Try as I might I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but I can tell you with absolute certainty the moment when I first came face to face with mind-numbing, paralyzing, blood-freezing terror. I was four years old and it was around about 1.35 on a weekday afternoon.
I was ambling about the living room, doing something incomprehensible as children often do, when I was stopped in my tracks by an unspeakable horror emanating from the television set in the corner. It was The Herbs and aided by his unspeakable acolytes Gordon Rollings and Ivor Wood, Michael Bond flayed my soul.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I loved The Herbs. I love it even more now that I’m ostensibly grown up and all sensible. Parsley, Sage, Knapweed and the others (but especially Dill) were an established favourite and a highlight of my tiny little life. Not on this day though. Oh, no. Not on this day. On this day, evil invaded the herb garden in the form of Belladonna, The Witch. As she turned other characters into weeds, slowly but surely taking over the Garden, the screen grew darker. She cackled, lit in the most Hammer-Horror-esque manner. It looked – just for a moment – like SHE MIGHT ACTUALLY WIN, and that would be the end of all my friends. No amount of frantic chanting the magic incantation “Herbidacious” was going to bring them back this time.
I didn’t see the end of it. I was panic stricken, terrorised. Frantic. I tried to run out of the room. I might even have smacked into the door, I was so scared. Couldn’t watch the end of it, so I missed my hero Dill saving the day (and teaching a handy lesson in the process – had I stayed I’d have realised that Dill was frequently used to ward off witches. I’m sure it would have served me well at some point).
The trauma stayed with me for months. For a very long time afterwards my mother could bring me smack into line by simply taking the two false teeth she had out, contorting her face and cackling just like Belladonna. I’d instantly stop misbehaving and become a very good boy indeed. Here’s the thing though – it became a cherished memory. That delicious, safe thrill of being scared witless within the security of four good solid walls, the visceral impact of the bloody thing -that stayed with me. Long after the gibbering panic faded, I remembered that day with total clarity. I still can. It seared itself into my memory to the point where I can recall precisely the layout of that entire room, even down to the ornaments sitting on the fireplace. It scarred me, but in a good, healthy, thrilling way.
I wasn’t alone. Not by a very, very long chalk was I alone. It seems that growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was packed with terror and darkness. You couldn’t watch television, go to the cinema, read a book, do anything at all, without something imprinting itself so deeply onto your brain that even decades later it’ll suddenly leap out on you when you least expect it. Almost always when it does, your reaction is delighted surprise and you greet the memory like an old friend and a variant on the tried and tested “oh, THAT’S what it was!” or, “Oh god, I remember that!” Our experiences as a child shape us and make us the people we are. To judge by the volume of gleefully irresponsible material we were either subjected to or actively sought out when we were told not to, the childhoods of my particular generation should have kept psychiatrists the length and breadth of the country busy for a very long time. Instead, we carry those memories with us forever and we hold them close. Well, most of them anyway. We’re Scarred For Life, but we don’t mind one bit.
Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence obviously cherish those memories as much as I do because they’ve handily avoided a lifetime of expensive therapy by writing them down. Scarred For Life Volume 1 – The 1970s is a gigantic doorstopper of a book, clocking in at over 700 pages. It’s a delicious compendium of the familiar, the half-remembered and the deliriously obscure and I’m more than half convinced that both of the authors spent their childhoods lurking on the periphery of my own, unseen but always there like The Shape in Sapphire and Steel , so closely do their experiences and memories echo mine.
There’s easy money to be made out of knocking together a cheap book of lazy reminisces. Talk about Bagpuss for a bit. Throw in a mention or two of Geoffrey from Rainbow, laugh at the silly clothes and the cheap sets or naff special effects and you’re landed. Published for Christmas, cluttering up the charity shops by January. Scarred For Life isn’t interested in all of that. First and foremost, it’s a celebration, a loving collection of things that enriched the lives of the authors and which they evidently still love. That love shines from pretty much every page. The tone of the whole thing is very definitely “wasn’t this great?” It should trigger off some healthy back catalogue sales for Network, and it might just bankrupt you were you to scurry off to ebay and try to score some of the other phantoms from your past that will be evoked by this enormous celebration of shredded nerves and sleepless nights.
