Well, the start of a new yearly cycle of A Year In The Country (and good cheer to you all!)…
…in order to draw a line between previously visited pastures and new harvestings, I thought to begin with The Disruption, a publication that focuses on the 1975 television series The Changes…
As I have referred to before at A Year In The Country one of the interesting things with the relatively quite small and compact area of 1970s folk horror and related otherly pastoral/hauntological television and film is that points of cultural interest in regards to them are now often not purely the actual programmes etc themselves but also includes work they have influenced and inspired people to make.
Which brings me to the just mentioned The Disruption, which is a booklet published by Texte und Töne that contains a conversation between the authors and academics Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst on the also just mentioned television series The Changes.
In the series a strange sound inhabits the brains of the inhabitants of Britain and drives them to destroy and fear any modern technology, leading to societal collapse and a return to medievalism. The story is told via a schoolgirl who has become separated from her parents and who sets off on a quest across the countryside to reunite with them and ultimately solve the mystery of what has caused these extreme disruptions. During the series England is shown to have become a place of authoritarian medieval hierarchy, roving gangs and witch hunts.
Along the way it takes in her finding a temporary surrogate home away from the city with a group of wandering Sikhs and she is accused of sorcery by a witch-finder. Ultimately it is discovered that The Changes are due to the awakening of a sentient lode-stone which had once given magical powers to Merlin and which is now trying to take England back to a better time, before the Industrial Revolution, when people were more at one with nature and each other.
Below are presented some of the main themes and topics discussed in The Disruption – essentially in part a selective precis, alongside comments on some of their conversation on The Changes. Unless otherwise stated sections in italics are direct quotes from the publication:
“It travels to the same dark and anti-pastoral territory as David Rudkin/Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen (1974) and the Nigel Kneale scripted Murrain (1975).”
While taking the series as its initial starting point, in part booklet is a discussion about the general social, cultural and political background in which the programme was made and broadcast, in particular in relation to the counter-culture in Britain from the 1960s and 1970s in terms of hippies and alternative ways of life and how that continued in some ways into the 1990s (re crusties, travellers, the Peace Convoy etc).
“The appearance of Merlin at the end of The Changes is another… older element, a return to an English mystical tradition that’s trying to find something underneath modernity.”
Although expressed via an apocalyptic occurrence in society, in part The Changes could be seen as a reflection of an early 1970s yearning to return to the land and simpler more wholesome times and ways, of rediscovering the pastoral, folk music and culture.
In the series the characters have had to flee for their lives from the cities and they find themselves in a landscape that is in some ways a pleasant rural idyll, the apocalypse it presents seems almost gentle and society seems to largely fairly easily move back to:
“…it’s quite nice out there where they’ve taken refuge: high summer, archetypal English landscapes – the sort of rural loveliness a lot of counter-cultural people wanted in the 1970s, and which made them leave the cities, to try to find more mellow and fulfilled lives in Gloucestershire or Wales.”
In their conversation Beckett and Luckhurst consider how the attack on technology in The Changes echoes the attacks made on the new automated looms and the resultant crisis in mill labour in the 1810s and the ways in which such things connect with and reflect the turmoil of the 1970s in the West:
“…all of this evokes the end of the long postwar boom… the oil crisis and a sense of impending disaster, and it appears in popular culture in strange places… those anxieties billow out into popular culture, but it’s clearly there in children’s literature and TV too.”
They draw comparisons between the mid-1970s and the state of flux which British society is in and today where after the stability of the Major and Blair years – approximately the early 1990s until the current economic crisis began around 2007 – it is now hard to predict the future and we are living in a time of uncertainty.
Because of this they propose that the worries, catastrophes and England on the edge of disaster of the likes of The Changes, The Survivors (1975-1977) and the final Quatermass series (1979), alongside the spectral, supernatural unearthings of The Stone Tape (1972) and also loosely related unsettled pastoral work, such as the triumvirate of folk horror films that includes Witchfinder General (1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973), fit our era much better than they might have done ten years ago:
“It feels like there has been an embrace of catastrophe across the spectrum, alarmist on the left, almost welcoming on the right. I suppose this also makes sense of us wanting to re-watch that whole strand of 1970s apocalyptic films now, and also that the culture seems compelled to remake them.”
In this sense their theories connect with author and academic Robert Macfarlane’s comment in his article “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” that the current interest in the darker, eerie side of the landscape and pastoralism in culture may well be:
“..an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters…”
The interconnected nature of such work, both the original programmes and films and more contemporary writing, publications etc which have been inspired by them, is also reflected by the above observation by Robert Macfarlane being quoted by Texte und Töne editor Sukhdev Sandhu in his introductory text for an edition of The Edge is Where The Centre Is, a publication also released by Texte und Töne which focused on the preternatural pastoral television drama Penda’s Fen (1974.)
Continued in Part 2 of this post (which depending on when you’re reading this post may not yet be viewable).
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- Day #15/365. The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale
- Penda’s Fen and The Edge Is Where The Centre Is – Explorations of the Occult, Otherly and Hidden Landscape: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 2/52
- David Peace, Texte und Töne, The Stink Still Here and Spectres from Transitional Times – Part 1: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 16/52
- David Peace, Texte und Töne, The Stink Still Here and Spectres from Transitional Times – Part 2: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 17/52
- Robin Redbreast, The Ash Tree, Sky, The Changes, Penda’s Fen, Red Shift and The Owl Service – Wanderings Through Spectral Television Landscapes: Chapter 11 Book Images
- The Changes / The Disruption – Notes on a Flipside of the Pastoral Conversation – Part 2: Wanderings 5/52
(Please note: depending on when you’re reading this post, Part 2 may not yet be viewable.)