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Many years ago, when ITV in the UK was an amalgamation of separate TV
companies (like HTV, the makers of this show along with many other
great series, serving the west of England and Wales), which used to
make their own shows for local consumption, before submitting them to
the network for a national screening, they used to come up with gems
It's a bizarre story of a kid and his dad entering a strange place in the west of england (the Dad is a Historian on a research trip, but his son finds out more than his Dad was expecting), only to find that everything is not as it seems. The locals are being drawn into a strange cult which revolves around an ancient stone monument in the locality (actually the ancient monument which still stands in Avebury, Wiltshire, UK)...
I really couldn't tell you any more without spoiling things, but my description of this series would be: If that great cult movie "The Wicker Man" had been made as a children's programme, it might have looked something like this. It's a true hidden gem, which caught the imagination of kids across the UK upon its original transmission in the UK in early 1977.
If any overseas viewers (who like something a bit out of the ordinary) want to check it out, then I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend the UK DVD release by "Second Sight" - and if you ever find yourself in the UK, take the time out to visit the location used in the series... It's a truly mystical place, with a truly strange atmosphere which will stick in your mind long after your trip...
ITV in the UK these days is a very different operation, and they just don't make shows like this anymore. If ITV made a show called "Children Of The Stones" today, it would probably be a reality show starring Jade Jagger and Theodora Richards....
Watch and enjoy what once was, in the days when we Brits were truly proud of the programming we produced, as opposed to these days, when we are frankly embarrassed by 95% of it... :-(
If ever any one ITV region was the head of the pack when it came to
producing children's TV, then HTV West, on the merit of "Children of the
Stones" alone, would be it.
Broadcast in 1977, COTS is a 7-part fantasy series set in the fictional village of Milbury. Starring a pre-Blake's 7 Gareth Thomas and 70s telly stalwart Iain Cuthbertson, this delightful little series concerns a scientist and his son's attempts to discover the secret power behind the Milbury stone circle.
This is an incredibly eerie sci-fi series and to call it a kids show is a bit of an insult. It is a well crafted tale, brought to the screen with some very adept direction and a remarkably haunting musical score.
The performances from the cast are uniformly excellent and special praise must got to the talented youngsters involved.
If you can get a hold of this tremendous series then I can highly recommend it. However, it has been deleted on video in the UK for some time.
COTS is kids TV at its best - thoughtfully written, well acted, amazingly directed and a delightful, summery, eerie masterpiece. Because of its folksy score and pagan references COTS has been referred to as "The Wicker Man" for kids - it could be called a lot worse.
Having recently bought this on DVD from Amazon.co.uk with a fair degree of
trepidation - I last saw this on it's original transmission when I was all
of twelve(!) - I feared that it would lack it's original punch.
There was no need to worry though!
Although some of the story does not quite live up to memory and other bits are clearly aimed at children, the overall tension of the series is still nicely maintained and the last couple of episodes, as the changes sweep through the children and their parents is still terrifying.
Given it's age (26 years on) it is mostly remarkably undated, mainly helped by the fact that much of the terror is not dependant on flakey special effects but the "Off-scene Lurking Horror"! The sound track is another major tension builder, with the chanting building to a crescendo in keeping with on screen events.
Hendrick's computer system buried in the church vaults provided a(n unintended) momentary laugh for me, surrounded as I am by Micro computers capable of doing everything that cellar full of equipment could :-).
Iain Cuthbertson was wonderfully understated as the evil Hendricks
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Children Of The Stones has been called 'the children's Wicker Man' - one indication of the high regard with which this seven-part 1977 British television series is still held. Resemblances between Robin Hardy's 1973 cult classic are certainly strong, notably the pervasive strength of the pagan cult which threatens to overwhelm Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas) and his son Matthew (Peter Denim). Other influences include that of Nigel Kneale, whose work had been so prominent in British TV science fantasy. Thomas had already appeared playing a minor part in Kneale's Quatermass And The Pit (1967). The year after the present series was aired saw a last Quatermass, which concerns an unknown alien force 'harvesting' the youth by leading them to ancient ritual sites. The parallels between the fatal rapture of Ringstone Round, the 'happiness' of Millbury's own initiates, and the ominous role of megaliths in both shows, are striking.
