Sunday 30 December 2018

The Box of Delights

Kay Harker (Devin Stanfield) is a very nice, polite young man - with no qualms about flying, shrinking, talking with anthropomorphised ice skating mice, transforming into a stag or gleefully hacking wolves to pieces with a whacking great sword - who finds himself inexplicably embroiled in a magical war whilst home from school for the Christmas holidays.  After meeting kindly Punch and Judy man Cole Hawlings (Patrick Troughton) he becomes the custodian of the titular box which he must protect from the 'wolves' and in particular the fantastically sinister clergyman Abner Brown (Robert Stephens).

Outside of John Masefield's original 1935 tale the show benefits from an particularly strong adult cast with both Troughton and Stephens in fine form oozing avuncular charm and psychotic menace respectively but the young cast of untrained actors are solid enough with Joanna Dukes as the pistol packing, criminally minded Maria being especially watchable.

Costing the then record breaking £1 million to make with it's fantastic cast and spectacular locations, it's mix of live action and animation and with incidental music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's  Roger Limb (buy it here) it remains a stunning evocation of the spirit and fables of legendary pagan Albion  wrapped in the cosy warmth of a traditional Edwardian Christmas.

Buy it here - The Box of Delights [DVD] [1984] - or watch it below.


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Sunday 16 December 2018

Space 1999: Dragon's Domain

Space 1999 was a British (ITC) / Italian (RAI) co-production made by the former Century 21 (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90) partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It told the unlikely story of the moon - along with it's moonbase inhabitants - breaking it's orbit and plunging through black holes and space warps finds itself adrift far out in the universe.

At it's time Space 1999 was the most expensive television series on British television and featured a double act of US stars in the form of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain at it's head in a blatant appeal to US networks.  It ran for two series between 1975 and 1977 and while still having a devoted following has to some extent been relegated - some would say deservedly - to the status of a bit of an also ran.  I have to admit I'm in that latter category but apart from 'Captain Scarlet' I'm not much of a fan of any of the Anderson's productions.  With the exception of that killer Barry Gray theme tune and the very cool Eagle spaceships (I always loved the way the pilot's seats slid into place) I thought it was a pretty bad show then and a recent rewatch failed to convince me otherwise.

If you want to check it out for yourself though the entire series is here, albeit in a slightly eccentric running order...

There is an exception though.  One episode in particular has stuck with me all these years, 'Dragon's Domain'.  I didn't really get scared much by TV shows as a kid.  I always kinda liked scary / gory things even as a nipper but there were a few things that put the frighteners on me.  One was the end of Assignment 4 of Sapphire and Steel, another was the opening credits to 'Armchair Thrillers' and the third was this episode of Space 1999 and a recent posting of a screengrab of the alien from it over on the Wyrd Britain Facebook page showed I wasn't the only one.

This episode is the story of Eagle pilot Tony Cellini's (Gianni Garko) encounter with a very hostile alien.  We get an extended flashback sequence to a doomed mission he had undertaken 3 years prior to the moon going walkabout that resulted in the gruesome deaths of all the others on the mission (including Grange Hill's Mr. Bronson, Michael Sheard).  Back in the present the moonies find themselves once again confronted by the mysterious spaceship graveyard that had been the previous mission's downfall.

Whilst cursed by the clunky acting and the typically ropey effects of the era, 'Dragon's Domain' with it's Lovecraftian tentacled horror from deep space with it's huge, glowing, hypnotic eye and it's gaping maw that strips a human down to a skeleton in seconds is still pretty effective even if it doesn't seem to be able to get through doors.

Buy the series here - Space: 1999 - The Complete First Series [DVD] [1975] - or watch it above (or below)


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Friday 14 December 2018

3 Wyrd Things: Frances Castle

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.

Frances Castle Clay Pipe Music
This month, Frances Castle.

Frances is a London based illustrator and designer who also runs the amazing Clay Pipe Music record label.  Her delightful and idiosyncratic work has adorned books and magazines for clients as diverse as The Guardian,  Imperial War Museum, British Heart Foundation, Cambridge University Press and the BBC but it was her eye-poppingly lovely sleeve art for the releases on her label that first grabbed our attention here at Wyrd Britain.  With releases from artist such as Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle), D Rothon, Vic Mars and Sharron Kraus.

You can find out more about Frances' work at the label website (linked above) and at her own site and a very interesting '15 Questions' with her here.



