Sunday, 4 May 2008

Frightening Television

By which I mean the rash of children's programmes of the 1970s and 1980s with genuinely affecting, even disturbing content: not just violence but supernatural or psychological horror, and programmes which had nothing to do with horror at all but whose title sequences were themselves weird or slightly disturbing (like Picture Box or Near and Far). For example: Changes, Chocky, many editions of Dramarama, Knightmare, Running Scared, Grange Hill at its best around 1986, Doctor Who of the mid 1970s and mid 1980s (Lytton's hand being crushed in Attack of the Cybermen being a prime instance) and more.

I don't have an explanation for this phenomenon as such, nor as to why we're not so keen to produce it today, though I think the brutality of mid-80s Doctor Who has an awful lot to do with its time - I think it was reflecting it, quite deliberately. There seems to be an ethereal strain to some popular culture that sets in around 1981 and lasts for four or five years, you can hear it in some of the electronic pop music of the time as well. I've often wondered if Peter Davison (whom I admire) was cast as Doctor Who precisely to be insubstantial - for what reason I am not really sure.

How on earth the PIF "The Natural Born Smoker" ever got allowed onto tv screens before 9pm amazes me, let alone broadcast at circa 5pm during CBBC in 1985. I recently saw this for the first time in 22 years on You Tube and it continues to horrify me, even to regress me, and I remember sitting in that living room, all alone, with the bizarre, vile character unfolding before my terrified eyes. I am certain I only saw it once - perhaps it was pulled.

At least it formed the inspiration for my first piece of published writing - in the school rag a few years later.

One memory eludes me to this day though and after hours of fruitless googling I am beginning to wonder if it exists at all:

An ordinary house in a suburban street; a boy hears a noise from upstairs and opens a brown door (I think labelled "Mark iv", leading into a long, rocky tunnel with some kind of computer and a hooded figure who then reveals a grotesque face.

I wonder if I am conflating The Deadly Assassin and something else here but it feels like a powerful memory, even if I can barely recall it. It has been with me a long time so I am sure there is something to it.

Can anyone help me with this?

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