The haunted gen­er­a­tion: TV night­mares of a 1970s child­hood

From chil­dren’s TV to public in­for­ma­tion films, the 1970s were suf­fused with melan­choly and dis­quiet. BOB FIS­CHER dis­cov­ers how Penda’s Fen and the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Wa­ter in­spired a gen­er­a­tion to cre­ativ­ity, and pon­ders the fu­ture of pop­u­lar hau

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There are four of them, blank-faced chil­dren in old-fash­ioned pinafores, stand­ing at the end of the street, star­ing back at me. They could be Ed­war­dian; it’s dif­fi­cult to tell. Time is stand­ing still here. The world has sud­denly be­come fuzzy, vague, and sepi­at­inted, and I’m filled with an over­whelm­ing and in­ex­pli­ca­ble feel­ing of strange, melan­choly dis­quiet.

They are, of course, the four chil­dren in the open­ing ti­tles to

Bag­puss. It’s 1977, I’m four years old, and I’m watch­ing Oliver Post­gate and Peter Firmin’s im­mor­tal chil­drens’ tele­vi­sion pro­gramme in our shad­owy, brown front room, clutch­ing a mug of warm milk be­fore the danc­ing flames of a roar­ing coal fire. At the time, I find it hard to put my feel­ings into words. Four decades on, I can try: the pro­gramme makes me feel si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­as­sured and un­set­tled. It’s filled with old things, lost things, tatty pup­pets and sad­ness; folk tales, ships in bot­tles, aban­doned toys and long-ago kings. It’s like tele­vi­sion made by the ghosts of those Ed­war­dian chil­dren them­selves. It makes me feel, for want of a bet­ter word, haunted. This wasn’t just a feel­ing that I got from

Bag­puss: it seemed to per­vade much of my 1970s child­hood. And it’s a feel­ing that I tried to de­scribe, em­u­late and re­cap­ture for over 20 years, with­out suc­cess; un­til, in the late 1990s, I heard a piece of mu­sic that so trans­ported me back to that for­ma­tive era of cosy wrong­ness that my 25-year-old self sat down in my child­hood bed­room and gen­tly wept.

It was an in­stru­men­tal track called Royg­biv on the 1998 al­bum Mu­sic Has The Rights To Chil­dren, the de­but re­lease by Scot­tish elec­tronic duo Boards of Canada. I’m lis­ten­ing to it again as I write this, and it still makes me shiver. Woozy, vin­tage synths pick out a melody straight from some long-lost BBC Pro­grammes for Schools and Col­leges mod­ule, while the spec­tral voice of a child re­peats some in­dis­tinct play­ground holler, pos­si­bly played back­wards on a loop. I’ve no idea, but it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter: the ef­fect on me was pro­found. At last, I thought. Some­body un­der­stands my haunted, 1970s child­hood. Some­body else has ex­pe­ri­enced those same feel­ings of lost, hazy dis­quiet, those mem­o­ries of watch­ing

Chil­dren of the Stones on list­less Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noons and wor­ry­ing about the ghosts that live in my Grandma’s bed­room.


I wasn’t alone. Writer and graphic de­signer Richard Lit­tler heard the call, too. “We’re like the guy in Close En­coun­ters,” he tells me. “You think that no one can un­der­stand what you’re talk­ing about, but then you find all of these peo­ple that have had the same vi­sion. My first feel­ing came from Boards of Canada too, and I re­mem­ber when I first heard Mu­sic Has The Rights

To Chil­dren, I couldn’t be­lieve that they’d caught a mood that was so spe­cific.”

“At that point they seemed like a one­off,” says mu­sic jour­nal­ist and au­thor Si­mon Reynolds. “There was another artist at that time that I loved, called Po­si­tion Nor­mal, but I never re­ally con­nected the two in my mind. It was only later that I thought, ac­tu­ally… these are the an­ces­tors of Ghost Box. They both had the same ef­fect on me, which was this al­most in­vol­un­tary feel­ing of be­ing trans­ported through time and as­sailed by these images; my mind be­ing flooded with images of the past.”

And Ghost Box? In 2005, mu­si­cians Jim Jupp and Ju­lian House founded Ghost Box Records. It wasn’t just a la­bel ded­i­cated to the mu­si­cal ex­pres­sion of these fuzzy, dis­qui­et­ing mem­o­ries, but also, ef­fec­tively, a sup­port group for the now mid­dle-aged chil­dren still af­fected by them. Ghost Box is – ac­cord­ing to the la­bel’s own web­site – home to “a group of artists ex­plor­ing the mu­si­cal his­tory of a par­al­lel world”, and that par­al­lel world is Bel­bury, an eerie English vil­lage straight out of a John Wyn­d­ham novel, 1 seem­ingly stuck in a per­pet­u­ally un­set­tling 1970s of ana­logue synths, oth­er­worldly chil­dren and un­speak­able Pa­gan rit­u­als con­ducted in the shad­ows of elec­tric­ity py­lons. From this fic­tional out­post of odd­ness, Jupp makes mu­sic as spooky, prog-tinged out­fit Bel­bury Poly, House presents evoca­tive psy­che­delic sound col­lages as The Fo­cus Group, and early re­cruit Jon Brooks, record­ing as The Ad­vi­sory Cir­cle, has cre­ated en­tire al­bums in­spired by the ter­ri­fy­ing, au­thor­i­tar­ian feel of vin­tage Public In­for­ma­tion Films.

