Children of the Stones

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Children of the Stones
Children of the Stones.jpg
Created byJeremy Burnham
Trevor Ray
Directed byPeter Graham Scott
StarringIain Cuthbertson
Veronica Strong
Gareth Thomas
Freddie Jones
John Woodnutt
Composer(s)Sidney Sager
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes7
Executive producer(s)Patrick Dromgoole
Producer(s)Peter Graham Scott
Production location(s)Avebury, Wiltshire
Running time30 minutes
Original networkHTV West
Picture formatPAL (576i)
Original release10 January –
21 February 1977
Related showsThe Third Eye

Children of the Stones is a British television drama serial for children produced by HTV in 1976 and broadcast on the United Kingdom's ITV network in January and February 1977. The story was depicted over seven episodes and produced by Peter Graham Scott, with Patrick Dromgoole as executive producer. A novelisation by the serial's writers, Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray also appeared in 1977. In the United States, it was broadcast on the Nickelodeon television channel in the early 1980s as part of the series The Third Eye.[1]

The series is today considered a landmark in quality children's drama and has been called "the scariest programme ever made for children".[2]


The series followed the adventures of astrophysicist Adam Brake and his young son Matthew after they arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.

Filmed at Avebury, Wiltshire during Summer 1976, with interior scenes filmed at HTV's Bristol studios, it was an unusually atmospheric production with sinister, discordant wailing voices heightening the tension on the incidental music. The music was composed by Sidney Sager who used the Ambrosian Singers to chant in accordance with the megalithic rituals referred to in the story.[3] Director Peter Graham Scott was surprised on seeing the script that the series was intended for children's airtime due to the complexities of the plot and disturbing nature of the series.[4]

Cast as the leader of the village, Hendrick was well-known actor Iain Cuthbertson, while the leading role of Adam Brake was filled by another experienced actor, Gareth Thomas. Cuthbertson and Thomas had previously worked together on the TV series Sutherland's Law. Veronica Strong (the wife of series co-writer Jeremy Burnham)[5] played Margaret Smythe, the winsome curator of the local museum who partners with Brake to solve the mystery. The child actors Peter Demin (aged 17 at the time of filming)[6] and Katharine Levy played the teenage leads Matthew (Brake's son) and Sandra (Smythe's daughter). Two popular character actors of the time, Freddie Jones and John Woodnutt, were cast as poacher Dai and butler Link.[7]


  1. Into the Circle (TX: 10 January 1977)
  2. Circle of Fear (TX: 17 January 1977)
  3. Serpent in the Circle (TX: 24 January 1977)
  4. Narrowing Circle (TX: 31 January 1977)
  5. Charmed Circle (TX: 7 February 1977)
  6. Squaring the Circle (TX: 14 February 1977)
  7. Full Circle (TX: 21 February 1977)

Episodes were broadcast at 16:45 on Mondays each week.

The series was repeated by ITV from 21 July 1978 – 1 September 1978, at 16:15. Since then the show has not been broadcast in its entirety on UK television, either terrestrial or satellite.

Plot outline[edit]

One of the more complicated aspects of Children of the Stones is the concept of the "time circle" and the "psychic bubble". The village within the stone circle exists in a time rift, where the same actions are played out (with minor variations), over and over again, with the end result being that the power of the circle will eventually be released to the outside world. Whenever this is faulted, however, the time circle resets and the same events attempt again to unfold. However, since time is passing in the outside world in a normal way, that within the time circle must also progress matching the time period of the real world while still attempting to play out the events within.

Within Children of the Stones, there are four cycles of the time circle that are clearly described, although in reality there are likely to be a great number more.

The Original Circle[edit]

The Stones of Avebury (Milbury in the serial)

The original stone circle was built during megalithic Great Britain and inhabited by a pagan folk led by a Druid priest. The village priest then witnessed the formation of a supernova and somehow deduced that a black hole had formed shortly thereafter. Using a variety of psychic powers, mixed with folk magic, the priest was able to harness the power of the stones (which were natural magnets) and focus negative energy, via a beam of light, through the centre of the circle towards the black hole. This energy, however, was drawn from the minds of the inhabitants within the circle, taking their anger and fear to the black hole and turning them into docile but happy creatures (hence "happy day") under the control of the Druid priest.

