14/11/2011

War Stories part 2


EPISODE NOTES- SEASON ONE

W = writer(s) / D= director / TX = original transmission date

S1 E1: The Watcher
Tom’s first adventure begins en route to Kirby’s farm when he sees someone watching from the rocks in the distance. He becomes convinced this `watcher` is Julie’s father, supposedly on the front line in the war
W: David C Rae & Bernie Cooper / D: David C Rea / TX: 03/08/68
From the start, the style of the series is one that the modern viewer will recognise – lots of music, stylised shots (on an out of control buggy), some hand held camera work as Tom scrambles amongst the rocks and some evocative landscape views. By 1968 standards, the pace is very fast, the dialogue sparse (perhaps a little too sparse for an opener) and the plotting tight. It takes an episode to get used to the slightly melodramatic style, which leaves little space for build up. While this pays dividends in later more action orientated episodes, having a full orchestral flourish accompany someone walking downstairs might be considered over the top even today!
Nonetheless the end result is a total picture of the world the characters inhabit. The farm is convincingly real- and was probably a working farm back in the 60s anyway -and just to ensure we spot the difference, our modern day narrator is stood in front of a contemporary jeep. His presence may seem anachronistic but as the series grows becomes an essential addition to the process, adding descriptive or background flourishes. Whether an ordinary Yorkshire farmer would speak so eloquently about matters is another matter but you grow to like him and his crimson jackets. The final ingredient is the occasional inclusion of actual World War One footage. It’s hard to imagine anyone who watched not tuning in again.
Original transmission dates, a few differences in hairstyles, weather and the fact that Michael Howe seems a bit younger suggest this may have filmed some time before the rest of the series, maybe as a pilot.

S1 E2 The Night Intruder
Tom and Julie investigate strange noises coming from the abandoned mine nearby with Tom still convinced Major Kirby is the source. However they both face danger at the hands of a mysterious stranger.
W: David C Rae & Bernie Cooper / D: David C Rea / TX: 31/08/68
This is essentially a run-around but it’s packed with intrigue as Tom and Julie explore the old mine...  There’s a great shot where the camera pulls away to reveal how small they look against the vastness of the mine works, underscoring the danger they are in. The question marks over the identity of the watcher means that even though we know, the children don’t. 

S1 E3: Menace at the Mine
Determined to solve the mystery, Tom places himself in serious danger by returning to the mine where he makes an unusual discovery.
W: David C Rae & Bernie Cooper / D David C Rea / TX: 07/09/68
The centre piece of this episode is a superb chase around the mine works. The choreography of the sequences is excellent- many old (and for that matter new) series fudge their chases with editing but here director Rea makes it all look as if the kids are in real danger. With flourishes of percussion and swift camera work, it maintains it’s excitement to this day because you genuinely have no idea where they are going with it.
 Michael Howe really establishes Tom here and Julie Adcock valiantly manages against the stereotype that the girl can’t do anything. Roy Boyd guests as a seriously nasty villain, whether pushing Tom off a rock or locking Julie in a warehouse, he’s surprisingly aggressive. The weird noise keeps us guessing and when Tom goes underground, the whole thing gets even tenser. While the first two episodes establish the show, this is where it takes off and, really, never looks back.



 S1 E4: Monster of Steel
Tom discovers what is happening at the mine and risks his life to prevent an enemy agent destroying a prototype tank.
W: David C Rae & Bernie Cooper / D: David C Rea / TX: 14/09/68A terrific episode in which Tom discovers the secret of what’s going on at the disused mine is the testing of a prototype tank, supervised by Major Kirby hence the subterfuge over his presence in the area. Referred to throughout by the narrator in dramatic terms such as “steel monster”, the tank is first seen in a low dark tunnel, its lights blazing, emphasising that this is something people in 1915 would never have encountered before.  It is a great example of historical fact furnishing strong drama and brings out the best qualities in Tom. He may be in awe of the tank but soon realises its value - quoting his father’s letters’ assertion that whichever side could get through barbed wire would win.

This realisation spurs the boy on to an astonishing feat of bravery, leaping onto the roof of the vehicle as the enemy agent tries to drive the whole thing over the edge of a cliff. David C Rea shoots this sequence with close ups, managing to maximise the sense of danger. The fact that most of the time it clearly is Michael Howe up there only serves to increase the tension in what is one of the best action sequences in the series. It might be argued that having Tom then get into the tank and almost drive barbed wire into the agent’s legs to ascertain the location of Julie is taking it a little too far but the viewer is so wrapped up in what’s happened that we’re more likely to applaud the boy’s quick thinking than wonder how he instantly works out how to drive it.
The episode concludes the overall story and ends with a reunion between the Major and Julie.