“Tele­vi­sion from that era is the big touch­stone for us,” Jim tells me, “and those eerie mo­ments, for me, came largely through Pro­grammes for School and Col­leges. As a kid, I spent a lot of time off school be­cause I had pollen-re­lated asthma. So I would sit around in­doors watch­ing Pro­grammes For Schools and Col­leges, and lov­ing the ident mu­sic be­tween the pro­grammes. There was also some­thing in the look of tele­vi­sion from that era... the touch­stone film for us would be Penda’s

Fen. 2 It’s the way that the land­scape has that grainy, 1970s TV look… it was there in all the lo­ca­tion stuff on Play For To­day. It’s hard to put your fin­ger on it, but there’s some­thing in the tele­vi­sion images of that pe­riod that’s just not right. It’s kind of oth­er­worldly.” Shar­ing an ethos (and the oc­ca­sional artist) with Ghost Box is the newer la­bel Clay Pipe, founded in 2011 by artist and mu­si­cian Frances Cas­tle, whose taste in vin­tage tele­vi­sion is strik­ingly sim­i­lar. “Penda’s Fen is the ul­ti­mate,” she says. “That, to me, is very evoca­tive of that time, and of child­hood. It’s very pas­toral, and very eerie.” Frances too cites the fuzzy, grainy look of archive TV pre­sen­ta­tion as a ma­jor con­trib­u­tory fac­tor to this sense of child­hood dis­quiet: “Ev­ery­thing was seen or heard through a slight hiss; the TV would go in and out of fo­cus, and that added to it. We’re so used now to ev­ery­thing be­ing crys­tal clear, but in those days it just wasn’t. And ob­vi­ously there were the pro­grammes, too… The To­mor­row

Peo­ple I loved. 3 The Changes I loved – all those sorts of things. They cre­ated an at­mos­phere, and a sense of un­ease.”


Long seen as a lost, holy grail for lovers of archive weird­ness, Penda’s Fen was pro­duced by the BBC as a 1974 Play For

To­day, and told the story of tor­mented gay teenager Stephen Franklin, whose emerg­ing sex­u­al­ity is at odds with his rigidly unswerv­ing, and largely self­im­posed, Chris­tian and po­lit­i­cal be­liefs. His in­ter­nal tor­ment man­i­fests it­self as a series of su­per­nat­u­ral vis­i­ta­tions amidst the rolling hills of Worces­ter­shire: he is set upon by an­gels and demons, by the ghost of Ed­ward Elgar, and by King Penda him­self, the sev­enth cen­tury King of Mer­cia, and the last of Bri­tain’s great Pa­gan war­rior-kings. It’s a long way from Bag­puss, but the range of dis­qui­et­ing tele­vi­sion cited as in­flu­ences by this ‘haunted gen­er­a­tion’ of the 1970s com­fort­ably spans the gamut from preschool whimsy to full-on adult weird­ness. Jim Jupp claims the open­ing ti­tles of Granada TV’s schools’ pro­gramme Pic­ture

Box, with their gen­tly ro­tat­ing jew­ellery cas­ket and dis­cor­dant waltz, as “the cen­tral im­age we had in mind when we came up with the name and the mood of the la­bel”. And some­where in be­tween lies Frances’s beloved The Changes, broad­cast by the BBC in 1975, de­pict­ing the postapoc­a­lyp­tic ru­ral night­mare of a Bri­tain

“There’s some­thing in the tele­vi­sion images from that pe­riod that’s kind of oth­er­wordly”

“It wasn’t a prob­lem for kids to have that stuff... Things weren’t so me­di­ated then”

that has in­ex­pli­ca­bly and in­vol­un­tar­ily smashed up every sin­gle item of tech­nol­ogy and ma­chin­ery, at the be­hest of a mys­te­ri­ous, all-per­vad­ing klaxon. Another kin­dred spirit, and oc­ca­sional Ghost Box col­lab­o­ra­tor, is ar­chiv­ist and fel­low record la­bel owner Jonny Trunk, whose Trunk Records was founded in the mid-1990s, with the long-lost sound­track to sem­i­nal 1973 Bri­tish hor­ror film The

Wicker Man among its ear­li­est re­leases. While the Ghost Box and Clay Pipe ros­ters have thrown them­selves into cre­at­ing new sounds, Trunk has con­cen­trated more on the un­earthing of orig­i­nal, lost au­dio arte­facts from the orig­i­nal ‘haunted’ era. The la­bel’s cat­a­logue of reis­sues is a trea­sure trove of vin­tage strange­ness, en­com­pass­ing the gen­tle sound­tracks to Ivor

the En­gine and Finger­bobs, the dis­qui­et­ing elec­tron­ica of Doc­tor Who and Ham­mer Hor­ror com­poser Tris­tram Cary, and the ex­tra­or­di­nary Class­room Projects, a col­lec­tion of dis­turbingly avant-garde mu­sic recorded by school or­ches­tras and choirs through­out the 1960s and 1970s. But it’s Trunk’s reis­sue of 1969 al­bum

