The Clifton House Mystery 1.5 and 1.6

Well, I think that was pretty good. The serial has a very, very weird structure. Episode five is mostly built around Peter Sallis’s ghost-hunting character getting all the facts about the house and the incident in 1831 where the soldier that’s haunting the house was killed. The episode ends with him beginning an exorcism, and, in the way of these things, the spirits respond with lights and noise and manifestations.

It’s a triumphantly good cliffhanger that scared the absolute daylights out of our son. He hid under pillows on the other sofa and didn’t watch what happened in episode six until the noise had stopped and it was safe to peek out. He says that the only thing he’s ever seen that’s any scarier than this sequence was the Twilight Zone story “Gramma,” which really was horrifying.

But this story’s pretty much over five minutes into part six. Inevitably, there’s one more twist at the end, but wrapping up the loose ends – and finally calling in the police – means there’s about fifteen minutes of padding in the final part. We learn that one of the boys reads the old soccer magazine Shoot!, anyway.

I didn’t dislike it, and I admired what they accomplished with the limitations of the studio, and it scared the pants off the kid, so while I wasn’t thrilled by it, I’m glad I checked this out. You should get a seven year-old and show ’em this in the evening, just as the sun’s going down.

The Clifton House Mystery 1.3 and 1.4

This is pretty good, but we’d all like it a lot better if the family had brains.

It’s a trope of haunted house stories – of horror generally – that nobody in the family can act sensibly. But this must set a record. They get into the hidden room and find a corpse. And they don’t call the police. The dad spots the skeleton and throws the bedclothes over it and rushes his sons out. He and his wife talk about it and they don’t know what to do. Call the coroner, they suppose. But that can wait until the morning, because the wife just can’t bear having the house swarming with police. After all, her nerves are shot from the important dinner party they’re throwing the next night.

No, they don’t reschedule the party or decamp to a restaurant. The coroner never gets phoned and they have a dinner party with a skeleton in an upstairs bed. You’ve seen haunted house movies. How do you reckon this party goes?

The following day – yes, we’re now almost 48 hours from the discovery of the body – they delay calling anyone again because the mom speaks to the home’s previous owner about the body. She asks them to wait until she speaks to her clergyman as it may be a member of her family. But by this time, everybody’s talking about the house being haunted and possibly having to scrape together the money to move again, so the boys rush off to attend a convenient lecture being held by the local psychical society with a renowned ghost hunter – Peter Sallis! – to tell him their fantastic story.

Hours later, nobody can find the boys because they didn’t tell anybody where they were going. “Perhaps I should phone the police,” says Dad.


I’m not sure which TV detectives operated out of Bristol in 1978, but I’m pretty sure they’d frown on the ghost hunter camping out in a possible crime scene and contaminating it with tape and string and candles.

The Clifton House Mystery 1.1 and 1.2

Here’s another purchase that I made based on a recommendation from the Scarred for Life gang. The Clifton House Mystery is a six-part serial made by HTV in 1978, and is part of that network’s grand seventies tradition of creepy paranormal kids’ shows. This one doesn’t appear to have ever been shown in America, but it would have fit right in to Nickelodeon’s early programming schedule.

It’s a very slow burn, and our son was quite restless this morning. An elderly woman in Bristol has sold her home, where she lived with her granddaughter, to a concert conductor and his family. The pianist is played by Sebastian Breaks, and his wife by Ingrid Hafner, who had played the semi-regular role of Carol in the first series of The Avengers. They have three children, and, this being television from the “children should be seen and not heard” era, they’re having their own experiences while the parents have no idea what’s happening.

The daughter Jenny was gifted a tiny music box by Emily, who suggests that her grandmother sold the house because it was actually making her daughter sick. Opening the box allows an image of a woman to appear. The older of the two boys spends months of pocket money on a very beat-up 1830s-era cavalry helmet when the grandmother’s belongings are auctioned off. Each of the boys later sees the helmet glow and a face appear beneath it. Then they discover there’s a window on the outside of the house but no way into a room there. And the grownups are utterly oblivious.

Episode one is very, very slow even by the standards of videotape drama. It’s almost entirely focussed on the auction and establishing the dad character as aloof and in his own world. Our son grumbled at the commercial break of the first episode that “this isn’t very mysterious.” But it picks up, and he enjoyed a few good giggles at the children’s interactions. He was so surprised that the younger boy had to take two buses to get to school from their new home that we paused to explain that these would be city buses, and not the big yellow school bus that he takes in the morning.

I was a little surprised myself that Jenny’s school is on a different calendar and doesn’t start up after its winter break for a week after the two that the boys attend, but then I remembered that schools are all alike everywhere. If they can inconvenience parents with some dumb schedule or other, they will.