Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Knights of the internal realm

When I finally saw the vision again, inevitably it lacked the intensity my mind had stretched it to in near-30 years of frequent re-imagining. In fact, it had no intensity, and I scolded not only my fanciful imagination but also my childhood mind for letting something so patently weak seem so terrible and portentous.

I’m talking about the ‘Tall Knight’. And I’m talking about a TV broadcast for primary schools in the 80s. For such a long time, I was under the impression that the programme was the Black Prince or the Dark Knight or something similar and had never found it on the web. Then an especially slow work week enabled a few more crucial keywords and I finally found the programme – it was Dark Towers, a 10-part series made up of six-minute episodes for BBC’s Look and Read children’s learning programmes. ‘Malvolio80’ had whacked the whole series and quite a bit of other cult children’s TV up. That was my Friday night sorted then.

I swore that when the Tall Knight appeared he did so glowing and golden, emblematic of his fiery and fantastic role, dominating the foreground as he advised the good guys on the righteous path and then scared the wits out of the bad guys (among them Christopher Biggins). But then I swore one of my childhood homes was over-run by a demonic cast who turfed us out for several hours when in reality I’d probably just been at the cheese late doors and had a particularly fecund dream about they ghost and ghoulies. Reality was well and truly overturned then and now it was time to come to terms with another (if far more long-cherished) delusion.

The low-pixel YouTube clip provided my reality check; the Tall Knight was a pathetic, knock-kneed apparition, not burning bright but cold and off-white. The special effects employed seemed to be turning daylight dark whenever he showed up by turning the picture negative (hence the cod-spectral image), and slowing his speech down so as to connote mystery and gravitas. Clearly all the money had gone on location and the cast, and Derek Griffiths for the theme toon.

Fair dos, he rolls with a bit more dread here. It’s possible to blame my youthful darkening of the Tall Knight for my fear of horror movies or anything where suspense and supernatural activities are involved, even when I respect and am interested in the genres and devices involved within them. I recoil when something deliberately scary combines with an imagination ready to make it even more so, even as I acknowledge that process being part of the whole purpose of horror.

Nevertheless, it was good to see the series again – Dark Towers came out in 1981 and I’m guessing my primary class would have seen the first transmission. The story involved a wandering prole girl + dog teaming up with the posh boy who lived in Dark Towers to save it from damnation by evil-doers intent on nicking a sacred book that is the gothic pile’s life-force. A friendly ghost reactivates himself to provide advice and hokum spells from his four-poster bed, Biggins and co are architects and booksellers on the make who try to derail the counterattack by planting property on the girl. It’s all riveting stuff played out with the usual hammy acting as you can imagine (or maybe there’s no spirit to the dialogue because it was meant for seven-year-olds); the Radiophonic Workshop’s Roger Limb provides the soundtrack. As interest continues in the BBC’s output from less post-modern, more culturally ambitious times this is a great curio even as I doubt the Wiki claim that it is still used a lot in schools.

Interest may be greater, however, in some of the other Look and Read material such as the Boy From Space and the Magic E (cheap animated geez helping with spelling but now clearly a precursor to our post-rave drugged off times).
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone recall Bignoseybonk:

Sh*t me. Tomstyles

8:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And as for The Boy from Space?.jesus that used to freak me out?..the thin man??.he was one scary motherf*****

cristal lawson

9:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though it was 30 years ago I still recall the disappointment of the moment when the Tall Knight 'walked'. Knock-kneed indeed, really spindly and un-threatening. Underwhelming gait provided by Chewie himself i.e. Peter Mayhew.

9:11 am  

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