Tuesday 31 July 2018

Sapphire and Steel - Top Ten TV

Joanna Lumley and David McCallum
"No spaceships, no ray guns, no men in silver suits.  It was about atmosphere, fear and creaky stairs." - P.J. Hammond

Below is a short - very short - discussion about Sapphire and Steel from a show called 'Top Ten TV'.  Presented by Nick Frost it includes contributions from writer PJ Hammond and lead actor David McCallum alongside the usual vaguely irritating types that populate these sort of shows.  It's an innocuous but fun little watch and it uses 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' by Bauhaus as background music which always adds to the proceedings.

If this has wet your appetite you can find a much longer documentary here:
Sapphire and Steel: Counting Out Time

Watch the series here:
Sapphire and Steel

Or you can buy the box set here:
Sapphire and Steel: The Complete Series (Repackaged) [2008] [DVD]


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Sunday 29 July 2018

To Kill A King

Title screen from To Kill A King
Alan Garner's 'To Kill A King' was the final episode of the supernatural anthology series 'Leap In The Dark' that ran for 4 series on BBC2 between 1973 and 1980.  Whilst the early series were documentaries the latter two consisted of various dramas written by the likes of Garner, Fay Weldon (author of 'The Life and Loves of a She-Devil') and (the writer of 'Penda's Fen') David Rudkin.

In 'To Kill A King' Garner tells an autobiographically tinged story of an author, Harry (Anthony Bate, Oliver Lacon in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'), haunted by a disconnect with his restless muse as he battles against writer's block or of man rapidly descending into depression and madness as he rages against the turmoil of his mind.

Harry finds a stone head in the pond in To Kill A King by Alan Garner
Garner has spoken in the past of his struggles with depression and in many ways this seem like an exploration of its causes as Harry is pressured from all sides - by colleagues, family, fans but most of all by himself - and as a result 'his head' is submerged in muddy water unable to see the light, a terrifying prospect that throws him into even deeper water. 

As you may have inferred the play is heavy on symbolism with Harry reaching a decision as he emerges from a dark tunnel and the idea of inspiration as a transmission from elsewhere embodied by the presence of Jodrell Bank Observatory at the end of his garden and the plethora of communications technology - typewriter, telephone, television - that haunts him and it's not until he uses 'his head' to break their hold that his muse settles and his block lifts.

The finished piece is an oddly compelling collision of supernatural tale with psychodrama that offers an interestingly ambiguous take on both.


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Sunday 22 July 2018

The Waiting Room

Title screen from Shadows - The Waiting Room
The producers of 'Shadows', a mid 70s supernatural anthology series for kids, had a talent for attracting well respected writers and actors to their programme.  Here on Wyrd Britain we've already featured an episode written by Susan Cooper ('Dark Encounter') and one by PJ Hammond ('And Now For My Next Trick') and hidden amongst the three series are episodes written by Joan Aiken, Penelope Lively, Fay WeldonJ. B. Priestley.  The casting could be equally solid with appearances from British acting stalwarts like Jacqueline Pearce, Brian Glover, Gareth Thomas and, in this case, Jenny Agutter.

'The Waiting Room' finds a brother and sister having to spend the night in a deserted and isolated railway station after missing the last train home.  Whilst there they experience a 50 year time slip to 1925 where they are witness to a train crash before a slip back to their own time sees those same events begin to repeat themselves.

Paul Henley and Jenny Agutter in Shadows - The Waiting Room
'The Waiting Room' despite it's nicely dingy single set never really manages to achieve a satisfying level of claustrophobia and you can't quite shake the feeling that you are watching a village hall am-dram production with one standout actor amongst it's cast. Agutter is, of course, rock solid and anchors the proceedings nicely but her co-star, Paul Henley, is way out of his depth and hamming it up something terrible.

With all that said though I do quite enjoy this one.  It's very old fashioned even for 1975, extremely well mannered and is very much a hark back to the classic Edwardian ghost tale which I'll probably always have a soft spot for.

Buy it here - Shadows - The Complete First Series [Series One] [1975] [DVD] - or watch it below.


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Sunday 15 July 2018

Ace of Wands

Title screen for Ace of Wands
Devotees of British supernatural TV of the 60s and 70s have become grudgingly used to the idea that many of the shows of the time are lost to us due to the cost cutting practise of 'wiping' and the lack of a system for safely archiving.  Amongst those lost to time are some 90 odd episodes of Doctor Who, much of the first series of Quatermass and the entire first two series of early 70s supernatural detective series 'Ace of Wands'.

Tarot (Michael Mackenzie) and Mikki (Petra Markham) in Ace of Wands
Created in 1970 by Trevor Preston and Pamela Lonsdale, Ace of Wands told of the escapades of stage magician and detective 'Tarot' (Michael Mackenzie), his pet owl Ozymandias and various assistants including antiquarian bookseller Mr Sweet (Donald Layne-Smith) and, in the third series, a brother and sister duo by the name of Chas (Roy Holder) and Mikki (Petra Markham).  Originally envisioned as kid friendly show about a flamboyant detective, over the three series, the show becomes progressively more concerned with the supernatural especially with the arrival in series two of writer P.J. Hammond.

Chas (Ror Holder), Ozymandias the owl, Mikki (Petra Markham) and Tarot (Michael Mackenzie) in Ace of Wands
Following on from his contributions to AoW Hammond would, of course, go on to create and write Sapphire and Steel but it is here that he first took his cop show chops (earned on shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars) and married it with a love of the odd.  His third series storylines - 'The Meddlers',  'Peacock Pie' & 'Beautiful People' - show hints of what was to come but truthfully with storylines that include people being turned into dolls the whole thing has a similar vibe to what Hammond would later create in S&S.  Ace of Wands walked a fine line between the ostentatious spy-fi, detective fiction of the ITC shows and the Earth bound sci-fi of Pertwee era Doctor Who whilst also tapping into the zeitgeist and embracing the supernatural shenanigans that would characterise much of the 1970s TV we love so much here at Wyrd Britain such as 'The Stone Tape' and 'The Children of the Stones' all the while managing to just about keep things kid friendly and rocking a killer theme tune by Andy Bown.

