The Haunted Gen­er­a­tion

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Bob Fis­cher’s ar­ti­cle “The Haunted Gen­er­a­tion” [ FT354:30

37] was in­trigu­ing – but al­though the move to the dig­i­tal world kicked in from the early 1980s, chil­dren had been es­cap­ing into dream­scapes and sound­scapes cre­ated for them in the ana­logue world for many years pre­vi­ously.

As a child in the early 1960s, I found Nog­gin the Nog ex­erted a strong, and last­ing, fas­ci­na­tion. The tech­niques used in this pro­gramme in­cluded a calm, unas­sum­ing nar­ra­tive that gave fac­tual ac­counts of fan­tas­tic ad­ven­tures in a strange land long ago, backed up with very ac­cu­rate his­tor­i­cal draw­ings and peculiar mu­sic from Ver­non El­liott. The use of the bas­soon, with its rather strange tim­bre, for the mu­sic, and the sparse set­ting, added to the strange­ness. Watch­ing it was like en­ter­ing a pri­vate world with a door clos­ing be­hind you, and all adults ex­cluded.

It terms of gen­eral spook­i­ness, though, the 1968 BBC Ra­dio adap­ta­tion of The Hob­bit would take some beat­ing. This was broad­cast on dark au­tumn Sun­day evenings as an adult drama and was done in the style of a grotesque mid­dle Euro­pean fairy tale, or Norse saga, by a cast led by Paul Dane­man. It had mu­sic by David Mun­row and BBC Ra­dio­phonic Work­shop and had a very dif­fer­ent tone to the kind of ‘feel good’ slightly comic ap­proach adopted in later, bet­ter known, adap­ta­tions of Tolkien’s works. (Though now re­garded as no more than a foot­note, the se­ries made such an im­pact at the time that John Boor­man im­me­di­ately hired Mun­row for a fea­ture film adap­ta­tion of The Lord of The Rings, to be done in the same style. Alas, de­spite much preparation in 1968-1969, this came to noth­ing when Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, who would have pro­duced it, dra­mat­i­cally scaled back their fund­ing for UK pro­duc­tions).

But is this re­ally just to do with what we rec­ol­lect from our child­hood, or is the na­ture of mem­ory con­di­tioned by changes in tech­nol­ogy? It is in­trigu­ing to con­sider that the tex­tures pro­vided by ana­logue record­ing and its broad­cast­ing tech­niques cre­ated an at­mos­phere that we vividly re­mem­ber now be­cause it is dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from our ex­pe­ri­ence of the mod­ern world. Once ana­logue fades away com­pletely and we have noth­ing but CGI and com­puter game-type pre­sen­ta­tions, will our mem­o­ries of to­day be dif­fer­ent in 40 years’ time from our mem­o­ries of 40 years ago now? Si­mon Matthews Gateshead, Tyne and Wear Read­ing The Haunted Gen­era

tion proved to be some­thing of a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. At last some­one has been able to ar­tic­u­late why the 1970s has al­ways pro­voked a sense of dis­quiet like a re­pressed mem­ory of some fam­ily tragedy.

Hav­ing been born in 1966, the 1970s were my for­ma­tive years, yet the decade seems to have been re­duced to clip-show fod­der of easy iden­ti­fi­able ref­er­ences – Span­gles, Glam Rock and Chop­per bikes. That’s not how I re­mem­ber it.

I grew up in the early part of the decade in the in­dus­trial North against a back­drop of cool­ing tow­ers and a glow on the hori­zon from the lo­cal steel­works that could be seen from the land­ing win­dow at night. At the end of the main road was a coun­cil park bor­dered on two sides by light in­dus­trial units and a stretch of waste­land where peo­ple aban­doned cars and the lo­cal crisp man­u­fac­turer dumped huge card­board drums of out-of-date pro­duce. On the other side was the sup­pos­edly haunted Clarkie’s Wood – the epony­mous Clarkie hav­ing hanged him­self from a tree in the wood it­self. The shift from moder­nity to folklore was a ques­tion of feet, yet was real and pal­pa­ble.

