Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Witches and the Grinnygog ( 1983 )

Those Brits have a knack for knowing how to spin a good yarn...especially when it comes to mystery, horror, and fantasy tales. Author Dorothy Edwards penned a particularly juicy children's mystery story entitled "The Witches and the Grinnygog" in 1981 which was made into an equally engrossing six-part miniseries for ITV in 1983. 
This intriguing tale of magic and witchcraft was aimed towards children of the pre-teen variety. Each 25-minute episode followed the adventures of four youngsters - two being the offspring of the local minister - as they try to piece together clues from an ancient diary belonging to an old vicar which are coinciding with strange events going on in their village. 

These bizarre happenings began to brew when the neighboring village's church of St. Cuthbert was dismantled. The old stone building is being rebuilt in a new location. A small gargoyle-like statue from the church falls off the back of the lorry carrying it en route to the new location. The mother of one of the children picks it up and, seeing that it would make a perfect "little man" for her father's garden, takes it home to Gramps ( John Barrard ). 

It happens to be a Grinnygog and its three guardians aka witches, magically appear in town to keep an eye on the garden statue. Also in town, is the enigmatic African anthropologist Mr. Alabaster ( Olu Jacobs ) who wants to see that the Grinnygog is returned to its rightful place. 

The Witches and the Grinnygog is very entertaining TV fare, but unfortunately, it ends with a number of loose ends not quite tied up. The audience is served bits and pieces of a puzzle in each episode that, at its conclusion, do not make a complete picture. Flashback sequences hint that witches were burned in the village in olden times but we are to suppose that the three guardians, endowed with eternal life, managed to escape with the Grinnygog, one of them losing her daughter as she fled. This girl comes to town later, appearing to not just the children, but the vicar as well, in search of her mother. But why did it take all these years for her to find her mother? Were the witches in limbo while the Grinnygog was safe and only now appear in the flesh again?
Sheila Grant, Anna Wing, and Patricia Hayes star as the three kindly guardians with Eva Griffith - whom some may recall as the blind girl in the BBC adaptation of The Day of the Triffids ( 1981 ) - portraying the missing daughter. The children's roles are played by Giles Harper, Heidi Mayo, Adam Woodyatt, and Zoe Loftin, who all give very natural and pleasing performances. 

Like most British kiddies, the appearance of witches in town does not startle them very much. This reminds me of the scene in Walt Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks when the children observe Mrs. Price taking her first whirl on the broom: "Look! She's flying on her broomstick," one of them says. "That's what witches do," the other calmly replies. Sure, everyone knows that...but it would startle most people to see it actually happen!

The Witches and the Grinnygog has not been released on DVD yet, but it is available for viewing on Youtube. Simply click here if you want to check it out - and I highly recommend that you do. Especially since it makes for great not-too-spooky Halloween viewing. 


  1. Even with the loose ends, this miniseries sounds like a delightful children's fantasy. British television carved an impressive niche in this genre. I'm currently watching the 2006 British fantasy miniseries "Hogfather," which I thought was for kiddies. It's not, though I could see the appeal for older kids.

    1. It is enjoyable, Rick, and I hope you get a chance to see it. The website The Chestnut covers not only The Witches and the Grinnygog but other British children's series, if you want to explore the genre further!

  2. Loved this as a child...takes me back to the 80's

    1. You are probably familiar with "The Bells of Astercote" then, too. There were so many good British miniseries back in the 1970s/1980s.