Daytime TV in the UK used to mean something very different from what it does now. Rather than interminable Jerry Springer ripoffs and numerous How To Make Money From Your Old Tat programmes, the schedules prior to evening television used to be employed to run educational programmes for broadcast in schools and colleges. Both BBC and ITV did this for many years, with a lot of the programmes shown being so successful they were sold abroad.
One such example was LOOK & READ. Designed as teaching aid to help develop simple reading skills, the format consisted of what was known as a ‘teaching middle’ topped and tailed by a drama serial. I watched lots of these when I was very young - JOE & THE SHEEP RUSTLERS (1973) was a favourite, but none of them ever came close to the quality of THE BOY FROM SPACE.
Of course, I have to admit that I first watched this, now released on DVD by the BFI, in 1971. I was four years old, so I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking John Woodnutt’s Thin Space Man to be the scariest thing I had ever seen. The programme was shown in black and white but filmed in colour, as the BBC intended to sell it as a movie abroad. While that never happened, financial cuts later in the decade meant the film footage was reused. The original tapes had been wiped so new ‘teaching middle’ material was recorded, a new, more upbeat, score was recorded, and the new version of BOY FROM SPACE went out in 1980.
That’s the version of LOOK AND READ that’s on the first of this two disc set - ten twenty minutes episodes complete with songs, teaching bits and other stuff suitable for early learners. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating and valuable record of how kids were taught to read back in the day.
If you just want to watch the filmed drama, then that’s present on disc two. The plot involves two pre-teens, Helen and Dan (Sylvestra Le Touzel and Stephen Garlick) who have to help the alien boy Peep Peep (Colin Mayes) escape from the alien Thin Man (John Woodnutt) and get home after he’s stranded on earth.
Written by the hugely talented Richard Carpenter, who was only allowed to use a very limited vocabulary, THE BOY FROM SPACE is going to be a tremendously nostalgic viewing experience for those of a certain age (of which I’ll admit I’m one). It’s reminiscent of productions from the Children’s Film Foundation, as well as other early 1970s British SF shows like DR WHO.
Disc two of this new BFI releases also includes the soundtrack of the BBC Records LPs released to tie-in with the original broadcast, as well as downloadable pdfs of the students’ pamphlets that accompanied the series. There’s also a booklet with a fascinating article about the production of the series, as well as composer Paddy Kingsland’s memories of writing music for the show.
Oh, and I still think the Thin Man is still scary. Well done, John Woodnutt.
The BFI is releasing Richard Carpenter's THE BOY FROM SPACE on a double-disc DVD set on 25th August 2014