My horror-loving life was formed by British television, either by the programmes it made, or the films it broadcast. For about eight really important years while I was growing up the only horror I got to see was courtesy of the three channels beamed by a not-always very reliable aerial into the Probert family home.
Probably the first thing I ever saw that could be considered truly horror-related was the series of Nigel Kneale TV plays ‘Beasts’ in 1976. I must have been about nine years old and somehow I ended up watching these with either my parents or by myself. I specifically remember watching ‘After Barty’s Party’ on my own, and ‘Baby’ with my Dad, who went to do something for the last couple of minutes and left me alone to see that horrible thing in the rocking chair. I was so terrified by both episodes I almost cried. Oddly enough I remember finding the Patrick Magee ‘What Big Eyes You Have’ episode very scary as well.
Of course, now that I’ve started the memory machine rolling I realise I’ve been watching scary things (or things I perceived as scary) for as long as I can remember. My first nightmares that I’m still aware of having would have been caused by the Jon Pertwee Dr Who story ‘Inferno’ – the primord monsters in that one scared me so much I must have blotted them from my memory, as it was only while watching the programme’s eventual VHS release that I realised what it was that had scared me so much at the age of three. Dr Who scared me a lot in those early days – the sea devils, the maggots of The Green Death, and the horrible plague people were suffering from in Planet of the Daleks. By the time Tom Baker took over I was a sophisticated child of seven and far more able to cope, although The Seeds of Doom did do a fantastic job of scaring me silly.
Something that’s rarely mentioned as a source of BritTV horror is 1970s comedy shows. This perhaps isn’t surprising but again when you’re very small you take everything at face value, and don’t appreciate that what’s going on is going to lead up to a punchline. I’m talking specifically about Dave Allan’s early 1970s BBC show here, which always seemed to have at least one scary sketch or story. It was only many years later that I discovered that Mr Allan was something of a horror fan, and certainly he was equally able at recounting funny stories as scary ones. I remember one sketch where he turned into a werewolf that made me run out of the room, another featuring a mummy ambling down a corridor (that was me out of the room straight away) and one of Allan’s standup (or rather sit down, drink scotch and smoke) routines where he recounted the tale of a young bride who moves into a lonely country mansion where there is a single locked door, and behind it she can hear a constant, but very faint, scratching.
Scratching reminds me of a Morecambe and Wise sketch that terrified me too. Eric and Ernie move into a farmhouse that’s reputedly haunted. The caretaker (I think it may have been Larry Martyn but remember I must have been about five) tells them the story of what happened to the previous occupants, who disappeared one night. “All they found in the morning was scratch marks,” I remember him saying, “all over the walls, and up the stairs.” Again this was the cue for little JLP to leave the room. It’s interesting now to reflect that as I never hung around for the silly bits of these pieces, it’s almost akin to being shown clips from overtly violent horror films out of context. By leaving I filled in the rest of the story for myself in my ridiculously overactive imagination, creating far worse horrors than the scriptwriters would ever have intended, or quite possibly dreamed of.
Other non-horror horror memories I have include Robert Fuest’s AIP version of Wuthering Heights. The funeral at the start disturbed me and the whole film is very bleak – definitely horror story rather than love story as far as I’m concerned, although of course many may be considered both! Carry On Screaming scared me a lot when I first saw it as well, because yet again I didn’t know it was meant to be silly.
So there we are. I haven’t even got to watching my first proper horror film at the age of nine (it was The Fly on ATV’s Vincent Price season, followed by Dr Phibes Rises Again and then Witchfinder General, all watched on my own except for Witchfinder which weirdly my parents saw the end of with me), or my experiences with the BBC2 double bills. And before that there was of course the plethora of public information films detailing real-life horrors and dangers right in your own home that all got fed into my little head at the time and which seem to have stayed there ever since.
In closing I would like to extend my thanks to Rick Gladman for offering me the opportunity to dig up some memories I didn’t even know I had, and reminding me that my God we were lucky kids to have so much fun stuff to watch.
Article by John Llewellyn Probert
Ingrid Pitt was internationally famous as Hammer Films’ Queen of Horror. Countess Dracula, Vampire Lovers, The House That Dripped Blood, The Wicker Man and many more genre movie appearances established her as an icon in the fantasy film world. Although Ingrid sadly passed away in 2010 she is fondly remembered by horror film fans across the globe and now a film festival has been set up to celebrate Ingrid’s life and career.
Ingrid Pitt’s Queen of Horror Festival takes place in haunted Hastings by the sea from October 26th – 28th 2012 and looks set to be a fang-tastic experience for classic horror fans. We shall be bringing you more information over the coming weeks but in the meantime check out the Pitt of Horror website and indulge us while we celebrate Ingrid Pitt – Queen of Horror!