Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Boy From Space

The 1971 BBC LP The Boy From Space has just come into the Exeter Oxfam shop and made its way online. This was part of the Look and Read strand of schools programming, which educated children through storytelling and accompanying reading activities. The LP was part of the 'read' side of the equation, a telling of the story at a slow and steady pace designed to allow its 8-9 year old target audience to follow the words in their reading books. The Look component was realised in the TV series, which was graced with music by John Baker and special sounds by Richard Mills of the Radiophonic Workshop, both of whom are credited on the back sleeve of the LP, although there is very little of their magic to be found within – just the odd raygun sizzle and echoed and phased backward ‘space vocal’ here and there. Dick Mills seems to be largely responsible for the music in the TV serial, presumably using the EMS VCS3 synthesiser which was the Workshop’s first foray into the new technology. They would later graduate to the EMS Synthi 100, a room-filling monster described as being ‘the size of two double wardrobes’ and affectionately christened The Delaware. The theme tune of the Boy From Space TV series is a rather touching two line song crooned by the inimitable Derek Griffiths (a very different style to his funky scatting on the Bod theme, and an indication of his versatility as a performer), with plangent accompaniment from Mills’ synth. ‘Out there in space, shall we find friends?’ he asks, before offering the koan-like poser ‘is there a place where the universe ends?’ I’m not sure whether the series ever fully answered this astro/meta-physical conundrum, but you can find out for yourself here.

The LP was produced by Maddalena Fagandini, herself a veteran of the Radiophonic Workshop, having worked there from 1960-63. She was one of a number of significant female composers and sound engineers to have found a home at the Workshop. Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram are the two best known (and I’m very excited about the forthcoming Oram exhibition at the Science Museum, centring around their recent acquisition of the Oramics Machine), but there were also figures like Fagandini, Jenyth Worsley and Elizabeth Parker. Perhaps it says something about the assumptions of the time that both Fagandini and Worsley ended up producing children’s programming; then again, perhaps it says something about our assumptions that we should consider this a less than worthy task. Fagandini was responsible for the percussive cut-up tape piece Time Beat, designed for use as a TV interval signal. This was later produced as a single, released on Parlophone Records, by one ‘Ray Cathode’, better known as George Martin. Fagandini also produced the programme Things That Go Bump In The Night, an archive selection of ‘real’ ghost stories, for which she created suitably eerie sounds which echoed through the shadowy, haunted corridors of the Maida Vale studios. More fantastic Radiophonic sounds were created for a 1960 production of Czech writer Karel Capek’s allegorical beast-fable The Insect Play (1921) and a radio adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphee. For this, she adopted old avant-garde techniques of playing the strings inside the piano, and using Greek modes to produce an evocative and suitably Classical theme for Cocteau’s Princess, the guide to the realm of death beyond the mirror.

The Boy In Space was written by Richard Carpenter, who had already by this time written the two series of Catweazle, which saw the scrofulous old 12th century sorceror thrown through time to negotiate the bewildering brave new world of late 60s/early 70s England. He would go on to write The Ghosts of Motley Hall, a light-hearted manifestation of 70s TV’s preoccupation with the supernatural, and Robin of Sherwood, a particularly Pagan take on the greenwood outlaw mythos. The record is part of the BBC’s ‘Study Series’ of LPs. This title has recently been adopted, along with the graphic design style, by Ghost Box records for its occasional series of 7" singles. These have included a collaboration between Broadcast and The Focus Group entitled Familiar Shapes and Noises. Broadcast themselves were influenced by the old Study Series LPs. The Time and Tune no.2: Adventure Stories in Words and Music LP included La Campanelita, or The Little Bell, which provided the title for the beautiful song sung by Trish Keenan on the 2003 HaHa Sound LP. The cover of the Boy From Space, a fine oscilloscope or spirograph pattern traced against a light blue background, is by Andrew Prewett, who also produced the Poetry Corner (a very similar design) and Play School covers which you can have a look at in this previous post.

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