When it comes to truly bizarre children’s television, this 1977 British series is without a doubt, and I apologize for putting it this way, king of the castle.
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, the creators of the wonderful Sky and K-9 from Doctor Who, King Of The Castle was their attempt to create a Kafka television show for kids. It follows the life of picked-on Roland (Philip DaCosta), trapped in an oppressive private school boys choir, terrorized by the other kids in his high rise, and kept at an emotional distance by his father and step-mother.
An incident with the gang of teens in the staircase leads to Roland taking flight in a broken elevator that careens down into the basement and brings in a number of workers to try and pull him out.
That effort takes the run of the series and while it goes on, we see Roland’s adventures in the surreal underbelly of the high rise — that is, the Castle — as he deals with a mad scientist, an alluring witch, a hostile warrior, and reams of bureaucracy that take the initial fairy tale feel of the story into the realm of the more surreal, where everything works against Roland, and every attempt to help the denizens of the underbelly is eventually twisted on itself a point of prosecution. Or is it really all just a plan for freedom? You decide.
While the inspiration might have been Kafka, the tone of the show felt far more like Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, particularly the last several episodes of that show which took the action outside of the standard settings. And while as a fable of empowerment and assertiveness, it might seem facile to an adult audience, I can only imagine little kids in 1977 taking this in. Parts are genuinely creepy, especially some of the earlier moments in the series where they make the clunky method of superimpositions on the video to create atmosphere really work toward the surreal aesthetic.
Also of note is Talfryn Thomas, the Welsh actor who had previously appeared in the first season of Survivors as the sleazy weasel Tom Price, a pivotal character in that show’s examination of black and white. Here, he is the custodian of the high rise and Vein, Roland’s guide through the basement, and he plays both with the same slithery gusto.