Stone Circles and Cyclical Time: Blinding Light, Discordant Vocals and Folk Horror in HTV’s Children of the Stones

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

According to Ingham (2018), Children of the Stones (Dir. Peter Graham Scott, seven episodes, broadcast 10th January – 21st February, 1977), is now “[t]he gold standard for kids’ folk horror” (p.170). Written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray, and produced by HTV West, it is often made reference to as the Wicker Man for younger viewers, that entertains and terrifies in equal measure. Concerned with the lives of astrophysicist Adam Brake and his son Matthew, the on-screen action focuses upon their seeming entrapment by ‘Happy Day’-chanting inhabitants of the fictional English village of ‘Milbury’. In reality, ‘Milbury’ was the town of Avebury, in Wiltshire, which is – significantly – centered in-and-around the stone circle, the avenue, and so on, of the series. In fact, erected in Neolithic times, “its builders conceived Avebury on such a scale that it seems their goal was to incorporate the spirit of everything into the fabric of their monument”, alongside them wanting it “to be a mirror of the cosmos” (Mann, 2011, p.2).
For Ingham (2018), Children of the Stones is often termed “the scariest British children’s programme ever made”, for the wordless, discordant, vocal compositions by Sidney Sager make the series, on occasions, “really unnerving” (p.170). As such, this proposed chapter will aim to undertake an exploration of the series via a reflection upon the relevant binary of ‘sound/image’. Indeed, the ‘moment in television’ as far as this proposed chapter is concerned – that, in turn, will be the focus of my 2,000-word, in-chapter scene-specific analysis – is the climax of the final episode, ‘Full Circle’. Quite crucially, that climactic moment, in the series’ final episode, is a pivotal sound-image element of children’s television which the series self-references, all the way throughout, in a flash-back/flash-forward manner: the moment when the villagers are, in a blindingly white flash of cosmic-derived light, turned into stone. This is also captured by the following, taken from the tie-in novelisation of the series: “They stumbled on, surrounded by the fleeing villagers. The night was filled with shrieks of terror and alarm, but Matthew ploughed through the undergrowth with grim determination, pulling the reluctant Sandra after him” (Burnham and Ray, 1977, p.179).
Amid ‘shrieks’ (sound) and ‘blinding light’ (image), Children of the Stones was never a series to patronize its young audience. For, in dealing with some deeply philosophical, and complex, themes, even the ending was not a straight-forward one: “As the series concludes, the events of the story appear not to have happened at all but, just when you think that’s a bit of a cheat, you realise that in fact time has turned the circle and the whole nightmare is about to begin again” (McGown and Docherty, 2003, p.103). Thus, this proposed chapter will attempt to engage closely with Children of the Stones in a way that will capture the series’ particular achievements and, in doing so, place emphasis upon its significance amid the TV landscape. As, Greg Healey asserts, in Not in Front of the Children – Hidden Histories in Kids’ TV (2018), HTV’s Children of the Stones was broadcast at a pivotal moment in the UK’s post-colonial development, as “[t]he Britain of this time faced in two directions – trapped between a glorious past of national mythologies an proud achievements and an uncertain future of new technologies and a host of long unsolved problems” (p.12).
So, this proposed chapter will not only be an opportunity to take children’s television seriously on both artistic and cultural terms, and, in doing so, will introduce the reader to previously neglected ‘televisual gems’, but will – it is hoped – gesture towards Children of the Stones significance in terms of TV’s art history.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMoments in Television
Subtitle of host publicationSound/Image
EditorsJonathan Bignell, Sarah Cardwell, Steven Peacock
PublisherManchester University Press
Publication statusSubmitted - 2019

Keywords

  • Children of the Stones
  • Folk Horror
  • HTV, Sound and Soundtracks
  • Time and Temporality

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