Based on Catherine Storr's 1958 novel Marianne and adapted for television by Ruth Boswell, whose other credits as script editor or producer on children's drama series include Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, The Molly Wopsies, Horse In The House, “Shadows” and “Warrior Queen.” “Escape Into Night” is a haunting story full of vivid images that were probably the cause of many a nightmare back in April 1972.
The somewhat complex storyline of “Escape Into Night” revolves round a young girl, Marianne (Vikki Chambers) who has been confined to bed for many weeks following a riding accident. Alone in her room, surrounded by her many books, toys, games and paints, her only contact with the outside world is Miss Chesterfield, a teacher who visits her every morning to help with her education.
For Marianne, the days are long, lonely, and boring. One day she decides to break that boredom by drawing on a sketchpad with a big thick pencil that she has found in an old box. At night, she dreams of being in the drawing. As the long days turn into weeks Marianne adds a creepy old house ringed by a circle of standing stones to her picture and in her dream she sees a boy looking out of a top window. But she cannot reach him. The following day she adds a staircase.
The boy is named Mark (Steven Jones) and he is virtually trapped inside the building because he is unable to walk. When Miss Chesterfield visits next she tells Marianne that she also visits a young man suffering from paralysis due to polio. His name is Mark. He is real, and so is his illness.
A friendship develops between the two but when they fall out, Marianne, in a fit of temper, scribbles over Mark's picture - drawing window bars and a high wall around the house and a single green eye on each of the stones to make sure he can't escape. Marianne realises that both children must escape before their dreams end but she cannot erase what she has drawn. Only by helping Mark to escape the house will Marianne be able to help him recover in the real world.
Together, the two children try to escape to a lighthouse just beyond the house.
For the location of the house, producer Alan Coleman chose Barr Beacon, near the ATV studios in Birmingham. "The place was ideal," he told readers of the TV Times in 1972. "...it has a monument shaped exactly like a lighthouse which we were able to use. It also has a lovely wooded copse which is a perfect place to build a 'dream' house."
Over 600 children auditioned for the two main characters following an advertisement placed in a local newspaper. "We wanted to use two local schoolchildren who had never acted before," explained Coleman. He and his team visited schools, drama groups and amateur theatre productions looking for talent. Vikki Chambers and Steven Jones were chosen after five auditions each and a screen test. "It was really gruelling," said Coleman. They had to read the play and tell us exactly what it meant to them. They had to read scenes, do an audition which was complete improvisation on their part, and read in the studio faced with typical television recording conditions."
The adult cast consisted of veteran actress Sonia Graham (Compact, The Changes, London's Burning), as Mrs Austen, Patricia Maynard (“General Hospital,” Doctor Who) as Miss Chesterfield and Edmund Pegge as Dr. Burton (Luke's Kingdom, “Home Sweet Home”).
A film, "Paperhouse" was made in 1988 but it lacked the same atmospheric and claustrophobic air of the television version.
“Escape Into Night” was a tense psychological drama that kept the viewer guessing which was the real world and which the make believe. As with many children's dramas at this time the budgetary constraints on the production meant light on the effects but heavy on the atmosphere. But beyond doubt it's the stones, more than anything else that seems to have left the biggest impression on the nation's children, and even in adulthood those images do not go away.
"It was very frightening, something about a young girl crouching behind her front door, afraid to go outside because the stones would get her. Seriously scary." -Television Heaven Forum 2004.
Published on September 23rd, 2020. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.