|Children of the Stones|
|Created by||Jeremy Burnham|
|Directed by||Peter Graham Scott|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||7|
|Executive producer(s)||Patrick Dromgoole|
|Producer(s)||Peter Graham Scott|
|Production location(s)||Avebury, Wiltshire|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original network||HTV West|
|Picture format||PAL (576i)|
|Original release||10 January –|
21 February 1977
|Related shows||The Third Eye|
Children of the Stones is a British television drama serial for children produced by HTV in 1976 and broadcast on the United Kingdom's ITV network in January and February 1977. The story was depicted over seven episodes and produced by Peter Graham Scott, with Patrick Dromgoole as executive producer. A novelisation by the serial's writers, Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray also appeared in 1977. In the United States, it was broadcast on the Nickelodeon television channel in the early 1980s as part of the series The Third Eye.
The series is today considered a landmark in quality children's drama and has been called "the scariest programme ever made for children".
Filmed at Avebury, Wiltshire during Summer 1976, with interior scenes filmed at HTV's Bristol studios, it was an unusually atmospheric production with sinister, discordant wailing voices heightening the tension on the incidental music. The music was composed by Sidney Sager who used the Ambrosian Singers to chant in accordance with the megalithic rituals referred to in the story. Director Peter Graham Scott was surprised on seeing the script that the series was intended for children's airtime due to the complexities of the plot and disturbing nature of the series.
Cast as the leader of the village, Hendrick was well-known actor Iain Cuthbertson, while the leading role of Adam Brake was filled by another experienced actor, Gareth Thomas. Cuthbertson and Thomas had previously worked together on the TV series Sutherland's Law. Veronica Strong (the wife of series co-writer Jeremy Burnham) played Margaret Smythe, the winsome curator of the local museum who partners with Brake to solve the mystery. The child actors Peter Demin (aged 17 at the time of filming) and Katharine Levy played the teenage leads Matthew (Brake's son) and Sandra (Smythe's daughter). Two popular character actors of the time, Freddie Jones and John Woodnutt, were cast as poacher Dai and butler Link.
Episodes were broadcast at 16:45 on Mondays each week.
The series was repeated by ITV from 21 July 1978 – 1 September 1978, at 16:15. Since then the show has not been broadcast in its entirety on UK television, either terrestrial or satellite.
One of the more complicated aspects of Children of the Stones is the concept of the "time circle" and the "psychic bubble". The village within the stone circle exists in a time rift, where the same actions are played out (with minor variations), over and over again, with the end result being that the power of the circle will eventually be released to the outside world. Whenever this is faulted, however, the time circle resets and the same events attempt again to unfold. However, since time is passing in the outside world in a normal way, that within the time circle must also progress matching the time period of the real world while still attempting to play out the events within.
Within Children of the Stones, there are four cycles of the time circle that are clearly described, although in reality there are likely to be a great number more.
The original stone circle was built during megalithic Great Britain and inhabited by a pagan folk led by a Druid priest. The village priest then witnessed the formation of a supernova and somehow deduced that a black hole had formed shortly thereafter. Using a variety of psychic powers, mixed with folk magic, the priest was able to harness the power of the stones (which were natural magnets) and focus negative energy, via a beam of light, through the centre of the circle towards the black hole. This energy, however, was drawn from the minds of the inhabitants within the circle, taking their anger and fear to the black hole and turning them into docile but happy creatures (hence "happy day") under the control of the Druid priest.
When a pair of travellers entered the village, the Druid priest attempted to brainwash them as well, through the beam of light towards the black hole. The travellers outwitted the priest, however, and tricked him into thinking they had been brainwashed when the beam of light had not yet appeared. When the two travellers entered the circle of those who had already been taken in by the priest, the circle of control was broken. The beam of light then appeared, much to the priest's horror, destroying his altar and turning the inhabitants of the circle to stone. The two travellers barely managed to escape the same fate, and were only able to survive by hiding in a rock cave towards the edge of the stone circle, known as the sanctuary.
The events of the original circle were later put down into the form of a painting, which eventually made its way to become a key point of another cycle of the time circle.
The Barber-Surgeon is an inhabitant of the village of Milbury, which had been built upon the original site of the stone circle. The events of the first circle begin to unfold again in Milbury. The Barber-Surgeon seeing what is taking place, is able to protect himself by use of a mystic amulet. The amulet is palm-sized and inscribed with a winged serpent.
The Barber-Surgeon is a threat to whoever had restarted the events of the First Circle and he is mysteriously crushed under a falling sarsen stone, also engraved with a serpent like the amulet the Barber-Surgeon had carried. The amulet was crushed, along with the Barber-Surgeon; however, his bones were later removed and the stone that killed him re-erected within the circle. Whoever had caused the Barber-Surgeon to die did not succeed, and the time circle again reset itself into the modern age.
Dai the poacher's life, death and activities are markedly similar to those of the Barber-Surgeon, suggesting a possible identity or link between the two characters.
The Time Circle again took another loop in the 1970s when a famous astronomer, Rafael Hendrick, uncovered an ancient Dog Latin text speaking of the original Druid Priest who had seen a supernova explode in ancient times. Hendrick was able to discover the location of the supernova (a discovery which made him famous) and further learn that the supernova was now a black hole in the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear.
