Look and Read: The Boy from Space (1980)
The Boy From Space (1980) is a unit of the BBC schools TV series Look and Read from the 1980s, covering language and reading for primary school pupils.
The Boy From Space is a classic science fiction story in which two young space-loving siblings, Dan and Helen, spot a mysterious light falling through the night sky, and on investigating they 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 aliens' spaceship.
The in-between bits feature a life-size Wordy in his orbiting space-station, with a human(oid) assistant called Cosmo, and many of the educational songs are performed by Space-Moles, Two 'Stars' and other space characters.
The Boy from Space was first shown in 1971, when schools TV was still black and white, but the film story had still been filmed in colour. So when the BBC were on the look out for a new Look and Read to be made on the cheap at the end of the 70s, it seemed like a good idea to reuse the old story material, and just make new teaching segments. In the end though, there were rumours that this 'remake' ended up actually costing more to make than a completely new story would have!
A short introduction set in 1980 was added to the beginning of the first episode, with Helen and Dan driving back to the observatory and reliving the story in flashback.
The film story was not just updated to colour but substantially re-edited, shortened and in some cases re-arranged, and the music re-written to make it lighter and perhaps just slightly less unsettling than the 1970s original!
Many of the differences are covered on the separate page about the original 1970s version, and a full, episode-by-episode guide to both 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.
A detailed account of the story can be read on the page about the original 1970s production.
The Teaching Middles
The orange puppet character Wordy introduces the unit. The regular presenter of Look and Read stories since 1974, Wordy was usually a disembodied head but appears here as a head worn by a black-bodysuited puppeteer. Following the space theme he finds himself on an orbiting 'space-lab' and joined by a travelling cosmonaut called Cosmo.
There are comical songs on different linguistic points, typically two per episode, and presented as 'think-ups' which Wordy imagines and then lets viewers see. They are accompanied by animated sequences featuring a set of recurring, space-based characters including two space moles who occupy a small planet which is visited by an alien and a monster; Rip Van Twinkle, an extremely old space traveller; Professor Grab, who flies around in his space-ship collecting different types of words; and Two Stars, a dapper gentleman and lady in the old time music hall style who travel the galaxy putting on shows. Look and Read regulars the Magic E Wizard, the word-chopper and The Apostrophe Song also appear alongside these space characters.
Wordy has a collection of video cassettes which allow him to watch the Boy from Space story, and also a series of documentary films about different aspects of space, narrated by Charles Collingwood. He also has a word-builder machine to show word morphology and various other props. The pupil's pamphlet is kept in a shiny, rotating hemisphere which Wordy can work with a remote control.
Titles & Theme Music
The words "Look and Read" appear in white in front of a starfield, and then disappear as the rotating Wordlab moves into the screen.
The title "The Boy from Space" appears back-to-front in mirror writing, then rotates so it can be read the right way round, and finally rotates back again.
The haunting theme song was sung in full during the closing credits, and in part (for reasons explained below) during the opening credits.
Out there in space,
Shall we find friends?
Is there a place
Where the universe ends?
When shall we find it?
Space goes on for ever.
The song was referred to as Space Theme Song while it was being written, and was later referred to by the production team using the title Space Keeps Going For Ever. This is the original phrase used in a conversation between Dan and Tom in the first episode which inspired the song, but isn't strictly accurate to the lyrics!
This was the first Look and Read unit to use a lyrical theme tune, as all previous stories had a purely instrumental theme. The opening sequence was very carefully constructed so that there are no lyrics being sung while legible words are displayed on screen, so that viewers could attempt to read the words from the screen without being distracted by the lyrics.
The music starts with an 8 second introduction while "Look and Read" appears on screen, then half of the title song is sung and the rest of the song continues as an instrumental while "The Boy from Space" appears and rotates.
One full minute of theme tune was recorded, designed to fade out after 50 seconds, but in the finalised programmes it fades out after around 45 seconds have been played and the film story begins. The visual title sequence lasts for 38 seconds before cutting to the title of the episode (also to be read from the screen by more able viewers). 38 seconds is the exact same length as the title sequence to the previous story Sky Hunter, because the production team felt that they would lose the audience's attention after more than about that amount of time.
The "2 white eyes" Look and Read generic opening title sting had been used twice prior to this production (in 1974's Cloud Burst and 1978's Sky Hunter) and was considered for use on The Boy from Space as well. But the producers felt it would "sit very oddly with the new lyrical space theme song." They considered having a "new spacey series 'sting'" composed, but ultimately decided simply to show the caption "Look and Read" during the standard title sequence.
In early plans the title sequence was envisaged to involve a journey through space using NASA film, starting with a view from a space-ship window.
The music for the theme song, almost all of the educational songs, the incidental music for the film story, and all of the sound effects (apart from one effect, noted in the guide to episode 3!) were all composed by Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The music is atmospheric and dramatic but also an upbeat, electronic score very modern to 1980 and gives the drama a lighter feel than the original 1971 production. In fact Paddy Kingsland recalled for the DVD release of the story that his brief had been to "lighten it up."
Originally the producers intended to re-use the original music from the 1971 production. In April 1979 when Claire Chovil as executive producer wrote to the organiser of the Radiophonic Workshop about the music requirements for the series, the plan was to only have new music for the songs, as "the film story is an old one which already has music." By 1st June Jill Reed told Paddy Kingsland that they now felt "the story needs more atmosphere-building with music!"
A small amount of the original music can be heard at the very end of the final episode, building up to the new theme tune.
