TV Cream

TV: N is for...

Noah’s Castle

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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. keef

    June 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Noahs Castle?

  2. James

    June 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, this was called “Noah’s Castle”. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0197174.

    Title theme is available at http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=noahs%20castle&search=tag

    I remember this series mostly for the powerful theme tune and the bleak portrayal of an oppressive future – my kind of TV! I was nine or ten at the time, so I’m not sure I really understood what was going on, but it stayed with me all the same.

    I’ve been looking for this for years – thanks TV Cream!

  3. pessoa

    June 26, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Its remarkable now how pervasive dystopic, ‘bad-state-of-the-nation’ themes had become by the end of the 70s.

  4. paulus - bangkok

    June 28, 2010 at 5:18 am

    I (think) I remember an episode where one of the brats sneaked a can of ‘spam’ or corn-beef out to give to another kid as a birthday present. Weirdness ensued as the party goers harassed the kids into giving up the source…
    Scared the shite out me! After that I asked to pull the curtains before dinner and never went to another birthday party again.

    Combine this with the DR Who theme song and I spent my childhood hiding behind the sofa.
    Bastard BBC

  5. Glenn A

    July 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    So this is another one to add to add to Brian Capron’s CV. This actor is seriously underrated.

  6. Adrian

    December 7, 2014 at 1:49 am

    I saw this when I was 7 and it must have really affected me as I remember it vividly. It was so mundane (a story about feeding yourself), and yet so absolutely terrifying. I didn’t really understand how something as mundane as price-rises could cause society to meltdown, but I guess for a 7 year old, it’s not easy to understand Weimar-style hyper-inflation. But in many respects, hyperinflation is a more realistic threat than all the standard apocalyptic scenarios (epidemics, extreme climate events, nuclear wars, alien invasions, etc.). Just ask the people of Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Argentina, not to mention the classic example of Weimar Germany. I recently got the DVD and it brought it all back for me. It is superbly written, with much of the dialogue centering on moral dilemmas – if society is falling apart, do you choose to be compassionate to your neighbour, or do you choose to be selfish and put survival first at all times. It very convincingly shows how morality can easily disappear overnight when people’s lives are threatened. The only thing that irritated me is that I couldn’t really believe that anybody would choose to put compassion above their family’s survival – the kids’ protestations seemed kind of unbelievable when they at least had food in their stomachs, while their friends starved to death. Maybe that speaks volumes about me! If you like post-apocalyptic stories and moral dilemmas, I’d recommend it.

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