Filmed on location at Avebury, Children Of The Stones follows the usual technical format of 1970s' kids shows (video used for internal studio sequences, film for the atmospheric scenes shot outside). Sidney Sager provided an especially effective score, using a mainly wordless chorus for the credits and ghostly female soprano soloist. The series shares some of the weaknesses of the time (somewhat under-directed acting, and ripe performances, notably that of Freddie Jones, who plays Dai, the Welsh inebriate) and strengths, chief of which is a complex storyline, one completely different from the contemporary transatlantic product. Millbury, where the action takes place, is at the apex of numerous lay lines, a hub of psychic activity, a place of power into which it proves much easier to enter than leave. Hendrick's (Iain Cuthbertson) Millbury house is situated at the middle of the ancient stone circle which astrophysicist Brake arrives to study. More than just the defunct 'prehistoric Jodrell Bank' he envisages, this impressive monument marks the coming together of a number of still-active forces and traditions, offering physical and mental challenges to investigators. These combine in the figure of Hendrick, and Hendrick's home, the focus of events. It is here that the transformation of mind occurs, where the villagers chant and dance. "There are more things in heaven and earth than I have philosophised in my dreams," admits Brake to Margaret (Veronica Strong), expressing somewhat awkwardly the confusion he feels. In Millbury as he discovers, pure mathematics and modern science rub shoulders with the mysterious workings of age-old mysticism and rural legend. Balancing everything, creating a coherent world picture, is what gives the plot most of its interest. Brake and his precocious son are both intellectuals, empiricists by instinct, gradually brought round by circumstance to a necessary belief in 'the existence of that which exists'. (The words on the enigmatic picture which originally inspired Matthew's interest in the site.) Former scientist Hendrick, discoverer of the supernova at the heart of the mystery, is one who has already crossed that line. As Brake rightly identifies with some distaste at the end, Hendrick has since moved from professional astronomer to visionary 'magus', exchanging the certainties of science for the excesses of egocentricity. Brake and son have the problem of interpreting and adapting to events, while remaining intellectually independent, something which imminent brainwashing ultimately threatens to destroy.
Away from external dangers, at the core of the narrative is the quartet of relationships between the Brakes, Margaret, and Sandra (Katherine Levy). The romantic interest between Adam and the female curator is, understandably muted, although enough feeling remains to ensure that the fate of the mother and daughter has some emotional drama at the climax. Alone out of the 50-odd villagers (the outsider Dai excepted) it is they who stand out in our mind, and exclusively they whom the Brakes struggle to rescue from amidst the doomed chanters.
Particularly as played by stodgy Gareth Thomas, Professor Brake proves a dull fellow, whose son is far more interesting. Thomas (whose screen presence sometimes reminds one of the 1950s' British actor John Gregson) often has to work hard to convince us that his character is anything like as intellectually nimble as we might expect. (He later went on to star in another cult TV show, Blake's 7.) By contrast, Matthew Brake is exceptionally bright and much more dynamic, recognised by Hendrick early on as a worthy adversary. It is the son who triggers many of the key discoveries driving the plot. But even the younger Brake is somewhat daunted by the abilities of the happy pupils in the village school, whose mental prowess recalls the alien prodigies in The Village Of The Damned (1960). Iain Cuthbertson, on the other hand, who had earlier worked with Thomas on another UK TV series, Sutherland's Law, acts the genially threatening Hendrick very skilfully, and does a good job.