That’s where it scores over so many other books which celebrate our collective pasts. The breadth of ground it covers is enormous. I love and cherish certain books about television, primarily Phil Norman’s exemplary A History of Television in 100 Programmes and JR Southall’s lovingly compiled compendium of Television memories You And Who Else. By the time this one’s done with television we’re only 300 pages in. There’s a whole universe of other things to talk about, things which only occasionally get covered but which – I guarantee you – will set off a train of thought which will end up with ghosts sitting in your mental carriages that you didn’t even think you remembered. Cinema. Books. Board Games. Even Sweeties. Lots of books cover one or more of this little lot. Scarred For Life does it all at once. It’s daunting, it’s exhaustive, and I couldn’t stop reading it.
We start with a quote from and a dedication to the late and very great Robert Holmes. A brisk “Right, let’s scare the little buggers to death”, and we’re off. Following an enthusiastic introduction from Johnny Mains – a man who knows this stuff backwards – we launch headfirst into the bewilderingly eclectic world of 70s television. Kicking off with a section on children’s television we launch straight in with The Owl Service. When your first lengthy article is about Alan Garner you know you’re going to be alright. Ace of Wands, The Tomorrow People, Grange Hill – all here, all present and correct. So also are The Feathered Serpent, 4 Idle Hands, Escape Into Night, The Changes, Shadows and more. Stephen Brotherstone’s memories of being so scared of the titles to Shadows that he actually tried to escape the room but COULDN’T REACH THE DOOR HANDLE, necessitating the tying of a piece of string to the handle to prevent any future recurrences, reminded me very much of my own childhood terrors. At least he didn’t run headfirst into the door. Unlike me. The piece on The Tomorrow People is accompanied by a wonderfully sparky and funny interview with the world’s oldest teenager, Nicholas Young. John himself, as self-deprecating and witty as ever. A lovely little bonus.
HTV’s remarkable stable of crazy, surreal and downright weird serials is next. Sky, The Clifton House Mystery, Children of the Stones and King of the Castle remain some of the oddest, freakishly strange bits of television I’ve ever seen. I was prompted to watch a couple of episodes of Sky and King of the Castle after reading this and they’re every bit as much of a late night bedtime-after-cheese nightmare as the authors make out. They’re also still magnificent television.
We dive headlong into the bleak world of the grownups with a section on the grim, abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter here stuff that British tv companies spun out by the yard back then. Callan, Shadows of Fear, Play For Today, Gangsters and Alternative 3 all spotlighted here, all – in their own ways – vigorously off-kilter and woozy. The piece on Gangsters in particular reminds of how bloody odd it was to start with, and how utterly unlike anything else you’ve ever seen it became. The Alternative 3 bit left me shaking my head with disbelief, as April Fool becomes a-myth-that-cannot-be-debunked. No matter how many times some people are told it’s a hoax, they choose to believe instead it’s a cover-up and more fuel to support their own pet conspiracies. So it goes.
This dovetails nicely into A Very British Dystopia . We were obviously either doomed, in the process of dooming ourselves or already doomed and didn’t know it in the seventies and Doom Watch, The Guardians, Survivors, 1990 and grumpy old Nigel Kneale’s final Quatermass didn’t let us forget it. The Guardians in particular gives off an aura of “you’re all screwed, you might as well forget it” that makes it fairly unique – thank god – but it’s still television that would have rivetted you to the screen on first broadcast. It still does. I’m particularly pleased to see 1990 getting some attention – I’ve always loved it and 1970s television for me peaks at one point during series 2 when Edward Woodward and John Paul share a scene in which they basically just grit at each other in their own unique manner. John Paul doing his patented hands-on-desk, you-bastard glare that he used to hurl at Simon Oates, Woodward with that particular brand of “just one word, you sod. Just one word and I’ll lamp you” suppressed violence that he and he alone did so well.
Sci-Fi UK and English Gothic are up next, so brace yourself for pieces on UFO, Space 1999 – Dragon’s Domain (a wonderfully pawky but fundamentally affectionate dissection), Star Maidens and Blake’s 7. I’d always believed that Star Maidens was shockingly poor. It actually isn’t – although it’s almost terminally confused in what it wants to be – and I was pleased to see that the authors agree. English Gothic shivers it’s way through A Ghost Story For Christmas, The Stone Tape, Dead of Night, Beasts, The Omega Factor, Sapphire and Steel and Late Night Stories Read By Tom Baker. Every single one parked in my DVD collection, and somewhere in the back of my brain. Indeed, by this stage in the book the only thing that I didn’t actully know either from the time or from actively seeking it out later was 4 Idle Hands. I’ve since seen the first episode and yes – it’s wonderful.