The Sea­sons that has pro­vided dis­cern­ing lis­ten­ers with per­haps the sem­i­nal au­dio ex­am­ple of school-age wrong­ness from this era. It mar­ries the po­etry of Ron­ald Dun­can to the abra­sively harsh elec­tronic sound­scapes of the BBC Ra­dio­phonic Work­shop’s David Cain. The im­agery is vivid, stark and fre­quently un­set­tling... Like sev­ered hands the wet leaves lie Flat on the de­serted av­enue; Houses like skulls stare through un­cur­tained win­dows ...and any­one born much later than 1980 may find it in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that this res­o­lutely left­field con­coc­tion was ini­tially re­leased on BBC Records as part of the BBC Schools Ra­dio ser­vice’s Drama Work­shop series, in­tended to be played in pri­mary school halls to in­spire tiny chil­dren to cre­ative danc­ing. “The Sea­sons is very much me, in a hall with a kind of par­quet wooden floor and a big speaker,” says Jonny Trunk, “with a bunch of kids wear­ing non-mark­ing plim­solls, lis­ten­ing to it and fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions. Mu­sic, Move­ment and Mime. “It al­most bor­ders on the of­fen­sive. But if you’re young, and you’re told to im­pro­vise, and think about the mu­sic and the words, and dance and act along to them, then it sounds com­pletely nor­mal. It’s like a hard­core chil­drens’ ed­u­ca­tion LP. It’s hard. And that was the norm. It’s def­i­nitely a touch­stone for a lot of peo­ple, that record.” This in­sti­tu­tion­alised pre­sen­ta­tion of the ut­terly oth­er­worldly to im­pres­sion­able chil­dren was, ac­cord­ing to Trunk, an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tory fac­tor to our col­lec­tive haunted child­hoods. “It was good to have a bit of avant-garde in your life, as well as some of these con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject mat­ters,” he sug­gests. “What we have now is oddly vanilla; what you’re al­lowed to see and what you’re al­lowed to hear is gov­erned and over-thought. There wasn’t any of that in the 1970s.”

“I guess peo­ple were far less squea­mish about these things,” agrees Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp. “When I was a kid, I re­mem­ber hav­ing a Puf­fin an­thol­ogy of hor­ror sto­ries called The House of the Night­mare, 4 which I read when I was seven or eight. It was given to me as a Christ­mas present. And it was ter­ri­fy­ing. It had old sto­ries by MR James and Saki, as well as con­tem­po­rary tales from the 1960s and 1970s. It wasn’t a prob­lem for kids to have that stuff. It did leave a last­ing im­pres­sion on me... ob­vi­ously! Things weren’t so me­di­ated and cat­e­gorised.”


Also left with a last­ing im­pres­sion was writer and graphic de­signer Richard Lit­tler, whose ‘Scarfolk’ project be­gan life as an on­line blog, but in 2014 was picked up by pub­lish­ers Ebury Press and turned into an ac­claimed book, Dis­cov­er­ing Scarfolk. Like the mu­si­cal re­leases of Ghost Box, Scarfolk takes place in a fic­tional, par­al­lel uni­verse: the grim, north-western town of the ti­tle. But its vi­sion of the 1970s is con­sid­er­ably darker; with Lit­tler’s un­err­ingly ac­cu­rate spoof book cov­ers and mock gov­ern­men­tis­sue pam­phlets evok­ing the dystopia of an ut­terly un­feel­ing, au­thor­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety. Scarfolk is the home of the in­for­ma­tive Pel­i­can Sci­ence Books ti­tle How To Wash

A Child’s Brain, the pop­u­lar in­struc­tion

man­ual Prac­ti­cal Witch­craft To­day: How To Hurt Peo­ple, the SG Games Ju­nior Taxi­dermy Kit, and SBC Cas­settes’ 1973 best­seller Il­licit Record­ings of You and Your Neigh­bours.

“When I was a kid, I suf­fered from re­ally bad night ter­rors,” ad­mits Richard, “and they cast an al­most trippy haze over my nor­mal life; be­cause when you’re three, four and five years old, you just don’t know the dif­fer­ence. And the most mun­dane things could trig­ger it; I re­mem­ber the Lady­bird book The Ginger­bread Man scar­ing the life out of me, be­cause peo­ple were chas­ing him to eat him. Things like that were just hor­rific.

“I think I was a big baby, ac­tu­ally. Ev­ery­thing ter­ri­fied me. And be­cause of this strange, dreamy way that I had of see­ing the world, things be­came blurred. And it didn’t help that I was be­ing shown videos

about be­ing burned by fire­works, and that my par­ents were buy­ing me books about hor­ror… it was the 1970s, so I had Drac­ula and Franken­stein books. And I think it all just some­how merged. Very lit­er­ally with some­thing like the Spirit of Dark and Lonely

Wa­ter Public In­for­ma­tion Film, where you have Death stand­ing on the river­bank, drown­ing chil­dren.”

This 90-sec­ond film, pro­duced in 1973 by the glo­ri­ously Or­wellian-sound­ing Cen­tral Of­fice of In­for­ma­tion, has be­come an iconic sym­bol of this gen­er­a­tion’s lin­ger­ing trauma. A hooded Grim Reaper fig­ure, his face hid­den be­neath a monas­tic cowl, drifts along the pe­riph­ery of lit­ter-filled pools and flooded build­ing sites, claim­ing the souls of drowned chil­dren, their flared jeans and hooded anoraks sink­ing be­neath the sur­faces of brown, poi­soned wa­ter: “This branch is weak, rot­ten... it’ll never take his weight,” he hisses glee­fully, in the un­mis­take­able tones of Don­ald Pleasence.