The end of the series has been dismissed as a cop out, and certainly the abrupt interjection of a parallel time, circular chronology universe is unexpected. After the astro-psychic events just witnessed it is, frankly, one twist too far. Admittedly it is difficult to think of another way to end with a point of interest once the circle has been broken, and tension dispelled. Clearly a downbeat ending, such as concluded The Wicker Man, would have been difficult in a children's show, but the result of the Brake's final questioning of all events is to undermine the careful investigations and deductions made before. The miraculous restoration of friends and villagers is reassuring but, although such events may suggest a hallucination, the defusing of earlier tension is a let off. The re-introduction of Hendrick and his butler Link (as a fresh purchaser of the house, and estate agent, respectively) does nothing more than further muddy narrative waters, and the show really demands a more satisfying conclusion.
Despite this disappointment, Children Of The Stones continues to hold the attention, primarily because of the audacious plot. If the concepts are far-fetched, they are never less than interesting, and worth revisiting.
This was a movie that US Nickelodeon channel used to show when I was
young (and Nickelodeon channel was new). I loved the movie then because
it was so unlike any other movies I had seen. Would definitely
recommend it (it is now available on DVD but is fairly expensive for US
When I had a chance to go to England for school, I actually went to Avebury and saw the stone circle (which is older than Stonehenge). The movie itself is a nice blend of factual history, science, science fiction and eerie music.
This is one of those lost gems that might be well worth another look!
Before HALLOWEEN scared the living hell out of me as a teenager, I was
scared out of my wits by this classic 1977 TV series. To this day, I
sat down and watched it in any shape or form and I know that it has just
been released on DVD in the UK.
I was eight years old at the time and I can safely say that this was what THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT purported to be, but wasn't.
The music was sheer terror in my view and after about three to four episodes of the show and one night in which I woke up with nightmares, my parents withdrew me and sent me out to play in the street for half an hour (the show was screened between 4.45pm - 5.15pm on a weekday as I remember). The symbolism of the stones and also the opening shot of sunbeams shining between the stones was also another factor, as well as the image of Stonehenge in a picture framed on the wall. As I was also fascinated by astronomy at the time, the image of a telescope was another memory that made it terrifying.
I can't really give you anything about the plot, as it was sheer terror at the time....
This TV serial aired thirty three years ago and brought back a lot of
memories of the originality of UK children's TV in those days. It is
probably a little too "talky" for today's audiences and it does require
one's whole attention. Back then, there were many TV serials, books and
films dealing with the occult or prechristian pagan themes, and like
murder mysteries, they were invariably set in picture postcard English
villages, where everyone seems to be addicted to afternoon tea with
cakes, and which makes one wonder just WHAT is going on in those little
villages. Many, if not all, villages date from ancient times,
especially if they are near a river or water source, and thanks to the
laws which prevented people moving away from the parish or estate that
they were tied to, the villagers' ancestry goes back as far as the
village. Old customs and practices linger on, which adds to the mystery
and folk lore.
Unless you have visited Avebury and the general area, you can have no conception of how huge these monuments are, and how many circles and long barrows (neolithic burial chambers) there are. We know next to nothing about their builders and for what purpose they were built, which leaves room for fanciful imagination. We do know that what remains today is but a fraction of what once stood. Even the Avebury Circle and Stonehenge are mere fragments of what used to be.
As I grew up listening to Journey Into Space and the Quatermass Experiment on radio, the time warp and parallel universe themes were no surprise. Throw in a bit of pagan witchcraft and I was on familiar ground. Without giving away any of the plot (everyone else has done that for me) I cannot help wondering whether the creators of LOST watched this show in their youth, as there are many similarities. So many in fact that I would go so far as to say that the finale of LOST will show that the island was on a circular parallel time where events kept repeating themselves.
I would have given this show a rating of 10 for sheer originality, but the lack of close captions hampered me, being age related hearing impaired, and I could not follow the plot at all. Had it not been for reviews on the Internet I would not have had a clue what was going on. I am surprised how many viewers found it scary, as I did not find it so, but that is perhaps because I could not hear the actors very clearly.
I remember watching this series when it was first aired many years ago -
fact while I was still at school!