From the title sequence

S1 E5: The Prisoner
Two escaped German prisoners are helped by Julie who’s well meaning acts get her into serious trouble.
W: Ronald Eyre & Bernie Cooper / D: Ronald Eyre / TX: 21/09/68
If the first story presented a straight forward enemy agent as the antagonist, this second one- spread over two episodes- offers a more nuanced look at wartime dilemmas. Two escaped German prisoners of war are being sought on the moors. Despite warnings to the contrary, Tom and Julie go looking for them and it’s Julie who discovers and takes pity on one called Peter after he shows her photos of his family. Without telling Tom of her meeting, she sneaks out early the next day taking Peter food and drink only to be subsequently scooped by the younger, more aggressive Klaus who intends to use her as a hostage. Sally Adcock tends to be under used in some episodes, but shines here displaying Julie’s honest and unaffected viewpoint. Julie is driven by her concern that if her father or brother found themselves in a similar situation, somebody would show them basic kindness. “You don’t look a bit savage” she says when meeting Peter and later tells the soldiers that it’s not as if the Germans are monsters.  The fifty year vantage point between the actual war and the series allows such viewpoints but it never feels forced and you believe in Julie’s actions.
Ronald Eyre brings us into the windswept moors as the children explore a series of derelict buildings and you notice little touches such as seeing Tom building a wooden model of the tank from the first story and the way Stan always calls Mrs Kirby “Missus”. Connie Merigold is great at giving Tom and Julie a right telling off!
Peter is played by Barry Jackson, familiar as the pathologist in Midsomer Murders while the army officer initially sceptical of Tom’s claims is Stephen Yardley who’d go on to star in several TV series in the 1970s, notably The XYY Man.

S1 E6: The Secret Boat
The chase is on as Julie is taken by the Germans pursued by Tom and the army.
W: Ronald Eyre & Bernie Cooper / D: Ronald Eyre   / TX: 28/09/68
The pacy second part of the story sees a chase through woodland and down onto a beach. While Peter does try and help Julie escape, he ends up being left behind and ultimately re-pays Julie by helping the soldiers track down Klaus just in time. Whoever the locations manager was, they seem to have found some of the trickiest hills and slopes for the cast to traverse- here there is a very steep route down to the beach. The whole thing is shot for maximum excitement and a resolution that underlines the serious times in which the series is set. One thing you notice is the comparatively large number of extras available for the soldiers. The only niggle is that Julie and Peter don’t get a final word at the end but the story is a sign of the series’ ambition to tell stories that reflect all aspects of wartime life.


S1 E7: The Fire Raisers
 Tom helps a family with a German father who become the target of vigilantes.W: Bernie Cooper / D: Vic Hughes   / TX: 06/10/68
This simple but effectively written episode pits the younger generation’s sense of fairness against some adult’s prejudice.  Just as Julie befriended the German prisoner a few episodes ago, this time its Tom who feels duty bound to assist the Springer family when they are threatened and he does so with gusto. The showdown in the woods, where he points a gun at the thugs is gripping; with lots of dramatic close ups of both his and their faces.  Such directorial flourishes abound lending the episode a similar feel to that of a Western with the homestead being defended from the bad guys.

There’s a surprisingly violent element to several scenes, notably when the vigilantes take Julie prisoner. The script is careful to be as period accurate as it can be, with one policeman’s arrival enough to take the heat out of the standoff in a manner than modern viewers may be surprised by. It is true that police officers where by and large respected and obeyed in such scenarios. The PC’s pithy line “if you want to kill Germans you’d be better off joining the army” is a great leveller and the camera shows some of the thugs already looking shame faced.

Mr Springer is played by Royston Tickner with his daughter by Jo Rowbotham, both familiar 1970s TV regulars.

S1 E8: The Terrible Townsends
Eager to learn about the war, Tom is pleased when Stan’s son Frank comes home for leave but a troublesome trio of brothers are anxious to see him too..
W: Audley Southcott & David C Rea / D: David C Rea /TX: 13/10/68On the face of it, the idea that a trained soldier could be bullied by three rowdy brothers, two of them juveniles, into helping out with a daring munitions robbery - even if they have kidnapped his father - is stretching credulity. Sure enough, the script has to work hard to make us believe that, instead of going to the nearby soldiers for help, Frank would succumb to such blackmail. What makes it work for us is that the first few minutes establish a lively friendship between Frank and Tom so that when events move quickly it is Tom and Julie’s curiosity that gets them stuck in the getaway lorry.

Having seen Tom the action hero last week, this and the next episode have more of a feel of Tom the junior detective as he pieces together the clues leading himself and Julie to a horde of stolen items.  The Townsend brothers are both comedic but prone to sudden mood changes ensuring the sense of threat is never far way.