And Richard is far from alone in see­ing this amal­ga­ma­tion of the ev­ery­day and the ter­ri­fy­ingly su­per­nat­u­ral as a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the decade. The 1970s has al­ways struck me as a de­li­ciously cred­u­lous era, when re­ported haunt­ings would be treated as semi-se­ri­ous news items on re­gional TV pro­grammes, when the works of Erich Von Däniken could be found on sub­ur­ban book­shelves along­side the lat­est Jilly Cooper, and when doc­u­men­tary series like Arthur C Clarke’s Mys­te­ri­ous World would wan­tonly trau­ma­tise a gen­er­a­tion of prime­time ITV view­ers.

“From Ghost Box’s point of view, this is what re­ally in­ter­ests us in that pe­riod,” says Jim Jupp. “We don’t have a firm be­lief in any­thing... it’s a fortean stand­point! But what’s in­ter­est­ing about that pe­riod is that you could be­lieve in this stuff, and that that be­lief was less open to ques­tion. Es­pe­cially as a kid, it seemed al­most like... ‘well, it’s prob­a­bly a fact that there are UFOs in the sky... or that there are ghosts.’ A fairly sen­si­ble news­pa­per might cover a ghost story… or some­thing like the Loch Ness Mon­ster, which would flare up every few years. It wouldn’t seem that un­usual, it would seem just like news.”


So is this loose col­lec­tion of mu­si­cians, writ­ers and artists a bona fide æs­thetic move­ment? Well, in the last decade, it has drawn in a sub­stan­tial num­ber of con­trib­u­tors and fol­low­ers, and – since 2006 – has had a widely recog­nised name: hauntol­ogy. Ap­pro­pri­ated from the writ­ings of French philoso­pher Jac­ques Der­rida, who coined it in 1993 to de­scribe the spec­tre of Marx­ism loom­ing over post-Cold War Europe, 5 its use in the con­text of the ret­ro­spooky move­ment seems to have come largely from jour­nal­ist Si­mon Reynolds. “I think a bunch of us started us­ing the word,” he tells me. “Mark Fisher was one of the other main writ­ers, in his blog k-punk and in pieces for var­i­ous mag­a­zines... so it was kind of a joint project. I think I might have pro­posed it as a genre name on my blog... ‘We’ve got to call this some­thing!’ “It has all these as­so­ci­a­tions with Jac­ques Der­rida, which are in­ter­est­ing, and I read his book about hauntol­ogy... but it doesn’t re­ally ap­ply here. I just like the word, be­cause ‘haunt’ ob­vi­ously deals with ghosts and the idea that mem­o­ries linger and creep into your thoughts with­out you hav­ing any con­trol over them. And ‘-ol­ogy’ has this idea of sci­ence and lab coats and peo­ple ex­per­i­ment­ing. There was a sort of faux­sci­en­tific aura about some of the stuff that Ghost Box was do­ing; the im­agery was to do with sci­ence and plan­ning and tech­no­cratic, bu­reau­cratic or­der. So the com­bi­na­tion of the ‘-ol­ogy’ and the ‘ghosts’... I like that clash of the two things.”

Richard Lit­tler, how­ever, does see a vague lin­eage stretch­ing back to Der­rida’s work. “Ob­vi­ously pop­u­lar hauntol­ogy doesn’t have much to do with Der­rida’s idea about the ghost of com­mu­nism haunt­ing the present. But I think cer­tain aspects of that

are re­flected in it. Par­tic­u­larly the idea of the ‘dream of the fu­ture’, where we were all go­ing to be liv­ing in houses that looked like they were de­signed by [James Bond set de­signer] Ken Adam, and we’d all be head­ing to the moon. That dream of the per­fect, utopian fu­ture that we were all aim­ing for… well, it never hap­pened. When we were kids, there were so many books on how we would be liv­ing in the year 2000. But have you seen any re­cent books or TV

pro­grammes pre­dict­ing a utopian fu­ture? They don’t ex­ist any more. Ba­si­cally, we’ve re­alised that it’s fool­ish to try and guess how good the fu­ture is go­ing to be… be­cause it’s go­ing to be shit!”


But it isn’t all su­per­nat­u­ral trauma and failed utopias. Frances Cas­tle’s Clay Pipe la­bel re­leases al­bums and art­work with a more bu­colic feel; redo­lent of a 1970s child­hood in­spired more by The Fa­mous Five than The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Wa­ter, but still with an un­der­cur­rent of lost, haunted melan­choly. Early re­leases in­cluded the beau­ti­ful Tyne­ham House, an anony­mously cre­ated con­cept al­bum whose folky, flute­in­fused pas­sages are a wist­ful trib­ute to the tit­u­lar Dorset vil­lage, req­ui­si­tioned by the War Of­fice in 1943 and de­serted ever since. 6 “I think it’s in­flu­enced by the Chil­dren’s Film Foun­da­tion, that al­bum,” Frances tells me. “It’s a bril­liant record.”

