Eerie tales for kids, just before teatime? That’s just what ITV had on the menu from 1975 to 1978: RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES guides us through the creepy Thames TV anthology series, Shadows.
In the days before digital broadcasting came along, offering multiple channels of viewing and spinning off children’s shows to their own domains, both BBC1 and ITV would devote chunks of their afternoon schedules to programmes aimed at younger viewers.
In ITV’s case, shows aimed at older kids and teenagers tended to be shown in the closing 4:45pm slot of their children’s segment on weekdays, and a look at the TV listings for the week commencing 18 September 1978 gives a good overall picture of what was on offer: Monday had Southern TV’s adaptations of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (1978-79), while Thames Television’s magazine show Magpie (1968-80) appeared on Tuesday and Friday.
However, it’s the show broadcast that Wednesday which concerns us here, an anthology of creepy tales that Thames had launched three years earlier, and which was just coming to an end after 20 episodes over three series: Shadows.
Since coming on air as ITV’s Monday to Friday London contractor in 1968, Thames had carved out quite a reputation for quality programming and Shadows was no exception. This was a show which perfectly gauged the teen market’s appetite for creepy tales or stories from ancient indigenous mythology, with the books of Joan Aiken, Penelope Lively and Susan Cooper being popular sellers throughout the 1970’s.
All those writers would have works adapted for Shadows, whilst original tales would come from some of the top television writers of the time: Roger Marshall (Edgar Wallace Mysteries, The Avengers, The Sweeney), Peter Hammond (Sapphire & Steel) and Trevor Preston (Ace Of Wands) would all contribute to the first series.
Under the watchful eye of Thames childrens’ department producers Pamela Lonsdale (series 1 and 3) and Ruth Boswell (series 2), Shadows became a hit with its target audience, with a spin-off book of stories from the series also becoming a big seller. The show would also prove a critical success, gaining two BAFTA nominations.
Tales ranged from relatively gentle stories with a supernatural touch, through more whimsical tales of ancient folklore, all the way to more directly chilling entries: Indeed, it could be argued that the show became bolder in the latter respect in its later episodes, with the first series perhaps more tentatively testing the waters with its audience.
The spirit of Shadows continued in the later Thames series Spooky (1983), also produced by Lonsdale and which begat Dramarama (1983-89), another anthology show with a heavy quota of creepy tales, which would pull in contributions from across the ITV network.
Individual episode reviews will appear at Spooky Isles over the coming months, with links added below.
Shadows Episode Guide Series 1
1. The Future Ghost (3 September 1975)
2. After School (10 September 1975)
3. The Witch’s Bottle (17 September 1975)
4. The Waiting Room (24 September 1975)
5. An Optical Illusion (1 October 1975)
6. Dutch Schlitz’s Shoes (8 October 1975)
7. The Other Window (15 October 1975)
Shadows Episode Guide Series 2
1. The Dark Streets of Kimballs Green (28 July 1976)
2. Time Out of Mind (4 August 1976)
3. The Inheritance (11 August 1976)
4. Dark Encounter (18 August 1976)
5. Peronik (25 August 1976)
6. The Eye (1 September 1976)
Shadows Episode Guide Series 3
1. Eleven O’Clock (20 September 1978)
2. The Rose of Puddle Fratrum (27 September 1978)
3. And Now For My Next Trick (4 October 1978)
4. The Boy Merlin (11 October 1978)
5. The Man Who Hated Children (18 October 1978)
6. The Silver Apple (25 October 1978)
7. Honeyann (1 November 1978)