Victorian London on Screen
The December Rose, Leon Garfield’s latest story, begins on BBC I on March 12th and is soon to appear simultaneously in Kestrel and Puffin.
Set in the 1860s on the waterways between London Docks and the Medway it promises to be a Victorian melodrama in Garfield’s best Dickensian style. Murder, intrigue and embezzlement are all part of the adventures of Absalom Brown, climbing boy of a bullying chimney sweep master. Barnacle – as he is nicknamed because of his ‘amazin’ powers of holdin’ on’ – falls literally into a conspiracy and into danger.
The producer of The December Rose is Paul Stone (Box of Delights, Who, Sir? Me Sir?) who most recently worked with Bernard Ashley on Running Scared, also an original screen play and novel.
The December Rose, Puffin, 0 14 03.2070 9, £1.75; Viking Kestrel, 0 670 81054 1, £6.95 (pub. March 27th).
From the same Spielberg production stable as Gremlins, The Goonies and Back to the Future comes Young Sherlock Holmes, described as `an affectionate speculation’ about what might have happened had the famous detective and his chronicler, Watson, met during their school days. It has been made they say `with respectful admiration and in tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his enduring works.’
The screen writer for the film, Chris Columbus (Gremlins, Goonies, and currently concocting the screenplay for the third Indiana Jones adventure) spent nine months immersed in the Holmes stories and all things Victorian. He also admits to being influenced by the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and David Lean’s films of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. `I set out to get that flavour back into films,’ he says.
So back we go to 1870. Holmes is sixteen and attending the Brompton School in South Kensington (scenes filmed at Eton where Nicholas Rowe, who plays Sherlock, is an old boy). He, new boy Watson and the beautiful Elizabeth are plunged into a mystery which involves ritual murder, an evil Egyptian cult, roof top chases, dark doings in even darker alleys, and duels to the death.
The film goes on general release on March 14th. There are two tie-in books from Dragon Grafton.
Young Sherlock Holmes, a novel (200 pages), Alan Arnold, 0 583 30942 9, £1.95; a large format Storybook with full colour stills from the film (same title), 0 583 30966 6,1:2.95.
HEAR TO READ Rachel Redford introduces her new list of stories for listening
Hear to Read is the first of its kind! It is a Guide to 100 children’s audio cassettes published by The National Book League on March 12th. The exciting and now vast children’s cassette market deserves far wider review coverage than it has had and after almost 10 years’ reviewing children’s cassettes, I am delighted to be its author. It is the first publication to collect together so much information and guidance on the subject.
A `Guide’ suggests a catalogue with a sentence or so after each title; Hear to Read is much more than that. Ten thousand words long, some idea of the content, quality, appeal and value of each title is given. Cassettes for children are very far from being merely the crudely illustrated packages, derivative of the worst American television cartoons, which dominate the racks at the supermarket checkout. The best are excellent and it is these which are in Here to Read. The variety is immense.
They appeal to toddlers with titles like Dancing Songs and Rhymes and Postman Pat each packaged with a colourful book, through to teenagers – and adults – with James Herriot and a powerful dramatisation of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows. Enhancing sound effects vary from the stereophonic bubbling of Meg’s cauldron, to the realistic sounds of sea, storm or birdsong, to the full exploitation of song and all kinds of musical instruments. As well as narration by actors and authors in various accents, there is dramatisation, song and poetry-the sort of verse that is fun like Roald Dahl and Jack Prelutsky. Stories are set in different parts of the globe and all over Britain as well as in lands of the Imagination.
All the cassettes are book related. I firmly believe that listening and reading are complementary. Toddlers can turn pages and follow a story on tape by the pictures in book and cassette packages – a valuable preparation for reading. Children are encouraged to widen their reading after hearing a `difficult’ book like Wind in the Willows or Alice in Wonderland on tape. Cassettes can introduce them to unusual and rewarding books like Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Unabridged readings of good contemporary writing like Stig of the Dump are incentives to turn to the book. Reluctant readers are given that vital stepping stone to independent reading. Read-along books-and-cassettes provide entertaining reading experience for beginners and remedial readers, as do `structured learning programmes’ like the Puddle Lane series.
Cassettes are obviously a boon to busy mothers. Their constructive uses in hospitals, convalescence, holiday journeys, school runs, playgroups, schools and so on are generally acknowledged. But they are also valuable in classrooms. The habit of listening and absorbing is a skill which many sixth formers have never acquired. Cassettes teach it through fun at a very early age. Still further, they can instil a love of reading and listening for pleasure: a precious gift to give our children.
Hear to Read, Rachel Redford, available from the Centre for Children’s Books, National Book League, Book House, 45 East Hill, London SW18 2QZ, price £1.50 incl. p&p (NBL members £1.25).
A new series from Yorkshire TV will be screened in early April. Animated films feature seven rag dolls, tossed into the reject bin at Mr Grime’s toy factory. Princess, in raggy clothes and with multi-coloured hair; Back-to-Front, a handyman doll with his head stuck on the wrong way round; Lucy, whose arms and legs drop off when she gets excited; Hi-Fi, a talking doll who stutters; Dotty, who is paint stained; Sad Sack, a sample no-one wanted; and Claude, a French doll who got left behind. The less-than-perfect dolls have lots of adventures.
The series will go out on one day a week at 12.00 and 4.00 pm. There are seven programmes in the first series and six more planned for the autumn. Tie-in titles from Mushroom Books will be available (£1.95 hbk; £1.25 pbk) and there will be massive merchandising in the shape of dolls, games, bags, pencil cases, aprons etc. Look out too for audio tapes of the stories if your pupils look as if they might be giving up Care Bears in favour of Raggy Dolls.