Monday, March 05, 2007

Young Aquarians - How Hippies Hijacked Kids' TV

Paul Stump on how prog rock, standing stones and frilly nighties shaped teatime

In the beginning was the word - and only the word.

Literal-minded Bible students and post-structuralists need no reminding, but this dictum also applies to early children's TV. When drama series were first screened in the 1950s, the source material was predominantly canon-led. For producers who wanted to bring drama to child TV viewers, it usually wasn't so much a question of 'adapt or die' but 'adapt or don't bother'. That meant extant books and plays, and, just maybe, something lifted from the Hotspur and its ilk. The Silver Swan (BBC, 1952) was one of the few designed-for-TV exceptions, although its polite comportment through the drawing rooms and parlours of history could have been lifted from any number of E.Nesbit scenarios.

Children's literature was defined as a handful of works, mostly prose - Heidi, Huckleberry Finn, Puck of Pook's Hill, Just William (all BBC, 1951-57) were among those small-screened. The likes of The Wind In The Willows were too anthropomorphic, Westward Ho!, Treasure Island, Kidnapped and their buccaneering ilk too costly to stage unless they were shunted into adult time-slots after the Toddlers' Truce. Nonetheless there was the occasional populist standby of the comic strip adventure. Although Queen's Champion (subtitle; 'Loyalty and treason on the eve of the Armada', BBC, 1954) was another made-for-TV effort, it was massively derivative and could have come from any number of boilerplate Boys' Own storylines.

This, then, was how the dramatic narratives of childhood were presented; through the tried and tested prose frames of romp, swashbuckler, pastoral or girly-friendly domestic fantasy. This did not of course make for bad television; but the medium was as yet too unformed, too wanting in confidence to imagine a reality of childhood that reflected its time, its moment - a childhood in which a recognizably contemporary culture played a part.

Of course, until the late 1950s, it could be argued that there was no such thing as youth culture. And how to reflect something that wasn't there?

Within a decade of rapid-fire change, however, TV had matured, and its audience matured with it. TV drama had evolved from Shute's and Rattigan's aspidistra-hung interiors of demobbed PTSD to sweary metropolitan bedsitters steeped in hash and Oedipal envy. Suddenly there was such a thing as pop culture, such a phenomenon as 'the media'. The exponential, HP-driven growth in private TV ownership ensured that, and children's programme makers were hardly willing to be left behind in taking the new medium forward. Children's range of experience now extended beyond the playground and the schoolroom and there were plenty of inventive people willing to work with that.

TV's protean nature and futuristic novelty attracted creative thinkers in the late 1950s and 1960s the like of which the genre has never seen since - Terry Nation, John Howard Davies, David Attenborough, Huw Wheldon, Jeremy Sandford are but a handful plucked in a trice. TV was part of a tirelessly innovative time - and children's programming didn't escape this inevitable historical process, with brilliant innovators like Anna Home and Dorothea Brooking in the vanguard.

The result was some of the most daring kids' TV ever - step forward, Magpie, Magic Roundabout and Vision On - and while explicitly countercultural concerns couldn't be snuck into the post-Jackanory slot -no Auntie Janis Joplin or Uncle Tim Leary here, thank you very much - circumstances conspired to allow it to seep in like sulphates in a pale ale Party Seven. The changes it wrought were extraordinary, although little-analysed today.

The UK's counterculture, it's unanimously agreed, was a predominantly middle-class phenomenon. It was all very well to tote paisley-printed gladrags and loganberry-coloured velvet loons in Croydon, Kingsbury or Camden, the wealthier quarters of northern metropoli and redbrick market towns, but living the Aquarian post-Pepper lifestyle in Taunton, Rotherham or Llandudno Junction was merely to invite a Friday-night last-bus head-kicking from skins or teds. Simon Frith's interesting survey of rock consumer habits among young people in Keighley in 1972 makes particularly pungent reading. Accounts of the late 1960s, particularly Jonathon Green's magisterial oral history of the period, Days In The Life (Heinemann, 1988) stress just how bourgeois the whole strange trip was, from the congested, naive politics of confrontation through the inherent snobbism of clothing codes to the singularly twee narcissism of the period's aesthetics; excessively dandified, predicated on late-19th century notions of art for art's sake. Licentiousness, transgression, neurasthenic preoccupations with the occult, sexuality and the subconscious - it was hardly surprising that Aubrey Beardsley's designs enjoyed such a shelf-clearing revival in the late 1960s, nor indeed Hermann Hesse's more dopily sophomoric novels, Demian, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf . Roger Dean's iconic sleeve artworks harked back to the outrageous sinuosities of Guimard, Gaudì and Segantini, whose initial formal radicalism gave way to dutiful servicing of chronic social conservatism.