This particular section is a personal treat because so many of my own personal Scarred For Life moments derive from these shows. “The Signalman” gets watched every Christmas Eve without fail here and “Baby”, from Beasts, remains the only piece of television drama to actively traumatize me in adult life. I watched it once. I will never watch it again. Not just because it terrorized me so much, but because I want to keep that particular memory pure. I don’t want to go back and discover that the power it carries has faded.
If you’re writing about Seventies television there are several gigantic elephants blocking up the room that really need to be addressed. How We Used To Live covers quite a few of them in detail. The Black and White Minstrel Show, Love Thy Neighbour, On The Buses all present and incorrect, but there are also thoughtful pieces on racism, sexism and squalor, the “something for the Dads” syndrome and Jason King. We finish up this section with a piece on Romany Jones, a show which I’d more or less blocked from my memory along with its horrid spin off Yus My Dear. The latter in particular is unwatchable now and it’s one of the few shows covered here that I can’t ever sit through. Or justify. Or apologise for.
The television section is rounded off with You’re Nicked! The Sweeney, G.K Newman’s masterful Law and Order and New Scotland Yard are all examined here and I was chuffed to see the latter given some attention. Seemingly forgotten now, it is bleak, brutally nihilistic and every bit as downbeat as the others and it needs reappraisal sharpish. Performances as good as the ones given by Woodvine and Carlisle don’t deserve to languish unappreciated and I really wish it was more loved than it is. Thankfully it gets a fair shake here and is allowed to sit proudly alongside its rather more famous brothers. Quite right too.
Interspersed throughout the television section are little pieces on The Art of the Title Sequence. I have quite a thing for title sequences. Done well and done right, they enhance a programme beyond measure. Randomly thrown together clips or will-this-do montages don’t cut it. With a decent title sequence you can set the scene. You can establish a mood. You can even – in the case of Survivors – compress an entire episode’s worth of setup into under a minute, letting you get on with telling your story right from the get-go. Several of the finest of the era are covered here, lavishly illustrated with screengrabs which will remind you of just how much of an art form it is.
A cursory glance around this blog will reveal that I have more than a passing interest in Doctor Who, so I’m pleased to note that the next section turns the spotlight on the years when the dandy and old teeth-and-curls bestrode Saturday nights and did indeed scare-the-little-buggers-to-death. I’m even more pleased to note that it does it by looking at some of the odder little tributaries that led off from the main show during the seventies. Here you’ll find pieces on the Blackpool exhibition – I did manage to go but right at the death of it, shortly before it closed down. There’s a marvellous piece on the Radiophonic Workshop, without whom I’d have missed an inroad into areas of music that I might otherwise have completely ignored; also without whom my adult years would have been considerably less atonal and skronky. There’s a nice piece about the Doctor Who back up comic strips from Marvel too, which point out the remarkable coincidence of the Time Lords becoming involved in a Time War. Sadly never completed due to creative disputes, that arc may look oddly familiar to latter day followers of the mothership. My favourite piece though is definitely the one on the swivel-eyed lunacy of the World Distributors Annuals. I have an unhealthy obsession with these – indeed my single all-time favourite piece of Doctor Who writing is Gary Gillat’s remarkable demolition of one particular annual story in his A To Z book – so this one’s off to a winner so far as I’m concerned. The alleys and byways of Doctor Who are almost as fascinating as the actual show itself so it’s a pleasure to be reminded that these particular diversions in the seventies are as well thought of by others as they are by me. Even if they only occasionally resemble the thing they’re supposed to be spinning off from.
Next up – and justifiably given an entire section to themselves – are the Public Information Films. Frequently weird, occasionally unnerving and often downright bloody terrifying, these things are the bedrock of any Scarred For Life experience. The way they’d often crash into the middle of whatever else you were watching, scare the shit out of you and then leave again without so much as a pause means they’ve embedded themselves in all our consciousnesses and they’re given a good going over here. Split into sections covering areas like Everything Kills, Stranger Danger, Country Vile, Remember Remember and One For The Road, I guarantee this one will stir up more forgotten memories than any other. Certainly they did for me. As a result I’ve had one particularly funky piece of music stuck in my head for nearly a week now. When you read the book, you’ll know EXACTLY which one I mean.
