Monday, 4 January 2016
314 Midnight Is A Place
First viewed : 12 October 1977
This ITV kids series was a first for me , excepting the Biblical mini-series this was the first adaptation of something I'd already read ( and pretty recently at that ). This came about through a rather madcap scheme I'd hatched around the tail end of 1975. Being regularly bamboozled by the sheer choice of Puffin books at Sheratt and Hughes in Manchester I'd decided to start at the beginning of the shelves and work my way down which soon brought me to the works of Joan Aiken.
Her first five novels were all set in an alternative eighteenth century where James II and his Catholic descendants retained the throne and the Hanoverians were the villainous pretenders. The first in the series The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the best known. Fortunately I enjoyed them all as they were quite scary and poignant for kids' books and trying to arrange a performance of her unrelated play Winterthing was one of the "efforts" in the summer of 1976 ( see the Jumbo Spencer post for more details ).
Midnight Is A Place, the novel was only published in 1976 and was the last of her books that I purchased. The action had moved into the early industrial age and didn't reference the political situation at all. The young protagonist Lucas Bell is the scarcely wanted ward of a grim-faced mill owner Sir Ralph Grimsby who was in partnership with his father before the latter's death. He is joined in the house by a similar-aged girl Anne Marie, daughter of a previous partner to whom his mysterious music teacher Mr Oakapple is rather more attentive. When Grimsby perishes in a house fire, Lucas and Anne Marie have to live on their wits to survive while Lucas comes to realise that Anne Marie has rather more right to any family inheritance than he does. After a frightening interlude where Lucas has to work in the sewers with a crazy man called Dudgeon they both end up in the mill where they cross swords with the tyrannical invalid Bludward who runs a protection racket disguised as a friendly society.
The novel was quite lengthy and the more or less faithful adaptation ran to 13 episodes. Lucas was played by Nicholas Lyndhurst's main competition for TV roles, Simon Gipps-Kent. Maxine Gordon was Anne Marie and David Collings who seemed to be in pretty much everything around this time was Oakapple. The villains were played by reliable stalwarts William Squire ( Grimsby ) ,Ron Moody ( Gudgeon ) and Milton Johns ( Bludward ). Scots hard man James Cosmo played a factory worker who defends the children from Bludward.
Neither of the two youngsters became adult stars. Gordon seems to have given up acting at the beginning of the eighties Gipps-Kent's story is much sadder; although we'll meet him again he never managed to break out of children's TV and died of a heroin overdose in 1987 aged 28.