Now take the pop music that Dean served. The messy and abrasive experimentalism of early underground psychedelia was formalized and internalized in an aesthetic cult of form and expressiveness for its own sake; cf Pink Floyd's short hop from the bizarre, clangorous world of nursery rhymes and cracked mirrors that is The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) to the symphonic, calculated grandiloquence of Atom Heart Mother (1970). The hippy nostrums of dreams, the Other, nature and art were all still respectably and responsibly present and correct, just in a much more recognizably bourgeois, co-optable and didactically formal package not unakin to William Morris's Arts and Crafts movement. The result was progressive rock, of course.

Another vital trope of the time - again taking its cue from post-Wagnerian European Romanticism - was that of idealised womanhood. For all its rhetoric of liberation, until active feminists (Marsh, Boycott) began kicking against the masculine hegemony, the counterculture was not, contrary to popular belief, a propitious time for the independent expression of feminine sexuality. As the painter Nicola Lane recalled to Green in Days, women's experience of liberation 'was... to be there for ----- and domesticity', inhabiting pre-Raphaelite preconceptions of willowy, wide-eyed allure, gracefully and subordinately tightroping between girlhood and whoredom. 'That whole 'my lady' thing,' continues Lane disparagingly of this highly prevalent notion. 'So Guinevere-y.' Women were decorative, and as such disempowered. The pre-Raphaelites were, of course, the kith and kin of Morris and his merry men.

Our conceptions of the prettily doomed Ophelia and the Lady Of Shalott are the bedrock of this ornate schema; portrayals of same by the likes of Millais and Burne-Jones, not to mention Whistler's The White Girl (1863) and D.G. Rossetti's Astarte Syriaca (1872) were, though considered provocative and immodest in their time and close inspection even of depictions of innocent fairies such as those by Arthur Rackham have anatomically suggestive details beneath the flowing garments. Lesser-known but prolific post-Edwardian British children's illustrators such as Annie French (1872-1965) and Jessie King (1876-1949) selfconsciously perpetuated this 'fairy child' tradition of immaculate feminine beauty, forever with the murmur of dreamy carnality and implied self-awareness of the subject as an object of desire. Crucially, though, the role is always that of object, a construct created by and thus controlled by men.

Female characters in much children's literature of the first half of the 20th century are often stranded, faffing ineffectually and dreamily by turns in this petticoated ghetto, from such E Nesbit heroines as fretful Bobbie (The Railway Children) and flouncy Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden) to Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess and Eleanor Porter's ingénue Pollyanna.
By fortunate coincidence then, countercultural depictions of blossoming girlhood chimed quite neatly with existing bourgeois ones, albeit spiked with a saucy subtext by countercultural mischief-makers.

Where is this leading us? Firstly, to The Owl Service (Granada, 1969-70). This extraordinary drama ticks every box indicated above. It concerns a tempestuous triangular relationship of power, class and sex between three adolescents in Wales, with an generous helping of pagan Celtic mysticism thrown in for good measure. It most closely resembles Frank Wedekind's play about nascent adolescent sexuality, Frühlings Erwachen [Spring Awakening] whose 1895 première so scandalized Vienna; it even has the (probably intentional) symbolism of a vaguely-Art Nouveau stamp (the avian pattern on a dinner service). The Owl Service features the luminously beautiful Gillian Hills as Alison, coquettish cynosure of the attentions of boyo-oik Gwyn and clipped, spoddy Roger, and receptacle of the unseen and largely unspoken force of nature that is the Celtic goddess Blodeuwedd (redolent of the fin-de-siècle , Yeatsian obsession among British bohemians with the primeval energies of the Celtic Twilight). All pout and waterfalling Timotei locks, she is both iconic of iconic girlhood of the late 1960s and of that of a pre-Raphaelite, mystical past. The nubile Hills is seen furtively in various states of undress; sexual contact is heavily hinted at. As McGown and Docherty assert in their indispensable BFI monograph on childrens' TV drama, Beyond The Hill*, the elemental nature of sexual desire never before - or again - featured to such a degree before teatime was out.

