Monday, 8 December 2014

30 Catweazle

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.    

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