Much credit is given in this section to director John Krish and rightly so – some of these films have stuck in my head for decades now along with the messages they conveyed and it seems that nearly every single one of the ones that did were directed by him. It’s good that he’s given time to shine. He deserves it. I hope he knew just how much of an effect his work had on us. Not only that, but just how many lives he may have saved. That’s not a bad legacy.
Having said all that, the most fun I got out of this particular section was the one on the Green Cross Code PIFs. Not only David Prowse’s remarkable turn as Green Cross Man, but that amazing time-capsule of seventies celebrity where Kevin Keegan, Joe Bugner, Alvin Stardust and Les Gray from Mud dispensed road-crossing advice with varying degrees of aggression. Every single one of these has remained with me in the same way as the frightening ones have, proving there’s more than one way to get the message across, even if I can’t for the life of me understand how the hell they thought SPLINK would ever work as a viable acronym. When Harry Hill’s TV Burp suddenly ram-raided a piece on Emmerdale by bringing in Alvin Stardust to recreate his particular Green Cross Code PIF it felt like meeting an old mate. You’ll meet lots of old mates in this section, some of them more welcome than others. Once I’d got over the shock of finally realising that yes, that was British Horror Movie stalwart Edward Judd in the “Think Bike” section (“Think Once. Think Twice. Think Don’t Drive Your Car On The Pavement”), the piece on “20 Times More Likely” revealed that my beloved Squeeze are on the soundtrack with “Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil”. First time I heard that I KNEW I’d heard it somewhere before. Just never could work out where until now.
Next up things get very strange indeed, as we careen into the truly absurd with Scarred by Toys and Games. I never craved the dubious joys of owning a ventriloquist’s doll (although I still get the same shiver that everyone else does out of watching Dead of Night and Eric Morecambe’s attempts to wrestle his into something resembling working order leaves me weak with laughter). I collected Top Trumps but oddly enough, never really played them. My experience with board games in general is limited to the ones everyone knows. Monopoly, Cluedo and the like are about as far as I go, to be honest. Actually, that’s not altogether true. I was obsessed with “Operation”, and god knows I tried to give that Doctor Who one from the eighties with Tom’s face on the front a go, despite being hampered by a complete inability to a. understand the rules and b. find any bugger willing to play the damn thing with me. Much of this section is brand new to me and as such, left me boggling.
We’re eased in relatively gently with a piece on Ventriloquist Dummies. That is, until we’re confronted with the full nightmarish horror of Mr Parlanchin. I was going to bung in a picture of the wee sod here but no, I’m not having him squat evilly in the corner of this review. Google him if you dare but don’t expect to sleep tonight. There are many of him for sale on ebay. Presumably people who bought him then couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep for fear they’d hear a gentle “thump” on the end of the bed followed by the wooden creak of him advancing up towards the pillow towards your face. Brrrrr.
Anyway. After that, we get back to relatively safe territory with Top Trumps. Like I say, I never really played the damn things, but the collector gene is strong – the idea of something you could collect and trade and swap to fill in gaps was quite big in our school, with the horror ones obviously high on the list of cherished wants. As SFL’s article rightly points out the swipes from other pieces of art and photos are really frighteningly blatant – not that I realised that at the time. I do now, though. Death’s Horror Rating of 100 seems about right, even if – by definition – he really should have a maximum Killing Power rating too. Where did that other five percent go?
Next up, and this one really had me knuckling my eyes in disbelief. Inappropriate Board Games is probably the most accurately named piece in the book, even if it does namecheck my beloved “Operation”. Some of the rest, though… “Alien”? “Seance”? Good god. Mind you, most of the ones I do recognise seem a bit off-kilter in the cold light of day. I mean, “Mouse Trap” isn’t exactly normal, is it?
On the other hand, it’s no “Bermuda Triangle”, “Game of Jaws”, “Game of Dracula” or “Escape From Colditz” either, all of which are covered here. Much is made of the legendary unplayability of the latter, along with the fact that it just looks bloody lovely when you take all the bits out of the box. I didn’t know that someone trying to sell one of the very first production runs fell foul of ebay’s rules owing to the presence of a certain symbol on the packaging. The book is peppered with great little stories like that. It’s much more than just a rundown of Things That You Remember. It’s scrupulously researched as well and packed with stuff that you never knew.
