Showing posts with label BBC Radio 4. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC Radio 4. Show all posts

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Alan Garner's Alderley Edge





"Walk the dramatic red sandstone escarpment of Alderley Edge, with views over the Cheshire Plain to the Peak District. Explore woodland paths or walk to neighbouring Hare Hill Garden. Discover the highest point on the Edge which was originally a Bronze Age burial mound. It was later used as a fire beacon site which would have been lit as a signal to warn of the imminent invasion. For more stunning views over the Cheshire countryside, why not visit one of the following nearby properties: Bickerton Hill and Bulkely Hill Wood; Mow Cop, the Cloud, Helsby Hill and Thurstaston Common"


What follows in an edited extract from a 2010 interview with Alan, by Robert Chalmers, for The Independent online. Read the interview in full, here.

His second death, Alan Garner explains, is the one that he really remembers. "When I was six," the writer says, "I contracted whooping cough and measles, which developed into meningitis. There were two doctors by my bed. I was in that delirious state where things drift in and out of focus, and yet I could hear their conversation clearly. The first one said: 'He's gone.' But the really terrifying bit came next, when the other doctor replied: 'I concur.' A word which – precocious infant that I was – I understood".

At that point, recalls Garner, who is 75, "I exploded emotionally. I screamed but made no sound. I couldn't communicate or give a signal. I remember the anger; I remember the fury. At which point I must have had an adrenaline surge. And that is why I lived – because I was too angry to die".

He was pronounced dead on three separate occasions before he was 10.

"I have been in the tunnel", he says. "There is light at the end. It revolves. You are running. I have been in the tunnel more than once".

If rage hadn't rescued him on that day in 1941, we would have lost one of the most extraordinary writers in the language. Initially acclaimed as a children's author (the date of 10.10.10 will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen), his voice was distinctive from the start, for its innate capacity to resonate with, and never patronise, his readership.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is set in and around Alderley Edge, the Cheshire village which, on account of its popularity with Premier League footballers, has become a kind of synonym for New Money. The Garners have lived here, as farm labourers, miners and craftsmen, for at least five centuries. "I don't think I am going to get further back than William Garner, sepultus [buried in] 1592", the writer tells me. "Peasants were not recorded earlier than that".

Since 1957, his own home has been a few miles away at Blackden, in the 15th-century timber-framed house he calls "Toad Hall". Even though it's very close to Jodrell Bank radio telescope, the Hall (whose name derives from the local pronunciation of "the old") is, to the delight of this very private man, almost impossible to find. I tell him I'll come with a local cab driver.

"You'll still get lost", Garner says, and he's right. Neither the patience of the driver, the satnav, the map, or the author's sheet of directions are of any help. We pull up at the dead end of a dirt track and phone him for help. Arriving at Blackden feels like crossing a fault line into some other world – a recurring theme in his fiction.

In 1970, noticing, as you do, that a 16th-century apothecary's house was about to be demolished in Staffordshire, Garner had it moved, piece by piece, and joined to the Hall. And it's here, in "The Medicine House", at two seats inside the large central chimney, that he suggests we sit down to talk. The chimney has something of the feel – and, Garner believes, the effect – of the confessional.

"Things are said here," he tells me, "that would not be said elsewhere"

Alan Garner was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck, on 17 October 1934. One of his earliest memories is of being led screaming out of a cinema by his mother, who had taken him to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Afterwards, "She thrashed me, for making her look a fool".

"How old were you?"

"Three".

He recalls his father (Colin), a painter and decorator, as "warm and generous" and his mother (Marjorie), a tailor, as "complex and domineering".

"I was an only son. She had her own failed ambitions to deal with. When I was 18, rummaging in a drawer at home, I came across Approach to Latin Part I in mint condition".

"This was a book you'd used at school?"

"Yes. She had been trying to keep up with me. You cannot teach yourself Latin from that book".

When he first had to leave home to make the daily trip to Manchester Grammar school, says Garner, "I had great difficulty coping. The best view of the Edge is from the railway, between here and Manchester. I remember looking up at it as I left for the first time, thinking, I am letting you down. Until one day I was in the art hall, the highest room in the school. I looked out, and there was the Edge"

"You've described Alderley Edge as a place that is 'physically and emotionally dangerous'. [The most dramatic point is Castle Rock, a precipice with vertiginous views across the valley 400ft below.] There was a widely held belief in Manchester, where I grew up, that Alderley Edge would not be a place you'd want to be at night. People said no bird would sing there"

"The thing about birds is not strictly true, but it is something I grew up with. There is not a lot of birdsong there, considering the number of trees." In 1843, adds Garner, "The Honourable Dorothy S Stanley wrote that locals report seeing 'many wondrous sights' on the Edge. And hearing the sound of music under the ground".

