Some television series – like books – take you back to your childhood. The BBC we’re good at producing such programmes, particularly during the 1970s and 80s, when they adapted an endless array of magical children’s novels like E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet, for the small screen. Often transmitted in the late afternoon, these programmes became a virtual institution amongst many children, introducing them to classic stories as well as encouraging them to read and discover more for themselves.
One such adaptation was The Children of Green Knowe, based on the first of a series of books by the author Lucy M. Boston. Set in an ancient manor house deep in the English countryside, it tells how a young boy called Tolly (Alec Christie) is sent there one Christmas to stay with his grandmother Mrs Oldknow (Daphne Oxenford), who owns the house. When there he makes friends with the ghosts of some children who lived in the house hundreds of years before, and in the process discovers their secrets and the adventures they faced during the reign of Charles II.
The BBC series – adapted for the screen by John Stableman, and transmitted in four half hour episodes, weekly between the 26th November and 17th December 1986 – and released now on DVD for the first time in the UK, is as magical as any which they produced during this period. From the moment viewers meet Tolly at his boarding school, where he first discovers that he is being sent to stay with a grandmother whom he has never met, to his arrival during a late night storm at the magical moated ‘castle’ of Green Knowe, everything about the programme evokes memories of your childhood – or at least one which we all secretly wish had been ours. Present are all the key elements we imagine to be part of an idyllic adolescence – an eccentric, kindly grandparent with whom you spend the school holidays, a large isolated country house with endless empty rooms and echoing corridors (not to mention acres of rambling grounds, complete with a river), the freedom to do what you want, when you want, without your parents constantly checking on whether you are getting up to some sort of mischief. Add to this the presence of a kind, ghostly family who mysteriously reach through time to join you in the present, and the scene is set for an adventure which will appeal to children and adults alike, who yearn for a little magic in their own, everyday lives.
The programme’s evocation of England during the Stuart period is also charmingly brought to life though, with its recreation of the language of the period, the action set in the past appears to drag at times in comparison with that which takes place in the modern age. The real appeal of the programme however, lies with Christie and Oxenford and their depiction of a young and lonely small boy and his interaction and discourse with an equally isolated old woman. Christie’s portrayal of Tolly – all wide eyed in wonder and inquisitiveness at the world of Green Knowe and its enchanting and mysterious inhabitants – is full of a wonderful and authentic innocence, whilst Oxenford – a stalwart of iconic British television programmes like Coronation Street and To The Manor Born – brings a sense of humour and wisdom to the character of Tolly’s grandmother which could only be achieved through age and experience.
Though – as the story is set at Christmas – a spring release on DVD may seem slightly out-of-place, its timeless appeal means Tolly’s exploits will evoke wistful memories of childhood at any time of the year. It may also encourage children – both young and old – to search out the further adventures which took place within the walls and grounds of the magical Green Knowe.
The Children of Green Knowe – along with other classic BBC dramas The Missing Postman and Stalky & Co. – were released on DVD in the UK by Simply Media, on the 28th March, 2016.
Director: Colin Cant
Writers: Lucy M. Boston, John Stadelman
Stars: Alec Christie, Daphne Oxenford, George Malpas, Heather Ramsay,
Polly Maberly, Graham McGrath, James Trevelyan, Brian Osborne
Runtime: 100 mins
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