One thing I certainly never knew about was the existence of a game called “I Vant To Bite Your Finger”. I spent a fair amount of time blinking in disbelief at this one. I’m still not sure if ever existed, but no, there it is. There are copies on ebay, which is where the photo to the right comes from. Lordy. I’d just about got over that one,when I hit the final article, which concerns that hardy perennial Nuclear War. Speaking as one who suffered horrendously from Nuclear Terror in the eighties, I’m deeply and truly glad I never knew this particular game existed until now. The fact that it’s actually a passionate and heartfelt piece of social commentary masquerading as a board game really doesn’t make it any easier. That photograph on the box is enough to bring anyone out in a cold sweat. Unless you’re made of sterner stuff than I am, which let’s face it, you almost certainly are.
With that under our belts it’s time to take a trot through the dark and savage underbelly of seventies cinema and SFL wastes no time in reminding us what a grim place the world could be – at least, as refracted through the despairing lens of certain seventies film-makers. Kicking off with an explanatory piece The Savage Cinema of the 1970s, we then careen off into a brutal universe of terrors. The slew of satanic horror movies; dystopian Sci-Fi by the bundle. When Animals Attack, including the legendary “Night of the Lepus”, (one of the very few non-Star Trek credits after 1969 on DeForest Kelley’s CV. He must have seen something in it that we didn’t). The Savage Cinema that gave us the likes of “Deliverance”. Folk Horror. “Watership Down” quite rightly gets a section to itself, as does “The Medusa Touch” before we fetch up with a wondrous look at Pop Music films of the Seventies, which means two things – David Essex and Slade. Both get their due and both sections are full of surprises – not least the existence of an independently produced series of plays about Jim Maclaine Jr, the offspring of the Essex character from “That’ll be The Day” and “Stardust” and – possibly my favourite revelation in the entire book this – the original plot idea before someone came up with “Slade In Flame”. I’ll not spoil it for you because it made me hoot with laughter for more or less an entire day. Nasty and dark “Slade In Flame” may be, but I’ll listen to “How Does It Feel?” anytime you like. That said, it wouldn’t have fitted in with what the film was originally going to be about. Let’s just leave it at that.
It’s good to see these films getting a bit of exposure. You can read about the magnificence of much of seventies cinema in a plethora of publications. I’ve not read too much about Waris Hussein’s “The Posession of Joel Delaney” elsewhere, though having digested with unease the summary offered here, perhaps that’s just as well.
Oh, and I have a cherished original copy of “Alien – The Illustrated Story” too. Every bit as good as the film, if somewhat gorier. Ridley kept it all in the shadows, in the main. Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson… not so much.
When I was a horrible little schoolboy – more years ago than I care to remember – some classmates and I collaborated on a novel. At least we tried to, but our English teacher caught wind of it and smitten with repulsion, threatened to take drastic action if we continued. It was called “The Machete Killings” and whilst we weren’t exactly original, you couldn’t get us under the Trade Descriptions Act. There was a machete. There was an awful lot of killing(s). You’d have known what you were getting, were there a market for round-robin horror novel written by a bunch of bloodthirsty schoolboys. It’s possible there might well have been a market after all, as Scarred By… Books and Comics makes abundantly clear.
I mean, just look at what we were passing around the classroom, devouring like one of those naughty magazines you’d find stuck in a hedge or floating in a puddle. The Pan Book of Horror Stories. Killer Crabs, Men of War and Stone Killers. Skins, Angels and the New Pulp – New English Library. The legendary, almost mythological Dracula Annual. Action. 2000ad. The jaw-dropping cruelty of Girls Comics in the 1970s. That last one gave us a quite a night here. My simple reading out of some of the plot summaries had us scurrying to the web to see if we could find examples of how horrible they actually were. Nine times out of ten, they were worse. Thankfully, there’s a loving piece on The Deranged Art of Ken Reid to take the taste away. When a piece littered with examples of Ken Reid’s art is actually less freaky than a piece on Girls Comics, you know things are bad.
