Top Creepy British TV Shows for Halloween

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Halloween is a perfect time to deep dive into the world of creepy British television. JASON D. BRAWN has curated some of his favourite creepy shows for you to enjoy this spooky season

The Flypaper: Spooky British TV Shows for Halloween
A scene from the very creepy Tales of the Unexpected episode, The Flypaper.

Spooky British TV Shows For Halloween

We’re now in October, otherwise known as the month of the dead. Horror fans come out embracing their passionate love of the genre, while non-genre fans reluctantly take part in the weeks to Halloween that involve watching horror movies, attending ghost story events and making arrangements for a Halloween party.

Many of us would remember our earliest introduction to the genre, which is usually staying up late to watch something scary on the telly, be it a film or a television programme, like Ghostwatch (1992) or an episode of Hammer House of Horror 1980.

If you wish to watch a classic TV show in the run-up to Halloween or on the day with some friends or with your partner, I have selected four incredibly creepy episodes from four different British anthology shows. If you haven’t heard of these episodes, then please invest your time to watch these uncanny tales of terror.

I do not have a favourite, as each episode has equal merit.

Tales of the Unexpected: “The Flypaper”

First broadcast: Saturday 9th August 1980 (season 3, episode 1)

Tales of the Unexpected

Made by Anglia Television for ITV, which aired between 1979 and 1988, some of these short stories were written by Roald Dahl and were collected in his short story collections Someone Like You (1953), Kiss Kiss (1960) and Tales of the Unexpected (1979), which usually had an unexpected twist ending.

Some of the locations were filmed across East Anglia, with a piece of memorable theme music by Ron Grainer (Dr Who, The Prisoner) and a title sequence featuring a female dancer, Karen Sandley, who now works as a hospital receptionist in the NHS.

Having seen all 112 episodes, many were outstanding and touched genres like crime, romance and drama, each filled with suspense. There were only a few horror episodes, like “The Landlady,” “Death in the Morning” and “The Dead Don’t’ Steal,” but the creepiest tale was “The Flypaper,” a cautionary tale by Elizabeth Taylor, not the movie legend. I have read the source of this episode, a short story that was rejected by William Maxwell at the New Yorker before it was published in her collection The Devastating Boys (1972).

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“The Flypaper” is set in the outskirts of a small British town, as it could have been filmed in Lincoln, of a young teenage girl, Sylvia Wilkinson (Lorna Yabsley), who is struggling to cope with the death of her parents. Now living with her grandmother (Peggy Thorpe-Bates), who shows less love to her, Sylvia misses her parents more and feels more isolated, with no friends and always getting no affection from any adult.

There is a scene when her piano teacher (Stephanie Cole) constantly belittles her during her lesson, when Sylvia has no interest in learning how to play the piano. Then it gets worse when an old man begins to stalk her and later harasses her on a bus ride back to her house. The mysterious older man (Alfred Burke) could also be linked to a series of child murders in the area, mirroring the Moors Murders. When Sylvia is recused by a woman (Pat Keen), who shows the motherly affection that she had been looking for, things go from bad to worse.

The episode came about when Public Information Films about children not trusting strangers were rife in the United Kingdom, and this episode should have also been presented to children in schools.

West Country Tales “The Visitor”

The success of Tales of the Unexpected encouraged TV stations to produce more anthology shows in the same vein. But there was one series that I believe stood out, but is now unknown to many horror fans, including fans of folk horror. West Country Tales, based on real-life experiences submitted by viewers in response to a BBC appeal, 14 of which were adapted, aired every Friday evening after the BBC Nine O’clock News.

The series ran for two seasons, between 1982 and 1983, with a total of 14 episodes, some of which are missing, leaving only nine surviving episodes to view on YouTube.

My main wish is to see a complete release of the entire series, which will be a treat for folk horror aficionados.

West Country Tales is predominantly folk horror, with tales of witchcraft, ghosts, a serial killer and demons, accompanied by a voiceover narration, usually by Jack Watson (From Beyond the Grave) and Keith Barron (Tales of the Unexpected), featuring little dialogue between the characters.