In the next street were a fam­ily in which all the boys suf­fered a ge­netic de­for­mity – they were born with­out mid­dle fin­gers or ring fin­gers on both hands and I would watch them out­side the lo­cal hard­ware shop that sold Esso Blue paraf­fin eat­ing ap­ples held quite dex­trously be­tween the re­main­ing fin­gers. Around the cor­ner were a fam­ily who had news­pa­pers cov­er­ing their win­dows rather than cur­tains and there were sto­ries of the daugh­ter hav­ing been dis­fig­ured in a fire so that she never went out dur­ing day­light hours.

When I think of it now, much of the ge­og­ra­phy of my child- hood does seem elu­sive and half re­mem­bered – tower blocks and new mo­tor­ways al­ways fig­ure heav­ily even though I grew up in a semi-de­tached and we never had a car. Is this just au­to­sug­ges­tion pro­voked by Mary, Mungo

and Midge, or the same Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion films that pro­moted the idea that ev­ery­thing seemed de­signed or des­tined to kill – elec­tric­ity sub­sta­tions, beaches, rail­way lines, build­ing sites, strangers and most mem­o­rably farms? The grand guig­nol of ‘Apaches’ still haunts me to this day. When a quiet day out seemed likely to end up in dis­mem­ber­ment, elec­tro­cu­tion or be­ing kid­napped, it’s a won­der my gen­er­a­tion ever went out­doors! Even the chil­dren’s pro­grammes seemed to un­der­line this feel­ing of dis­quiet – The Boy From Space seemed like a refugee from SHADO, Chil­dren of the Stones was truly creepy with its hint of some­thing an­cient and un­seen while An­i­mal Kwack­ers was just bizarre fod­der for teatime TV.

We moved to the South of Eng­land in the mid 1970s and my mem­o­ries from this new lo­ca­tion are not as res­o­nant or as haunted (though I still main­tain hav­ing seen and heard some ques­tion­able things in the new flat where we lived). The 1970s of­fi­cially ended for me in the up­per bal­cony of our lo­cal Odeon when I watched an Im­pe­rial Star De­stroyer at­tempt to catch the flee­ing con­sular ship hold­ing Princess Leia – but the decade never re­ally went away.

Jonny Trunk’s point about leav­ing things half-re­mem­bered is a valid one – I have since tracked down pro­grammes from this era only to be dis­ap­pointed by how they ap­pear now to my adult mind (apart from Ivor the En­gine, which to this day fills me with a warm com­fort­ing pas­toral glow). Maybe hav­ing a sense of dis­quiet in your life needn’t au­to­mat­i­cally be a neg­a­tive thing. Richard Carey Pin­ner, Mid­dle­sex Bob Fis­cher’s ar­ti­cle on the gen­er­a­tion that grew up in the 1970s cer­tainly pro­duced many smiles and shud­ders of recog­ni­tion from me, as I’m sure it did from many.

(Toni Arthur! God, I was ter­ri­fied of her! She made my in­fant self want to run scream­ing into the arms of Chloe Ashcroft). Per­haps, for me, the defin­ing im­age of the era comes at the end of the play

Robin Red­breast, when the hero­ine looks back at the mur­der­ous vil­lagers and sees them trans­formed into pa­gans from the past, com­plete with stags’ antlers.

The past was still there, haunt­ing the present and the fu­ture was go­ing to be pretty weird too. Bob Fis­cher’s in­ter­vie­wees were in agree­ment about when all this ended – some­time in the early to mid-Eight­ies – but were less sure about when it be­gan. I would ar­gue that this was be­cause it was all a con­tin­u­a­tion of what had been go­ing on in our cul­ture for cen­turies, with the spread of tele­vi­sion adding an­other di­men­sion. Think of all those M R James adap­ta­tions (in typ­i­cal 1970s no­holds-barred style) that ap­peared at Christ­mas – and was there ever a writer more con­cerned with a na­tion’s his­tory haunt­ing its present than James? Bri­tain was a coun­try with a liv­ing his­tory and a big re­spect for the un­canny and we viewed the fu­ture with the same mix­ture of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ter­ror.