The original Owl Service novel, by Alan Garner, had been published to great acclaim and the award of a Carnegie Medal in 1967 (Collins), at the height of hippyism; the TV adaptation was unarguably a landmark in breaking new narrative ground for children's drama. It didn't quite promise quite carte blanche, but parameters were redrawn. In such a febrile climate, the likes of Ace of Wands (Thames, 1970) were much easier to sell to sceptical commissioning editors. Wands was not only a fresh and enjoyable fantasy series with half an ironic eye on itself but treated the trappings of contemporary mores and cultural concerns as givens. Hence contemporary dress (eye-guards on, everyone); the treatment of the occult (Tarot cards) as groovy and happening rather than sinister; and one of the coolest theme tunes of any kids' programme ever, an atmospheric, pulsing acoustic-folk-prog number that was part Bert Jansch, part Steve Hackett (the Genesis guitarist who would, coincidentally, later release a fine track - unrelated to the show - under the title 'Ace of Wands' on his Voyage of the Acolyte album (1975)).

While outright fantasy and imagination had always been staples of children's literature, Wands rooted them in the here and now. This was not an adaptation of an existing literary work; it was conceived and written for TV from day one. It worked on the assumption that fantasy was a staple of the childlike imagination, and like the best prog rock, used elements of a narrative tradition to hook into a contemporary setting.

Immensely and deservedly popular, Wands ran until 1973, and its repeats for years afterwards. It paved the way for clearly contemporary fantasy which took equal parts inspiration from moonshot technophilia and comic-book motivations (The Tomorrow People). This last owed little to its contemporary cultural milieux; borrowing only from Dr Who, Apollo rockets, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet sweet cigarettes, it was adventure, plain and simple, Dan Dare or Zorro stuff but with bacofoil costumes and Palitoy ray-guns. TP was mindlessly enjoyable, penny-dreadful science-fiction that could have been made as a comic-book, a series of novels, or a radio serial at any time over the previous 50 years; it was independent of the manifold cultural strands that informed the counterculture, post-hippy aesthetics and prog rock.

But it's worth pointing out that, as Wands hinted, 1970s post-hippy culture was not just atavistic and nostalgic. Like the fin-de-siècle aesthetes that provided the era's popular culture with many of its themes, creative types of all kinds tempered their liberal meliorism with a thanatomaniacal belief in imminent, possibly violent, transfiguration of all that was and is. For the swoony denizens of Jugendstil and Art Nouveau, the existential revolution they believed their art embodied would come in a cleansing fire that would purge and redeem the world (and they got it, sort of, with the Great War in 1914). In the 1970s, the liberal hope was that the teleological progress towards a better society begun after World War Two was to be imminently fulfilled, in spite of the checks and disappointments of hippyism's decline and post-Altamont/Wight fall. How would it occur? Psychic Armageddon? Environmental meltdown? Thermonuclear balls-up? Brown rice famine? Either way, there was a dark, pessimistic underside to post-hippy that could not have existed without its oneiric, head-in-air utopianism.

Progressive rock, post-hippy's musical soundtrack, for all the often lazy epithets of 'escapism' routinely appended to it, was not always about retreat into a hippy never-land. Emerson, Lake and Palmer's obsession with technology rang with the chill of a distant future in lockstep with electronic slavery (the HR Giger-designed biomechanoid cover of 1973's Brain Salad Surgery says it all, as does the blackly comic, computer wars scenario of the LP's half-hour suite 'Karn Evil 9'). By Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Pink Floyd's already ambivalent view of the future was cautionary at best; even Yes, capable of dangerously airy-fairy conceits, recorded the positively avant-garde 23-minute 'The Gates of Delirium' in 1974 (from the album Relayer), a furious synthesized blast of martial dystopia. This last, however, ends with timorous rays of hope and reconciliation penetrating the steely gloom.

Timeslip (ATV, 1971) and The Changes (BBC, 1975) were compelling dramas duly invested with the potential dangers of overweening technocracy occasioning social collapse, but both are mediated through a dialectically-driven redemptive vision of conflict bringing resolution. HTV's Sky (1975), however, managed to marry back-to-nature nostalgia and gnostic, transfigurational sci-fi apocalypsis in perhaps one of the most flawless examples of the aesthetics of prog-rock and post-hippy kids' TV.

