© Schlock Webzine
In 1970s Britain, it seemed television viewers couldn’t get enough programmes about the strange, dark and macabre. For scary TV anthology series alone, this decade saw the broadcast of Beasts (1976), Dead of Night (1972), The Frighteners (1972), A Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78), Leap in the Dark (1973-80), Shadows of Fear (1970-73), Supernatural (1977), Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88) and Thriller (1973-76).
One thing that’s often overlooked, though, is that there weren’t just plenty of scary programmes aimed at adults. British children’s television in the 1970s delivered a fair number of chills too, most notably with series that were ostensibly science fiction but weren’t afraid to creep out their young audiences with their dystopian or plain weird scenarios, for example, Sky (1975), The Changes (1975) and – the kids’ show with the freakiest credits sequence ever – Children of the Stones (1977).
In addition, 1970s kids in the UK – of whom I was one – also got their own supernatural anthology series. This was Shadows, which ran from 1975 to 1978. Its standalone episodes were penned by a range of surprisingly illustrious writers, including Joan Aitken, Susan Cooper, P.J. Hammond, Penelope Lively, Trevor Preston and the Mother of the She-Devil herself, Fay Weldon. Yes, back then, treated to Shadows’ tales of ghosts, witches, timeslips and even folk horror (as essayed in the 1976 episode The Inheritance), we kids didn’t know how lucky we were.
I think I was inspired by Shadows and its tales of 1970s kids and teenagers having encounters with the supernatural when I recently wrote a short story called The Stables, which has just been published in the online journal Schlock! Webzine – attributed, as usual with my scary fiction, to the pen-name Jim Mountfield. What the characters have to endure in The Stables, though, is considerably nastier than what their equivalents experienced in Shadows.
As its title suggests, the story also involves horses, which were another popular trope in 1970s British children’s TV shows. There was, for example, Follyfoot (1971-73), set in a ‘rest-place’ for horses, and The Adventures of Black Beauty (1972-74), inspired by the 1877 book by Anna Sewell. Both shows are probably best remembered nowadays for their jaunty theme tunes. The Follyfoot theme was a number called The Lightning Tree, performed by pop-folk band the Settlers. Meanwhile, the Black Beauty theme, Galloping Home, written by Dennis King and performed by the London String Chorale, is much admired by Alan Partridge (“It’s brilliant!”).
© Thames Television