It is an absolute shame that so much of this series is lost to us but as the recent(ish) Doctor Who finds (of episodes from 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Enemy of the World') show there's always a chance that some of the earlier episodes will resurface but for now we have only the third series and that's certainly no bad thing.

Buy it here - Ace Of Wands [DVD] - or have a tast first by watching the first episode below (be warned it ends on a cliffhanger so you'll have to buy it then).


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Friday 13 July 2018

Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson

Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson by Douglas A Anderson
William Hope Hodgson
Douglas A. Anderson (editor)
Cold Spring Press

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is acknowledged as one of the undisputed masters of the sea story. There has never been a collection of his very best short stories offered to the trade. Hodgson's sea stories have unusual authenticity owing to his having spent a lot of time on merchant's ships-he left his family in 1890 at the age of thirteen to spend eight years at sea, where the experience of mistreatment, poor pay, and worse food was contrasted by Hodgson's immeasurable fascination with the sea. His obsession for the sea fills his writings. This volume collects the very best of Hodgson's sea stories-which has not been done before-with some of the most exciting and dramatic creatures of fantasy on the written page, exhibiting the sea in all her moods: wonder, mystery, beauty, and terror."This collection brings together the very best of his short stories, together with a sampling of his poetry. It includes a variety of his sea horrors along with two non-fantastic pieces: "On the Bridge," a journalistic story written immediately after the sinking of the Titanic which attempts to show some of the various factors which contributed to the tragedy, and the suspenseful nonfiction story "Through the Vortex of a Cyclone," which is based on Hodgson's own experiences at sea." - From the Introduction by Douglas A. Anderson

 Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories have long been a favourite of mine and are at the centre of my love of a supernatural detective yarn but I never really had any real desire to read much else by him.  A year or so ago I listened to an audio of 'The House on the Borderland' which I thoroughly enjoyed  but again no real impulse to dig any further until I stumbled across this collection of his nautical horrors collected together by Douglas A. Anderson.  Now. part of the reason I'd not dug any further into Hodgson's stories is a disinterest in nautical tales but as it was in my hand I thought I'd give them a go.

As a young man Hodgson had spent a number of years at sea in the merchant navy and so the sea loomed large in his stories even featuring in one of his Carnacki tales, 'The Haunted Jarvee', which is included here.  A particular favourite of his was the 'Sargasso Sea', a legendary 'sea of weed' that ensnares unwary ships and holds them trapped as the crew either slowly starves or become food for the creatures that call it home.  Several of these Sargasso stories feature here and they range from the enigmatic ('The Voice in the Dawn') to the dynamic (the two parts of 'The Tideless Sea') to the dreadful ('The Finding of the Graiken').

Some of the stories such as 'The Wild Man of the Sea', 'On the Bridge' and the fantastic 'Through the Vortex of a Cyclone' are fairly straight adventure fare - the latter sourced from experience - but for me it's the stranger stories that made the bigger impact such as the fungal body horror of 'The Voice in the Night', the unlikeliness of 'The Stone Ship' and the bittersweet final voyage of 'The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder'.

I must admit the constant nautical setting did wear at me somewhat - even the words 'poop deck' stopped making me smirk - and at times I found myself flagging a bit but Hodgson spins a good yarn and few of those included here hang around long enough to truly wear one's patience but as I said earlier nautical stories were never of much interest and whilst this did nothing to change my mind on that score it is a very recommended collection.

Buy it here - Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson


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Thursday 5 July 2018

Keith Seatman - Disjointed Oddities and Other Such Things EP

I've had the great pleasure of being on the receiving end of Keith's promos for a good few years now and it's always been an absolute delight.  This new five track EP featuring four new tunes and a remix of a tune from Keith's earlier album - A Rest Before the Walk - by Wyrd Britain faves Revbjelde is no different.

Musically he walks a capricious, queasily disconcerting and idiosyncratic path.  With his sounds balancing on the edges of radiophonic playfulness and acid folk's twisted pastoralism filtered through the dark prism of Coil-esque post-industrial decay he has assembled another collection of deliciously serpentine and indefinably nebulous psychedelia fuelled by oneiric logic and arcadian phantasms.

Sunday 1 July 2018

The House that Bled to Death

The House that Bled to Death from Hammer House of Horror
Hammer House of Horror is a well remembered anthology TV series made and broadcast in 1980 by the venerable old studio in conjunction with ITC Entertainment (creators of shows like The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Jason King & The Saint amongst many others).

'The House that Bled to Death' was the fifth episode and - due to one scene in particular - remains the most referenced of the series.  It's a haunted house tale with a twist in the tail that concerns a young family who buy a house notorious for being the location of a brutal murder.  Inevitably strange events begin to plague them culminating in the exuberant gorefest of the birthday party and as an aside for anyone unfamiliar with the scene who's troubled by that description of a children's party watch for the anticipatory relish on the faces of at least two of the kids moments before the blood starts flowing.

children's birthday party in The House that Bled to Death from Hammer House of Horror
The cast consists of various UK TV stalwarts most of whom have done time in Doctor Who and assorted Brit soap operas all give reliably solid performances in an enjoyably callous story.

You can find another episode here - The Thirteenth Reunion.

Buy it here - Hammer House Of Horror - Complete Collection [DVD] [1980] - or watch it below.


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 -