So too are Shap­wick and 52, a brace of evoca­tive am­bi­ent al­bums recorded for Clay Pipe by Ghost Box reg­u­lar Jon Brooks. “52 is very much an al­bum about his child­hood, in quite an ab­stract way,” says Frances. “When I first spoke to him about it, he was try­ing to cre­ate the sound of lichen in his grand­mother’s gar­den pond! And when I heard it, I thought ‘Yes, that’s it… that sounds like lichen!’ So I think it’s quite a per­sonal al­bum, but he’s so good at what he does, that it’s some­thing ev­ery­thing can re­late to.”

Shap­wick, mean­while, tells the story of an epiphanic car jour­ney un­der­taken by Brooks one au­tum­nal evening in 2011, veer­ing away from a grid­locked mo­tor­way to find un­ex­pected in­spi­ra­tion amongst the twilit coun­try lanes of Som­er­set. “We headed through sev­eral miles of un­lit roads, with noth­ing but gnarled trees and wood­land ei­ther side, the car head­lights sug­gest­ing the twists and turns ahead,” Brooks him­self wrote in the al­bum’s press re­lease. “I felt a cer­tain en­ergy around the place...” Recorded on hiss­ing ana­logue cas­settes, the al­bum’s ele­giac pi­ano pieces, woozy synths and tin­kling mu­sic boxes cre­ate a dream­like at­mos­phere of al­most over­pow­er­ing melan­choly.

This gen­tler, more ru­ral school of dis­quiet has also brought Jonny Trunk un­der its mys­ti­cal spell, and Trunk Records’ 2006 com­pi­la­tion Fuzzy Felt Folk col­lected 15 long-for­got­ten record­ings of vaguely eerie, but ut­terly en­tranc­ing, chil­drens’ folk songs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of them in­tended for use in school hall Mu­sic and Move­ment lessons. Be­tween softly plucked gui­tars and hoot­ing ocari­nas, we hear the Bar­bara Moore Singers har­mon­is­ing softly around the more whim­si­cal end of Bri­tish folk­lore (“Down amongst the daises in the glen, lives a lit­tle elf called John...”) and Irish ac­tor Christo­pher Cas­son is­su­ing dire warn­ings amidst a sea of folky wrong­ness: “My mother said that I never should, play with the gyp­sies in the wood. If I did, she would say, naughty girl to dis­obey,” he chants, in a rich bari­tone.

“The whole Fuzzy Felt Folk thing is very much hark­ing back to things like Play

School,” Jonny tells me. “It wasn’t nor­mal, that telly. You had these weird rag dolls, and Toni Arthur... this woman who was quite spooky, mak­ing al­bums around the same time called Hear­ken to the Witches Rune!” 7


So when did this all start? Was there a dis­tinct be­gin­ning and end to the “haunted” era?

“For me,” says Richard Lit­tler, “if we want to talk about hauntol­ogy and that kind of odd, un­der­ly­ing un­ease, I think it starts with the Bea­tles. In 1967, you had Sgt

Pepper and Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour, both of which were about that par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion hark­ing back to the gen­er­a­tion of their par­ents and grand­par­ents. So there was a lot of Vic­to­ri­ana… Sgt Pepper is a Mu­sic Hall act, es­sen­tially. What they did was to look back, and – in the same way that my­self and Ghost Box have done with the 1970s – mix it with a mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity. Which at that point was psychedelia; so you have all of this his­tory clash­ing to­gether in the same artis­tic arte­facts. And if you’re hark­ing back to Vic­to­ri­ana, it’s in­evitable that you’re go­ing to hit the Spir­i­tu­al­ist Move­ment, so you’re go­ing to have séances and ec­to­plasm, and that fil­tered through… to things like

The Ghosts of Mot­ley Hall and Ren­taghost. 8 “And it goes to Threads, in about 1984-ish. Af­ter that, the cul­ture turns to money”. Jonny Trunk, how­ever, thinks the ori­gins of the era go back fur­ther: “I think you can see it ear­lier,” he says. “In Qu­ater­mass, and in a lot of early sci­ence-fic­tion, in late 1950s and early 1960s Bri­tish ex­per­i­men­tal film­mak­ing. And the more you dig around, the

“It wasn’t nor­mal, that telly. Playschool had weird rag dolls and Toni Arthur...”

weirder it gets. There were a lot of avant­garde mu­sic-mak­ers around the UK in the late 1950s, and their mu­sic would have been creep­ing into ra­dio broad­casts in the 1960s”.

Frances Cas­tle also takes in­spi­ra­tion from a pre-psy­che­delic gen­er­a­tion of Bri­tish artists. Clay Pipe Mu­sic’s re­leases are ac­com­pa­nied by Cas­tle’s own dis­tinc­tive art­work, and al­though the im­agery is fre­quently redo­lent of Richard Lit­tler’s feared Lady­bird Books, a main­stay of every pri­mary school’s li­brary, Frances her­self cites ear­lier in­flu­ences: “The stuff that I’ve been in­spired by was pre-1970s, and I’ve looked at a lot of print-mak­ers from an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion,” she says. “But a lot of those books were still around dur­ing our child­hoods... those school book cov­ers, printed with very lim­ited colour pal­ettes. Bri­tish artists of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion had that weird at­mos­phere to their paint­ings and pic­tures. Peo­ple like Eric Rav­il­ious had a haunt­ed­ness to their work.” She does, how­ever, con­cur with Richard Lit­tler’s pin­point­ing of the end of the ‘haunted’ era: “I think it goes away when the dig­i­tal age ar­rives, and ev­ery­thing be­comes very crisp and clean. So I guess the early to mid 1980s.”