S1 E9: Robbery with Violence
The Townsends steal a cache of weapons while the trail leads Tom and Julie to the large but dilapidated Seaton House.
W: Audley Southcott & David C Rea / D: David C Rea / TX: 20/10/68
The Yorkshire moors appear to be full of crumbling buildings but Seaton House is probably the biggest. Again, there is a satisfying air of mystery as Tom discovers the blind Lady Dorothy has not realised some of her prize possessions have been replaced by wooden boxes while she points out paintings that are now empty frames. The scene with the two of them is quite funny, with Tom’s increasingly frustrated reactions as he’s obliged to sit down and listen to her rabbiting on having recognised his London accent and started asking him about this year’s opera season! Michael Howe’s lighter comedic acting is a good contrast to his heroic Tom.

Up till now, George Malpas’ Stan has been a supporting character but gets the opportunity here to display steeliness as he faces the youngest of the Townsends, charged with shooting him at 5pm if his brothers are not back. Probably genuinely uncomfortable trussed up in an old shed, Malpas is excellent as Stan challenges the unstable youth, despite his predicament. A sign of the series ambition is setting the cliff hanger on the roof of the enormous building.

Lady Dorothy refers to her painting as being “by Southcott”- the same surname as the co-writer of the episode! 

S1 E10: Battle at Weaver’s Lock
The final confrontation with the Townsends takes place around a canal lock.

W: Audley Southcott & David C Rea / D: David C Rea / TX: 27/10/68
This is one of the series’ finest episodes with just the right mix of tension, excitement and heroics coming together in the superbly mounted battle of the title. After battling Billy- and his lethal looking knife-  and chucking him in the canal, Tom has to open the lock causing the barge on which the brothers are firing at troops to sink slowly down.
The whole thing is shot by director Rea in the style of a feature film with close ups of weapons firing, the faces of those involved and panoramic shots of the whole thing. The weaponry looks real and there are plenty of exciting moments. The parallels with real battles are sharply drawn. Even before then matters have proceeded from a dramatic rooftop chase on top of Seaton Hall through the rescue of both Stan and Frank to Tom’s five mile run to the canal. Breathless  from start to finish, this surely proves that not all 1960s programming was slow.



S1 E11: The Hero
Tom runs away after all the attention lavished on a wounded officer who helps out on the farm makes him feel undervalued.
W: Ronald Eyre & Bernie Cooper/ D: Ronald Eyre / TX: 03/11/68
A single episode story that, in simple fashion, shows how Tom still feels as if he doesn’t quite fit in when the recuperating Lt Shaw starts to take over the work he’s been doing- and seems to do it more easily. At the same time he rebuffs Tom’s attempts to get him talking about the war. As the Narrator puts it, Tom, so long believing himself to be the man of the house, realises he is “merely a boy.”

There’s some lighter moments when he tries to enlist- Windsor Davies plays to type as the recruiting officer- but the resigned tone is matched by a slate grey palette. At the end Tom performs a heroic act and realises his troubles are not as great as some and the look on the face of Mrs  Kirby when he comes home is heat warming. The writers choose to make this a positive lesson rather than have Tom chastised for his behaviour.

S1 E12: The Mysterious Lighthouse
Tom and Julie investigate a lighthouse after finding marks in the sand suggesting a fight
W:Vic Hughes & Audley Southcott /  D: Vic Hughes  / TX: 10/11/68
Following some footsteps on a beach that appear to suggest a body has been dragged into the sea leads Tom and Julie into the Howard’s Point lighthouse. The selling point for this episode is definitely the real lighthouse which is made to seem dangerous and even spooky courtesy of some shadowy  camera angles looking down onto the kids as they explore. There’s one particular  jump- off –the- seat moment when Tom sees a face in a mirror. As well as providing more of a mystery setting, the script also shows the natural chemistry between Tom and Julie as, locked in they realise there is someone else there.
 What nearly spoils it is the fact that when they meet their fellow inhabitant he is so clearly speaking with a German accent that it is obvious he’s up to no good. Luckily he gets as little dialogue as possible and there’s a lovely line that Mrs Kirkby has when Tom tells her of his suspicions; “we only have decent folks around here,” she tells him. Obviously she never listens to him telling her about his adventures!




S1 E13: The Wreckers
The Germans have moved marker buoys to ensnare approaching British warships on the rocks and it’s down to Tom to warn the authorities.
W: Vic Hughes & Audley Southcott / D: Vic Hughes  / TX: 17/11/68
Ending the first season on a high, the second part of the story sees the identity of the injured man Tom and Julie find on the beach revealed as the real lighthouse keeper George Barkis, who confirms the imposters tried to kill them. Its then up to Tom to go back in and send an SOS to the coastguard across the bay.

In the sort of set piece the series does so well, the poor lad is chased around the balcony but not before he’s sent his signal. The final confrontation on the beach is also well done, as Tom sinks the Germans’ escape boat with a flare thus foiling their plan. The conclusion uses real footage of World War One ships to rousing effect complete with an inspirational letter from Tom’s father.
George Barkis is played by Jack Woolgar, a well known TV regular.

Coming Soon: Season 2 Episode Notes

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