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 an atmospheric science fiction story about travellers from a far-away solar system who crash-land on Earth and encounter a pair of kids and the staff from the local observatory. The kids come to the aid of a scared space-boy, and try to protect him from one of the other space-men who is up to no good.
In between the space story, presenter Charles Collingwood tells us all about space from his space-room, assisted by a space-machine and some space-bug space-puppets!
This page is about the original programmes, shown in black-and-white in the early 1970s. Later on, in the 1980s, the story was re-shown in colour, re-edited and with new teaching middles featuring Wordy. There is a separate page about that 1980s version of the story, which is the version now available on DVD.
The two versions of The Boy from Space are distinctly different from each other in tone and some elements of structure - in fact this 1971 version had fully 15 minutes more film story than the 1980 version still available to us now, and in some ways was more scary and unsettling. Some of these differences are covered below, and a full, episode-by-episode guide to both of the distinct versions of The Boy from Space is under development on this site...
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.
On board a space-ship, a space-man and space-boy travelling from another solar system are attacked by their fellow traveller, a thin space-man and the space-ship goes out of control.
In the English countryside, Helen and Dan are enthusiastic about space and have built their own small telescope which they show to their friend Tom and his boss Mr Bunting at the local observatory. Later Dan and Helen witness a strange light in the sky and follow a mysterious force affecting Dan's compass to a nearby sand-pit, where they are chased off by the thin space-man, who seems to be looking for something. Dan's penchant for writing down car number plates reveals that the man is driving Tom's car and wearing some of Tom's clothes.
The space-boy emerges from the sand-pit and tried to communicate with Dan and Helen in unearthly speech and gestures. Guessing that he is from space, they name the boy Peep-peep after the noises he makes when speaking.
Dan and Helen take their new friend to Mr Bunting, and Peep-peep manages to communicate that he was collecting meteorites on Mars before coming to Earth. Peep-peep is distressed that nobody can read a strange message that he writes, and suddenly collapses.
Mr Bunting leaves Dan and Helen at the observatory to drive Peep-peep to the hospital, but on the way the thin space-man catches up with them, disables and then destroys Mr Bunting's car, and takes Bunting and Peep-peep prisoner at gun-point.
Meanwhile Dan and Helen work out that they can read Peep-peep's message when they look at it in a mirror. It says "In danger". Now feeling scared and alone in the observatory, they hear someone coming in and climbing up the stairs towards them.
The Teaching Middles
The teaching sections in-between the drama were presented by Charles Collingwood, who transforms the standard schools television studio into a 'space-room' including a table for demonstrating craft activities and a screen to show photographs and extracts from the story. He also narrates the film story.
Collingwood appeared in many BBC schools television programmes but this was his first association with Look and Read. Later in 1974 he would become forever associated with the programme as he became the voice of the regular puppet presenter 'Wordy', a cheeky and know-all character – in fact he plays this role in the 1980 version of The Boy from Space.
Here in 1971 Charles is effectively the straight-man presenter, and the cheeky, proto-Wordy side-kick role is taken by a 'space-bug' character which appears in episodes 2 and 8 to demonstrate some language points and banter with the presenter. Charles does adopt some of the gentle school-room humour that had been used by BBC schools TV programmes since their beginnings, for example in episode 4 he looks through his 'tele-reader' device and asks viewers "do you see what I see? If you don't - you must be looking out of the window!"
There are frequent animation sequences, though they are little animated films, not the full phonic-based songs which would later become a Look and Read staple. These include a set an animation for each of the vowel characters, which begin by panning around all five vowels before selecting the letter for that episode.
At the end of the teaching middles is a reading sequence in which sentences from the pupil's pamphlet appear slowly on the screen for viewers to read for themselves. At this point the reading sequences are a long and major feature of each episode, over 90 seconds long and consisting of several sentences from the story interspersed with frames from the film drama to illustrate what is happening. By comparison, when The Boy from Space was shown again in 1980 the final reading sequences had been reduced to around 20 seconds and consisted of just a couple of sentences.
The on-screen readings, and the narration of the film story, basically use the text from the revised version of the pupil's pamphlet released in 1972 and also the source of the LP recording, rather than the original pupil's pamphlet issued in 1971 - the differences are detailed in the Resources section below.
Differences from the 1980 programmes
This 1971 production was overall much longer than the film we see in the surviving 1980 version, and had a more spooky and ethereal atmosphere created by the sparser music than the revised 1980 version.
The episode-by-episode guide details how the film story in each episode of the 1980 production has been trimmed of up to two minutes of material compared to this 1971 production, generally by tightening scenes and removing individual lines of dialogue rather than by cutting entire scenes.
