British Folk Horror TV of the ’50s

In this series of articles I hope to create as complete a list as possible of folk horror-relevant programmes produced for British television, hopefully including documentaries and others that are not strictly folk horror but which are still relevant.

There will doubtless be some missing, so if you have any updates, additions, corrections etc. please either write in the comments or tweet to @folk_horror, and hopefully the article can be kept updated. Also if you have recollections of watching lost and forgotten productions from when they were broadcast I’d love to hear them.

This first part spans the 1940s and 1950s. Very little survives from this era due to most productions being performed live and not recorded, and most of what was recorded was not retained. There is also limited information that I could find for many of these productions and I’ve been fairly inclusive, so there may be some listed which didn’t have a significant component of what would now be considered folk horror.

Saturday Night Stories (15 mins, 20 episodes?)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 24th Jan 1948-22nd Oct 1949

Archive Status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: BBC Genome lists most of these as having been read by the author Algernon Blackwood, but also mentions readings by another famous writer of weird fiction, Lord Dunsany. Also mentioned are ones by Compton Mackenzie and Sir Christopher Lynch Robinson, so it is likely the series was not all supernatural. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any details of which stories were read, and although there were 20 broadcast some of the stories may have been repeated.

Algernon Blackwood also appeared in a 1949 series entitled A Strange Experience produced by Rayant Pictures, but again I was unable to discover where they were broadcast. Six episodes were made, and two episodes have been made available by the BFI to view online here:

‘Lock Your Door’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRy4D11qc8I

‘The Reformation of St. Jules’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATAOHgHJv3E

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/search/0/20?adv=1&order=asc&q=saturday+night+stories&svc=9371533&yf=1948&yt=1949#search

https://nicklouras.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/rare-film-of-algernon-blackwood/

Algernon Blackwood in ‘The Reformation of St. Jules’

Sunday-Night Theatre – ‘Witch Wood’ (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th May & 3rd Jun 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Adaptation of John Buchan’s 1927 novel about a witch cult surviving into the mid-17th century in the Scottish Borders. The play was performed live on Sunday evening and again the following Thursday, but neither performance is known to have been recorded. A second BBC adaptation was broadcast in 1964.

Two Ghost Stories (30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 14th Oct 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Readings of two short stories by M.R. James with visual effects added live: ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ (narrated by Robert Farquharson) and ‘The Mezzotint’ (narrated by George Rose).

http://www.pardoes.info/roanddarroll/MediaList.html#anchor7441

The Creature (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th Jan & 3rd Feb 1955

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Nigel Kneale play about an expedition led by Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) into the Himalayas in search of the mysterious Yeti or Abominable Snowman. The play was performed live (with pre-filmed inserts shot in the Alps) twice, once on Sunday and again on the following Thursday, but as was standard at the time neither was recorded. However, Hammer Studios released a movie adaptation in 1957, re-titled The Abominable Snowman with Peter Cushing reprising his role, and this is available on DVD.

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/8e051ddcfcc14ae29640692616d159ec [original Radio Times listing]

http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1141 [In depth article about the TV production]

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Abominable-Snowman-DVD-Peter-Cushing/dp/B0058CLCNY [Hammer Studios version on DVD]

Poster for Hammer Studios adaptation of The Creature

Colonel March of Scotland Yard (27 mins approx., 26 episodes in total, relevant episodes below)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 1955-56

Archive status/ Availability: All still exist, and are available on Amazon Prime UK at the time of writing

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colonel-March-of-Scotland-Yard/dp/B01IAGGZJU

Notes: A detective series starring Boris Karloff as Colonel March. which included the following apparently supernatural episodes although I’m not sure they can be called folk horror. Episode descriptions taken from Amazon:

1. ‘The Sorcerer’ (1st Oct 1955)

"A psychologist is found stabbed to death in a seemingly sealed room. Inspector March needs to decide who had the most reason to kill him, and how did they accomplish the task."

2. ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (8th Oct 1955)

"Members of the Himalayan Mountaineering Club are threatened by what appears to be the abominable snowman, and someone leaves a strange footprint on a ledge outside Colonel March’s office."

3. ‘Present Tense’ (15th Oct 1955)

"Colonel March’s niece, a believer in spiritualism, thinks she hears her dead husband’s voice and others in the house become convinced her husband has returned as a ghost. But has he?"

11. ‘The Talking Head’ (17th Dec 1955)

"A 12-year-old boy insists his dead father told him to kill his mother’s new fiancée. But did the father truly die in an accidental plane crash?"