One cu­ri­ous as­pect of the phe­nom­e­non is that not ev­ery­one gets it. Through­out the decades that I spent at­tempt­ing to ar­tic­u­late these mem­o­ries to my con­tem­po­raries, I was fre­quently met with baf­fle­ment, and for the ma­jor­ity of 1970s chil­dren, the decade seems to be re­mem­bered as an era of bound­less fun, of end­less sum­mers spent bounc­ing on Space Hop­pers while lis­ten­ing to the Bay City Rollers. I have these mem­o­ries too, but when I ram­ble about the sense of ill-de­fined ‘wrong­ness’ I got from watch­ing Bag­puss, I am some­times ac­cused of adult re­vi­sion­ism, of ret­ro­spec­tively ap­ply­ing haunted qual­i­ties to ex­pe­ri­ences that I found per­fectly nor­mal at the time. But I main­tain that I ab­so­lutely re­mem­ber ex­pe­ri­enc­ing these feel­ings as a child. I asked Jonny Trunk if he thought it pos­si­bly took a cer­tain type of young­ster to ap­pre­ci­ate them. “To­tally,” he replied. “If it af­fected every­body, we’d all be mil­lion­aires. Be­cause ev­ery­one would say ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to have every sin­gle record, be­cause it re­minds me of all the spooky stuff!’ You were ei­ther open to it, or you didn’t take any no­tice of it.”

“I think there prob­a­bly is a cer­tain type of child,” agrees Richard Lit­tler, “I’ve a feel­ing that if I asked my sis­ter, who is only two years younger than me, whether she re­sponds to these things in the same way… I don’t think she would. I meet peo­ple who grew up in the 1970s, and they re­mem­ber Abba. But I re­mem­ber Top Trumps Hor­ror Cards! I re­mem­ber Abba as well, but they were cast in the light of all this hor­ror.”

So, given this ut­terly hor­rific and dis­turb­ing na­ture of much of this source ma­te­rial, is it per­haps sur­pris­ing that so many of us look back on the era, and our own child­hood dis­quiet, with a sense of warmth? Not ac­cord­ing to Jim Jupp. “There’s some­thing cosy about the un­canny,” he says. “If you think about MR James’s ghost sto­ries, they’re de­signed to be read out loud around the fire at Christ­mas time. I think no mat­ter how hor­rific a fan­tasy is, it’s never as bad as the things that hap­pen in the real world. Goths are quite love­able types, be­cause their world is pop­u­lated with vam­pires and demons, not with mur­der­ers and ter­ror­ists. It’s far more com­fort­ing to imag­ine a world where there’s just the Devil, and some demons, and some ghosts. They fol­low the rules! The su­per­nat­u­ral gives us quite a com­fort­ing feel­ing.”

Richard Lit­tler, how­ever, is less con­vinced. “I don’t know if com­fort­ing is the right word,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of nos­tal­gia, be­cause to me that means look­ing back with rose-tinted glasses, as though it was a bet­ter time. Whereas I don’t think

“You have to have enor­mous gaps in your mem­ory to cre­ate that strange mood...”

this par­tic­u­larly was a good time, and I wouldn’t want to live there again. The sense of com­fort that you feel… I know what you mean, but to me it’s more like re­lief that I sur­vived it.”

I’ve used words like “fuzzy”, “vague” and “neb­u­lous” re­peat­edly through­out this ar­ti­cle, and it’s hard not to spec­u­late whether the gen­er­a­tion that grew up be­fore the tech­no­log­i­cal wa­ter­shed of the 1980s might be amongst the last to re­mem­ber their child­hoods in this frac­tured, dream­like fash­ion... sim­ply be­cause we were the last ‘ana­logue’ gen­er­a­tion, reach­ing adult­hood be­fore the era when our ev­ery­day lives – and the pop­u­lar cul­ture we con­sume – were able to be con­stantly, dig­i­tally recorded and archived. I’d es­ti­mate that, dur­ing the first 16 years of my life, fewer than 100 clear pho­to­graphs were taken of me; many of them now faded and or­ange-tinted, stored in musty al­bums in a bat­tered, brown suit­case in the loft. No mov­ing footage of me ex­ists from be­fore 1990, when I was 17 years old. And many of the most pro­foundly af­fect­ing tele­vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ences of my child­hood were viewed once, 40 years ago, in an era when I had no means of record­ing them, and no ex­pec­ta­tion that I would ever see them again. Much of pop­u­lar hauntol­ogy has a

yearn­ing qual­ity, and I won­dered whether the move­ment was, at least par­tially, an at­tempt to ra­tio­nalise (and fill in the blanks of) a col­lec­tive child­hood that has be­come a de­li­cious, jum­bled mish­mash of fleet­ing mem­o­ries, in­ac­ces­si­ble and un­ver­i­fi­able. And whether the mod­ern child­hood, where ev­ery­thing is recorded and ac­ces­si­ble in pris­tine qual­ity, where a thou­sand school bus jour­neys are doc­u­mented on Face­book every day, and where every sin­gle TV pro­gramme is avail­able for re­peated, on-de­mand view­ing, would re­sult in a gen­er­a­tion of 21st cen­tury young­sters for whom child­hood nos­tal­gia will be a much more clin­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, bereft of that feel­ing of long­ing for lost things...

