SIMON BALL looks back on Moondial, one of the BBC’s spookiest kids shows of the 1980s
Aside from two doomed royal weddings some really dreadful fashion and a bit of dubious music one great thing the 1980s did leave us with was some truly memorable spooky kids TV shows.
While ITV gave us some classics like Echoes of Louiza (1981) and Dramarama Spooky (1983) and the new Channel Four supplied Daemons (1986), by far and away the most prolific producer of top quality scary stuff for the under sixteen’s was dear old Auntie BBC’s Children’s Drama Unit.
Much of this stuff like Ghost in the Water (1982), The Children of Green Knowe (1986) and The Watch House (1986) is hard to find on DVD. However the 1988 classic Moondial, based upon Helen Cresswell’s novel of the same name, has just been reissued in its original six-part format for the first time since its second run of repeats in 1990.
In Moondial, 13 year old Minty (Siri Neal) is bundled off to rural Beltan to stay with Aunt Mary (Valerie Lush) her mum’s godmother. Unfortunately mum gets injured in a car pile up on her way back home and ends up in hospital in a coma. To keep her mind off the accident Minty visits the gardens of nearby Beltan House and discovers that when she touches the sundial she is transported back to the Victorian age. Here she meets Tom (Tony Sands) the consumptive kitchen boy who is the only person who can see her. Tom reckons Minty must therefore be a ghost, but Tom’s not phased by that because he has seen a ghost before.
Tom’s ghost turns out to be Sarah (Helena Avellano) who appears to be from the 18th century. Poor Sarah is not only taunted by the local kids for having a devil’s mark on her face, but as if that isn’t bad enough she also has to contend with Miss Vole, her wicked governess (the divine Jacqueline Pearce). Minty and tubercular Tom decide not only that they need to go back to the 18th century and set Sarah free, but that all this Moontime activity is somehow linked to Minty’s unconscious mum. Then when Minty gets back to the present she discovers the ghost hunter Miss Raven (also played by Pearce) has taken up residence in Aunt Mary’s house and she is determined to thwart their plans.
Moondial is a bit of a slowburn over the first three episodes, but once the characters of Miss Vole/Raven are established and it becomes apparent that there is something more than just a spot of time travelling going on it does get a lot more exciting. There are some wonderfully spooky set pieces featuring kids in masks too. Funny thing that, there is nothing quite like an evil governess and a bunch of masked kids to get the creepy action rolling.
Moondial is beautifully shot making full use of the Restoration-built Beltan House and its wonderful gardens. A highly atmospheric musical score accompanies the action and all three of the young leads are excellent, that is when Jacqueline Pearce isn’t stealing the show.
Moondial was released on DVD on 4 May by Second Sight price £15.99. DVD extras include interviews with Siri Neal and director Colin Cant.