Per­haps the stranger puz­zle is why it ended. Richard Lit­tler talks of the cul­ture turn­ing to money and that may be a big part of it. The con­flict­ing voices of re­li­gion, his­tory and science were all side­lined in favour of the dead whine of eco­nomics by 1985 and that has gone on to this day. In the 1970s, haunt­ings and mon­ster sight­ings could ap­pear as news items; to­day the news pro­grammes whit­ter end­lessly about “GDP” and “eco­nomic growth” as if they were real things, which they are not. It could be that we are so haunted by our child­hoods be­cause we were the last to ex­pe­ri­ence that con­nec­tion with our cul­tural past, which ev­ery gen­er­a­tion be­fore us had taken for granted. To­day, it is im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve we are watched over by fig­ures from the past when we fail to be­lieve that they could even have ex­isted, walk­ing where the re­tail parks and end­less hous­ing es­tates now squat.

One of the many sad as­pects of the re­cent Brexit catas­tro­phe was the sight of peo­ple claim­ing to de­fend Bri­tish cul­ture when they have none. It’s gone. We’ve lost it... or, at least, our main­stream cul­ture has lost it. We have gone from be­ing an is­land full of mys­tery and weirdness to be­ing a pro­saic, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic place with no weirdness in it all and that, para­dox­i­cally, is a very weird sit­u­a­tion in­deed. Al­bert Ravey Ram­sey, Isle of Man Like Bob Fis­cher I was born in 1973 and have al­ways had a sense of a ‘now’ just out of reach. This seems deeper than sim­ple child­hood nostal­gia and was re­flected in the chil­dren’s TV, in­for­ma­tion films and books of that time, which were more than happy to in­cor­po­rate hor­ror, the strange and the other for a child au­di­ence. The Pic­ture Box open­ing ti­tles (be­low), which the ar­ti­cle ref­er­ences, seem the most dis­tilled form of this, en­cap­su­lat­ing the sense of ‘hauntol­ogy’. I would also men­tion The Box of De­light that ran on BBC in 1984, par­tic­u­larly the eerie ti­tle se­quence. Like­wise the be­gin­ning of

The Book Tower from York­shire Tele­vi­sion, which be­gan in 1979. It wasn’t enough just to do a pro­gramme of chil­dren’s book re­views; the open­ing ti­tles place it in a strange iso­lated tower with sug­ges­tively spooky theme tune (a Lloyd-Web­ber adap­ta­tion of Pa­ganini’s 24th Caprice ap­par- ently). In this tower is none other than Tom Baker, Doc­tor Who to chil­dren of that age, sit­ting alone, spoon­ing im­pos­si­ble amounts of sugar into a cup of tea.

Also bub­bling up through the hauntol­ogy was ‘The Boy From Space’ on Look and Read in 1980. My own ‘white whale’ is a song about a witch, which I re­call be­ing broad­cast on a chil­dren’s TV pro­gramme, pos­si­bly Words and

Pic­tures on Hal­lowe’en in the late 1970s. It con­tained the re­frain “a witch on a broom­stick, she flies by, eee-addi-addi-eee is her cry”. As Fis­cher points out, we are prob­a­bly the last gen­er­a­tion to have such lost shades only avail­able through our mem­o­ries. Daniel Clay Hightown, Liver­pool I’d like to ex­press how moved I was by the ter­rific Haunted

Gen­er­a­tion fea­ture and would like to share my ex­pe­ri­ences as a child in the early Eight­ies. I was re­ally haunted by my dreams as a child to the ex­tent that I was taken to a GP sev­eral times be­cause my par­ents didn’t know how to cope with my in­abil­ity to sep­a­rate dreams from re­al­ity. No mat­ter how of­ten they told me “it was just a dream” I couldn’t get over the dreams in the day­time. I now re­alise that a mas­sive part of the prob­lem was the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion films, tele­vi­sion and lit­er­a­ture I was privy to, in­clud­ing two spec­tac­u­lar er­rors of judge­ment (in my opin­ion) by my school.