“Part of it is the fact that we can’t get back to what we had, and we can’t see it again,” says Jonny Trunk. “But the mem­o­ries are very vivid. And the fact that you can’t get them is al­most a good thing. Be­cause that frus­tra­tion re­sults in cre­ativ­ity.”

“What makes nos­tal­gia work is in­for­ma­tion that’s miss­ing,” agrees Richard Lit­tler. “You have to have enor­mous gaps in your mem­ory to cre­ate that strange mood. And if it’s avail­able to you on­line, in High Def­i­ni­tion, then you lose that sense of dreami­ness and that feel­ing of ‘Did I imag­ine it?’. The more we have com­pletely ex­haus­tive data­bases of in­for­ma­tion and me­dia, the less chance we have of form­ing these com­pletely odd dis­con­nec­tions.

“Be­fore I started Scarfolk, I spent years hav­ing these sin­gle, bizarre mem­o­ries… al­most like a whiff on the air. ‘I recog­nise that!’ And that’s one of the rea­sons I chose the 1970s for Scarfolk… it means I can give peo­ple a slight hint of a mem­ory. The way the brain works is that, if you give it a piece of in­for­ma­tion, it will then try to ex­trap­o­late that to a full piece, to de­cide what some­thing ac­tu­ally is. That’s why I choose vis­ual images that most peo­ple will have for­got­ten. I wouldn’t choose things that are still rel­e­vant, like Abba or lava lamps or disco… I have to choose things like a Pro­grammes for Schools and Col­leges test card, some­thing that peo­ple might have a vague mem­ory of… but there are gaps. And you fill the gaps with ab­surd fic­tion.”

For Jim Jupp, this essence of “lost­ness” is a piv­otal part of the Ghost Box æs­thetic, and a chief fac­tor in root­ing the la­bel’s re­leases in the fic­tional, par­al­lel world of Bel­bury. “What be­came in­ter­est­ing for us was the idea of keep­ing a world where that sense of mys­tery – that ‘what the hell was that piece of mu­sic?’ feel­ing – was still there,” he says. “Be­cause that feel­ing is im­pos­si­ble in the In­ter­net age, and we’re keenly aware of that. So our fo­cus be­came keep­ing that sense of mys­tery... but mak­ing it up! So the la­bel had, from the out­set, a fic­tional set­ting, where our images and sounds were fa­mil­iar, but you couldn’t look up the an­swers on­line. We had to kind of drag this stuff into a fic­tional realm where it couldn’t be cross-ref­er­enced, and there would still be ques­tions marks about the artists, the images and the sounds.”


Ghost Box cel­e­brated its tenth an­niver­sary in 2015 with In A Mo­ment, a lov­ingly com­piled an­thol­ogy of its most rep­re­sen­ta­tive work, and a timely re­minder that amidst the the­o­ris­ing and psy­cho-so­ci­o­log­i­cal pon­der­ing what re­ally mat­ters is the art. And what fab­u­lous art it is, too; the prod­uct of a uniquely fun and evoca­tive move­ment, where The Fo­cus Group’s Hey Let Loose

Your Love evokes day­dreams of Pan­wor­ship­ping maid­ens danc­ing naked around a gaily coloured may­pole, where

Bel­bury Poly’s Owls and Flow­ers at­tempts to nav­i­gate the hith­erto un­charted pas­sage be­tween Alan Gar­ner and Ul­travox, and where – oddly enough – orig­i­nal synth pi­o­neer John Foxx teams up with both Jupp and Jon Brooks for Al­most There, a re­quiem for, I as­sume, a lost (or even ghostly) lover, but with a lyric that could just as eas­ily be an el­egy for our own re­ced­ing, col­lec­tive child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences: “I see you walk­ing past the wa­ters, I glimpse you float­ing on the air...”

Speak­ing to Jim Jupp, I get the im­pres­sion that In A Mo­ment ac­tu­ally marks the be­gin­ning of a new era for Ghost Box, and he tells me that he’s keen to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of younger mu­si­cians min­ing haunto­log­i­cal feel­ings from eras much later than those typ­i­cally ref­er­enced by the move­ment. “There’s only so much you can ex­plore within those few years of pop­u­lar cul­ture, so we’re work­ing with some younger artists, and push­ing that world out to in­cor­po­rate peo­ples’ ex­pe­ri­ences of the 1980s and even the 1990s. It’s good to have a fresh take on this idea of the mis­re­mem­bered and the un­doc­u­mented past.

“One of our artists is about 10 years younger than us. He’s a guy called Martin Jenk­ins, and he records as Pye Cor­ner Au­dio.

