Last month, I turned 38 years old – and that’s enough about that. ANYWAY. For many, many years now, I have been haunted by the dim memory of a TV show that I watched when I was a boy. Ever hovering on the edge of remembrance, only two details fuelled its continuing presence in my mind. One: there was a boy with silver hair and who was on the run. Two, and most pertinently: it scared the absolute, goddamned, motherfucking shit out of me.
Really, I had given up all hope of ever finding out just what the hell this show was – and maybe it didn’t exist? The mystery was finally solved after 32 years (!!) while flipping through the latest edition of ShortList, a free weekly magazine for Men that’s given out in central London. Inside, there was a featured called “Scarred For Life”, presenting a list of the top 20 fictional characters that terrified us in our youth. I scanned and saw some Usual Suspects: Pennywise The Clown from It (1990), General Woundwardt from Watership Down (1978), The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Star Wars’ Darth Vader (1977) – but, at no.2, I literally gasped when I laid eyes upon … The Tall, Thin Man from Look And Read: The Boy From Space (1980).
Yes. YES. YES…!!!!!!
The Tall, Thin Man was the source of that primal, creeping dread… and his ruthlessly-pursued quarry was the similarly silver-haird boy from space!! (Cue a flood of memory and excited Wikipedia research.). Meanwhile, courtesy of YouTube, here’s the malevolent bastard in question:
Now, granted, to a viewer in 2012, the above clip probably looks the holiday video of an Icelandic paedophile, but, for my generation of 70’s kids, this guy was Fear personified and the source of a lot of sleepless nights…
The Boy From Space was a feature of the BBC’s Look and Read series for primary schools, which began in 1967 (ultimately running for nearly 40 years) and was aimed at improving children’s literacy skills. The weekly programme presented fictional stories with an educational slant in a serial format typically running over a couple of months. Half the programme would be an instalment of the story, the other half would be an array of follow-on learning activities, hosted by Wordy, a camp typewriter ball with arms, who lived on his Wordlab space station orbiting the Earth with his tracksuited male companion, Colin (Yeah, yeah, I know…).
The Boy From Space, like all the other Look and Read serials, was pretty simple – an alien boy gets stranded on Earth and is helped by a brother and sister to evade a adult alien – and was almost laughably low-budget (note the Doctor Who-esque use of a quarry), but it efficiently tapped into then SF-rich zeitgeist (remember, Star Wars would only have been out for two years) and displayed a nice line in cliffhangers. Astonishingly, given that this aired in early 1980, I would not even have been six years old when I saw this. It might look utterly shonky to modern eyes, but this was pretty intense stuff and you simply cannot imagine material like this put out today for an equivalent-age audience. Different times.
Well, thanks for that, ShortList! Nostalgia Mystery solved! And, now… back to advancing middle age.
“Space goes on… foreveeeeerrrrr….”