1 9 7 4 (UK)
6 x 60 minute episodes
This pleasing series of six standalone hour-long plays about the world as seen by children was produced by Granada Television and aired on Sunday evenings.
The plays were adapted from short stories and the productions were universally of a high standard. The carefully chosen child actors delivered performances of remarkable naturalness and feeling beyond their years.
The series (minus “There is a Happy Land”) also aired on PBS in the US in 1977, where it was introduced – for some reason – by Ingrid Bergman.
Baa Baa Black Sheep | An Only Child | There Is a Happy Land | A Great Day for Bonzo | Easter Tells Such Dreadful Lies | Possessions
The first play, Baa Baa Black Sheep (21/4/1974), was adapted from a story by Rudyard Kipling by Arthur Hopcraft and told the story of a small boy named “Punch” (eight-year-old Max Harris), whose parents sent him and his 4-year-old sister Judy (Claudia Jessop) from India to stay with foster parents in the South of England.
Here his guardian is the strict and sanctimonious Auntie Rosa (Eileen McCallum) and while Judy is treated warmly, Punch is miserably abused and driven to the point of murderous and suicidal desperation.
While Rosa encourages her sadistic teenage son Harry (Anthony McCaffrey) to bully him, the lonely Punch finds one friend to offset his sense of rejection – gentle ex-seaman Uncle Harry (Freddie Jones) – until the old man dies.
The autobiographical story re-enacted the cruelty the six-year-old Kipling himself suffered at the hands of his foster parents.
In An Only Child (28/4/1974) by Frank O’Connor, Michael O’Donovan is an Irish boy from the slums of Cork torn between love for his drunken father and his gentle mother.
As he grows up, he finds himself also torn between two other loves – England and the English and Ireland and the Irish. His father had served with the British Army in the Boer War and has raised his boy to believe the English are the flower of civilisation.
It is not until he finds himself in the class of Irish poet and patriot Daniel Corkery (John Kavanagh) that he begins to suspect he owes his own country some loyalty.
With the onset of World War I, his father rejoins the Army. Then the Irish rebellion breaks out . . . and the English Army in Dublin are shooting Irish patriots. Out of his confusion, young Michael begins to forge his own convictions.
The story was an autobiographical tale of O’Connor’s own childhood in Cork. Two local lads from Cork played Michael aged 5 (Paul Carey) and aged 12 (Brian Frahill).
|Michael O’Donovan (aged 5)
Michael O’Donovan (aged 12)
Michael O’Donovan, Snr
Written by Keith Waterhouse, There is a Happy Land (5/5/1974) is set in a Leeds housing estate in the 1930s – the place and time when Waterhouse himself had grown up.
The story features Jackie Heseltine (Paul Woodhead), a council house boy running wild in the badlands and rhubarb fields just before World War II, and the puzzlement of a small boy discovering the strangeness of the adult world.
Adapted by Ian Curteis from a short story by H.E. Bates and directed by Michael Apted, A Great Day for Bonzo (12/5/1974) opens with a man (Maurice O’Connell) about to hang himself in a deserted barn on a hillside where the wind moans and howls a deathly symphony.
But he is interrupted by three children – Herbert, a big fat boy with specs (Julian Wedgery), Janey, a pretty little girl in a granny dress (Jennifer Cannock), and Biff, a shrimp of a boy with a devastating line in throw-away chatter (Nicholas Callas).
The kids, with the aid of a dog named Bonzo, bring the would-be suicide back together again with his girlfriend (Barbara Hickmott), and they are last seen leaving on a train, with Bonzo’s black and white snout fading into the sunset.
Jon T. Rudd
Man with scythe
Barbara Waring’s Easter Tells Such Dreadful Lies (19/5/1974) begins with young Harry Braden (Simon Griffiths) about to leave on a camping trip and teasingly telling his impressionable nine-year-old sister Easter (Rosalind McCabe) that their father (Bernard Horsfall), a respected physician, is having an affair with one of his patients.
Devoted to her father, Easter concocts an outrageous romantic affair in her mind while befriending her father’s “mistress”.
Harry later returns from his trip to find that Easter’s wild imagination has created a tempest in a teacup for the bewildered adults.
In Possessions (26/5/1974), the last words of the dying Mr Pritchard to his wife were, “You’ll be all right, Cassie. You’ve always been a fighter”, thus firmly stating the play’s theme.
Set in South Wales during the 1920s depression things become hard and, to provide for her sons, the widowed Cassie Pritchard (Rhoda Lewis) has to sell not only their grocery business but also the family’s pet pony – “Old Dick” – to make ends meet.
Dando Hamer (Anthony Hopkins), a feckless rag-and-bone man, buys the pony. The three Pritchard boys view the transaction with dismay, particularly when Dando, a heavy drinker, mistreats the horse and leaves it tied outside pubs in the rain.