23. ‘The Case of the Lively Ghost’ (31st Dec 1955)

"A phony spiritualist believes she’s truly summoned a real ghost. Colonel March attends her next seance to discover the identity of the spirit’s killer- dead or alive."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_March_of_Scotland_Yard

Boris Karloff as Colonel March of Scotland Yard

Days of Grace (45 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 18th Sep 1956

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

A Scottish ghost story based on a story by David Forbes Lorne, adapted by Moultrie R. Kelsall: "When somebody dies, his first duty is to keep watch from sunset until the day breaks, every night until the next dead soul relieves him…"

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/471624ea5e964cbea41d9aee8367d9a7

Out of Step – Witchcraft (25 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 4th Dec 1957

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, and available as an extra on the BFI’s Blu-Ray and DVD release of 1970s witchsploitation films Secret Rites and Legend of the Witches

https://shop.bfi.org.uk/pre-order-legend-of-the-witches-secret-rites-flipside-039-dual-format-edition.html

Notes: Out of Step was a series of documentary shorts looking at “unconventional opinions”, and in this edition presenter Daniel Farson interviewed Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner about witchcraft, and discussed Aleister Crowley with Louis Wilkinson.

White Hunter – ‘Voodoo Wedding’ (30 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 15th Oct 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, but currently unavailable

Notes: White Hunter (1957-58) is a series about a Big Game hunter (appropriately called John Hunter) and his African assistant Atimbu which was shot in England with stock footage of Africa. In this episode a young woman believes she may have become the victim of a Voodoo curse. Probably not relevant but included for completeness.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170923163501/http://www.zone-sf.com/voodoouk.html [Archived version of 'Britain under the spell: representations of voodoo in British films and TV' by Paul Higson]

http://ctva.biz/UK/ITC/WhiteHunter.htm[White Hunter episode guide]

Armchair Theatre – ‘The Witching Hour’

Broadcast details: ITV/ 2nd Nov 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Quite possibly not relevant, but included for completeness.

"Jack Brookfield, a gambler with clairvoyant and hypnotic powers, is able to win at cards through his unique gift. But when he inadvertently hypnotizes young Clay Thorne, Thorne kills an enemy of Brookfield’s while under a trance. No one believes Brookfield’s protestations that Thorne is innocent of any murderous intent, so Brookfield teams up with retired lawyer Martin Prentice in hopes of saving the young man from the gallows."

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092687/ [Episode synopsis]

ITV Play of the Week – ‘The Crucible’ (1 hr 15 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 3rd Nov 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Reels 1 and 2 of 3 exist, but the complete programme is lost

Notes: Adaptation of the play by Arthur Miller about the 17th century witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, with early pre-fame appearances by Sean Connery and Susannah York.

The Voodoo Factor (30 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 12th Dec 1959-16th Jan 1960

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, but currently unavailable

Notes: A scientist battles against a killer epidemic that may either be caused by the curse of a Spider Goddess or contamination caused by nuclear testing. It’s surprising that a series from this era still exists complete, and a shame that it hasn’t been released on DVD as it is fondly remembered by reviewers on imdb.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0191746/?ref_=wl_li_tt

Quatermass and the Pit (30-35 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 22nd December 1958 – 26th January 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, and available on DVD with the two surviving episodes of The Quatermass Experiment and the complete Quatermass 2 series

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Collection-Experiment-Pit-DVD/dp/B000772838

Notes: A series that really should need no introduction. While the previous two Quatermass serials had dealt with sci-fi topics, for the third one Nigel Kneale dug deep into brought in everything from ghosts, goblins, the Devil, aliens, psychic powers and more. Hammer Studios re-made it as a feature film in 1967.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Pit-DVD-Andrew-Keir/dp/B000HEVTKY [Hammer Studios adaptation on DVD]

Three principal sources, in addition to the obvious ones of imdb and Wikipedia, were invaluable while researching this article:

TVBrain – Database of British TV run by Kaleidoscope, dedicated to rediscovering lost British TV and have been instrumental in recovering many previously thought lost productions. Their work is ongoing and lost shows still turn up, so if you think you have a programme from the archives you can check and contact them.

https://www.tvbrain.info/

Haunted TV: A history of British supernatural television – a very comprehensive listing of British programmes, many extremely obscure, although it seems to no longer be updated.

http://webspace.webring.com/people/th/hauntedtv/index.htm

The Telefantasy List – A sadly defunct listing of principally British and American telefantasy, which is still available at the Internet Archive

https://web.archive.org/web/20160304084734/http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.seymour1/telefantasylist/index.html

Article by Richard Hing. Thanks to all the contributors to Folk Horror Revival for giving many suggestions over the years that have helped build this list.