It must be said, there are more references to things in this section of SFL that chime personally with me than any other. I must have devoured much of this nonsense avidly as a kid because virtually every article had me crowing with delight as I recalled past obsessions, whether it was Guy N. Smith’s never-ending procession of “Crabs” novels; Sven Hassel and THAT logo; the visceral, blood spattered terror of the “Pan Book of Horror Stories” series; rounding up with “Action comic and dear old “Hookjaw”. Funnily, I don’t remember “Kids Rule OK” – the one that really seemed to spark the outrage that brought about “Action”‘s downfall – at all. Seen from a distance of several decades, it’s horrible. Really, really nasty. Strangely I have no memory of “The Crunch” – DC Thomson’s attempt to plough the same furrow as “Action”. None whatsoever, despite the fondness expressed here. Must have been far too bound up in my weekly 2000ad fix to even notice it.
Other things mentioned here passed me by – for instance, New English Library and their endless “Skinhead” novels. I won’t be seeking them out. However, SFL does kindly provide a list of some of the more bobbins novels to come out of the period, and I may not be able to rest again until I have found and read “Devil Daddy”. Speedboating Satanists on the Thames. A plague of Progeria. A suspected alien visitor, who turns out to be yer ACTUAL Wandering Jew. Face it True Believer. This one’s got it all. Doesn’t half put Roy of the Rovers vs the Hooligans in the shade.
Hungry after all that? I know I am. Don’t worry, SFL has you covered here as well, as we stampede headlong into Scarred By Food . Many of these items are by their nature considerably more ephemeral than the others and so the pieces here are packed with things that this reader was astonished to recall. Whether it’s “Horror Bags”, “Phantom Chews” or “Trebor Mummies”, this is a glimpse into a shadowy netherworld of mouth-watering delights, crammed into greedy maws and then forgotten. Except of course by the thriving collector’s market who somehow managed to save never-ending examples of the wrappers and packets most of us chucked away.
Thanks to them we can now recall “Count Dracula’s Deadly Secret” (black Ice Lolly with blood red jelly filling); “Fumunchews” (gawd help us all); the “Big D” peanut displays featuring the charms of “Big D Bev” aka Beverley Pilkington, who would slowly be revealed the more peanuts the thirsty drinker bought; the rather-late-to-the-party “Freak Out” Ice Lolly; ending up at the definitely-couldn’t-happen-today Sweet Cigarettes. I had no idea that they came in ordinary (dark coloured) and menthol varieties (white). Not that the distinction would have mattered at the time but such fidelity in the cause of corrupting the nation’s youth by stealth must be applauded, albeit not condoned.
No examination of 1970s media would be complete without at least a peek at one our major obsessions. It seemed that you couldn’t spit back then without hitting an alien, a ghost or a prehistoric monster. You couldn’t move without being abducted, probed and dumped again in some desolate backroad somewhere, and evidence that God was an Ancient Astronaut was in abundance. Oh, and Uri Geller bent some spoons using just his brain. At least until he met Johnny Carson. You’ll find all of the above and a hell of a lot more besides in Scarred By The Paranormal, the closing chapter of this epic trawl through all of the things that made us go “argh” in the seventies.
Following the introductory The Great Paranormal Boom of the 1970s, we’re off – potted biographies of Erich von Daniken, Uri Geller and that happiest of Happy Mediums Doris Stokes to get us started. As the article points out everyone seemed to have a copy of “Chariots of the Gods” and none of them seemed to have the same cover. Ours was white with blocky lettering and the obligatory blurred UFO on the cover. Yours was probably entirely different. Uri’s ever-proliferating claims get examined in detail, as does Doris and her habit of ensuring the theatres she played at were peppered with a certain amount of…. sympathetic friends. All fascinating stuff, especially the stuff about the old spoon-bender getting something of a public comeuppance at the hands of Carson. I’ve Seen The Saucers – UFOs in Popular Culture is next and if you think that a certain Brummie Band with a penchant for Beatlesesque melodies and string sections is about to put in appearance you’d be right. ELO – for it is they – are suitably covered, as are many others from David Bedford to UFO (of course) right through to Zappa and his von Daniken-baiting “Inca Roads”. Along the way you’ll trip over Judas Priest, Bowie, The Stranglers (“human flesh is porky meat / heeeeeeeeeeee!”) and Dr Funkenstein himself, George Clinton. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the Top of the Pops themed countdown of UFO based songs included here helpfully emphasizes. One suspects Prog leanings in at least one of this book’s authors – there’s an awful lot of it in this section and this reader for one, couldn’t be happier.