Hendrick then traveled to Milbury, the site of the stone circle in which the Druid Priest had years before conducted his attempt at brainwashing the circle's inhabitants. Through means unexplained, Hendrick learned the power of the circle and how to harness the negative energy of the Milbury villagers into the beam of light towards the black hole. Through complex astronomical calculations, he determined exactly when he could form the energy beam and began brainwashing the villagers into becoming what he called "Happy Ones".
The one challenge to Hendrick is a local poacher named Dai; however, Dai suffers a mysterious death in the same location as the Barber-Surgeon had years earlier. Dai's body is also apparently mysteriously replaced with a fallen stone carved with a serpent, but then both the stone and the body vanish. After Dai is killed, pieces of a broken amulet are found, with those pieces matching exactly the gaps in the broken amulet of the Barber-Surgeon.
With nothing to stop Hendrick, one by one the villagers are brainwashed by the beam of light the Professor and his son remain. Professor Brake's son, Matthew, is apparently psychic and also has come across a painting a year before that depicted the scene of the first circle. By the time Hendrick is seeking to brainwash Brake and his son, both have figured out that Milbury is replaying the events of the first circle and attempt to find a way to escape.
In the final episode, by setting Hendrick's digital timekeeping system ahead five minutes, Professor Brake and Matthew are able to trick Hendrick into thinking they had been brainwashed by energy beam and, when they enter the circle of "Happy Ones", the power of control is broken. Hendrick is then exposed to the beam of light himself, and is metamorphosed into an image of the ancient Druid priest while his butler, Link, covers his eyes for protection. The villagers are then turned to stone when they looked at the beam of light from Hendrick's house. Professor Brake and Matthew attempt to save their village friends Margaret and her daughter Sandra but, despite warnings to them not to look back at the light, they both do and meet the same fate as the other villagers. The professor and his son then escape to the Sanctuary, just as the ancient travellers had done in the original circle. When Brake and Matthew awake the next morning, the village had changed back to normal (with only minor variations), with no sign that Hendrick or his plan has ever existed. Margaret, Sandra and the Brakes' housekeeper, who were all victims of the stone circle's power the previous evening, are present and living their normal lives. Even the poacher, Dai, is alive and living in the Sanctuary, but gives no indication that he knows Professor Brake or Matthew. Upon leaving the village, Matthew wonders if the Time Circle has reset and the events they have recently witnessed will happen again? Professor Brake jokingly asks Matthew if he would like to go back to the town and find out, but Matthew asks him to drive far away and to only stop off somewhere for something to eat.
In the final scene of the series, shortly after Professor Brake and Matthew depart from the village, a well-dressed man in an expensive motor car drives into Milbury. He looks identical to Rafael Hendrick. The man drives to Hendrick's old house where he meets with Link, Hendrick's former butler in the last round of the Time Circle, who now has a moustache and looks considerably younger.
The gentleman introduces himself as Sir Joshua Litton, a former Professor at Cambridge University who has come to Milbury from London. He comments on what a nice place Milbury will be to retire and that he will be very happy there. The implication is that the Time Circle has reset and the events of the stone circle have begun again.
Children of the Stones has been almost universally praised as an outstanding children's series. Comedian Stewart Lee commended the series in the 2007 BBC Four series Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe. Lee commented on depictions of teenagers on television in different decades, contrasting Children of the Stones with Channel 4's modern drama Skins, highlighting how Children of the Stones was still relevant to a modern audience. Several clips of the story were shown. In 2012 Lee narrated a documentary on the series for BBC Radio Four. It was introduced as "the scariest programme ever made for children", highlighting the eerie music and commenting that it was "the most inappropriate theme music ever used for a children's series." Among the interviewees were actors Gareth Thomas and Katharine Levy who both gave credit for the high quality of the scripts. Levy said that the finished programme surpassed all of their expectations and still stands up well today. Writer Jeremy Burnham stated that although it was only seven episodes, the series has stayed with him ever since due to the fans' interest.
Children of the Stones was first released on Guild Home Video in 1981, becoming one of the earliest children's dramas to be released on the format. Due to an error on the front and rear of the sleeve listing it as running 1hr 38 mins, it was assumed to be in a heavily edited form. The tape however ran at 2hrs 32mins, meaning only that the opening and closing credits from the middle episodes had been removed, and certain scenes reordered. For example; In episode 1, we see Matthew fall from his bike before his father touches the stone. In the video version, we see him fall immediately after that scene. The series was re-released in 1992, again as a single uninterrupted feature. Currently, the serial is available on DVD, released by Second Sight in the UK and by Acorn Media in the US. The DVD includes interviews with actor Gareth Thomas and producer Peter Graham Scott. The series was released yet again in 2011 by Network DVD. Unusually for a children's series, it was given a 12 certificate.
The serial was novelised by series writers Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and released by Carousel Books in 1977. It was released in the US two years later. The novelisation was released in audiobook format by Fantom Films in August 2014, read by Gareth Thomas.