We're knee-deep in concept-album compost here. Marc Harrison is the messenger from outer space in the white robes of a suitably priestly caste of initiates, who fetches up in the English countryside in 1975, having intended to arrive after an unnamed but nasty-sounding rumble called 'The Chaos'. He has instead manifested himself during 'the decline' and seeks a machine called 'the Juganet', enabling travel through time and space. His antithesis is Goodchild, a manifestation of an Earth spirit within hailing distance of the Green Man, embodying a hidden resistance rooted in the planet to the presence of an alien invader. In the final episode, Sky's Earth chum, the Holy Fool-alike farm boy Arby, finds himself transported with Sky to 'the time after the chaos' where a tribe of telepaths (a dutiful nod to The Tomorrow People) are rebuilding society by adherence to as many mid-70s Ur-ecological cliches as you can shake a self-sufficiency stick at. Sky delivers an epigram of a vacuousness many prog lyricists would have been proud of; 'you do not reach the stars with rockets any more than you invent radio by shouting at the sky. You believe in machines and that is not the way'. Very earnest, very zen, very silly. The resolution to troubled times, ventriloquized here and at the space-case core of many post-hippy belief systems, lay in something infinitely older and more 'natural' than the current order of things. And so off we troop, with blue-sky-eyed Sky, to Glastonbury Tor and Avebury and - inevitably - Stonehenge, to find the Juganet. Science, once humanity's panacea, was now it's mortal enemy. Reason was death - feeling was life.

By now - post-1973 oil shock, post-Munich - the fabled age of Aquarius, or even an enlightened social democratic system with eight-track cartridges and fat furniture for all - seemed only attainable by going through 'the chaos' and attuning oneself to ancient wisdom and the sort of irrationality that motivated Nazi Germany's murderous fantasies. If that doesn't make much sense to anyone under 30, that's largely because it doesn't make much sense full stop. It's worth remembering just how much shelf-space in Britain's bookshops were occupied by such arrant, sub-von Daniken moonshine in the mid-1970s. One of the authors who - posthumously - did best out of this was Alfred Watkin (1855-1932), a Herefordshire antiquarian and pioneer photographer. His conviction that the world was criss-crossed by a system of ley-lines between ancient sacred sites, first outlined in his book The Old Straight Track ended up taking over his life. Ley-line theory is about as scientifically credible as believing in Chorlton and the Wheelies (an OS map, a T-square and a pencil will suffice as proof), but this didn't stop a battalion of charlatans and well-intentioned, delusionary academics using the 1960s and 1970s to legitimize Watkin's dotty descanting, most notably John Michell, whose The View over Atlantis and City of Revelation sold in their tens of thousands.

Standing stones and pagan antiquity had been explored briefly as dramatic devices in the now little-known Escape Into Night (ATV, 1972, taken from Catherine Storr's 1958 novel Marianne Dreams), a minor masterpiece of post-hippy TV, in which occultic imaginings, a nightie-clad nymphet (Vikki Chambers as the moonstruck teenage heroine Marianne) and apparently sentient stone monuments creepily combine. Then, in late 1975, an astounding Australian indie feature burst out of campus Film Socs and into the UK movie mainstream; Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock told the purportedly true story of the disappearance of three boarding school girls and a mistress at the remote aboriginal sacred site of the title in 1900.

It didn't matter that the story was just pretend. Exquisitely shot and scored - the decadently lush and stylized visuals echo a host of post-Romantic masters from Courbet to Cezanne, the music combines pan pipes with unearthly string and choir chords on that prog-rock keyboard standby, the mellotron - Picnic is a bona fide cinematic masterpiece that re-essays whispered, suggested leitmotifs of adolescent sexual arousal, aesthetic detachment, dreams and death set against the annihilating and elemental forces of nature, much in the way that The Owl Service had done by somewhat more prosaic means five years previously. Although not aimed at a young audience, the sensation of Picnic among adults and late teens, combined with the kiddie buzz of popularity around Sky suggested that children's drama go for a more explicit sci-fi nature-worship route with perhaps the two most signature period pieces of the whole sub-genre, Children of the Stones (HTV, 1977) and The Moon Stallion (BBC, 1978).

