Look and Read: The Boy From Space (1971)
The Boy From Space (1971) is a unit of the BBC schools TV series Look and Read from the 1970s, covering Language and Reading for primary school pupils.
The Boy From Space is probably the best known of all the Look and Read stories, a classic science-fiction story that was shown and repeated over a period of 15 years throughout the 1970s and 80s.
The story involves two kids (Dan and Helen) who investigate a strange light they spot in the sky and discover a young boy from space, whom they name Peep-Peep. Another alien, the Thin Space-Man, is hot on their trail and he soon captures Peep-Peep and the children's friend Mr Bunting. With the help of their adult friend Tom, Dan and Helen set about rescuing Peep-Peep, Bunting, and Peep-Peep's father, who are all being held hostage in the alien's spaceship.
This page is about the original programmes, in black-and-white, shown in the 1970s. Later on, in the 1980s, the story was re-shown in colour and with new teaching middles featuring Wordy. There is a separate page about that version of the story.
The Boy from Space was released on a 2-disc DVD set by the British Film Institute in 2014.
The DVD includes all 10 episodes of the 1980 story, the reading of the 1971 story originally released by BBC Records, newly edited-together versions of the story, and even a booklet with three articles looking at different aspects of the series (one of which was written by me, Ben Clarke, who wrote this website).
Watch a clip on YouTube.
The Teaching Middles
I do not have any solid information about what the teaching sections of these programmes were like. The Radio Times listed an extra actor, Michael Guest, appearing in the programmes and he does not appear in the film story, so it seems likely that he presented in the studio.
The teacher's notes describe some of the phonic teaching likely to have featured in each episode - for instance, in episode 1 initial consonants including "Tt" as in "telescope" and "Mm" as in "meteorite" could have been covered. Unfortunately teacher's notes for Look and Read programmes were written before the teaching content of the episodes themselves had been written, so the notes only say "phonic teaching may include" and are not necessarily reliable.
Regarding the programmes in general, Simon Coward wrote to say that he has "an impression of the title sequence having voices repeating the phrase 'Look and Read' quite quickly and then another, more authoritative voice saying more slowly 'Look... And Read'. Does anybody have any other memories of the 1970s Boy From Space?
|1.||The Meteorite||21 Sep 1971|
|2.||The Spinning Compass||28 Sep 1971|
|3.||The Man in the Sand-pit||5 Oct 1971|
|4.||In danger!||12 Oct 1971|
|5.||The Hold-up||19 Oct 1971|
|6.||Where is Tom?||2 Nov 1971|
|7.||The Hunt for the Car||9 Nov 1971|
|8.||The Lake||16 Nov 1971|
|9.||Captured!||23 Nov 1971|
|10.||In the Spaceship||30 Nov 1971|
|Starring||Sylvestra Le Touzel as Helen|
|Written by||Richard Carpenter|
|Music by||Paddy Kingsland|
|Film director||Maddalena Fagandini|
|Series producer||Claire Chovil|
A 48-page pamphlet containing the text of the story for children to read, and some word exercises and plot questions at the end of each chapter. Printed in black and blue, with little blue spaceships separating sections of text.
The vocabulary of the story was still based on the Key Words to Literacy scheme (see Fishing for Fivers) and was very carefully controlled. In fact, the teacher's notes contained six pages of vocabulary lists and specified that there were 231 Key Words to Literacy used; along with 143 additional interest words and variants from the monographs A study of the vocabulary of young children by G.E.R. Burroughs and Words your children use by R.P.A. Edwards and V. Gibbon; plus 12 further words relevant to the story - I expect these were the unique words such as "Bunting" and "space-gun".
The writer Richard Carpenter commented on writing a story with such massive vocabulary constraints in an interview for TV Zone magazine in 1993: "that was about the most difficult thing I've ever written in my life, because you're restricted to the first two-hundred words of the English language plus a few words like telescope and telephone and television."
In fact the text of the story still being worked on even after the first broadcast of the programmes. When The Boy From Space was repeated in 1972, the pupil's pamphlet was published in a "revised edition" with changes to the text. In some cases, the text was simplified and extra expressions that might confuse slow readers were removed, in other cases new simple words such as "mac" and "hat" were added to enhance reading practice. Here are two examples of the changes made:
A 32-page booklet printed in pure black-and-white, containing information for teachers using the programmes. Unusually for BBC teacher's notes from any era, it contains no description of the actual content of the episodes and no references to what happens in the story at all. Instead it focused on extensive and varied suggestions for preparatory and follow-up work that could be undertaken in class.
It was credited as follows: Reading consultant Dr Joyce M. Morris, story Richard Carpenter, Suggestions for follow-up work Delia Atkinson, Michael Grater, Sheila Lane and Betty Root. As seen in the image to the left, the "story" credit was mis-placed, making it appear that the author Richard Carpenter was a reading consultant to the series!
All of the descriptions given here are based on the Autumn 1972 teacher's notes, which originally cost 16p. ISBN 0 563 11015 5.
Long Playing Record
A recording of the text of the pupil's pamphlet, read by Charles Collingwood. Collingwood had begun appearing in various BBC schools television programmes but this was his first association with Look and Read. In 1974 he would become forever associated with the programme as he took on the role of Wordy. Praise was given to the recording of his "clear, well modulated voice".
The actors from the story also all provided their voices for dialogue, even the three aliens who talked in strange, backwards, beeping noises. There was a small amount of simple music by John Baker, and "special sounds" by Richard Mills of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, both of which were praised as "very well produced."
The record was not published in time for the original transmission in 1971, but came out for the repeat in 1972. The reading was of the revised edition of the pupil's pamphlet, which is detailed above. It is interesting to note that the age range stated on the record sleeve is 8-9, whereas Look and Read was still targeted across ages 7-9, and the record would surely have been useful to all child viewers struggling to read.
It originally cost £1.49, plus 16p for postage. Catalogue number RESR30, in the BBC Records Study Series.
If you remember this story from primary school, then you would have seen it in one of these terms. See the schedules section for precise dates and times.
In The Archive
The filmed drama content certainly still exists, as it was reused to make the new, colour programmes of The Boy From Space shown in the 1980s. There are lots more details, including how it was possible to take a drama shown in black-and-white and re-show it in colour, on the page about the new programmes.
Sources & References
Sources used in compiling this page:
- BBC (1972) Look and Read Teacher's Notes, Autumn 1972
- Carpenter, Richard (1971) The Boy From Space, London: BBC, Autumn 1971
- Carpenter, Richard (1972) The Boy From Space, London: BBC, revised edition Autumn 1972
- Killick, Jane (1993) "Richard Carpenter: A Catweazle Start..." in TV Zone, issue 46 September 1993, pp.17-19
- Wolverhampton (Wednesfield and District) Audio-Visual Aids Group (1972) "The Boy From Space" in Visual Education, August/September 1972, p.96 - a short review of the record
- Richard Carpenter quote from Killick (1993) page 19
- Quotes reviewing the LP record are all from Wolverhampton Audio-Visual Aids Group (1972)
- "Special sounds" and the wording of other credits taken from the back cover of the record sleeve, and reproduced in Wolverhampton Audio-Visual Aids Group (1972)
Some random programmes for age 7-9 from the 1970s
|Living in Wales (1978)|
|BBC Schools Radio|
|Green Peas and Barley O|
|BBC Schools TV|
|Listening and Reading II (1972)|
|BBC Schools Radio|