The Witches and The Grinnygog

The Witches and the Grinnygog can’t really be described as a classic children’s television series, not even in a cult sense so perhaps seems a strange one to start with.  However it is in essence the archetypical spooky British tea time TV.  While the big hitters of children’s supernatural drama from Children of the Stones to Moondial are pretty well known, it’s quite often the more readily forgotten also-rans such as this that will contain a scene or two with the potential to remain troublingly lodged in your mind for decades.  Lest forget that throughout the 70s and 80s there was a steady stream of children’s books being turned into short TV drama heavy on the ghosts and olde English folklore.

The Witches and The Grinnygog is based  on an early eighties children’s book of the same name by Dorothy Edwards which was picked up very quickly for this 1983 serialisation.  I’ve not read the book, but the televisation is essentially a time-slip drama hidden within an Enid Blyton story.  These are very nice kids who live in a very nice village, where everyone knows each other and is yeah, just really nice.  Not that they’ve always been nice, back along the village had a bit of a dark witch burning history and it’s the process of unravelling this history that forms the basis for the six 25 minute episodes.  Just in case you’re in any doubt, burning witches is a bad thing, especially as we later find out they’re really nice witches.  Well they would be wouldn’t they?

What makes the Witches and the Grinnygog such a good example of this type of  television is that it’s packed full of the tropes that characterise kids supernatural drama.  A reoccurring motif in television for children around this time was the single parent, in likeliness a well meaning attempt to reflect the fragmentation of the family, but when you really think about it not very reassuring at all . A very high proportion of the kids in these type of dramas have at least one dead parent or have had to move away to the back of beyond due to a messy divorce that has left the family penniless.   In the Witches and the Grinnygog  we have two main families, the Sogoods  complete with widowed Reverend father and the Firkettles – single mum, not much money.  Consider that the first cliché checked, then.

If there was such a thing as a spooky children’s drama drinking game, and lets face it, if I can imagine it there probably is,  then quite possibly you’d be on your way to hospital to get your stomach pumped before you’d got through three episodes of  the Witches and the Grinnygog.  Young boy  overly sensitive to supernatural  occurrences?  Drink!  Everyone ignores young boys over sensitivity to supernatural occurrences?  Drink!  Backwards workmen with strong regional accents that get spooked on the job?  Drink!  Old man that clearly knows more than he’s letting on.  Drink!  You get the picture.  And did I mention that all the children are really nice, and sensible and don’t seem to have a problem hanging out with their siblings?  Even the lad played by Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale) manages to be likable.

At the root of almost  all kids supernatural drama is a secret.  A lot of the time it’s a house with a secret, but if it’s not a house then you can pretty much guess it’s going to be a village, as is the case with the Witches and the Grinnygog.  What separates this from a lot of comparable programs however is that the secret  is never threatening and for a story jam packed with witches, telepathic communication, ghostly figures and general trappings of the occult  it’s really not scary at all.  This is reflected in the theme music by James Harpham which starts promisingly with some disconcerting crowd noise, but quickly passes into more traditional English folk territory, complete with bird song.  A Southern Television production, while on paper it ticks all the boxes, sadly it lacks the menace of it’s HTV counterparts.

The Witches and the Grinnygog was originally broadcast in November and December 1983.  It hasn’t yet been made commercially available, but if you have a burning desire to check it out there are some pretty good quality versions to be found on YouTube and the book on which it‘s based is widely available.

~ by hazyhazy on February 15, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Witches and The Grinnygog”

  1. and where did you see it? I’ve been looking for it for decades 😦

  2. I disagree with your rather dismissive review of this series. It certainly lodged itself firmly in my mind, and judging by the comments on YouTube and elsewhere, in the minds of many people here and abroad. I’m not sure it was ever intended to be ‘menacing’ – the book isn’t remotely creepy. It’s just a good, intelligent story which approaches witchcraft from a refreshingly different angle. I suspect the ‘single parent families’ in the series were an effort to reduce the number of characters; in the book there are three families involved, all with their full complement of parents, plus several other adult characters.

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