He recalls how, in 1996, his cousin Eric told him that, as a boy, he and two friends had sat on the Edge and heard bagpipes playing, underground.

Garner is a leading authority on the geology, archaeology and every other aspect of the area. In the mid-1990s, he instigated a full-scale scientific survey of Alderley Edge.

"I am proud of that; it is an objective fact that, because of what I did, the Bronze Age was established on Alderley Edge, and it was recognised to be the earliest dated metal- working site in England"

As for the bagpipes, he offers a rational explanation, involving air pressure. "Eric and his friends were sitting on a burial mound, 4,000 years old. He said that the bagpipes came from the right, and travelled under the ground, in front of them. Being a good journalist, I asked, calmly, "What did you do?" Eric said: 'Do? We ran like buggery'".

His English and drama teacher at Manchester Grammar, Bert Parnaby, laid the foundations of a department that would nurture performers such as Alan Garner's close friend Robert Powell (who was married here at the local church), Powell's classmate Krishna Bhanji (now Sir Ben Kingsley), the late opera director Steven Pimlott, and the producer Sir Nicholas Hytner, among others.

The qualities the school seems to have encouraged in him include an irreverent sense of humour, fearlessness in the face of authority and, in terms of his writing, perfectionism: this last quality was one his family had long valued as craftsmen. "My grandfather Joe [a smith] used to say: 'Always take as long as the job tells you, because it'll be here when you're not. And you don't want folk asking what fool made that codge?'".

Which makes it all the more surprising that Alan Garner should have left Magdalen College, Oxford, in his second year, without a degree.

"My tutor said I would have to find a position in life where the only way out was to succeed. He knew me very well".

"I imagine that, when The Weirdstone of Brisingamen appeared, with its wizard and its army of dark elves, people who didn't know 'The Legend of Alderley' claimed that you'd copied The Lord of the Rings".

"Which showed that they hadn't read any middle or old English. Tolkien and I ripped off the same sources. He did it for his reasons. I did it because, at a simple level, I hated made-up names. If I'd used a name that was familiar [in connection with "The Legend of Alderley"] considerable baggage would have come with it".
"A name like King Arthur?"

"Yes. When my archive was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford six years ago, I heard from somebody connected with the film of The Lord of the Rings. He said that one of the Tolkien family had given him JRR Tolkien's annotated copy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And apparently his notes are just vitriolic".

"What bothered him?"

"'Trivial use of language'. I would love to see that book".





Literary Walks. Episode 6 of 6. First broadcast: Saturday 25 June 2011.

Alan Garner spent his early childhood in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, and he remains associated with the area. Many of his works, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, are drawn from local legends and locations. Clare Balding walks with him to hear more about the area and how it inspired his writing.



Related: The Owl Service — A book by Alan Garner, The Owl Service (ITV 1969-70), The making of The Owl Service & Alan Garner's The Owl Service.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Witchcraft — A Beginners Guide



“It is utterly implausible that a mathematical formula should make the future known to us, and those who think it can would once have believed in witchcraft” Jacob Bernoulli

Witchcraft, from the Old English wiċċecræft, compound of "wiċċe" ("witch") and "cræft" (“craft”).

Witchcraft (also called witchery or spellcraft) is the use of alleged supernatural, magical faculties. This may take many forms, depending on cultural context.

Beliefs in witchcraft have historically existed in most regions of the world. This was notably so in Early Modern Europe where witchcraft came to be seen as part of a vast diabolical conspiracy of individuals in league with the Devil undermining Christianity, eventually leading to large-scale witch-hunts, especially in Protestant Europe. Similar beliefs have persisted in some cultures up to the present, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. the Bantu witch smellers), and have occasionally resulted in modern witch-hunts. The concept of witchcraft as harmful is normally treated as a cultural ideology providing a scapegoat for human misfortune. Since the mid-20th century Witchcraft has become the designation of a branch of contemporary Paganism, most notably including Wiccan traditions, who claim to practice a revival of pre-Abrahamic spirituality.


In Christianity and Islam, sorcery came to be associated with heresy and apostasy and to be viewed as evil. Among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period, fears about witchcraft rose to fever pitch, and sometimes led to large-scale witch-hunts. Throughout this time, it was increasingly believed that Christianity was engaged in an apocalyptic battle against the Devil and his secret army of witches, who had entered into a diabolical pact. In total, tens or hundreds of thousands of people were executed, and others were imprisoned, tortured, banished, and had lands and possessions confiscated. The majority of those accused were women, though in some regions the majority were men. Accusations of witchcraft were often combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.