9 A lot of his take on this stuff comes from the early 1980s, par­tic­u­larly VHS hor­ror films, and John Car­pen­ter videos. And even though it’s out­side of our ini­tial pe­riod, it’s still firmly in our ter­ri­tory. And when I think back to the 1980s, when I was a teenager, the medium of VHS in par­tic­u­lar had a kind of haunted feel. There was a lot of dis­tor­tion and degra­da­tion, tapes would change hands and you weren’t sure where they came from, and there were ru­mours of things be­ing il­le­gal. It was still that era of mys­tery and strange­ness on TV.” As­so­ci­ated artists like Moon Wiring Club, the pro­lific mu­si­cal project of archive TV buff Ian Hodg­son, have al­ready be­gun to nudge the move­ment gen­tly into the world of 1980s ana­logue com­puter gam­ing, with the track

Con­sole Your­self – on the splen­didly-named 2014 al­bum A Fond­ness For Fancy Hats – draw­ing heav­ily on the dis­tinc­tive load­ing sounds made by a vin­tage ZX Spec­trum. And Si­mon Reynolds, too, is hope­ful that younger gen­er­a­tions will keep the haunto­log­i­cal flame burn­ing: “Every age will have its sub­strata of things you don’t con­sciously reg­is­ter at the time, that you only reg­is­ter in ret­ro­spect, like the pro­duc­tion or for­mat qual­i­ties of the me­dia you’re con­sum­ing. You don’t no­tice it at the time, but you can now look at a 1990s film and say ‘Oh, that

is a pe­riod’. And even early 2000s movies can seem a bit clunky and dated. So maybe peo­ple will feel nos­tal­gic to­wards the early days of pop mu­sic with au­to­tune, and you can imag­ine a fetish for clunky early dig­i­tal mu­sic, or early sam­pling. Maybe that will come to seem nos­tal­gia-in­duc­ing in time. For old ravers, those things al­ready do im­part nos­tal­gia...”

Like Richard Lit­tler and Frances Cas­tle, my own per­sonal “haunted era” be­gan to dwin­dle in the mid-1980s, when the rus­tic, folky vague­ness of my early child­hood sur­ren­dered to the ad­dic­tive ad­vance of con­sole games and the march of dig­i­tal mu­sic be­fore, ul­ti­mately, be­ing killed off by the mys­tique-erod­ing power of the In­ter­net; and, if I’m hon­est, by my own adult­hood it­self. Even when ex­posed di­rectly to the mu­sic, TV and film of later eras, I find it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to ex­pe­ri­ence a fris­son of gen­uine nos­tal­gia for any­thing that hap­pened be­yond the mid-1990s. But I’m thrilled to dis­cover that younger gen­er­a­tions – de­spite the hin­drance of grow­ing up in a multi-me­dia, in­for­ma­tion-soaked age – are still find­ing haunt­ed­ness in the most un­likely of places: Richard Lit­tler tells me of a young friend who re­cently claimed to be so trau­ma­tised by a half-for­got­ten child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence that they were un­sure as to whether they’d imag­ined it or not. On fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it tran­spired to be the Jud­der­man tele­vi­sion ad­vert for the Bac­ardi-re­lated al­copop Metz, first screened on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion in the year 2000.

As Jim Jupp says, “Maybe the fu­ture of it is the fact that child­hood it­self is a bit weird, and there’s stuff lodged in peo­ple’s mem­o­ries that trou­bles them, that they can’t quite ex­plain... even in an era when they can look stuff up. Hope­fully not all of the an­swers are there, and there’s still some mys­tery and a sense of won­der.”

LEFT: “Once upon a time, not so long ago”: The open­ing ti­tles of Bag­puss.

ABOVE: Spencer Banks as the trou­bled teenager in Penda’s Fen. LEFT: The eerie, evoca­tive 1974 drama has be­come “a touch­stone” for the haunted gen­er­a­tion.

LEFT: ‘Mu­sic and Move­ment and Mime’ – these chil­dren could have been danc­ing to The Sea­sons, in­tended to be played in schools. BE­LOW: The cover of the rather dis­turb­ing 1969 re­lease.

ABOVE: Richard Lit­tler’s spoof book cov­ers evoke dystopian gov­ern­ment pam­phlets and ter­ri­fy­ing public in­for­ma­tion films of the 1970s, like 1973’s Spirit of Dark and Lonely Wa­ter, pic­tured be­low.

ABOVE LEFT: The 2006 Trunk Records com­pi­la­tion Fuzzy-Felt Folk col­lected long-for­got­ten chil­dren’s folk songs of the late 1960s and early 1970s. ABOVE RIGHT: “Sev­eral miles of un­lit roads, with noth­ing but gnarled trees ei­ther side...”: Frances Cas­tle’s art­work for Jon Brooks’s al­bum Shap­wick.

ABOVE: Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp. BE­LOW: Frances Cas­tle’s art­work for the Clay Pipe la­bel’s Tyne­ham House al­bum. “I think it’s in­flu­enced by the Chil­dren’s Film Foun­da­tion...”

LEFT: Jim Jupp’s 2011 Bel­bury Poly al­bum The Bel­bury Tales. BE­LOW: “Ev­ery­thing ter­rifed me...”: A spoof in­for­ma­tion poster from Richard Lit­tler’s par­al­lel 1970s dystopia.

ABOVE: Ju­lian House, cre­ator of art­work for nu­mer­ous Ghost Box re­leases, in­clud­ing We are all Pan’s Peo­ple (2007).

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