This chart shows how these individual trims build up to approximately 15 minutes of film story which appeared in 1971 being removed from the 1980 version.
|Episode||1971 film duration||1980 film duration||Difference|
|Episode 1 teaser||2:10||Replaced, but 1:00 used in episode 10||1:10|
|1: The Meteorite||7:10||6:32||0:38|
|2: The Spinning Compass||8:39||6:39||2:00|
|3: The Man in the Sand-pit||7:45||6:04||1:41|
|4: In Danger!||Approx. 8:11||7:13||0:58|
|5: The Hold-up||6:48||5:45||1:03|
|6: Where is Tom?||8:15||6:44||1:31|
|7: The Hunt for the Car||Approx. 8:16||6:45||1:31|
|8: The Lake||7:12||5:59||1:13|
|9: Captured!||Approx. 8:50||7:14||1:36|
|10: In the Space-ship||Approx. 10:10||8:21||1:49|
As well as trimming down sequences, most episodes have a different stopping point in the middle of each chapter between the 1971 and 1980 versions. In some cases this just allows the presenters to talk about a different element of the story in the teaching sections, but in other episodes the 1971 production has a mid-episode cliff-hanger while the 1980 version simply stops - for example in the 1971 version of episode 1 the first part of the film stops with the children potentially threatened by the appearance of Mr Bunting as they don't yet know whether he will be friendly, and in the 1971 version of episode 4 the action stops as Mr Bunting is astonished to come face to face with Peep-peep and viewers want to see how he reacts, whereas in the 1980 version of the same episode the film stops a little earlier as Mr Bunting dismisses Helen and gets on with some work.
Overall this seems to lend the 1971 version an even greater sense of threat and danger, which is perhaps played down a little in the 1980 version which emphasises more of the puzzle and mystery aspects - for example in the mid-episode break in episode 2 which is about the strange (and potentially threatening) sounds in the 1971 production, but about the mystery of what may lie in the sand-pit in the 1980 production.
The music certainly also contributes to these differences in tone. Snippets of the original music by John Baker can be heard on the 1972 reading LP (available on the BFI DVD), at the chapter breaks and for example towards the end of chapter 8 while the characters are looking at the screen. Memos and notes from the production of the 1980 version shown that great care had to be taken to remove all of the original music, and in fact a small snippet can still be heard right at the very end of the last episode of the 1980 version, just before the end credits.
Paddy Kingsland, who provided all of the music for the 1980 version, wrote in his recollections for the BFI DVD that he found the original version with John Baker's music to have "a dark atmosphere that perfectly suited the tone of the original Fagandini film," and that it contained "quiet sections (...) where foley and dialogue were (...) allowed to dominate."
Titles & Theme Music
The producers of the 1980s version of The Boy from Space made some references to the original 1970s title sequence when they were planning the new version - mostly in references to the similarities to plans for the 1980s version.
This confirms that the title sequence began with a 20 second section with the words Look and Read on screen. I am grateful to Simon Coward who wrote to say that his memories include "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'.
This was followed by The Boy from Space titles involving a star-field background, and the story title appearing first in mirror-writing and then flipping round so that viewers could read it - all concepts which were re-used for the 1980s version.
The title sequence was very long by later standards. The Boy from Space part of the title sequence to the first episode was 90 seconds long, and subsequent episodes had 55-57 second introductions. This compares to 30-40 seconds allocated to the title sequences for later 1970s and 80s Look and Read stories.
According to the original scripts, the closing title sequence and end credits occupied 70 seconds of the first couple of episodes, dropping to 55 seconds by episode 4, and 35 seconds for subsequent episodes.
The theme music by John Baker was instrumental, without lyrics. As detailed above some brief snippets of haunting music playing on a rising musical scale can be heard on the 1972 LP record, available on DVD, and briefly at the very end of the final episode of the 1980s version of the series. Otherwise I am not aware of the original music existing.
If you have any further recollections of the 1970s version of The Boy from Space please get in touch by email!
Click on the episode title for a comprehensive guide to that episode, both the story and teaching sections, and production trivia (in progress during 2022!)
|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 Space-ship||30 Nov 1971|
|Starring||Stephen Garlick as Dan Sharp|
Sylvestra Le Touzel as Helen Sharp
|Presented by||Charles Collingwood|
|Also taking part|
|Written by||Richard Carpenter|
|Reading consultant||Dr. Joyce M. Morris|
|Music by||John Baker|
|Research assistant||Jill Glindon Reed|
|Series editor||Claire Chovil|
|Producer & director||Maddalena Fagandini|
The space-people in the story are given various names by the Earth people.
Colin Mayes' character of a young boy who encounters the children on Earth is named 'Peep-peep' by Dan in the story because that is the sound Dan hears when the boy speaks his name. In the original studio scripts when the character speaks he is identified as 'Space-boy', or abbreviated to 'S/B'. According to these same scripts when he says his name to Dan in backwards space-speech he is legitimately saying 'Peep-peep.' If you play the audio backwards when the boy says his name in episode 4 this seems plausible, although when his father greets him in episode 7 it sounds more like he says 'space-space' or perhaps 'space-boy.' He is identified as 'Peep-peep' in the end credits of the 1980 production.