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The most memorable episode that is also available online is The Visitor, in which a merchant captain’s wife, Janis (Janis Winters) has moved to an isolated cottage, close to the North Cornish coast, with their three-year-old daughter, Kelly (Kelly Arkless). Soon, they receive a visit from a former friend, Fran (Joanna Foster; Barry Foster’s daughter), who takes an instant interest in Kelly, but with a sinister intention.

The episode does give you the impression that Fran is a witch or simply a demonic being descended from the hidden cove, visited by Janis.

It is worth exploring this anthology show, and it has a scary theme tune.

Thriller: “Someone at the Top of the Stairs”

First Broadcast: Saturday 28th April 1973 (season 1, episode 3)

A scene from Someone At The Top Of The Stairs.

Originally shown in the UK, on ITV, between 1973 and 1976, amassing 43 episodes, this anthology series featured many tales of the supernatural, whodunits and espionage, mostly penned by Clemens. The title sequence in the UK release did contain some shots of the story, minus the characters, shot through a fisheye lens, with Clemens’s musical contributor Laurie Johnson’s uncanny theme music.

In an interview, Brian Clemens said he believed that many of the episodes inspired countless Hollywood horror films, like Christine (1983) and What Lies Beneath (2000), which I do agree with.

The show had an eerie effect on actor, writer and director Andy Nyman, who described one episode, “Only a Scream Away”, as one of his childhood’s most terrifying TV moments.

Despite its praise, the most annoying point of the series was the set of alternative title sequences, designed for the US market. That is something you need to avoid.

“Someone at the Top of the Stairs” is the creepiest with its self-contained narrative. Largely set in an old Gothic house, American students Chrissie (Donna Mills) and Gillian (Judy Carne) rent an inexpensive room run by an odd and elderly Mrs Oxhey (Alethea Charlton), only to find out that the house, along with its tenants, are strange and they must not go into the attic room, where previous tenants have met their fate.

Watching this episode did remind me of the segments “Gatecrasher” and “The Door” in From Beyond the Grave (1974) and Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” (Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976)), involving the black arts and eternal life.

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The ending, which still gives me goosebumps, is haunting and worth a watch, following a night out at a horror event.

Read our complete Thriller Episode Guide on Spooky Isles

Beasts: “During Barty’s Party”

First Broadcast: Saturday 13th November 1976

During Barty's Party

It would be sacrilege not to include Nigel Kneale’s work.

To tie-in with the release of Headpress’ book The Book of Beasts by Andrew Screen, this six-part TV show, again shown on ITV for ATV, was written by Nigel Kneale, each featuring a tale of bestial terror.

The series focused on animals dangerous to humankind, like “Buddyboy,” about the spirit of a dolphin, “What Big Eyes,” a werewolf story, and “Baby,” a witchcraft-themed fable about a mummified carcass found in an earthenware jar by a veterinarian (Simon MacCorkindale).

There is one segment that needs to be mentioned, especially for any aspiring horror playwright/screenwriter – “During Barty’s Party.”

It is set in a house, with only two characters, who serve as a middle-aged and middle-class couple, who become trapped with a swarm of highly advanced rats, in the vein of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

What is creepy about this tale is the setting, where it is suggested that it is in a detached rural home, where no one can hear their troubles. Secondly, the performance by Elizabeth Sellars and Anthony Bate is convincing, whose only source of communication is the telephone and listening to the radio for any breaking news.

Unlike other segments, there is no score, only diegetic sound (the radio, a record player blaring out sixties rock n’ roll songs, and the rats scratching under the floorboards) and you never see a single rat. This is the beauty of suggestive horror.

As the episode progresses, the rats’ squeaks get louder, getting closer to the couple’s fate.

This teleplay could be depicted as a home invasion story, which can easily work well as a stage play.

Tell us your thoughts on these Spooky British TV shows for Halloween in the comments section below!

JASON D. BRAWN is a rabid fan of the horror genre, and a writer of dark fiction, which includes a plethora of published short stories and prose poetry, as well as a few produced radio plays and comic book scripts.

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