The above recollection is based entirely on some reading I did about BBC shools programming last week; personally, I don't remember any of those programmes at all. Except for one. One of them is seared into the deepest, darkest crevice of my cerebral cortex and comes for me in my most vulnerable moments, because it is literally the most terrifying thing I have ever clapped eyes on. It was called The Boy From Space, and after thirty-something years of me trying to forget it, the BFI are about to unleash it on the world in DVD format.
As well as the ten-part, 200-minute-long series (including interrupting puppet waffle), the BFI's new release of The Boy From Space includes a 70-minute edit of the whole story that strips out all the punctuation and grammar lessons and presents the story as a feature-length sci-fi drama. It's the best way to watch it (unless you can't punctuatify or grammarise properly), and enormoprops to Peter Stanley at the BFI for a sterling editing job. Although having had to watch it over and over again I imagine he's now locked in a special home for the terminally disturbed.
The story concerns two irritating siblings, Dan and Helen, who are keen amateur stargazers. There's a bunch of guff about telescopes and astronomy, in an attempt to teach young viewers about the boring mechanics of staring into space, and then the programme forgets all that and takes a turn for the utterly mental. Searching an empty quarry (a favourite location of 1970s BBC filmmakers), Dan and Helen hear a mysterious sound: a squeaky, squelchy, backwardsy noise that triggered all sorts of palpitations when I heard it again. Before they can investigate, a car pulls up, and THIS GUY gets out of it and chases the kids for no apparent reason.
Hope this is the right image, I had my eyes screwed up in fear when I uploaded it
"The Thin Man", as they call him (rather than the more accurate "The Embodiment Of All That Is Unholy And Evil"), haunted my nightmares for WEEKS as a child. When I went to sleep I would have to clear a path from the bed to the door, so that when I turned the light off at the switch by the door I could leg it back into bed as quickly as was humanly possible so The Thin Man didn't get me. The fucker was TERRIFYING. Not only did he look like that, but he spoke by just holding his mouth open, and sounds not of this earth would fall out. Also he walked in slow motion: not slowly as such, but the film was slowed down just enough to make it look unnatural without an eight-year-old audience knowing exactly how. Why would you do that to a child?
But worse was to come. After The Thin Man gives up the chase (also for no apparent reason), Dan and Helen discover the source of the mysterious sound. A boy, maybe ten years old, appears and moves unsteadily towards the children. With white hair and a silvery complexion, he looks like the result of a carnal meeting between Game Of Thrones' Joffrey and one of the aliens from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The look on his face is one of abject terror and helplessness, and as he stumbles towards the camera, arms outstretched, I genuinely felt more unsettled and anxious than at any point during Under The Skin. I mean look at this:
nope NOPE NOPE
The facial expressions and gestures that young actor Colin Mayes employs in his role as the unearthly child - irritatingly called Peep-Peep by the kids, as if he's a cuddly toy rather than an absolute living dreadmonger - are remarkable, and are almost certainly to blame for my reaction as both boy and man. The programme itself, I discovered upon rewatching, is also responsible for my lifelong distrust of observatories and deserted quarries.
The rest of The Boy From Space plods on predictably and, obviously, somewhat childishly; writer Richard Carpenter claimed he was restricted to the first 200 words of the English language (although I didn't hear anyone say "aardvark", which is the third word in my Collins Gem dictionary). But it doesn't get any less deeply creepy, and for all of these reasons I can't see that I'll ever put myself through it again. Just posting the pictures in this blog post has made me clench my nethers out of extreme anxiety.
Available from today, it will almost certainly appear completely benign, if not downright silly, to any fully-formed adult who hasn't seen it before. But anyone similarly afflicted by its distressing approach to educating children will be hard-pressed to resist a curious revisit. Don't hold me responsible for what it does to you though, my dry-cleaning bill is big enough.