The Watch House

Revisiting the Watch House was supposed to  provide some form of catharsis for me.  On the 7th December 1988 I watched the original broadcast of the first episode and about twenty minutes in became so scared that I switched the television off and refused to watch the remaining episodes.  This was a very silly thing to do for two reasons, firstly because you should never switch off something frightening half way through because it creates issues around resolution and secondly because it wasn’t actually that scary.

The beginning of the Watch House is almost identical to the start of Moondial, which is unfortunate as Moondial came out earlier the same year and was better.  Anne is a bright, well spoken young girl who is unlucky enough to have parents that are going through a divorce.  As we know, when your parents are getting divorced in a children’s drama this means you’re inexplicably sent away to live with a distant relative for a bit, ideally one that isn’t very keen on children.  For this to be most effective it’s helpful if the place is as isolated as possible, with very little for the child to do, thus  forcing them to take lots of long solitary walks in the erratic British weather.  Where as Minty in Moondial got sent to stay with Aunt Mary in Belton, Anne gets Prudie in Garmouth.   Actually as a bonus Anne  gets Arthur, Prudie’s brother too, a nice enough man, BUT VERY SHOUTY.  He’s in charge of the Watch House, on old coast guard centre of which he is hugely protective, but not enough to have cleaned or maintained it in any form over the last 40 years.

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The Watch House  is a BBC North East three-parter based on the 1977 book of the same name by Robert Westall.  Garmouth is the fictional town based on Tynemouth in Tyne and Wear that Westall has used as the setting for many of his books including the Machine Gunners.  Garmouth has it’s own café/ice cream parlour and inexplicably for a town with only three inhabitants under 40, it also has an ice rink.  What it doesn’t have is a half-arsed maritime museum, so bored of ice-skating and consuming knickerbocker glories Anne goes about creating one.  With hilarious consequences.  Actually no, that wasn’t the word I was looking for, with mediocre consequences.

As it turns out the Watch House is haunted by a man called Henry Cookson and he really needs Anne’s help.  We know this because he has a tendency to write ‘Ann help’ in dust a lot, he’s clever like that, but not clever enough to realise she spells her name with an e.  Later he moves on  to communicating in Morse code through the use of a model light house.  Unfortunately Anne like most teenage girls is really crap at Morse code.  In the end he just has to possess her to get the message across.  Inadvertently this almost results in her throwing herself off a cliff a couple of times and falling out with her best friend who accuses her of attention seeking (and flirting with her boyfriend, which she totally was).  It’s the BBC though, so it’s alright in the end and by way of a couple of acts of vandalism, the desecration of a graveyard and some fannying around with a skull Anne manages to not only solve the mystery but  also permanently put Henry Cookson’s soul to rest.  Phew.

It also puts my soul at rest, resolving  a twenty-odd year niggling feeling.  The Watch House isn’t widely remembered as a classic of it’s genre because it isn’t really very good.  This made it considerably harder to re-identify as an adult.  After ploughing through encyclopaedias of children’s television and  googling  ‘haunted museum” and “seaside drama” and anything else I could think of, I ultimately tracked it down.  So now at long last, 23 and a half years later,  I finally get closure and can confirm closure feels very like being told you’re an idiot and shouldn’t have been so silly in the first place.

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~ by hazyhazy on May 21, 2012.

9 Responses to “The Watch House”

  1. I loved this, but had already read the book. The CBBC dramas back in the day were petty good even if they don’t look quite as good now. My other favs were the already mentioned Moondial, Tom’s Midnight Garden, the ersthile Box of Delights and The Children of something or other. I seem to remember something (may or may not have been CBBC) about tin mines in Cornwall and two kids seeing ghosts in the recently uncovered mine?

  2. I totally agree, it’s only with hindsight that I realise how much money was being put into decent kids drama, sadly something which doesn’t seem to be happening anymore. I’m planning to cover the Children of Green Knowe at some point in the future, but like the Box of Delights I always associate it with winter, so it don’t feel quite right re-watching it in the middle of summer! The tin mine thing sounds a lot like a Children’s Film Foundation production called Haunters of the Deep by the way, probably shown as part of the Friday Film Specials they used to run in the mid-eighties.

    • Yes, I completely agree with you about children’s TV nowadays. I’ve been revising old favourites – not only this show (although I preferred the book to the series), but another (also based on a book) called Tightrope to Terror about kids having to survive on the Alps when their cable car is knocked off the wires. There used to be such quality programmes and I’ve struggled to recall anything that isn’t infantile and patronising (Merlin and Atlantis I’m looking at you …) aimed at children nowadays.

  3. Oh great, just checked it out on the BFI website and I’m pretty sure its the one! So thanks for that. There’s another drama (might even be CITV) that I recall about a girl staying with her aunt (!!!) and she has to unhook some sort of black alien clicking box from a bar and place into a bigger devide, any help would be appreciated!

  4. Where can one watch this series? it doesn’t appear to be available on dvd.

    • I hope so, it’s one of those weird childhood things that has always stuck in my mind, Would be great to see it. Thanks Hazyhazy.

  5. I went to school in Tynemouth and remember this being filmed. We had a school visit to the real Watch House and there’s a big prop from the show still on display and gathering dust in the village’s Land of Green Ginger.

    Is there anywhere you can watch this show online? I have memories of being freaked out by a scene with the ghost of a soldier and would love to see if it still has the same effect on me.

  6. I found a very poor quality version on YouTube, but unfortunately it seems to have been taken down recently, though this may be an indication that a DVD release is imminent.

  7. This TV show was a load of rubbish compared with the book. I remember watching it when it was originally aired and being so disappointed – especially at what they did to Timmo and Pat’s characters!

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