The time was ripe. In 1976 Rick Wakeman released No Earthly Connection, an album of rambling, terminally uninspired diatonic noodling uninspired even by his standards. It was rubbish; he released the thing because he could, because he was allowed. It sold depressingly well, not in part because of its very de jour obsession with UFOs and sacred revisitations. Back in the fold with former employees Yes in 1978, he was a major contributor to the track 'Arriving UFO' from the Tormato album, which at one stage had ley lines as a potential thematic concept. The hippy's hippy guitarist Steve Hillage, whose mind had been turned by his stint with über-hippies Gong, was more obsessed than most with leys and extraterrestrials; his 1978 album Green contained no less than three tracks thus inspired, 'Flying Saucers Over Paris', 'Unidentified (Flying Being)' and 'Ley Lines To Glassdom'. Of course, Close Encounters had hardly damped down the ardour of the Martian-minded.

It stretches credibility that such a climate could not have directly inspired Children of the Stones. This almost cartoon-like parade of sub-genre clichés updates the conceit of telepathic takeover in John Wyndham's story/script The Midwich Cuckoos using almost every 1970s plot device available and then some. Scientist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas) and son Matthew (Peter Demin) arrive to study a stone circle in the preternaturaly idyllic village of Milbury. On touching one of the stones, Brake receives a 'psychic shock', whatever that is; the glassy-eyed villagers incant runic mummery by night; there are stone amulets abroad which resound to the message 'visitor... bright... stones... power... beam... always!'. The bristling, bonkers villain of the piece, Iain Cuthbertson's bluff, Sandhursty Raphael Hendrick, has access to an extraterrestrial 'psychic beam' that has homed in on the stones for thousands of years. That the villagers end up turned to stone and then the whole cycle begins again as the Brakes flee the village, is almost superfluous to mention. It's all quite preposterously silly, in hindsight monumentally predictable, and doesn't even have the redeeming tautness and dramatic sophistication of Ace of Wands or the ruggedly haunted full-bloodedness of The Owl Service. Compared to Weir's sublimely suggestive and genuinely frightening Picnic, it is laughable.

Dated it may be, but The Moon Stallion fares somewhat better, because it manages to cram every single criterion of successful prog-rock kids TV into six half-hour episodes and, despite the hair-raising vapidity and diffuseness of its plot, manages to carry the whole off with a degree of panache. Writer Brian Hayles unleashes the whole sub-generic panoply without fear, utilizing a grab-bag of preoccupations that wouldn't just fill a triple-album, but would keep a prog band worth its salt going for a decade and more and have Roger Dean and Patrick Woodruffe battling with billy-clubs for multiple-gatefold cover-art rights - Arthurian legend, the Celtic twilight, the occult, teenage sexuality, nature worship, implied future shock, and although some of the themes are kid-gloved (the thin ice of sensual awakening, Dionysian paganism and the iconography of the stallion). For the record, eminent Arthurian scholar Professor Purwell (James Greene) arrives amongst the tumulus- and barrow-infested downland heights of the Uffington area to research its antiquity. His blind daughter Diana (Sarah Sutton), a perfect cut-out of diaphanous leg-of-mutton sleeves, straight out of one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's sketchbooks, with the idealistically-rendered sensitivity of the deeply feminine (that Guinevere syndrome again), senses the presence of the legendary Moon Stallion The very name of Diana is, of course, cargoed with heathen symbolism, associated with the lunar deity Epona and the ubiquitous legend of the wild hunt. A possible Arthur appears to the blind girl, who is spirited away on the Stallion to the Neolithic site of Wayland's Smithy, wherein lies access to the Celtic land of lost content, Tir-na-Nog, not to mention the Hammer of Truth and the knowledge of the gods (I am not making this up). It made not an iota of sense, but, as with some of the best prog-rock, it was done with audacity and neat riffs of polished craftsmanship.

By the end of the final episode of The Moon Stallion on December 20, 1978, the Winter of Discontent was a snowbound fortnight away. Prog was, commercially, a busted flush, undone by production costs in a recession-hit industry and the haughty indifference of an opportunistic rock media pack besotted by punk. It's true to say that by this time, such fare as Children of the Stones looked quite hopelessly redundant, if only for the fact that its thought-processes had been prevalent in children's programming for the best part of a decade. This, of course, didn't stop Thames from investing millions in the fabulously dark and scary Quatermass exactly one year later, one of the very, very few attempts to make prog-rock TV a viable adult concern (after all, there was urban breakdown, heavenly beams, sarsens, malevolent natural and supernatural powers). Despite the concluding banishment of evil, the upbeatness of the climax is ambivalent; the old professor has been vaporized by his own bomb, and one senses that with the cataclysmic detonation goes an entire era of hippy touchy-feeliness. The Aquarian revolution had been indefinitely postponed.

