Shadows (S3, E5): The Man Who Hated Children

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A child-hating grump gets his comeuppance from an unlikely source. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at Shadows: The Man Who Hated Children.

The Man Who Hated Children

BROADCAST: 18 October 1978
STARRING: George A. Cooper, Brian Wilde, Paul Watson, William Smoker, James Ottaway, Charles Morgan, Niall Padden
WRITER: Brian Patten
DIRECTOR: Neville Green

Shadows: The Man Who Hated Children Review

Higgs (Cooper) is the type of person we likely all encountered as children: the local grump who can’t stand to see or hear kids enjoying themselves, decides to take action by being a spoilsport and thus kicks off a cycle of mutual antagonism between both parties.

In the case of Higgs, he has the apparent bonus of a place on the local council and an ally in fellow councillor Sliggs (Wilde) and the two plan a spot of vandalism in the local park, with a view to pinning the crime on the local kids. They even ambush two of the children beforehand, stealing items from them to plant at the scene as evidence.

Trouble is, Higgs and Sliggs haven’t reckoned on an unlikely nemesis: It seems that the author JM Barrie had links to the area, and two memorial stones to Peter Pan and Wendy are somewhere in the vicinity, said to enable anyone touching them to make a wish which will be granted.

The two stones just happen to be located where two of the local kids have a makeshift hideout, and one of them is standing on the markers whilst wishing for Higgs to change.

Oh, and it seems that Barrie wasn’t writing about a fictional character. Peter Pan was very much real…

Shadows (S3, E5): The Man Who Hated Children 1
Unnerving opening image from Shadows: The Man Who Hated Children (1978)

The Man Who Hated Children showcases a rare script assignment for Brian Patten, better known for his poetry which first gained wide attention (along with that of his contemporaries Roger McGough and Adrian Henri) in the anthology book The Mersey Sound (1967). Patten has also published a number of children’s books in his long career, in which context this Shadows assignment should not seem so unusual.

As transferred to the screen, the episode veers close to silliness at times (a mistake which earlier entry The Rose Of Puddle Fratrum succumbed to) but keeps just the right side of the line thanks to the masterstroke casting of Cooper and Wilde. The veteran performers know just how to play this sort of thing and their work here really makes The Man Who Hated Children stand as a high-water mark for Shadows’ third series.

Higgs’ eventual fate is actually quite an unexpectedly creepy moment when juxtaposed against what has preceded it, and yet the episode as a whole seems like a different world now. These days, the kids would likely all have ASBO’s imposed on them, Higgs would have probably been in court for attempted assault and it would all end up as a documentary on Channel 5 before Peter Pan ever needed to step in. File under: very much of its time.

TRIVIA POINTS: George A. Cooper is a children’s TV legend for his role as caretaker Mr. Griffiths in Grange Hill from 1985-92 but had worked for Hammer earlier in Nightmare (1964) and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (as the pub landlord, 1968).

Brian Wilde gained sitcom acclaim for Porridge (1974-77) and Last Of The Summer Wine (between 1976-97). He was also the voice of the scary Play Safe public information films and is of course heard in the Night Of The Demon (1958) snippet sampled at the beginning of Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush (“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”)

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Read more about Shadows TV series here.

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