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.  

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