Thursday, 19 February 2015

95 Look And Read

First  watched  : 19  or  22  September  1972

I  was  now  in  Junior  One  at  school  and  our  claim  on  the  TV  was  for  Look  And  Read  but   I can't  recall  whether  it  was  for  the  Tuesday  or  Friday  showing. Look  And  Read 's  format  was  ingenious; it  sandwiched  a  literacy  section  between  two  halves  of  an  exciting  serial  which  itself  posed  questions  that  could  be  solved  by  applying  reading  skills.

I  was  very  fortunate  that  one  of  the  two  serials  broadcast  in  the  1972-73  academic  year  was  the  highly-regarded  The  Boy  From  Space. The  serial  was  written  by  Catweazle's  Richard  Carpenter  and  was  genuinely  scary  which  of  course  we  loved. The  blond-haired  silver-skinned  boy  Peep  Peep  and  his  father  were  on  the  run  from  the  terrifying  Thin  Man. The  two  parka-clad  children  who  discovered  them  were  able  to  assist  if  they could  interpret  the  aliens'  language   which  was  actually  English  written  backwards  so  it  could  be  deciphered  with  a  mirror  or  reflective  surface. As  with  Sesame  Street , the  educational  section  was  pitched  below  my  reading  level  so  wasn't  that  interesting  but  I  loved  the  story  which  probably  began  my  interest  in  science  fiction.  One  of  the  children  was  played  by  Sylvestra  Le  Touzel  , still  a  highly  regarded  and  very  busy  actress.

The  Boy  From  Space  had  first  been  shown  in  the  autumn  term  of  1971-72   but  the  serial  for  the  spring  term  in  1973,  Joe  and  the  Sheep  Rustlers  was  entirely  new.  Though  I  wouldn't  have  realised  it  at  the  time  it  was  all  filmed  just  a  few  miles  away,  around  Todmorden  and  Hebden  Bridge; one  ruin  featured was  Higher  Pemmin  Farm, less  than  an  hour's  walk  from  the  school. Watching  it  through  on  You  Tube  it's  a  wonderful  snapshot  of  familiar  places  just  a  few  years  before  I  started  discovering  them  for  myself. The  farming  consultant  on  the  programme  was  Littleborough   sheep  farmer   Harry  Lord  who  had  a   few   lines  himself  in  a  shearing  scene  although  I  don't  think  his  place,  Heights  Farm,  is  one  of  those  used  in   the  programme , perhaps  because  of  its  close  proximity  to  overhead  power lines. I  don't  recall  anyone  mentioning  such  a  local  connection  at  the  time  though  you'd  think  from  a  class  of  30+  local  kids  some  of  whom  lived  very  close  to  Heights  Farm,  somebody  would  have  recognised  him..

It's  also  full  of  recognisable  faces. The  heroic  young  shepherd  Joe  is  played  by  Struan  Rodger  who's  been  even  busier  than  Sylvestra  Le  Touzel  in  the  years  since  and  is  currently  in  Game  of  Thrones.  Having  survived  her  adventure  here  his   buxom  sidekick  Jill   ( Martine  Howard  )  had   to  contend  with  David  Van  Day   in  mid-seventies  pop  group  Guys 'n' Dolls.  The  inept  half  of  the  rustling  duo  was  played  by  Citizen  Smith's Mike  Grady  and  the  wonderful  character  Ken  Jones  who  died  this  time  last  year  played  the  youth  hostel  warden  whose  quasi-judicial  role  in  the  story  surely  wasn't  in  his  job  description.*

The  plot  is  full  of  holes  and  some  of  the  embedded  literacy  devices  are  very  contrived  but  its  still    enjoyable. BBC  supplied  schools  with  worksheets  connected  to  the  series  and  I  had  sight  of  the  teachers'  version  which  was  full  of  spoilers. I  eagerly  looked  forward  to  the  last  episode  in  which  someone  got  shot  because  I  had  a  bit  of   a  death  fixation  at  the  time  , regularly  taking  out  the  Shakespeare  for  kids  book  from  the  school  library  because  the  tragedies  of  course  had  multiple  deaths  at  the  end. In  the  end  the  guy  was  only  wounded  in  the  shoulder  and  the  real  glory  of  the  last  episode  was  a  marvellously  silly  mass  chase  through  the  back  streets  of  Hebden  Bridge  with  the  main  villain  ending  up  in  the  Rochdale  Canal.

* The  hostel  in  the  story  was  Mankinholes  Youth  Hostel  near  Todmorden  which  is  still  open.
The  real-life  warden  during  the  period  in  which  I  visited  there (1977-81)  , a  battleaxe  called   Mrs  Halliwell, would  certainly  have  made  a  good  sheriff.

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