I’m choosing two artists who use synths, but really differently. The first is Steve Hauschildt who is an American artist, he used to be in the band Emeralds. I think he has made 4 or 5 solo records they are all really good. His latest is called 'Dissolvi' and came out this year, but the one that I have listened to most is ‘Where all is Fled’ which came out in 2015. He just makes beautiful electronic music that (on this album at least) uses a lot of arpeggiation. It is very hypnotic and draws you in, I guess there is quite a lot of melody involved as well. There are a lot of people making this sort of music now, but Steve Hauschildt does it really well.

The second is Isao Tomita – Snowflakes are Dancing.

I suppose Isao Tomita was really big in his time. You can pick his records up cheaply, and they are easy to find, so he must have sold a lot. My partner was played his music at school by his music teacher.

To me its quite magical, and inventive, he is trying to make synths sound like an orchestra, and fails and makes something other worldly.


Carel Weight

I’m taking a slightly different tack on this, and choosing an artist rather than a film or TV show.

I’ve been aware of Carel Weight for a long time, I have a book of his paintings that I’ve had since my late teens, but I recently started following him on Instagram. I’m not sure who is posting the pictures – certainly not Carel as he died in 1997! but I’ve really enjoyed looking at them, he painted a lot so most of them are new to me.

Carel lived and worked in Putney, West London and this is an area I knew quite well as a child so a lot of the settings to his paintings are very familiar to me. What I like so much about them are the strange and eerie things going on in every day Victorian streets. There is usually some sort of narrative, but it is not always exactly clear what is going on.

J.L Carr - A Month in the Country (Buy it here)

I initially picked up this book in a bookshop earlier this year because it had an image by my Grandfather on the front. He designed posters for the railways in the 1940s and 50s, and the posters often show up repurposed up on book covers and cards etc. It turned out to be a good omen, because when I turned it over and read the blurb on the back I knew it was a something that I wanted to read. Its a short book – just a little over 100 pages long, that covers a few weeks of one man’s summer, directly after World War One. Tom Birkin has been employed to conserve a hidden medieval wall painting in the country village of Oxgodby. It’s a slow moving book where not a lot happens – he spends his days working alone uncovering what appears to be a rare and important wall painting, while immersing himself in village life and falling (partly) in love with the vicars wife. Without too much being implied you realise that the landscape and the work he is involved in are slowly helping him recover from the trauma of the war.


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Thursday 13 December 2018


Take a dip into a world where reality trembles and sanity is all in the mind — a world created by the brilliant author of The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes. 
There’s a monkey with a unique artistic talent. A man living his life over again. A tube in the rush hour that was so crowded it seemed like hell; in fact it was hell...
Jizzle will grip you from cover to cover with its unique blend of horror and fantasy — a combination which can never fail.

I had a copy of Jizzle here a while back but didn't like the cover art so I couldn't bring myself to read it (yes, I really am that picky).  This newly acquired copy with it's apocalyptic artwork was a different animal and I couldn't resist it.

This anthology is a collection of short stories written pre-1954 and includes stories previously printed in 'Argosy', 'Women's Journal' and 'Everybody's'.  They are, on the whole, pretty whimsical and there's a lightness here that is missing in many of his more famous works.  A sense of fun that, whilst not being something that I felt was lacking in those novels, was a nice thing to find here.

Love and relationships are at the core of many of these tales, often of course with a twist, such as the title story of a malicious monkey or the dream man of 'Perforce to Dream', the flea circus setting of 'Esmerelda' or the drunken fortune hunting of 'How Do I Do?'

Amongst the tales of the heart we do have some weirdness in the form of a rich old man getting to live his life again in 'Technical Slip' and the train ride to Hell in 'Confidence Trick, a ghost story ('Reservation Deferred'), science fiction ('Una') and even a post-apocalypse tale ('The Wheel'). Scattered throughout there are a variety of less satisfying stories that were, at best, a diverting piece of frippery but offered little more than that.

I am though at the final reckoning quite pleased to have found an aesthetically pleasing edition of what transpired to be a fairy enjoyable read that displayed a more playful side of an author I like very much indeed.


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Sunday 2 December 2018

The Man and the Snake

Based on a short story by American writer Ambrose Bierce, 'The Man and the Snake' is the story of Harker Brayton (John Fraser) who spends an evening with the family of a young boy he's tutoring and is introduced to his host Dr. Druring's (Andre Morell) passion for snakes. A discussion on mesmerism and a series of close encounters with the creatures leads to tragic consequences.

I've read a good few of Bierce's stories but I must claim ignorance of the source material here.  The adaptation though is a fun little piece.  Truthfully there's not much to it and the ending is more than a little daft but the dialogue is good, the cast are excellent - Morrell in particular - and it's tightly directed by Sture Rydman.


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