Les Anderson takes a look at ‘issue 3’ in this sampler series of DVD releases from Network…
This is the third in a series of sampler releases from Network. Each two-disc set contains sixteen half-hour episodes from a variety of children’s series (mostly drama serials) from the 70s (and occasionally the 60s).
The Siege of Golden Hill (1975) – Ultimatum
A gritty contemporary drama led by one of the promising young faces of the 70s, the late Gerry Sundquist. He plays Billy who runs around with an unusually well-groomed gang of Bad Sorts led by his older brother and his hard-as-nails girlfriend. Billy, however is Better Than That as seen in the care he shows his widowed grandfather who is about to be evicted by his grasping gangster landlord. On the basis of this opening episode, it’s not too difficult to predict just how the plot is going to develop. However the casting is good and Sundquist was a very capable actor with a fine head of hair.
A Place to Hide (1976) – The Hideout
Comedy drama about a family of thieves on the run (including a young Richard Hillman – Brian Capron, that is and his sister Frances Tomelty) who seek refuge in a small country hotel run by a rather eccentric family with a very inquisitive teenage son. Will their secret be rumbled?
Wreckers at Dead Eye (1970) – The Stranger
Plunder ahoy! Full-blooded period romp about a gang of wreckers on the south coast whose nefarious schemes are foiled by excise officers and the loopy old Lord of the Manor and his young family. Filmed entirely on location in fuzzy 16mm film and boasting the kind of uninhibited performances you just don’t see these days. Deliriously OTT. The set-up would be re-cycled ten years later for the Oliver Tobias vehicle Smuggler.
The Danedyke Mystery (1979) – Episode One
A former CID detective turned vicar (!) played by Michael Craig (one of the great could-have-beens of British cinema) goes on the trail of a gang of thieves out to steal his church’s treasures. He is assisted by two young friends who are about to be married played by Derek Thompson (Charlie from Casualty) and Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel from Only Fools…) who look impossibly young. Kenneth Colley and Peter Vaughan also pop up so the casting really is first-rate.
The Jensen Code (1973) – Episode One
A group of city teenagers on an outward bound weekend stumble across a secret (and sinister, of course) military facility. The cast is headed by Dai Kes Bradley whose acting has improved considerably since The Flaxton Boys. The cast also includes a pre-Brushstrokes Karl Howman as one of the boys and Brian ‘Travis’ Croucher as a sinister instructor. This is pretty gripping with a good central maguffin. The only drawback is that the series only exists now in a black-and-white telecine transfer with all the attendant ‘flaws’ but the story is sufficiently involving that you don’t really notice these.
Follow Me…(1977) – Episode One
A gritty stylishly-directed father/son drama. Young Tom (Ian Donnelly) lives with his mother but is sent to spend two weeks’ holiday with his feckless father (Ronald Fraser) on a ‘borrowed’ boat moored illegally in Bristol docks. He befriends a runaway girl while his father indulges in some shady deals and all become entangled in the machinations of a sinister ex-military ‘businessman’. Writen by Bob Baker and Dave Martin who also wrote Sky and King of the Castle which have already been released. Fraser is odd casting but does a good job and the series looks very promising.
Boy Dominic (1974) – Lost At Sea
Historical (or should that read hysterical) melodrama. Young Dominic (Murray Dale)’s father is shipwrecked in North Africa so his mother (the beautiful Hildegard Neil) throws them upon the mercy of his father’s merciless bitch of a mother (the fantastic Mary Morris) who had earlier disowned them. Which she still does. They are then ‘rescued’ from destitution by a chance meeting with an old shipmate of the father (Brian Blessed) who offers the mother employment. Episode one gets off to a shaky start with bad scripting, ropey direction and iffy performances. Things perk up though when Mary Morris appears and the plot then takes a promising turn. The series must have been successful because a second was made the following year.
Hold the Front Page (1974) – The Great Rug Scandal
A surreal sketch-based comedy show starring comedy goddess Denise Coffey and Gerry ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ Marsden among others. The closest modern equivalent would be Sorry I’ve Got No Head but this holds its own very well.
