development of science fiction, politicians and pigs.

I will happily listen to Moore talk on any topic as he's always captivating and full of interesting connections and insights but here especially he is talking about things I find particularly fascinating and hopefully you do too.



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Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Man with the Power

Boysie (Willie Jonah) and Brian (Johnny Briggs) in The Mind Beyond: The Man With the Power
We've previously featured another episode from the 1976 BBC 2 Playhouse series 'The Mind Beyond' on Wyrd Britain with the episode 'Stones', a very enjoyable rural horror about a politician's dangerously daft plan to relocate Stonehenge to London's Hyde Park.

This episode, 'The Man with the Power', was written by Evan Jones (who also wrote oddball WWII football movie 'Escape to Victory') this is the story of builders labourer Boysie (Willie Jonah) who discovers that the 'second sight' he inherited from his mother is getting stronger when he remotely experiences his colleague's (Johnny Briggs - Coronation Street's Mike Baldwin) automobile accident.  Awed by his gift and by the various reactions of those around him he embarks on a spiritual quest that leads him to the Devil and beyond. 

Adler (Cyril Cusack) and Boysie (Willie Jonah) gather herbs in The Mind Beyond: The Man With the Power
It's an odd one this.  Apart from a nicely twitchy turn by Geoffrey (Catweazle) Bayldon as a paranormal investigator and a show stealing appearance by Cyril Cusack as another sensitive the acting is pretty poor throughout with both Jonah and Vikki Richards, who plays his girlfriend Gloria, indulging in some serious scenery chewing.  The dialogue is clunky and the characters are pretty much universally unlikeable with Briggs' Brian (and others) spouting some dodgy 1970s racial politics.  There's an underlying theme of the responsibilities of power and the corrupting influence of material goods and a general gist that we are possibly watching the wilderness years of a new messiah but it's pretty clumsily done and the plot is generally unfocused repeatedly heading off in strange directions that are rarely fully explored such as Boysie's encounter with the old lady and the unexpectedly homoerotic turn that Boysie's ultimate meeting with the Devil takes.

But, with all that said, it did keep me watching; I just don't know why.

Did I enjoy it?  No, not particularly.  Would I watch it again? Maybe, but probably not.  Do I recommend it? Not really.  Yet, here it is.  Make of it what you will.



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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

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Here Comes...Dredd

Bod was (most famously) a 13 episode animated series created in 1975.  It was based on a quartet of books by Joanne and Michael Cole (who also created 'Fingerbobs'), featured narration by John Le Mesurier and music by Derek Griffiths (including that instantly recognisable theme tune).  It's fabulous stuff and has deservedly earned it's place in the annals of children's television and in the hearts of successive generations.

Particularly it would seem in the heart of the animator behind HappyToast where it shares space with 2000ADs most iconic character Judge Dredd because he has created this most wonderful mash-up of the two which also features the Angel Gang, the four Dark Judges and a perfect Le Mesurier impersonation.

This has been around for a while now and deserves lots more love because it's a gloriously daft work of twisted genius and I absolutely adore it.



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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

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Chocky (1984)

Title screen of the Chocky TV series with the name John Wyndham
Matthew Gore is an ordinary sort of 12 year old; he can't draw particularly well, he's average at maths and isn't much good at cricket; that is until someone else takes up residence in his head.  That someone is an extra-terrestrial entity named Chocky and unusually for these sort of things she's not there to cause trouble.

Published in 1968 'Chocky' was John Wyndham's final novel. A YA novel of sorts; it's  rather gentle story marks a departure from the more overt post-apocalyptic scenarios - The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids -  that he was known for and in it's place is essentially a science fiction family drama that offers a different take on the idea of a possession or haunting.

Chocky appears  to Matthew in his bedroom.
Adapted by former Doctor Who script editor Anthony Read (who also wrote episodes for both Sapphire and Steel and The Omega Factor) the show for the most part stays very close to the source material with a few minor changes such as making Chocky telekinetic and allowing her a physical manifestation of sorts.

It's a beautifully made series that just like the book exists in the hinterland between a kids story and one with a more adult nature.  The cast are uniformly excellent with Wyrd Britain regular, James Hazeldine (The Omega Factor, The Last Train, Ride, Ride) and Carol Drinkwater (All Creatures Great and Small) as Matthew's parents providing solid performances around which the show revolves and with Andrew Ellams producing a nicely measured performance as Matthew pulling off that most rare feat for a child actor of not being precocious or irritating.  My only complaint would be that the book's weak third act isn't improved any by seeing it on film.

The success of the series led to two more being produced that took Matthew and his alien friend on further adventures which we'll return to another time.

Enjoy.

Buy it here - Chocky [DVD] - or watch it below.



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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

Thursday, 9 August 2018

3 Wyrd Things: Paul Magrs

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician. 

First up, Paul Magrs.

Paul Magrs lives and writes in Manchester. In a twenty-five year writing career he has published novels in every genre from Literary to Gothic Mystery to Science Fiction for adults and young adults. His most recent books include the concluding volume in a science fiction trilogy for kids - ‘The Heart of Mars’ (Firefly Press), and ‘Fellowship of Ink’ (Snow Books) which continues the multi-volumed saga of Brenda, the long lost Bride of Frankenstein. He has taught Creative Writing at both the University of East Anglia and Manchester Metropolitan University, and now writes full time

Paul's writing is always an absolute joy to read; it's 'War of the Worlds' as written by Alan Bennett and it's 'Hammer House of Are You Being Served'. His work is gloriously individual and utterly rooted in everything that makes British science fiction and horror so much fun and we are honoured to have him write the first in this new series.

More info on Paul's writing can be found on his website - Life on Magrs.

He is appearing at the Corner Theatre, Charlotte Square, as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival at 7pm Tuesday 14th August.
 
The dcovers of the 4 books in the Armada Sci-Fi series edited by Richard Davis
Books
Armada was the most amazing and – I think – undervalued of children’s publishers in Britain of the Seventies. Never as classy as Puffin or Piccolo, their books were readily found in the paperback carousels of newsagents and motorway service station shops. A little cheaper, a little tackier and often a lot more fun. My favourite thing they did was their anthologies: umpteen volumes of ghost tales, mostly edited by the remarkable Mary Danby, and six books of Monster stories curated by the semi-legendary R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Best of all, to my mind, were the Armada Sci-Fi Books one through to four. Every story is a gem – juxtaposing shops and tower blocks with alien visitors and space fleets from afar. Richard Davis was the editor and these books are vanishing from Ebay, from endangered bookshops and from the face of the earth itself. They must be collected and preserved.


TV
Two ladies share a joke in Three Salons at the Seaside
‘Three Salons at the Seaside’ is the most wonderful piece of telly I know. It’s a forty minute fly-on-the-wall documentary from 1994, produced for the BBC and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe. All it asks is that we sit quietly in the corner of three different hair salons in Blackpool during a rainy Monday (it feels like) as the sky blows and glooms outside and the elderly ladies come trogging in, in twos and threes, to have their rinses and blow-waves done. We eavesdrop on alarming conversations about death and disaster and all manner of frailties and scandal. We discover the secret of the communal funeral handbag and we marvel, basically, at these wonderful, watchful, eloquent faces as they mull over the meaning of everything, sitting under the driers. Outside a young girl flies back and forth on roller skates and the music is just exquisite; jaunty, hopeful and achingly nostalgic. It’s the best bit of telly there’s ever been, in my humble opinion.
Watch it here


The cover art to the Geoff Love and his Orchestra - Star Wars and other space themes LP
Record
For a record I’d like to pick out Geoff Love’s ‘Space Themes’ – a picture of the cover appeared recently on this page. That marvellously copyright-infringement-dodging painting drew my eye back in 1978, when Fine Fare opened a late-opening megastore in our town precinct and offered all kinds of fantastic records and stuff to lavish your pocket money on. This album – joined by many other Geoff Love classics – has lived in my treasured collection ever since. The rendition of the Doctor Who theme is like the pulsating, thrilling, technicolour cinematic version that the Seventies failed to bring us.

