Deer Grandad

21 Nov

The opening titles of Shadows bring the supernatural into the modern (for 1976) age of the high-rise.  They’re especially appropriate for The Inheritance, an episode written by Josephine Poole that contrasts that world unfavourably with the mysterious old ways of the countryside.

For many years Eli (John Barrett) has been a harbourer, or deer keeper, and is a countryman through and through.  He feels a deeper connection with his deer than with any human being.  But now he has a terminal illness, and goes to stay with his daughter Margaret (Priscilla Morgan) in the city for what he knows will be his final days.  In contrast to the slow, quiet Eli Margaret symbolises all that’s inane about the urban world, with her endless chatter and fascination with her television and electric blanket.  She’s proud to have secured a job in an insurance firm for her school leaver son Martin (Dougal Rose), but Martin’s only interest is nature, and it becomes clear that he and his grandfather are kindred spirits.

Eli tells Martin all about the ways of deer, and about the legendary horn dance, performed by antlered men, which he has always wanted to take part in.  Later, on a visit to the local park, Martin sees ghostly figures performing the dance – but there are only five, where there should be six.

You’ve probably guessed the ending already – Eli dies during the night, while Martin dreams about the dance again: this time all the dancers are present, and when it ends the sixth dancer is revealed as Eli.  Later Martin finds Eli’s cottage and livelihood as harbourer has been left to him, and he takes it up, grateful to have escaped from a lifetime of insurance.

It’s a slight story, but a quietly affecting one, and an example of how frequently themes of paganism, folk rituals and paeans to rural life turn up in 70s children’s TV – see Children of the StonesSkyRaven, The Changes, etc. etc.    The negative dream-images of the horn dance are especially haunting and make The Inheritance more than worth watching in themselves.

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One Response to “Deer Grandad”

  1. cyberschizoid November 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Such a strange TV show…and yet it all seemed so normal back in the day. Have we really become so homogenised in what we watch and consume these days?

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