The Legend of Lochnagar Review
Coming from a story written by Prince Charles that he used to entertain his brothers at Balmoral, it's a surprise that it only lasts twenty-six minutes. Having gained a reputation that no amount of iPods manufactured by Apple between now and this time next year could contain everything that he feels compelled to talk about - architecture, the environment, the cut of Long Johns, butter shortbread, you name it - it's a marvel that the entire story is told in less than half an hour. No matter how slim the tale, when I understood that a story from the pen of Prince Charles was coming, I expected a box set of such proportions as to need to temporarily take out the French windows just to fit it in the house. One suspects Charles Windsor was afforded a decent editor, who, hopefully, has remained employed and will do so to oversee the Christmas speeches that will come following the death of his mother. Otherwise, they'll be likely to carry on until sometime into the new year.
The Legend Of Lochnagar, or The Old Man Of Lochnagar as it was originally titled in this country, features an old man in search of a bath. Rather than simply indulge himself on a quiet afternoon when everyone has left for the day, the trudges out into the country wearing his bath on his head and a bag of plumbing on his back. When he discovers a cave on the mountain of Lochnagar but the wild cat that lives there soon discovers why he's on his own. The old man of Lochnagar empties out his bag and before the sun has set that day is draining the river that passes Lochnagar into his bath, planting drains in the ground and lighting a fire to heat his bath. But what the old man isn't aware of are the Groms, tiny, little people who live under the ground and make, paint and plant the flowers that grow around Scotland. When their home is flooded by the water from the bath, two Grom children who were washed away in the flood head above ground and have a quiet word with the old man...
Bookended by a couple of scenes with Prince Charles reading the story to a group of children, The Legend Of Lochnagar is a sweet little story of the kind that the BBC made over a decade ago, something that owed a debt to Jackanory while offering a celebrity turn in a slot that otherwise featured wall-to-wall Bernard Cribbens and Brian Cant. However, as one who very much likes both Cribbens and Cant, I'm not sure how well Prince Charles is suited to children's television. Resisting the urge to appear atop Lochnagar in a kilt - one feels that several meetings were needed to talk him out of wearing a skirt - Charles welcomes some children into his home and other than looking as uncomfortable as a man lifted into the air on the end of a pole vault inserted into his arse, he begins his tale. Swiftly moving away from the live action, The Legend Of Lochnagar becomes an animated story. Unfortunately, this was produced not by Disney but by Cardiff's Dave Edwards Studio and based on the illustrations by Sir Hugh Casson in the original book. It does, then, look somewhat like that same studio's SuperTed, The Little Engine That Could and Shakespeare - The Animated Tales. In other words, some way short of Cosgrove Hall's Danger Mouse or Count Duckula and even further short of the animated features produced by a major studio.
Unfortunately, The Legend Of Lochnagar is in no way saved by the story. Victoria Wood once joked that in trying to find entertainment in the countryside, one was often reduced to staring at a barrel of water of an evening. There's the feeling that life at Balmoral wasn't very much better if this was the sort of thing that Charles used to keep Andrew and Edward amused. Small wonder that hunting seems to feature prominently in Royal life. The sound of Prince Charles draining what little enjoyment there is out of a story like this, endlessly repeated over what was surely meant to be a fun family break at Christmas, would have me reaching for a shotgun as well. Thankfully, Charles doesn't hang about and other than some very brief moments when he narrates the story, it's left to Robbie Coltrane and Hannah Gordon to keep things moving. Even then, this is only mildly entertaining stuff and were it not for the association with royalty, this would have gotten no nearer production than Monkey Tennis.
Sadly, Charles turns up at the end once more and plays his bagpipes at the children. Even in these delicate times, he'd have upset them less had he exposed himself to them as they look genuinely shocked at the sight of this dreary old fool puffing into a tartan bag to produce the kind of wheeze that you might get from kicking an asthmatic child. All that one can say in defence of The Legend Of Lochnagar is that some amount of the £4.99 price of the disc goes to charity. However, better that you just drop a fiver into a collecting tin the next time you're approached on the street and not bother with this rather dull story.
Had the BBC dealt with this through either the BBC or 2 Entertain labels, it could have been a very good presentation but this comes from Delta Music and leaves much to be desired. It would appear that the only restoration afforded The Legend Of Lochnagar was someone applying a new label to the case in which the videocassette was stored as this is often murky, soft and a habit of jumping between scenes as though a frame or two was missing. Indeed, it's not a good deal better than had it been shown off a VHS tape and throughout its short running length, one waits for the moment for the tape to catch in the machinery and for the tracking to drift. It's only that it never does that one could conclude, were the equipment hidden, that The Legend Of Lochnagar is playing off a DVD. The soundtrack is no better with it sounding brittle, sharp and with all the range of a tuning fork. It sounds harsh and though the dialogue is clear, the ambient sound effects are all but lost. Finally, there are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD.