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Although aimed at kids & teenagers, this drama contained numerous
elements for anyone interested in London's lesser-known museums and
heritage. Indeed, the Tyrant King novel (author Aylmer Hall) was
published by London Transport, and I suspect may have even been
commissioned by them, possibly as a vehicle for increasing public
awareness of some of the capital's forgotten and overlooked treasures.
But it's not dusty and dull: it is a drama, after all, and based on an intelligent story line. I remember being totally absorbed as the youngsters chased (and sometimes were chased) around London.
The choice of incidental music was inspired, and provided an extra atmospheric quality; it was only some years later that I discovered this to be the Moody Blues. Ah, 1968. Nostalgia!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This long-forgotten Thames TV children's drama series (originally
broadcast 1 October - 7 November 1968) was directed by Mike Hodges
(best known for Get Carter) and was scripted by Trevor Preston who
wrote other Thames series Ace Of Wands and episodes of The Sweeney. It
combines a psychedelic pop soundtrack with swinging London locations
and fashions, to great effect. So while not a music show as such it
tapped into the genre with its self-consciously hip style of writing
and direction, and by utilising current trends in pop.
The 6-part series was made to promote the London region whose territory Thames had just secured. Based on a novel by Aylmer Hall (published by London Transport), it was designed to encourage teenagers to visit the Capitol's various locations and was described by director Mike Hodges as "a microboppers London trip"! The story centres around three teenagers who search London for the mysterious 'Tyrant King' after overhearing a telephone call in an old house. The only clue they have is a strange drawing found in a wallet dropped by the villain. The trio visit numerous London locations including The South Bank Centre, St Pauls, The Shell Building, Carnaby Street, The Tower of London, The Commonwealth Institute, Kew Gardens and Greenwich. Being filmed entirely on location gives the show a fresh, urgent feel and dispenses with harshly-lit studio scenes that bog down so many dramas of the period and the London landmarks are shown off to good advantage.
Guest stars include Phillip Madoc as the mysterious 'Scarface' and Murray Melvin as the creepy villain 'Uncle Gerry'.
But it is the score which gives the series most of its cult appeal today. The pop art opening titles are displayed on a billboard in a busy London Street to the accompaniment of The Nice's obscure psych-pop anthem 'Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack'. The various episodes utilise further tracks from The Nice's debut album as well as material from Cream's 'Wheels Of Fire' and 'Disraeli Gears', The Moody Blues 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' and most memorably Pink Floyd's 'Saucerful Of Secrets" and 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. In some cases the vocals have been edited out leaving the instrumental passages, perhaps best displayed by Jack Bruce's haunting cello intro from 'As You Said' which crops up in several paces.
Some tracks are cleverly used to accompany the action on screen so that the Moody Blues' 'Dr Livingston I Presume' with its 'we're all looking for someone' lyric features during search sequences, Cream's 'Passing The Time' is heard during a somewhat boring trip to The British Museum and Roger Water's 'Corporal Clegg' accompanies some soldiers marching in Hyde Park. Also the closing titles utilised the dramatic, building drum and piano part from Floyd's 'A Saucerful Of Secrets', a title which could easily sum up the plot.
Some of the locations are perhaps included to pad out the episodes and there are a few continuity errors, mainly involving the brightly-coloured fashions the teenagers wear (eg when they leave Kew Gardens and get on the bus). But all-in-all this is a must-see show for anyone interested in children's drama or with a love of 1960s London and pop music.
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