There are inevitable risks in schematizing history to fit idle journalistic cliché. After all, if the above characterizes 'prog rock TV' aren't the likes of Grange Hill necessarily classifiable as 'punk TV', a natural, dialectical antithesis? It's tempting, but ultimately too pat an answer; urban-set, 'realistic' children's dramas were far from absent in the 1970s, long before anyone had heard of Johnny Rotten. The mores of Action comic, Bruce Lee or Anthony Burgess' Droogs were screened out, it's true, but one could enjoy the scruffily appealing Sam and the River (BBC, 1975, memorably shot in the decaying crane-scapes of London's docklands and estuarine mudflats), and Scouse petty crime-fest Rocky O'Rourke (BBC, 1976)... later, the chirpy contingencies and coping of the Tyneside-set The Paper Lads (Tyne-Tees, 1977, ironically sporting a theme tune from one of the prissiest and most precious of prog bands, Renaissance, roughly a musical analogue of a Laura Ashley print dress) and even the low-browed Euston Films-esque King Cinder (BBC, 1977) held their own. These, Grange Hill and others dealt with immediate, worldly themes of poverty, exploitation, boredom, alienation, class and power that were not dependent on a timeframe or its cultural eccentricities. They did not happen because the Clash or Kilburn and the High Roads were making records or that ties were getting skinnier or that Notting Hill was getting torched; their concerns can be seen in Hogarth and Dickens. David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948) in all its grimy glory would have been as resonant for postwar children as Gripper Stebson getting expelled at the hands of Bullet Baxter. My argument is that the likes of The Owl Service and The Moon Stallion were the result of a discrete and probably unique set of historico-cultural circumstances. Certainly during their currency other discourses of children's fiction - notably comics - downplayed sensitivity and femininity - hence the vast boom in war and sci-fi comics of the 1970s, in which psychopathic thugs of the past (Captain Hurricane), the present (Dredger) and the future (Judge Dredd) bloodily trousered a pocket money bonanza from those whose imaginative public space had been turned over to drippy hippies.

It's perhaps unfair to be too judgemental on post-hippy kids' TV. Children of the Stones, though, now seems a little too prefabricated in its desire to fulfil what was by then deemed to be a set of criteria for a successful kids' TV drama show; it is rather those programmes - The Owl Service, Ace of Wands and The Changes, which fitted cultural currents to a chilldren's dramatic framework on a purely speculative basis - that have aged best. That the kind of material exposed in these shows was unthinkably remote at the end of the 1950s shows what an achievement it was to even get the things made. They stimulated emotional and intellectual responses in a way rarely seen before, then, or since. No imported TV drama - The Flashing Blade, Belle and Sebastian, The White Horses and The Aeronauts - attempted anything remotely as ambitious. The Singing Ringing Tree, while promisingly Romantic and Germano-mystical, is presented with the clunky literality of a cookie-cutter 1950s adaptation and could have been contrived by a victorious Nazi regime, so superficial was its treatment of myth and legend, kitschier than David Hasselhoff and The Scorpions 'interpreting' Schubert's Winterreise.

Britain beat the band with what post-hippy thought did to children's TV. That just a dozen years passed between Dennis Waterman's catty-toting, bullseye-swiping, cartie-piloting William Brown and the psychodramatic harshness of The Changes is testament to how far TV - children's TV, remember - went and how fast. To this end, the bogus mysticism, dangerous unreasoning, hidebound gender roles, creaks in narrative trajectory detectable only with historical hindsight can be ignored. Some of this TV - like much prog rock - is not a historical aberration to be indulgently set aside and allowed for like a drooling, spaz-wheeled relative. That much of it measures up even in part against Weir's unbearably refined and cleverly decadent Picnic at Hanging Rock, the ne plus ultra of post-hippy film-making, is adequate testimony to quality and artistic integrity. Here are some examples of the most startlingly modernist popular culture young Britons had access to after World War Two and these programmes deserves to be remembered as such.

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