Gabriel Woolf's character of the boy's father is simply known as 'Peep-peep's father' in the end credits and by the characters in the story. In scripts and BBC documents he is known as 'space-father.'
John Woodnutt's character of a space-man who goes bad is recognised by the Earth characters in the story as simply 'the thin man,' or once they have realised his provenance as 'the thin space-man.' In the end credits of the 1980 production he is known variously as 'thin man' (episodes 3 & 5), 'space-man' (episode 6), 'the thin space-man' (episodes 7, 9 & 10) and 'the thin man' (episode 8). In scripts and internal BBC documents he is 'space-man.'
However the character was given an actual, alien name in the scripts, which is never learnt by the human characters, spoken comprehensibly in the drama, or written in any accompanying teacher's or pupil's publications. The name is spoken by Peep-peep in reversed 'space-speech' in episode 4 and also, I believe, in episodes 6 and 7, but even playing the episode audio backwards does not make it easy to make out the name as it is an unusual word and split-up and distorted on the TV soundtrack. The name of the man who terrifies Peep-peep on Earth is: 'Zooyixi.'
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."
The vocabulary is very cleverly constructed around the teaching points that this 1971 production wished to convey. There is a human character for each of the short vowel sounds: Dan, Helen, observatory correspondent Mr Miller, Tom and Mr Bunting. Peep-peep provides a long vowel sound and the 'thin man' adds the th- digraph. Much of the story takes place in a quarry, and that word is sometimes used in the production scripts, but in the course of the story it is always referred to by the phonically simpler phrase 'sand-pit.'
In fact the text of the story still being worked on even after the pamphlet was published. 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:
The revised version had obviously been written in time for the production of the TV episodes as it is the revised text that is used on-screen, but too late for the print-run to get the pamphlet out to schools in 1971.
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 in the 1972 printing, making it appear that the author Richard Carpenter was a reading consultant to the series!
In Autumn 1972 the teacher's notes cost 16p. ISBN 0 563 11015 5.
Long Playing Record
A recording of the text of the pupil's pamphlet, read by Charles Collingwood who had also presented and narrated the TV story. Praise was given to the recording of his "clear, well modulated voice".
The actors from the story also provided their voices for dialogue, even the three aliens who talked in strange, backwards, beeping noises, but not Stephen Garlick whose role as adolescent Dan was taken over by Stephen Bone.
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.
- Autumn 1971
- Tuesdays 10:25am on BBC1
21st September to 30th November, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 26th October
- repeated Fridays 10:00am on BBC1
24th September to 3rd December, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 29th October
- Tuesdays 10:25am on BBC1
- Autumn 1972
- Tuesdays 10:25am on BBC1
19th September to 28th November, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 31st October
- repeated Fridays 10:00am on BBC1
22nd September to 1st December, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 3rd November
- Tuesdays 10:25am on BBC1
- Autumn 1973
- Tuesdays 10:00am on BBC1
18th September to 27th November, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 30th October
- repeated Fridays 10:00am on BBC1
21st September to 30th November, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 2nd November
- Tuesdays 10:00am on BBC1
In The Archive
All 10 episodes of this 1971 production are listed on BBC archive catalogue with no further annotation: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10. This suggests that there is something in the BBC valuts from every episode, although I believe it is the filmed drama segments rather than the entire programmes.
The filmed drama content certainly still exists, as it was re-edited to make the new, colour programmes of The Boy From Space shown in the 1980s, though with around 15 minutes of the original drama removed. 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
- BBC (1971a) Look and Read: The Boy from Space camera scripts to episodes 1-6 & 8
- BBC (1971b) Programmes as transmitted logs, September-December 1971
- BBC (1972) Look and Read Teacher's Notes, Autumn 1972
- BBC Schools Annual Programme guides, 1970-1986
- BBC Written Archives Centre (1979) File R97/43 Look and Read: The Boy from Space
- Carpenter, Richard (1971) The Boy From Space, London: BBC, Autumn 1971
- Carpenter, Richard (1972) The Boy From Space, London: BBC, Autumn 1972
- Carpenter, Richard (1973) The Boy From Space, London: BBC, Autumn 1973
- Killick, Jane (1993) "Richard Carpenter: A Catweazle Start..." in TV Zone, issue 46 September 1993, pp.17-19
- Kingsland, Paddy (2014) 'Recollections of the soundtrack to The Boy from Space' in The Boy from Space DVD booklet, pp.10.12.
- 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
- With thanks to Simon Coward & Ben Rigsby
BBC copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. (This disclaimer applies to written content on pages about Look and Read: The Boy from Space)
- Kingsland (2014) provides recollections of the original soundtrack.
- 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)
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