Catweazle (1970)– The Demi-Devil
I don’t need to say any more than this is one of the best children’s fantasy series ever made. Full stop.
Escape into Night (1972) – Episode One
This is an adaptation of a book entitled Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. The eponymous heroine is a young girl confined to her bed with a fractured leg. To pass the time she draws a house and then dreams she encounters a young invalid boy trapped in the house. Curiously enough her tutor subsequently tells her she is also teaching an invalid boy of the same name… Spooky. If the plot sounds familiar the book was also adapted for the cinema in 1988 as Paperhouse. This is a very spare production with most of the action confined to a few sets (except the dreamhouse exteriors which are shot on a suitably desolate location) but it works all the better for that.
The Feathered Serpent (1976) – Episode One
This has been reviewed in full elsewhere on this site. Full Review
Just William (1976) – The Sweet Little Girl in White
It’s interesting to compare this with the recent BBC adaptation shown at Christmas. This version opts for a 1930s setting and a broader more pantomimic style than the Beeb who updated the setting to the 50s. This version works well within its own parameters and Bonnie Langford as Violet Elizabeth is probably perfect casting. Adrian Dannatt is also very good as William but the recent Beeb version has much higher production values and a considerably superior asset in Rebecca Front as William’s mother.
Sky (1975) – Burning Bright
This has been reviewed in full elsewhere on this site. Full Review
Anything You Can Do (1971) – transmitted 9/7/1974
Ohmigod. A local ‘talent’ show with a trio of ‘celebrity’ judges (sounds familiar?) which appears to have been filmed in the spare corner of a studio being used for something else. To rub it in, the acts are filmed in the most unflattering way possible – makes Junior Showtime look like Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Appalling.
The Intruder (1972) – The Stranger
A family living in a small coastal village are visited by an overbearing and sinister stranger (Milton Johns). Shot entirely on location on film this is not only atmospheric but also really creepy and unsettling. I look forward to seeing more.
Soldier And Me (1974) – Conspiracy
Gerry Sundquist again with another 70s face, a young Richard Willis in one of his first featured roles. Sundquist plays Jim Westcott, a senior high school pupil who rescues young Czech boy Istvan Szolda (Willis) from a gang of bullies. For this he earns the lonely boy’s undying gratitude and puppydog devotion. ‘Soldier’, as Jim christens him, overhears two suspicious-looking Czech heavies in the library (like you do) plotting to murder an old man. When the police ignore his reports he decides to investigate this himself with Jim’s grudging assistance. The breathless montage over the opening titles suggests a long chase ensues. Another show shot entirely on film and it looks to be good fun. The central pair are both capable actors and make a good motley duo. Nostalgia websites would suggest this is one of the more fondly remembered serials from the 70s and I’m mystified as to why Network haven’t released it in its entirety yet.
As already mentioned, there are eight episodes on each of the two discs. The top menu graphics invoke Look In magazine, the ITV children’s tie-in publication of the 70s.
Transfer and Sound
All episodes are in colour except The Jensen Code and Escape into Night. The production formats also vary ranging from all-film location shoots to multi-camera studio setups so you really have to take each one as you find it. None of the episodes are in an overly damaged state but the older material, as you would imagine, fares less well. The sound is up to Network’s usual high standards.
None at all
I still can’t make my mind up about the usefulness of these sampler sets. They do remind us just what good stuff (and trash) was produced in the 70s and the whole point of these is to whet your appetite for the full-length releases. Which they most certainly do. However most of the episodes enclosed are taken from serial dramas and many of them won’t be released for a long time to come, if ever. Of the serials featured on this release, we have yet to see The Siege of Golden Hill, A Place to Hide, Wreckers at Dead Eye, The Danedyke Mystery, Follow Me, The Intruder and Soldier and Me. I can find no sign of them on the release schedules in the near future and yet most of them, judging by this sampler, are excellent serials and deserve to be seen in full once more. It does appear to be counter-productive to dangle such delights in front of the prospective purchaser but then deny them the pleasure of seeing the complete serials in the immediate future.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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