Around 1982, when I was six or seven, our teacher gave us a pam­phlet in a sealed en­ve­lope to take home to our par­ents. Ob­vi­ously, the whole class opened th­ese en­velopes be­fore they went home (in­clud­ing me). I don’t re­mem­ber the re­ac­tion of my school friends, but I was ab­so­lutely stricken with fear. It was a pam­phlet about ac­ci­dents in the home with graphic pic­tures of chil­dren who had been in­jured in some way. I re­mem­ber be­ing up­set by the im­agery, but my mum brushed it off and said: “Serves you right for open­ing it!” To be fair, per­haps it was be­cause of that pam­phlet that I never tipped scold­ing wa­ter on my­self or choked my­self with a skip­ping rope, but there was more to come.

A few years later we were shown a hideous ‘stranger dan­ger’ video star­ring the won­der­ful Dun­can Pre­ston. The stranger (Pre­ston) kid­naps a girl with the old “Do you want to see some pup­pies?” line. You are shown two sce­nar­ios, one of the girl go­ing off with the stranger, and one where she doesn’t go. The for­mer sce­nario haunts me to this day. I can see the girl now as she de­scribes her en­trap­ment to her mum af­ter she is found. Like the pam­phlets, it did the trick, but I don’t think it needed to be quite so dis­turb­ing. I watched it again re­cently on YouTube and it still made feel weird – and ev­ery time I see Dun­can Pre­ston I can only think of the de­spi­ca­ble man he played in that film. In later years he was one of Vic­to­ria Wood’s right-hand men and con­tin­ued to be so through­out her ca­reer.

Then there was chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion – where to be­gin? Never mind the ob­vi­ous weirdness of

Bag­puss – what about The Chil­dren of Green Knowe? The Moon­dial? Run­ning Scared? BOD? The Box of De­lights? And the most ter­ri­fy­ing

of all: Chocky. What the blink­ing hell was Chocky? I never watched an en­tire episode and I never will. I of­ten felt very alone in my un­ease at th­ese scary ‘made for kids’ films and TV shows and I don’t re­call any of my friends be­ing as sen­si­tive as me, so to read that oth­ers were as dis­turbed by it all is quite frankly a tremen­dous relief. Fi­nally, some­body gets it! Joanne Ross Lon­don

The Haunted Gen­er­a­tion very much struck a chord, de­scrib­ing as it did some of my own child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences (I’m 43 years old). In ad­di­tion to his ex­am­ples, I might add one other piece of 1970s drama: Ne­penthe’s won­der­ful re-telling of Richard Adams’s Water­ship Down (where a big black farm dog be­haves in ac­cor­dance with its true na­ture re­gard­ing cute bun­nies, shot­gun pel­lets re­quire skilled re­moval and mul­ti­tudes are gassed.)

I first watched it aged about five, and the film left me with a deep and long-last­ing feel­ing of awe, and I think an ac­cu­rate im­pres­sion of the ‘red­ness in tooth and claw’ of na­ture, but also an en­dur­ing sense of won­der. It was the root of my now decades­old pas­sion for tales of Black Shuck and his shaggy kin­dred, an­other legacy of that bloody-jawed hound by the tree trunk. Twenty-first cen­tury kids that I know who’ve seen it ap­pear to be uni­ver­sally hor­ri­fied. Arthur Bur­ton By email Bob Fis­cher’s mus­ings on the weirdness and un­ease of 1970s tele­vi­sion etc. cer­tainly res­onated with me. I vividly re­mem­ber scary chil­dren’s dra­mas such as The Owl Ser­vice and Chil­dren

of the Stones. The still from the school’s broad­cast Pic­ture Box brought back mem­o­ries of episodes that stick in my mind to­day. I also grew up in the 70s on a diet of read­ing Pan Hor­ror Sto­ries and books on ghosts for kids with very scary cov­ers.