Click on the episode title for a comprehensive guide to that episode, both the story and teaching sections, plus songs, space-speech translations and production trivia. (in progress during 2022)
|1.||The Meteorite||15 Jan 1980|
|2.||The Spinning Compass||22 Jan 1980|
|3.||The Man in the Sand-pit||29 Jan 1980|
|4.||In danger!||5 Feb 1980|
|5.||The Hold-up||12 Feb 1980|
|6.||Where is Tom?||26 Feb 1980|
|7.||The Hunt for the Car||4 Mar 1980|
|8.||The Lake||11 Mar 1980|
|9.||Captured!||18 Mar 1980|
|10.||In the Spaceship||25 Mar 1980|
|Starring||Stephen Garlick as Dan Sharp|
|Presented by||Phil Cheney as Cosmo|
|Written by||Richard Carpenter|
|Reading consultant||Mary Hoffman|
|Science consultant||Neil Ardley|
|Lyrics by||Gordon Snell|
|Music by||Paddy Kingsland|
|Film animation||Richard Taylor|
Gary Blatchford (episodes 7-10)
|Title sequence||Bert Walker|
|Rostrum camera||Bert Walker|
|Visual effects||Ron Matton|
|Film editors||Peter Orton, Richard Ashworth|
|Film cameraman||Michael A. Shepherd|
|Film director||Maddalena Fagandini|
|Costume designer||Barbara Kidd|
|Costume||Roger Oldhamstead, Andrew Duckett (uncredited)|
|Production assistant||Paul Willey|
|Producer's assistant||Miriam Galena|
Maryann Makand (uncredited)
|Executive producer||Claire Chovil|
|Directors||Pat Farrington (episodes 1, 4, 8 & 9)|
The studio parts of the episodes, produced in pairs (see the forthcoming episode guide page for recording details) were generally directed in turn by Pat Farrington and Jill Glindon Reed, however executive producer Claire Chovil helmed episode 6 and production assistant Paul Willey took the lead on episode 7.
On the surface there is very little overlap between the creative and craft teams involved in producing the two versions of The Boy from Space story. Charles Collingwood, who presented the 1971 programmes, returns in voice only as Wordy, presenter of these 1980 programmes. Stephen Garlick as Dan and Sylvestra Le Touzel as Helen return for the short filmed prologue at the start of the first episode, and Helen narrates the new version of the story.
Look and Read creator Claire Chovil, series editor of the 1971 production, remained the executive producer responsible for this and many other schools television programmes in 1980 and her name appears on the credits to both versions. Writer Richard Carpenter produced a new version of the pupil's pamphlet storybook but was not involved in the new TV programmes. The rest of the cast and director of the film are of course credited again, but they make no new contributions to this 1980 version of the TV story.
Under the surface however there are a few people who worked directly on both versions, revealed by the studio scripts. Jill Glindon Reed, who directed 4 studio episodes of this 1980 version and was closely involved in the production, had worked as a research assistant on the 1971 production but was not credited.
Two further roles, uncredited on screen, were also common to both versions. Bob Thornton was floor manager for several episodes of the 1971 production (episodes 3, 4, 6 & 8, possibly others) and also worked as floor manager for the 1980 production (episode 1, possibly others). And sound supervisor Norman Bennett similarly worked on several episodes of the 1971 production (episodes 1, 3, 5, 6 & 8, possibly others) and took the same role for the 1980 production (episode 1, possibly others).
Here is a list of all of the broadcasts of this story on the BBC. Unless your teachers managed to get the video recorder to work, this is when you would have seen it in school.
- Spring 1980, BBC1
- Tuesdays 10:16am: 15th January to 25th March, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 19th February
- repeated Fridays 9:52am: 18th January to 28th March, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 22nd February
- Spring 1982, BBC1
- Tuesdays 10:10am: 12th January to 23rd March, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 23rd February
- repeated Fridays 9:52am: 15th January to 26th March, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 26th February
- Spring 1984, BBC2
- Tuesdays 10:10am:, 17th January to 27th March, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 21st February
- repeated Fridays 9:52am: 20th January to 30th March, half-term repeat of programme 5 on 24th February
- Spring 1986, BBC2
- Tuesdays 10:15am: 7th January to 18th March, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 18th February
- repeated Fridays 9:52am:10th January to 21st March, half-term repeat of programme 6 on 21st February
21st Century repeats on the CBBC Channel:
- Autumn 2003 - weekdays 9:30am & 11:20am, Monday 1st to Friday 5th September
- Spring 2004 - weekdays 9:30am & 11:20am, Monday 19th to Friday 23rd January
- Summer 2004 - Wednesday 23rd June, 9am to 12:20pm
- Autumn 2004 - weekdays 10:10am & 12:10pm, Monday 6th to Friday 10th September
- Summer 2005 - Wednesday 22nd June, 9am to 12:20pm
- Spring 2006 - Friday 27th January, 9am to 10:40am and 11:20am to 1pm
- Spring 2007 - Friday 12th January, 9am to 10:40am and 11:20am to 1pm
Sources & References
- BBC (1979a) Look and Read: The Boy from Space studio scripts to episodes 1 & 10
- BBC (1979b) Programmes as transmitted logs, January-March 1980
- BBC (1979c) Look and Read teacher's notes, Spring 1980. ISBN 0 563 31020 0
- BBC Schools Annual Programme guides, 1970-1986
- BBC Written Archives Centre (1979) File R97/43 Look and Read: The Boy from Space
- Carpenter, Richard (1979) The Boy from Space New Edition pupil's pamphlet, London: BBC, Spring 1980. ISBN 0 563 31019 7
- Carpenter, Richard (1983) The Boy from Space New Edition pupil's pamphlet, London: BBC, Spring 1984. ISBN 0 563 32479 1
- Carpenter, Richard (1985) The Boy from Space New Edition pupil's pamphlet, London: BBC, Spring 1986. ISBN 0 563 33211 5
- 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.
- Radio Times television and radio listings, 1971-1986
- 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
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) has recollections of the brief for the music.
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