Escape into Night

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1972 on ITV (ATV)

ADAPTED FROM CATHERINE STORR’S novel Marianne Dreams by TIMESLIP supremo RUTH BOSWELL. The bastards! Of all the many fine examples of latex-‘n’-plywood-era children’s telly, this has to be the apotheosis of the noble tradition of shoestring fright. More kids were traumatised by this series of six half-hours than in the entire Jon P’Twee era of DOCTOR WHO.

It’s a no frills set-up – the eponymous Marianne, slightly spoilt daughter of a long suffering patrician mother, is laid up in bed after falling off a horse, and amuses herself drawing a house with a pencil of dubious antiquity. Said house comes to wonky, ominous life in her dreams, containing nothing but stroppy, pyjamaed Mark, who may exist in real life as the bed-bound fellow pupil of Marianne’s private tutor. Cue lots of arguments, tantrums and ill-advised drawn additions to the house making the situation worse: a scribble turns to bars on the window, a radio proves to be all sinister static and Bakelite, and most infamously of all, a row of murmuring, monocular standing stones are slowly advancing up the garden path to the house. Eventually of course, the two kids bury their differences, help each other out, and worthy lessons about co-operation, tolerance, stoicism and not being a spoiled git are learnt. But, we would point out, these effects were all but dwarfed by the amount of juvenile pant-wetting occasioned by the appearance of those stones.

Away from the nightmare house, the drama itself often seems to be drawn with Marianne’s dodgy pencil. The opening horse accident set-up is staged with all the dynamic aplomb of the Play It Safe reserve crew, and the acting’s firmly in the breathy, gosh-posh bracket (pre-Pauline Quirke Italia Conti for the kids, Waggoner’s Walk walk-on for the grown-ups). It’s perfunctory drama for middle school kids right enough, but this was time when even the most basic children’s drama was sprinkled with subtle bits of the real world creep into the script too. There’s a bit of polio awareness, and Marianne’s absentee Dad is “off in Africa” – cue allusions to Uganda etc. But the simple, inexorable progression of the nightmare was what really clicked with the kids.

A classic bit of kids’ telly it may be, but let’s tot up those psychological war crimes for the record: the eerie first appearance of the imaginary house, the spooky humming over the closing credits, the liberal use of two slightly distorted echo units, the one-handed grandfather clock, the dankly lit minimalist house interior (especially when the lighthouse gets going) and those trauma-inducing one-eyed rocks, whose scarring mental legacy lives on. All psychiatrist’s bills to be forwarded to L Grade, ATVLand.


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7 responses to “Escape into Night”

  1. Mark Taylor says:

    Am I imagining this or was there another adaption where the person in the bed was a boy. More recent than 1972 and in colour. I knew of this before “Paperhouse’ and ‘escape into night’ so I feel certain it exists. Can anyone help?

  2. The 1975 Television adaptation of ‘Secret Garden’ includes a bed-confined boy. This was in colour and is available on DVD!

  3. I’ve just remembered that the 1975 Television dramatisation of ‘Secret Garden’ was repeated on BBC2 in 1985! With regards to ‘Escape into night,’ until very recently I had only a misty childhood memory of the scenes involving the morphic stones, the girl and the incapacitatated boy. I had no idea of the programmes title until I simply tapped in the words “early 70s British children’s Television drama” and the book by Catherine Stoor appeared! From here I was able to discover the relevant details about the TV drama. It only took me 39 years!

  4. Alan Tranter says:

    Catherine Storr did write another book a few years later called Marianne & Mark, where she meets Mark in real life. Interesting book, although of a different genre than this, more of a teen romance than sci-fi, although ‘teen romance’ might suggests it is not interesting at all. However, it is. :)

  5. dan says:

    wow it’s taken me a long time to figure out what this was! I knew Paperhouse was like the movie the TV show that scared me as a kid but as it was released in 1988 I knew that couldn’t be right. There was also Children of the Stones which is a fine creepy kids’ series as well but that one was wrong too. FINALLY I KNOW! I can die now.

  6. keith solley says:

    the light!the light!-can vividly remember that terrifying scene from ep 5 when i re-watched it on ‘ you tube’-i was only 5 at the time-it burned itself into my memory!one of several deeply disturbing images from my childhood-kids television today-what there still is of it,is now sadly over-sanitised-some of it may be overly ‘violent’-thus producing predictable tabloid induced ‘moral panic’-but you won’t find anything so pyschologically disturbing as something like this-kids today need that healthy dose of spine-tingling terror now and again-especially as we now live in a world of all too real horrors-an important ‘safety valve’ to the human condition,dr who used to provide it,but the beeb are now so terrified of upsetting the self-appointed ‘moral guardians’of the right-wing press that they now always put a particularly ‘scary’ episode on when the kids are in bed!pah!a terrible shame it no longer exists in colour-i hope a future dvd re-release has is restored to its original technicolour glory

  7. Droogie says:

    I’m confused! I’ve never seen this, but I do remember kid’s TV show The Book Tower back in the early 80’s doing a brief dramatization of a book about a sick bed-ridden kid and their drawings of a house coming to life. This involved cheap blue screen graphic effects, but really stuck in my mind. Then The Paperhouse movie came out years later which reminded me of the Book Tower version. I’d no idea this original adaptation existed! Thanks for sharing

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