A cracking piece on UFOs in Comics is next, kicking off with that beautiful “Keep Watching The Skies” cover 2000ad came up with and covering all points after that. Starlord, Marvel US, even Gold Key – all here and more.
As you might expect, UFOs in Books is meaty indeed. Well, publishers do like a bandwagon and they jumped on this one very hard. UFOs from Ancient Earth. UFOs from Beyond The Earth. UFOs from beneath the Earth. All here, until somewhere around 1977, and post Close-Encounters, it all begins to get more personal and focusses on the one-to-one experiences of people who claim to have got a bit closer to your average alien than just the outside of a saucer sighted a couple of hundred feet up. People start aiming UFO books at children too – I distinctly remember a few finding their way into every school library I was ever inside. I even read a few. More than a few.
The colossus of Close Encounters looms over UFOs in Film and Television – as you might expect it would – but along the way we dredge up some remarkable oddities. The mighty Shatner’s “Mysteries of the Gods” is in there of course, but I had no idea that Rod Serling had been tapped for a couple of documentaries or that James Earl Jones was so obsessed by the story of Betty and Barney Hills that he bought the rights to their story, eventually lodging it with NBC and starring in “The UFO Incident” alongside Estelle Parsons. I scurried off and found a copy and it really is rather good. Certainly better than “The Disappearance of Flight 412”, which this section is rightly rather lukewarm about. Ah well. They can’t all be belters.
There’s just time for a look at Close Encounters itself and its nearest television counterpart Project UFO before we leave the aliens behind and wrap up with a peek at the paranormal. Usborne’s peerless World of the Unknown – All About Ghosts, Monsters and UFOs is first up. I had all three of these. I loved all three of these, and I’d completely forgotten them until last week when I read about them in here. Gorgeously illustrated, relatively non-sensationalist in their approach, they fired the imagination of this young reader and I don’t doubt that they sit on book shelves the world over doing just the same to children even now.
Bigfoot, Nessie and The Devil’s Triangle is next up, enabling us once more to marvel at how wonderful Doctor Who’s “Terror of the Zygons” is – forget the crap monster, and marvel at the atmospheric loveliness and the haunting melancholy that threads through the damn thing. My hero Alex Harvey gets a mention thanks to his bizarro “Alex Harvey Meets The Loch Ness Monster” album, plus “Water Beastie”, which found its way onto the perpetually underrated final SAHB album “Rock Drill”. Sadly since this book covers the 70s there’s no room in the Bigfoot section for The Goodies rollicking take on the subject – however, I don’t doubt with the next volume there’ll be room for it since they manage to take out Arthur C. Clarke and His Mysterious World in the same salvo.
We’re nearly done, but there’s room for a look at the short lived Fantastic Journey series, tying us into the antics in and around The Devil’s Triangle, before we end this epic trawl of all our yesterdays with a look at some of the most notorious and occasionally scary happenings of the seventies. Borley, Amity and Enfield; the Nationwide Werewolf (yes, THAT Nationwide, the one with Bough, Lawley et al). This one wraps us up with the story of strange goings on in Hexham – hairy, slavering manifestations, and shrunken stone heads found in a garden.
All of which leaves us on an eerie, unsettling note. We’ve travelled all the way from Alan Garner and a disturbing exploration of sexuality and mythology, through all points in between, fetching up with Michael Barrett and a spectral werewolf. What an odd decade the seventies were. What a tremendous book this is. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Every article’s a treat. Lavishly illustrated, lovingly written and packed with stuff I’m dying to revisit, this will keep you busy for ages. I couldn’t leave it alone – it’s one of those “just one more article” books. Eminently dippable – you can read just a few, but the whole thing is immensely satisfying. A round of applause to the authors. I urge you to grab a copy. Read it. Then read it again and buy several for your friends. It really is a joy. Trust me. We’re promised volume 2, covering the eighties. I was there then. I’ll be here for the book. If it rekindles as many warm (and occasionally terrifying) memories as this one, I’ll be satisfying.
Oh, and Parsley endures. Dill saved him, so I needn’t have worried. That’s what you get for missing the end of things.
Scarred For Life Volume 1 is out now. Purchase a copy directly from http://www.lulu.com/shop/stephen-brotherstone-dave-lawrence/scarred-for-life-volume-one/paperback/product-23116461.html
Instructions to claim your free colour ebook version can be found on page 2 of the print edition.