Many years later, in 2011, when I was writing Doctor Who stories for AudioGo I played this version of the theme to myself, to get me in the mood for a day’s recording near Charlotte Street in Soho. I sat outside a Greek cafĂ© at eight in the morning, anticipating a day in studio creating a story I’d cheekily called ‘Tsar Wars’ – a kind of retelling of ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’ set in 1970s outer space.

We had a rather large cast arriving at about nine o’clock. I was there early, eating a bacon sandwich, sipping frothy coffee, enjoying the sun sliding over the canyons of Fitzrovia. The Geoff Love Dr Who theme was playing loudly and… at that very moment Tom Baker came galumphing round the corner. He was swinging a bag of cakes and sweets he was bringing to share with everyone at the recording.

It was a completely magical moment. There was no one else there on the street. He noticed me and gave a jaunty wave. And that moment became one of my favourites of all time: set to the tune of that disco-era Doctor Who.

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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

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Nightmare Stacks

Front cover of Charles Stross' The Nightmare Stacks
Charles Stross
Orbit
Recorded Books

Alex Schwartz had a promising future - until he contracted an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain's only counter-occult secret agency.
His first assignment is in Leeds - his old hometown. The thought of telling his parents that he's lost his old job, let alone them finding out about his 'condition', is causing Alex more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses.His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student appearing in the local Goth Festival, who flirts with him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock.
But Cassie has secrets of her own - secrets that make Alex's night life seem positively normal .


Let me start by saying Gideon Emery has ruined these books.  I tried reading one recently and just couldn't do it without my internal monologue defaulting to a piss poor imitation of his voice and so I had to give up and revert back to the fantastic audio versions that he reads.

'The Nightmare Stacks' is another Bob-less Laundry book and one that's going to blow the whole secret open as Britain is invaded by magical elfy types from another dimension.

The story follows Alex Schwartz one of the newly recruited 'Phangs' (vampires) - left over from a previous novel - as he scouts a new Laundry headquarters in Leeds.  The book is very much in the tradition of the series - lots of policy wonking - and tapping into a particular literary trope - in this case the fantasy novel - but like the superhero one that preceded it things have gone really overt as the endgame comes slowly into sight.  I'm not entirely in favour of this as I do prefer the more covert side of things and I think this and it's predecessor have been by far the weakest books in the series but Stross is an eminently readable (Damn you Emery!) listenable writer and this series is pretty much always a delight to read / hear.

Buy it here - The Nightmare Stacks: A Laundry Files novel

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Stigma

Title screen for Stigma from A Ghost Story For Christmas
'Stigma' is one of the three non M.R. James adaptations made by the BBC for their 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' and the first of the two that broke with the tradition of adapting a classic ghostly tale.

Written in 1977 by screenwriter Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place, Agatha Christie's Poirot, Jeeves & Wooster) it tells the story of a couple Katherine (Kate Binchy) & Peter (Peter Bowles) and their teenaged daughter Verity (Maxine Gordon) who move to a house in the country beside a stone circle (Avebury) and unwisely decide to remove one of the stones from their garden.  A sudden gust of wind coincides with the lifting of the stone and the beginning of Katherine's troubles.

Kate Binchy washing off the blood in Stigma A Ghost Story for Christmas
The enigmatic nature of stone circles has long been  a source of inspiration for writers with a tendency towards the wyrd and the 70s seemed a particularly fertile time for dramas centred around them with 'Children of the Stones' and 'Stones' appearing in early 1977 and 1976 respectively and the 'Ringstone Round' shenanigans of the 'Quatermass Conclusion' in 1979 (and I'm positive there were many more).

As a traditional Christmas ghost story it kind of misses the mark a little with it's summery, contemporary setting but it is a very effective and haunting, body horror with a fine central performance from Binchy.  The writing is tight with not a second of the limited run time wasted and it's only the clunky bit of exposition at the end that slightly mars a nicely macabre tale.

Buy it here - Ghost Stories for Christmas - or watch it below.

Don't be fooled by the 56 minute run time shown on the bottom of the player. 'Stigma' is actually only 30 minutes long and then the video doubles back on itself( to confuse those pesky bots).

* For those of you who are sensitive to this sort of thing please be aware that there is partial female nudity in this film.



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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