Film and Television Features

In Telly We Trust #1- The Dark Side Of British Television

Between the mahogany numbskullery of TOWIE and the fluffy deluge of Kirsty Alsopp programmes that resemble Stepford-Wife instruction manuals, TV is beginning to turn back to its dark side. With the start of a second series of Charlie Brooker’s ‘cross between The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected’- Black Mirror – we take a look at Britain’s fine heritage of macabre, ghoulish and downright twisted Television...

Black Mirror

When the first episode of a series begins with the fictional Prime Minister being blackmailed into having sex with a pig on national television, you know that the bar for the deranged and perverse has truly been raised. Satirical gobshite, and Guardian columnist, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror – his ‘parable for the twitter age’ - imagines a dystopian future where technology has taken over our lives in sinister new ways. The firstly series gained notoriety for that pig episode, and continued the theme of a ‘broken future’ by playing on the uneasiness many of us feel with the rapidity of which technology penetrates our personal lives. The first episode of series two is a Hitchcockian fantasy about a woman who, obsessed with her recently dead partner, will go to any lengths to bring him back again, but finds that technology leaves a gaping hole where humanity should be (leading to a sex scene more wooden than Team America’s puppet scene).


I have to confess that I haven’t seen Utopia, mainly because I was forewarned of a horribly gruesome torture scene in the first episode (ever since I was excused from a year 11 showing of King Lear to go and violently vomit, I’ve realised that people plopping each other’s eyeballs out with spoons isn’t ‘my thing’). But it is being hailed as a ‘murky labyrinth of a conspiracy thriller’ - all Orwellian conspiracies, graphic novel inspired brutality and shady dealings by well-dressed bad guys. Definitely one to catch if you don’t have any childhood eye-popping issues.

The League of Gentlemen/Psychoville

In 1999, The League of Gentlemen made the leap from radio to TV, becoming the world’s first truly disturbing catch-phrase comedy. Riffing on the inherent eccentricity of the inhabitants of rural Britain, TLOG, based in the fictional Northern town of Royston Vasey, presented us with an array of unsavoury characters; Tubbs and Edward, were the monstrous pig-nosed couple who ran a ‘local shop for local people’ and had a penchant for burning policeman, Wicker Man style; Papa Lazarou, the crudely made-up circus master who called everyone Dave and collected wives; Herr Lipp, the predatory German choir master, and sometime vampire, with an alarming predilection for choirboys; and Hilary Briss ‘The Demon Butcher of Royston Vasey’ whose sales of ‘special stuff’ results in a village-wide nosebleed epidemic. Over three series, The League of Gentleman pushed the boundaries of good-taste with spectacular ghoulishness. Psychoville, Shearsmith and Pemberton’s BBC 2 follow-up, continued where The League left off, with a grotesque pantomime of characters, including Silent Singer, a terrifying miming spectre with the hair of Atomic Kitten and the fangs of Nosferatu. The series finished off with a Halloween special so terrifying that it genuinely gave me, and others I know nightmares.

Tales of the Unexpected

The 70s TV series may be better known for its bizarre naked-dancing-lady credits, but it echoed the black humour that pervaded the Master of Macabre, Roald Dahl’s, stories from which they were adapted. A mix of mystery and dark comedy, Tales was never less than grotesque- a heady mix of cannibalism, mutilation, murder and surprise twists. It explored the darkest recesses of Dahl’s imagination, conjuring grown up fairy-stories where poetic justice is meted out to wrong-doers. One of the most memorable episodes has to be ‘Royal Jelly’ where Bee-keeper Timothy West’s greedy guzzling of the titular leads his baby to turn into a fat ugly grub and himself into a (rather pervy) bee. And ‘Skin’, a frightening fable which would make anyone with a large tattoo shudder (and not just because it’s a naff, 90’s tribal one).

When the Wind Blows

Darkly Post-apocalyptic rather than deliberately twisted, Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows nevertheless packed an uncompromising punch on the subject of Nuclear War, a frightening prospect that didn’t seem too far-fetched when the animation was first aired in 1986. Originally released in cinemas but more widely known for its bizarre Christmas time TV showing, When the Wind Blows depicts the story of a Soviet Nuclear attack on the UK, from the viewpoint of James and Hilda Bloggs, a retired couple who embody the optimistic Blitz-Spirit. Battling to survive in the bleak and hopeless nuclear wasteland that has become their home and unaware of the propensity of their situation, it becomes clear that the Bloggs are dying from radiation sickness, with an ending that guarantees more tears than The Snowman.

. . .

Black Mirror Series 2 continues on Channel 4, Mondays at 9.00 pm.