Researcher Blog by Diane Rodgers: ‘Wyrd’ British television of the 1970s
About the author
Diane Rodgers is a Senior Lecturer in Media at Sheffield Hallam University specialising in alternative and cult film, television, music and comics. Diane is also a doctoral student in C3RI where her research examines folklore in ‘wyrd’ 1970s British Film and Television folk-horror. This work will also feature as a chapter in the forthcoming book Yuletide Terror, to be published later this month. Prior to her academic career, Diane Rodgers in worked as a digital film and video editor.
Godzilla, sci-fi, horror, drawing comics, making linoprints and collecting vintage Viewmaster reels are Diane Rodgers‘ main interests as an academic, a PhD student and outside of work. In this post, Diane introduces us to the concepts of hauntology and folk horror, examines the growing academic interest in ‘wyrd’, and looks forward to the exciting prospect of hosting a ‘wyrd’ event at Sheffield Hallam next year.
Beginning my second year of a part-time PhD, I have recently presented a couple of conference papers on 1970s British television folk horror. I find this pleasantly surprising considering that my research interest was essentially piqued by an informal conversation about eerie old television programmes. I recall chatting about Children of the Stones (1977) and disturbing 1970s Public Information films, and someone saying “no wonder we grew up weird”.
I began wondering exactly why programmes like the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78), The Owl Service (1969), The Stone Tape (1972), and TV plays like Robin Redbreast (1970) had such haunting effects on audiences. What is it about them that is so eerily authentic? I considered recent film and television makers like Ben Wheatley (Kill List, 2011) and Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, 1999-2017) that clearly display influences from such programming in their work. To what extent they are passing on the same unsettled viewing experiences to future generations? Another fortuitous chat or two later with colleague and folklorist Dr David Clarke results in his support and encouragement to pursue my curiosity as PhD study, and so here I find myself.
‘Folk horror’ has gained academic attention as a genre in the past decade or so, and is just beginning to be applied to various media beyond film including television, music and online blogs such as Scarfolk and Hookland. There is even a Folk Horror Revival group which hosts regular events and has begun releasing dedicated publications. Beyond identifying films such as The Wicker Man (1973) as paradigms of ‘folk horror’, as a genre, folk horror it is not yet clearly defined. Folk horror is not always necessarily horrific, but is more often eerie or haunting, may suggest an underlying sense of paganism or ritual and employs the British landscape as a character in its own right. ‘Hauntology’ is a term regularly appearing alongside ‘folk horror’, to describe media with a sense of troubled nostalgic reverberation from another time and place which, in most cases, is Britain of the 1970s.
Artists working in both folk horror and hauntology cite television programmes from the 1970s as their main influence more often than any other source. Across media described as folk horror, gothic or hauntological, I think a common usage of folklore and folk belief can be observed and that we can call this media, quite simply, ‘wyrd’. Because of television’s effect on audiences and its potential to perpetuate folk belief, I aim to develop folklorist Mikel Koven’s theories about folk belief and media to examine ‘wyrd’ television as an important form of folklore in itself. The ‘wyrd’ effect, if you will.
At conferences I attended this year, there seems to be a dedicated, growing interest in ‘wyrd’. A number of academics at Fear 2000: 21st Century Horror conference in April at SHU considered the mythological backgrounds of horror monsters like mermaids, werewolves, demons and vampires. Legend underpinned a number of excellent presentations from various film and media studies perspectives. My paper on folklore and ghosts on television aimed to more explicitly bring the disciplines of folkloristics and screen studies closer together.
At Home with Horror? at the University of Kent this October was dedicated to television horror and had a noticeably distinct folk horror contingent. Helen Wheatley’s keynote presentation built on her extensive writing on gothic television and discussed the eerie English landscape as able to suggest “death everywhere”. I was lucky enough to later discuss with her the fact that she had been writing about folk horror before the phrase had been coined and that there were certainly common folk horror elements across gothic programmes she had identified. Douglas McNaughton and David Powell, too, presented specifically on television folk horror, examining the onscreen presentation of landscape and the political context of Britain in the 1970s respectively. My paper on folklore and folk belief in folk horror offered a different perspective again. Discussion with my peers, with whom I formed a firm a solid ‘folk horror studies gang’, helped resolve my confidence in focussing on the folklore in folk horror, as it seems to be as yet unearthed ground.
Due to the keen interest of the academic community I am engaging with, and the broader ‘buzz’ of the folk horror revival from both public and academic perspectives. My director of studies David Clarke and I hope to organise a ‘Wyrd’ event at Sheffield Hallam in the near future as a foundation for a Centre for Contemporary Legend. We hope this will be among the first academic conferences dedicated to folk horror, hauntology and all things ‘wyrd’.
Image credits: Diane A Rogers, 2017
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.