When a pair of travellers entered the village, the Druid priest attempted to brainwash them as well, through the beam of light towards the black hole. The travellers outwitted the priest, however, and tricked him into thinking they had been brainwashed when the beam of light had not yet appeared. When the two travellers entered the circle of those who had already been taken in by the priest, the circle of control was broken. The beam of light then appeared, much to the priest's horror, destroying his altar and turning the inhabitants of the circle to stone. The two travellers barely managed to escape the same fate, and were only able to survive by hiding in a rock cave towards the edge of the stone circle, known as the sanctuary.

The events of the original circle were later put down into the form of a painting, which eventually made its way to become a key point of another cycle of the time circle.

The Barber-Surgeon[edit]

The Barber-Surgeon is an inhabitant of the village of Milbury, which had been built upon the original site of the stone circle. The events of the first circle begin to unfold again in Milbury. The Barber-Surgeon seeing what is taking place, is able to protect himself by use of a mystic amulet. The amulet is palm-sized and inscribed with a winged serpent.

The Barber-Surgeon is a threat to whoever had restarted the events of the First Circle and he is mysteriously crushed under a falling sarsen stone, also engraved with a serpent like the amulet the Barber-Surgeon had carried. The amulet was crushed, along with the Barber-Surgeon; however, his bones were later removed and the stone that killed him re-erected within the circle. Whoever had caused the Barber-Surgeon to die did not succeed, and the time circle again reset itself into the modern age.

Dai the poacher's life, death and activities are markedly similar to those of the Barber-Surgeon, suggesting a possible identity or link between the two characters.

Children of the Stones[edit]

The Time Circle again took another loop in the 1970s when a famous astronomer, Rafael Hendrick, uncovered an ancient Dog Latin text speaking of the original Druid Priest who had seen a supernova explode in ancient times. Hendrick was able to discover the location of the supernova (a discovery which made him famous) and further learn that the supernova was now a black hole in the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear.

Hendrick then traveled to Milbury, the site of the stone circle in which the Druid Priest had years before conducted his attempt at brainwashing the circle's inhabitants. Through means unexplained, Hendrick learned the power of the circle and how to harness the negative energy of the Milbury villagers into the beam of light towards the black hole. Through complex astronomical calculations, he determined exactly when he could form the energy beam and began brainwashing the villagers into becoming whom he called "Happy Ones".

The one challenge to Hendrick was a local poacher named Dai; however, Dai suffered a mysterious death in the same location as the Barber-Surgeon had years earlier. Dai's body was also apparently mysteriously replaced with a fallen stone carved with a serpent, but then both the stone and the body vanished. After Dai was killed, pieces of a broken amulet were found, where those pieces matched exactly the gaps in the broken amulet of the Barber-Surgeon.

With nothing to stop Hendrick, the villagers were brainwashed by the beam of light, one by one, until only a visiting professor and his son remained. Professor Brake's son, Matthew, was apparently psychic and also had come across a painting a year before that depicted the scene of the first circle. By the time Hendrick was seeking to brainwash Brake and his son, both had figured out that Milbury was replaying the events of the first circle and attempted to find a way to escape.

In the final episode, by setting Hendrick's digital timekeeping system ahead five minutes, Professor Brake and Matthew were able to trick Hendrick into thinking they had been brainwashed by the beam of energy and, when they entered the circle of "Happy Ones", the power of control was broken. Hendrick then was exposed to the beam of light himself, and metamorphosed into an image of the ancient Druid priest while his butler Link covered his eyes with his left arm for protection. The villagers then turned to stone when they looked at the beam of light from Hendrick's house. Professor Brake and Matthew attempted to save with them their close village friends Margaret and her daughter Sandra, but despite warnings to them not to look back as they were running away, in a scene with eerie similarities to Lot's wife in the Bible they both did look back at the light and met the same fate as the other villagers. The professor and his son then escaped to the Sanctuary, just as the ancient travellers had done in the original circle. When Brake and Matthew awoke the next morning, the village had changed back to normal (with only minor variations) and displayed no sign that Hendrick or his plan had ever even existed. Margaret and Sandra and the Brakes' housekeeper who was also a victim of the stone circle the previous evening were there and living their normal lives. Even the poacher, Dai, was alive and well and living in the Sanctuary, but gave no indication that he knew Professor Brake or Matthew. Upon leaving town, Matthew commented to his father that he wondered if the Time Circle had reset and would the events they had just witnessed happen again. Professor Brake jokingly asked Matthew if he would like to go back to the town and find out, but Matthew asked him to drive far away and only stop off somewhere for a sandwich to eat.

