What is the curse that befalls the performers of a ballet? RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES finds out in Shadows: The Rose Of Puddle Fratrum.
BROADCAST: 27 September 1978
STARRING: Christopher Lillicrap, Joan Greenwood, Bryan Pringle, June Brown, Duncan Lamont, Vicky Spencer, Noel Johnson
WRITER: Joan Aiken
DIRECTOR: Neville Green
Shadows: The Rose of Puddle Fratrum Review
TV researcher Rod (Lillicrap) is investigating the strange happenings at a production of The Nightingale And The Rose, a ballet which is said to have been cursed by the star of a previous production, Rose Collard (Greenwood) who slipped on a banana skin whilst performing it, permanently damaging her leg and ending her career.
It seems that the performers in this new production (the first attempt to revive the ballet in many a year) are meeting with a series of unfortunate accidents, and Rod is hoping to contact the reclusive Rose with a view to asking her to lift the curse.
Tracking her down to the Dorset village of Puddle Fratrum, and accompanied by his interactive computer named Fred, Rod is given short shrift by pub landlord Mr Donn (Pringle) and his wife (Brown), as well as local blacksmith Mr. Prout (Lamont) who seem unwilling to share what they know.
Still, a persistent Rod finally gets information from the locals and goes off to visit Rose. Following an initially frosty reception, the retired dancer opens up about the curse, and what needs to be done to stop it…
It has arguably the most distinguished cast of any episode of Shadows, and a renowned author to boot but something clearly went very wrong here. Perhaps the gravest error is in assuming that a tale of a cursed ballet needs to be done in comedic style to make it palatable to a young audience, younger than Shadows normally aimed for one might argue and it would not be the only time that the show’s final series would repoint itself at such a demographic.
Further pushing the episode into juvenilia, a cute-character computer is roped in to save the day, feeling like it’s been inserted into the story as a concession to the late 1970’s vogue for futuristic tales (Star Wars et al) and looking like it’s been assembled from an oscilloscope and remnants fished out of a skip behind the local branch of Tandy’s (ask your parents).
Christopher Lillicrap’s status as a bona fide children’s TV legend remains untarnished, but one can’t imagine The Rose of Puddle Fratrum being very high up on his CV, nor that of his fellow cast members. To be fair, for all that it’s ill-judged, it’s not necessarily all that bad until the final couple of minutes which slip into downright silliness and are so appallingly dire, so utterly poorly executed that they’re enough to make you switch off and skip the rest of the series altogether.
Anyone who did shun Shadows at this point would have been doing themselves a disservice, for the next episode would be one of its finest…
TRIVIA POINTS: Joan Aiken’s second contribution to Shadows.
Christopher Lillicrap was a presenter on Play School from 1974-76 but is probably best remembered as the host of We’ll Tell You A Story (1980-82) and Flicks (1984-87)
Joan Greenwood had already attained screen immortality for her work at Ealing Studios (including Kind Hearts And Coronets, The Man In The White Suit and Whisky Galore!) and alternated later screen appearances with her stage work. She was married to Hammer favourite André Morrell.
Both Bryan Pringle and June Brown were familiar and in-demand character actors in the period. Brown was some years from finding national fame as Eastenders’ Dot Cotton but Pringle had already found sitcom success in Granada’s The Dustbinmen (1969-70).
FOOTNOTE: As a Dorset resident, it never fails to make me chuckle that film and TV characters from this county are frequently unwelcoming and suspicious of interlopers (it wouldn’t do our tourism trade any favours for one thing) and when Mr. Donn comments at one point “we’re all related around here”, well…
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