I re­cently talked to my hus­band about how weird “Mu­sic and Move­ment” ses­sions were in schools – some­thing men­tioned by Mr Fis­cher. I agree that the dis­tinc­tive mu­sic of the age played an im­por­tant part in this “aura of weirdness”. Would Chil

dren of the Stones seem quite as un­set­tling with­out the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of un­earthly voices and haunt­ing sound­scapes? Sue Hardi­man Bris­tol Thanks to Bob Fis­cher for ar­tic­u­lat­ing so well what I have been think­ing for decades.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to ex­plain to those who did not live through the 1970s, but they had a strange ‘feel’ to them. I re­mem­ber the long, hot school hol­i­days that seemed to last for­ever, when ev­ery aban­doned house was haunted and ev­ery wa­ter-filled quarry (in spite of the warn­ings of the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Wa­ter) hid a mon­ster. It was as if an M R James story had been up­dated to the present and some­how leaked out into re­al­ity, in­fect­ing ev­ery­thing it touched.

Tele­vi­sion of the era seemed to re­flect this.

Doc­tor Who was at its zenith, weird, scary, and ow­ing more to hor­ror than to hard science fic­tion. It was a show of brood­ing, sin­is­ter fac­to­ries, blasted heaths, dark­ened woods and an­cient caves; it fea­tured gi­ant green mag­gots crawl­ing from Welsh slag heaps, in­tel­li­gent marine di­nosaurs ris­ing up from the sea, gi­ant man-eat­ing rats gnaw­ing off peo­ple’s legs in Vic­to­rian sew­ers, an­i­mated killer dolls smash­ing out of shop win­dows, vam­piric stand­ing stones drain­ing the life from hap­less campers and a homi­ci­dal cy­borg ven­tril­o­quist’s dummy with the brain of a pig!

Chil­drens’ telly was equally eerie, with the bedrag­gled Hart­ley Hare (above) in the dis­tinctly odd Pip­kins, the weird Vic­to­ri­ana of Bag­puss and the creepy ti­tle mu­sic of Si­mon in The Land in Chalk Draw­ings. And be­yond this, the strange­ness also seeped into ‘nor­mal’ pro­grammes. Play

for To­day of­ten fea­tured su­per­nat­u­ral and fortean sub­jects; and some­times they even made the news, as when Na­tion­wide did a piece on the were­wolf sight­ings in Hex­ham.

In the 1970s, it seemed that you just might see a ghost on an evening walk, a mon­ster in a lake or a strange sil­ver disc in a field. Some­how, the bound­aries be­tween re­al­i­ties seemed thin­ner, I don’t know how or why, and I find my­self long­ing for those days. Richard Freee­man By email Ac­tu­ally, I think the haunted gen­er­a­tion prob­a­bly lasted till the late 1980s, as I re­call be­ing ter­ri­fied by many pub­lic in­for­ma­tion films as a young­ster at that time. Prob­a­bly the scari­est for me was the one with the child pulling down the hot iron by the cord. A cou­ple of years back, I heard a nu­clear safety ad in an old bunker in Scot­land, which had a pretty sin­is­ter elec­tronic back­ing. I was also a fan of the NFL, and a lot of their films used some pretty omi­nous-sound­ing li­brary mu­sic: tunes by Tony Hy­mas and Alan Hawk­shaw. John Wild­ing Hessle, York­shire

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