The Malleus Maleficarum, an infamous witch-hunting manual used by both Catholics and Protestants, outlines how to identify a witch, what makes a woman more likely than a man to be a witch, how to put a witch on trial, and how to punish a witch. The book defines a witch as evil and typically female. This book was not given the official Imprimatur of the Catholic Church, which would have made it approved by church authorities.

"Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt" Friedrich Nietzsche

Historically the witchcraft label has been applied to practices people believe influence the mind, body, or property of others against their will—or practices that the person doing the labeling believes undermine social or religious order. Some modern commentators believe the malefic nature of witchcraft is a Christian projection. The concept of a magic-worker influencing another person's body or property against their will was clearly present in many cultures, as traditions in both folk magic and religious magic have the purpose of countering malicious magic or identifying malicious magic users. Many examples appear in ancient texts, such as those from Egypt and Babylonia. Malicious magic users can become a credible cause for disease, sickness in animals, bad luck, sudden death, impotence and other such misfortunes. Witchcraft of a more benign and socially acceptable sort may then be employed to turn the malevolence aside, or identify the supposed evil-doer so that punishment may be carried out. The folk magic used to identify or protect against malicious magic users is often indistinguishable from that used by the witches themselves.

There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent. Many neopagan witches strongly identify with this concept, and profess ethical codes that prevent them from performing magic on a person without their request. Where belief in malicious magic practices exists, such practitioners are typically forbidden by law as well as hated and feared by the general populace, while beneficial magic is tolerated or even accepted wholesale by the people – even if the orthodox establishment opposes it.


The familiar witch of folklore and popular superstition is a combination of numerous influences. The characterization of the witch as an evil magic user developed over time. Probably the most obvious characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, "spell" being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.

In Early Modern European tradition, witches were stereotypically, though not exclusively, women. European pagan belief in witchcraft was associated with the goddess Diana and dismissed as "diabolical fantasies" by medieval Christian authors. Witch-hunts first appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany were from 1561 to 1670.

Early converts to Christianity looked to Christian clergy to work magic more effectively than the old methods under Roman paganism, and Christianity provided a methodology involving saints and relics, similar to the gods and amulets of the Pagan world. As Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, its concern with magic lessened.

The Protestant Christian explanation for witchcraft, such as those typified in the confessions of the Pendle Witches, commonly involves a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil. The witches or wizards engaged in such practices were alleged to reject Jesus and the sacraments; observe "the witches' sabbath" (performing infernal rites that often parodied the Mass or other sacraments of the Church); pay Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness; and, in return, receive from him preternatural powers. It was a folkloric belief that a Devil's Mark, like the brand on cattle, was placed upon a witch's skin by the devil to signify that this pact had been made. Witches were most often characterized as women. Witches disrupted the societal institutions, and more specifically, marriage. It was believed that a witch often joined a pact with the devil to gain powers to deal with infertility, immense fear for her children's well-being, or revenge against a lover.

The Church and European society were not always so zealous in hunting witches or blaming them for bad occurrences. Saint Boniface declared in the 8th century that belief in the existence of witches was un-Christian. The emperor Charlemagne decreed that the burning of supposed witches was a pagan custom that would be punished by the death penalty.

In 820 the Bishop of Lyon and others repudiated the belief that witches could make bad weather, fly in the night, and change their shape. This denial was accepted into Canon law until it was reversed in later centuries as the witch-hunt gained force. Other rulers such as King Coloman of Hungary declared that witch-hunts should cease because witches (more specifically, strigas) do not exist.

The Church did not invent the idea of witchcraft as a potentially harmful force whose practitioners should be put to death. This idea is commonplace in pre-Christian religions. According to the scholar Max Dashu, the concept of medieval witchcraft contained many of its elements even before the emergence of Christianity. These can be found in Bacchanalias, especially in the time when they were led by priestess Paculla Annia (188BC–186BC). However, even at a later date, not all witches were assumed to be harmful practicers of the craft. In England, the provision of this curative magic was the job of a witch doctor, also known as a cunning man, white witch, or wise man. The term "witch doctor" was in use in England before it came to be associated with Africa. Toad doctors were also credited with the ability to undo evil witchcraft. Other folk magicians had their own purviews. Girdle-measurers specialised in diagnosing ailments caused by fairies, while magical cures for more mundane ailments, such as burns or toothache, could be had from charmers.


"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles" Thomas Jefferson

In 1645, Springfield, Massachusetts, experienced America's first accusations of witchcraft when husband and wife Hugh and Mary Parsons accused each other of witchcraft. At America's first witch trial, Hugh was found innocent, while Mary was acquitted of witchcraft but sentenced to be hanged for the death of her child. She died in prison. From 1645–1663, about eighty people throughout England's Massachusetts Bay Colony were accused of practicing witchcraft. Thirteen women and two men were executed in a witch-hunt that lasted throughout New England from 1645–1663.

