Thursday, 4 October 2012

Children of the Stones (1977)

Created by Jeremy Burnham & Trevor Ray.

HTV. Original run: 10 January 1977 – 21 February 1977. Directed by Peter Graham Scott. Producer: Peter Graham Scott. Executive producer: Patrick Dromgoole. Composer: Sidney Sager. Location: Avebury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom.

Regular cast: Iain Cuthbertson (Raphael Hendrick), Gareth Thomas (Professor Adam Brake), Peter Demin (Matthew Brake), Veronica Strong (Margaret Smythe), Katharine Levy (Sandra Smythe), Freddie Jones (Dai).

Scientist Adam Brake and his son Matthew come to the quiet village of Milbury to study the 4000 year-old stone circle that surrounds it. But the stones seem to hold some kind of ancient power, one that the mysterious Mr Hendrick hopes to tap into and that holds all of the villagers in its thrall.

Children of the Stones borrows plot strands and styles popular in 1960s and '70s British horror cinema, mixing them into a satisfying serial that appeared fresh and new to children. The sinister air of a relentlessly happy, sunny English village echoes the film Village of the Damned (d. Wolf Rilla, 1960), while Professor Brake's scientific detachment in the face of seemingly supernatural Pagan or alien forces recalls Nigel Kneale's works Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1958) and The Stone Tape (BBC, 1972).

Brake can plausibly hold forth on topics such as psychic ability, the power of ley lines, the energy of the stones, black holes, supernovas, psychokinesis and atomic clocks to happily fulfil an educational remit. This factual basis helps to create a horror fantasy grounded in some scientific, rational reality, making events seem even more frightening.

"Anger of fire, fire of speech. Breath of knowledge, render us free from harm. Return to us the innocence that once we knew. Complete us the Circle! Make us at one with nature and the elements... It is time!"

Director Peter Graham Scott remarked on seeing the script of Episode One, "And this is for children?" Not only is it genuinely frightening, thanks in no small part to Sidney Sager's unsettling pseudo-Neolithic vocal score, but the script is unpatronisingly complex. The ending - which sees Hendrick seemingly absorbed by an alien force focused on the ring of stones and events then jumping back to the beginning of the serial on an alternate 'time plane' - was perhaps slightly too complex for younger viewers.

A product of ITV's regional structure of the 1970s, both storyline and location filming are centred in the West Country. The stone circle that rings the village of Avebury in Wiltshire provides the basis of the script and doubles up as Milbury for filming. Production company HTV also dabbled in Arthurian and Pagan myth with Sky (ITV, 1975) and Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984-86). Writers Burnham and Ray next wrote Raven (ITV, 1977), a fantasy serial based on the legends of King Arthur.

Alistair McGown.

Further information here, here & here.

Video Content here & here.

Happy Days: The Children of the Stones. Writer and comedian Stewart Lee explores the ground breaking television series Children of the Stones and examines its special place in the memories of those children who watched it on its initial transmission in a state of excitement and terror. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 11:30am, Thu, 4 Oct 2012.

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