Sir Joshua Litton[edit]

In the final scene of the series, no sooner than Professor Brake and Matthew departed from the village, a well-dressed man in an expensive motor car drives into Milbury. The man looks, oddly enough, identical to Rafael Hendrick. The man drives to Hendrick's old house where he meets with Link, Hendrick's former butler and henchman in the last round of the Time Circle to Hendrick's evil plan who had protected himself from the beam of light and black hole and who now has a moustache and looks considerably younger.

The gentleman introduces himself as Sir Joshua Litton, a former Professor at Cambridge University who has come to Milbury from London. He comments on what a nice place it will be to retire and that he will be very happy there. The implication is clear that the Time Circle has reset and the events of the stone circle have begun again.


Critical reception[edit]

Children of the Stones has been almost universally praised as an outstanding children's series. Comedian Stewart Lee commended the series in the 2007 BBC Four series Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe. Lee commented on depictions of teenagers on television in different decades, contrasting Children of the Stones with Channel 4's modern drama Skins, highlighting how Children of the Stones was still relevant to a modern audience. Several clips of the story were shown. In 2012 Lee narrated a documentary on the series for BBC Radio Four. It was introduced as "the scariest programme ever made for children", highlighting the eerie music and commenting that it was "the most inappropriate theme music ever used for a children's series." Among the interviewees were actors Gareth Thomas and Katharine Levy who both gave credit for the high quality of the scripts. Levy said that the finished programme surpassed all of their expectations and still stands up well today. Writer Jeremy Burnham stated that although it was only seven episodes, the series has stayed with him ever since due to the fans' interest.[2]


Children of the Stones was first released on Guild Home Video in 1981, becoming one of the earliest children's dramas to be released on the format. Due to an error on the front and rear of the sleeve listing it as running 1hr 38 mins, it was assumed to be in a heavily edited form. The tape however ran at 2hrs 32mins, meaning only that the opening and closing credits from the middle episodes had been removed, and certain scenes reordered. For example; In episode 1, we see Matthew fall from his bike before his father touches the stone. In the video version, we see him fall immediately after that scene. The series was re-released in 1992, again as a single uninterrupted feature. Currently, the serial is available on DVD, released by Second Sight in the UK and by Acorn Media in the US. The DVD includes interviews with actor Gareth Thomas and producer Peter Graham Scott. The series was released yet again in 2011 by Network DVD. Unusually for a children's series, it was given a 12 certificate.[8]

The serial was novelised by series writers Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and released by Carousel Books in 1977. It was released in the US two years later.[9] The novelisation was released in audiobook format by Fantom Films in August 2014, read by Gareth Thomas.[10]


A sequel, Return to the Stones by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray, was published as a Kindle e-book in Nov 2012[11] followed by the hardback edition on 8 July 2013.[12]


  1. ^ Tripod - The Third Eye
  2. ^ a b BBC Radio 4. Happy Days - The Children of the Stones. Transmitted: 4 October 2012
  3. ^ Children of the Stones music Archived 11 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Screenonline - Children of the Stones
  5. ^ "About Me". Jeremy Burnham. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  6. ^ Peter Demin in 2009
  7. ^ Children of the Stones cast list
  8. ^ Network DVD - Children of the Stones
  9. ^ "UK Book Guide - Children of the Stones". Archived from the original on 4 June 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  10. ^ "Children of the Stones". Fantom Films. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
  11. ^ "About Me". Jeremy Burnham. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
  12. ^ "Return to the Stones by Jeremy Burnham". Boomerang Books. Retrieved 15 June 2014.

External links[edit]