The Salem witch trials followed in 1692–93. These witch trials were the most famous in British North America and took place in the coastal settlements near Salem, Massachusetts. The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before local magistrates followed by county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex Counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused who were not formally pursued by the authorities. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft.

Nineteen of the accused, 14 women and 5 men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.

Despite being generally known as the "Salem" witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in a variety of towns across the province: Salem Village, Ipswich, Andover, as well as Salem Town, Massachusetts. The best-known trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. All 26 who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Town, but also in Ipswich, Boston, and Charlestown, produced only 3 convictions in the 31 witchcraft trials it conducted. Likewise, alleged witchcraft was not isolated to New England. In 1706 Grace Sherwood the "Witch of Pungo" was imprisoned for the crime in Princess Anne County, Virginia.

Images: 1-Witchcraft by Pennethorne Hughes (Penguin/Pelican 1970). 2-Witchcraft by Geoffrey Parrinder (Penguin/Pelican 1958). 2-New England Witchcraft by Pilgrim Theatre Museum, Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, Provincetown, Mass. USA. Postcard, original painting by Frank Milby.


BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time: The history of witchcraft in Reformation Europe.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss witchcraft in Reformation Europe. In 1486 a book was published in Latin, it was called Maleus Mallificarum and it very soon outsold every publication in Europe bar the Bible. It was written by Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican Priest and a witchfinder. "Magicians, who are commonly called witches" he wrote, "are thus termed on account of the magnitude of their evil deeds. These are they who by the permission of God disturb the elements, who drive to distraction the minds of men, such as have lost their trust in God, and by the terrible power of their evil spells, without any actual draught or poison, kill human beings".

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" says Exodus, and in the period of the Reformation and after, over a hundred thousand men and women in Europe met their deaths after being convicted of witchcraft. Why did practices that had been tolerated for centuries suddenly become such a threat? What brought the prosecutions of witchcraft to an end, and was there anything ever in Europe that could be truly termed as a witch?

With Alison Rowlands, Senior Lecturer in European History at the University of Essex; Lyndal Roper, Fellow and Tutor in History at Balliol College, University of Oxford; Malcolm Gaskill, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge.





Thursday, 4 October 2012

Children of the Stones (HTV 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.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Chris Watson


Christopher Richard Watson is a Sheffield-born musician and sound recordist specialising in natural history. He was a founding member of the musical group Cabaret Voltaire, and Watson's work as a wildlife sound recordist has covered television documentaries and experimental musical collaborations.

Watson was a founding member of two influential experimental music groups, Cabaret Voltaire and The Hafler Trio.

He has released three solo albums of field recordings: Outside the Circle of Fire, Stepping into the Dark (which won an Award of Distinction at the 2000 Prix ARS Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria), and Weather Report.

He has also released a variety of works in collaboration with other artists, including Star Switch On, a collaboration with Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic, Philip Jeck, Hazard, Fennesz, AER and Biosphere. In 2007 he released Storm with BJNilsen, and in 2011 "Cross-Pollination" and "El Tren Fantasma". All of these recordings were released on Touch.

2003's Weather Report was named as one of the thousand albums you should hear before you die in The Guardian.


His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. His television work includes Bill Oddie Back in the USA and Springwatch.

In 2006 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Technology degree by the University of the West of England "in recognition of his outstanding contribution to sound recording technology, especially in the field of natural history and documentary location sound".

In 2010 he devised an art project at Liverpool's Alder Hey Children's Hospital, using sound recordings made by children to calm other young patients as they received injections and other treatments.




The Musiara Gate - Touch Sampler 2


Mara River At Night - Stepping in to the Dark


Demonic Laughter - Touch Sampler 3


Out Of Our Sight - Outside the Circle of Fire



Selected radio programmes:

The Reed Bed - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast on Radio Four from 19–23 March 2007.

A Guide to Garden Birds - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast weekly on Radio Four from 22 May 2007.

A Guide to Farmland Birds - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast weekly on Radio Four from 22 August 2011.


Selected album discography:

Stepping into the Dark (1996, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Outside the Circle of Fire (1998, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Weather Report (2003, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

El Tren Fantasma (Chris Watson album) (2011, Touch (UK) Touch Music)


Selected collaborations:

Star Switch On with Mika Vainio, Philip Jeck, Hazard, Fennesz, AER, and Biosphere (2002, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Number One with KK Null and Z'EV (2005, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Storm with B. J. Nilsen (2006, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Cross-Pollination with Marcus Davidson (2011, Touch (UK) Touch Music)





Further information here, here and here.