Monday, 8 December 2014
First watched : Uncertain
Although Catweazle was filmed in '69 , it was first broadcast on Sunday 15th February 1970 and it seems like this is where the seventies really begin as far as TV is concerned.
Catweazle is very much a product of its time. With Britain, thanks to Harold Wilson being somewhat wiser than one of his successors, staying out of Vietnam, the hippie movement here had no focus for protest and instead turned inward, exploring the past , seeking out particularly any remnants of old, alternative religions that might challenge the Christian consensus. The series started at exactly the same time as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson was terrifying the Top of the Pops audience with his manic appearance and unhinged performance of The Witch's Promise . Although its creator , jobbing actor Richard Carpenter , had just turned 40, he tapped into this cultural shift and produced a surprisingly daring children's serial. Catweazle's familiar , a toad named Touchwood is an unmistakably occult element and this was going out at teatime on a Sunday.
This was the first TV programme to actually spook me which was probably down to Geoffrey Bayldon's appearance, looking like one of those street drunks my mother instinctively pulled me away from. The premise was that he was an eleventh century Saxon magician on the run from the Normans who dives into a pond and emerges on a farm in Surrey. He is discovered , Whistle Down The Wind - style, by a teenage boy nicknamed Carrot ( this was doubtless appreciated by ginger kids everywhere ; ironically the young actor who played him , Robin Davies, dyed his hair for the role ) who agrees to hide him from the adults while he works out a way to return to his own time. Catweazle's alarmed and then sceptical reaction to the modern technology he encounters introduces a thread in seventies drama running right through to Shoestring at the opposite end of the decade.
Catweazle lasted for two 13-part series - a third was planned but abandoned - but is still remembered. A rather clownish professional wrestler Gary Cooper from Doncaster adopted the persona as his USP and was a regular on World of Sport for the rest of the decade ; he was the opponent for Mick McManus's final televised bout. A dozen or so years ago I let a beard get rather out of control and the local teenagers started shouting "Catweazle" at me ; it might only have been one lad who was familiar with his Dad's DVD's but shows the impact it still has on viewers.
Of the protagonists mentioned above only Bayldon ( who'd already turned down the title role in Dr Who twice ) is still alive at 90 having worked continuously until well into his eighties. Carpenter died of a stroke while walking his dog in 2012 with a movie version apparently in the works . He'd had many subsequent TV successes most notably Robin of Sherwood . Davies had some more good roles as a teenager then he gradually faded from view as an adult although he was still active in provincial theatre at the time of his death from lung cancer in 2010.