1 9 6 7 – 2 0 0 1 (UK)
Look and Read was an educational schools series from the BBC that debuted in 1967. The purpose of each serialised story (usually ten parts long) was to spin an exciting yarn around which could be based various reading lessons.
The actual drama segments only amounted to about six minutes of each episode’s 18-minutes or so run-time. The rest of the programme usually consisted of a bizarre floating orange blob with arms called Wordy introducing a variety of word-based activities and songs between two parts of the drama.
Wordy lived in a ‘Wordlab’ space station orbiting the Earth with his male companion, Colin (he of the yellow tracksuit) and his life revolved around discovering “interesting” things about words. Example? – Did you know there are two “o”s in “book”, “look”, and “took”?
Wordy and Colin were assisted by a team of cartoon characters, including Rip Van Twinkle.
But the drama segments of Look and Read were genuinely brilliant and so well-constructed that most who watched in the classroom as an eight or nine-year-old can still recall their favourites.
The first story to be told was the ten-part Bob and Carol Look for Treasure in 1967. Made in black and white it had a limited shelf life while later colour productions would be repeated for a decade or so.
Possibly the best known of these productions, screened several times over twenty years, was The Boy From Space (1971) – a science fiction tale by Richard Carpenter which told the story of a lost alien child called Peep-Peep (pictured at left), who was helped by two children, siblings Dan and Helen, and a kindly astrologer called Mr Bunting.
Peep-Peep was being pursued by an evil alien hunter – the exceedingly creepy Thin Man (pictured below) – and only the children’s quick-witted reading ability could save him (not a bloody big gun then?).
The Thin Man (John Woodnutt) tried to capture the boy and his new friends while holding the boy’s father prisoner.
Much use was made of mirror writing as Peep-Peep wrote like this, having learned English from a reversed see-through carrier bag. Em reggub!
The drama footage from The Boy From Space was reused in a revised version in 1980 which was narrated by the two children now grown up.
The same kind of revision happened with Sky Hunter (1978), a tale of peregrine falcon egg smuggling. ln 1992, the existing drama segments were re-edited into new linking material featuring the show’s original young leads, now playing adults working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Another memorable Look and Read drama was Dark Towers, a 1981 adventure which featured the down on his luck Lord Dark (David Collings) falling prey to some crooked antique dealers. His son Edward (Gary Russell) and a young girl called Tracy (Juliet Waley) help him, solving various word puzzles along the way. The ghost of the Dark Knight also comes to aid Dark Towers in its hour of need against Christopher Biggins!
Badger Girl (1984) was very similar to the earlier Sky Hunter and told the story of a very town-minded Cockney girl (Paula Millbank) learning the ways of the country and helping foil some pony rustlers. Her nickname came about because of her two-tone dyed hair.
Another child with animal friends was the central hero of Geordie Racer (1988), a sort of Kes with pigeons. Pigeon-racer Spuggy Hilton found strange messages attached to carrier pigeons and uncovered a plan by a gang of crooks to go on a burgling spree while the Great North Run was taking place.
Look and Read ended the 1980s with another fantasy entry, the rather brash and colourful eight-part story Through The Dragon’s Eye (1989), which had a group of children solving word and map-reading puzzles to help Gorwen the friendly dragon defeat the evil Charwen (David Collings) and retain the Veetarod, the source of his power.
The series was made into the early 1990s after providing a welcome distraction from real schoolwork for millions of British school kids. Episodes are probably still being repeated even now.