I find it hard to believe its for kids, as the plot is a complex one that
most young kids probably would not follow. The story is father & son
milbury, (actually its Avebury, Wilts - Not far from Stonehedge), a
surrounded by a circle of stones. Once people enter the village they cant
Adam brake is the scientist who saves the day.
The series was run mid 90's several times on the Childrens Channel. I managed to pick the entire series up on video a few years ago, now I want the DVD versions (somehow i dont think this will happen!!)
Catch it if you can!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A scientist, Adam Brake(Gareth Thomas) has a 3 month opportunity to
study and write a thesis on electromagnetivity in neolithic stones in
the remote English village of Milbury. He brings along his young son
Matthew, whom he enrols in the local school for the duration of their
stay, Matthew is a budding scientist himself with lofty ideas for his
future. Adam is keen to start as soon as possible and is delighted when
Margaret, the curator of the local museum offers to show him something
rather startling concerning the stones. Margaret asks him simply to
touch the stones, this Adam does without any fear, but that soon
changes as he hears ancient voices and sees strange visions just before
a strong surge throws him feet into the air. Something else is at work
here, but Adam doesn't know what. Margaret also warns him that he will
soon feel very alone here as the residents are an odd bunch, with odd
sayings and customs, in fact the village seems divided into regular
people and what are known as "The Happy Ones" Matthew notices this in
school right away, as the Happy children also show that lighter
demeanor and are vastly more intelligent than the other kids.
Matthew befriends Dai (Freddie Jones) a local tramp, whose social status belies his intelligence, for he has been spying on the residents and immediately knows Matthew is different, he warns that he will not be able to escape the boundaries of the village because of the power of the stones. The oddness seems to be being controlled by the town leader Rafael Hendrick (Iain Cutherbertson) a Lord Summerisle character and a former astro physicist of some renown, who on the outside seems friendly but he hides whats really going on very well. As the numbers of regular people begin to dwindle Adam and Matthew who has suddenly developed telepathic powers, begin a dangerous fight with unknown forces.
Children of the Stones sure is an oddity, it was a 7 part series initially aimed at a school going audience, but there are some confounding themes at large here, some perhaps too dark, even the title sequence with its deeply unsettling choral vocalizations, while seeming perfect for the subject matter, does seem out of place for their target audience. It draws on many areas of Horror and Sci/FI, there's echoes of The Wicker Man, with the Hendrick character and the pagan pageantry, Village of the Damned, its odd and gifted kids, Invasion of the Snatchers, The Stepford Wives and perhaps most closely of all, The Quatermass Conclusion.
For a children's TV program it does well to retain a sinister air and never dumbs down the plot. The cast is for the most part excellent, Thomas providing the assured hero figure with the gravitas and intelligence the role requires. Cutherbertson is his usual sinister self, he seems to revel in the Faustian roles and duly fulfills the task with gusto. Jones is also delightful as the eccentric tramp who knows everything. Overall its an enjoyable watch, it lacks some of the believability factor when it comes to the science and technology though, what a shame it wasn't written by Nigel Kneale, it would surely then have been considered a classic
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is so much rubbish on children's television these days, much of
it populated by good-looking American children. So to be able to
stimulate one's children's minds a brilliant story from the 70s,
fortunately still intact and available on DVD is a blessing.
My own children thought that having to watch an 'old' programme was a terrible idea and would far rather have spent another few hours on their mind-numbing tablets, however I did manage to convince them to watch the first episode, and then if they didn't want to continue, they didn't have to.
Well, they were transfixed and ended up thoroughly enjoying the story, the seven episodes divided up into three chunks.
In my opinion, the great thing about the story apart from the notions of a mad high priest, normal people being turned into brain-dead zombies, people being turned to stone, and a narrow escape for the protagonists, is the idea of circular time, similar ideas having been exercised in Dr Who and Back To The Future to name but a few.
It could and probably will, all happen again. And if you get the opportunity to visit Avebury (the location for the fictional Milbury) then pick a bright sunny day and do so. It took me right back....
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