TO YOUR average politically disinterested 1970s child, only two social phenomena provided sources of real terror. Nuclear Armageddon, of course, was up there at number one. Joining it slightly lower down the night terror pecking order was an altogether more mundane spectre: “prices”. These two sources of consternation couldn’t have been less alike. While atomic holocaust was enormous and vivid, inflation was fiddly and hard to understand, but the escalating cost of a Curly Wurly was a clear and present danger. So what seemed like an insanely counter-intuitive idea – making a futuristic children’s drama out of the stuff of pie charts and percentages and humorous Richard Stilgoe numbers – was actually a sound move from Lewis Rudd’s low budget mavericks at Southern’s children’s department.
The dateline is our old favourite, an unspecified near future which studio accountants will be pleased to know looks exactly like today. The air is thick with unease. Fuzzy transistor radios buzz at the breakfast table with the latest OPEC worries, rubbish piles up in the streets, and the price of a tin of PAL is frankly unbelievable. Sternly moustachioed, self-made shoe shop manager Norman Mortimer, head of the solidly upper middle class Mortimer household and played with zeal by the reptilian DAVID NEAL in a militaristic register somewhere between Maurice Bronson and Keith off Nuts in May, has seen the writing on the wall. He hikes his brood off to a country manor house he’s bought, stuffed with carton upon carton of the finest cash-‘n’-carry produce money can still just about buy, there to sit out the ensuing social calamity in Angel Delight-fuelled security. (It’s a sign of the times that the tins of Bartlett pear halves, rather than the Portland stone des. res., are seen as the major investment.)
The rest of the Mortimers (including children’s drama mainstay SIMON GIPPS-KENT as eldest son), who weren’t consulted on any of this, have a few misgivings. This can’t end well, surely? Ah, says Neal, but things are about to kick off, and “I shan’t have it!” Naturally, they both turn out to be right. Local undesirables start sniffing around. The streets fill with rubbish, Winter of Discontent-style. BRIAN CAPRON tours the suburbs with a megaphone urging social uprising. The army mill about menacingly in silhouette. Eventually assorted ne’er-do-wells converge on the house with something altogether darker than pools coupon collection in mind.
This wasn’t just an exercise in castigating Tory self-interest. Neal’s spoils were eyed up by cheeky, apple-scrumping dropout socialist ALUN LEWIS, who advocated redistribution to the needy while giving the eldest daughter the glad eye; and cockney black marketeer Vince Holloway, played by MIKE REID in beard and docker’s hat, sizing up potential profits down the local boozer with bent councillors and his cocky son, a tiny LEE ‘Zammo’ MACDONALD. All parties came violently to a three-way stand-off amongst the economy size Coffeemate. Not everything worked: the conscientiously dissenting kids often just sounded stuck up and arsey, and (as is so often the way in children’s drama) their bland poshness made them hard to root for over the more charismatically unprincipled villains. But the gritty images of riot police clashing with the great unfed lingered in the mind, giving rise to a palpable sense of dread whenever Shiver and Shake went up by a penny.