Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 16: A Photograph (1977)

John Griffith Bowen, 1924-2019
First we do some folk horror news, then we pay tribute to the late John Bowen by looking at his Play for Today episode "A Photograph."

Some of the folk horror news was old so I cut it from the episode. Most notably, Folk Horror Revival have released their massive two-volume tomes on "The Urban Wyrd" which you can find here:

Here's "A Photograph" if you haven't seen it. There may be a better version out there.

Bowen's obituary:

A little bit of explanation -- Mike and I are often talking about "McGuffins" because early on in our recording (I believe during the Wicker Man episodes) Mike had talked for awhile about something he thought was a McGuffin which in editing I decided wasn't accurate so I removed it. Since then, we often mention whether something is or isn't a McGuffin, particular in regards to John Bowen, who wrote a book called The McGuffin ( which noticeably is about a film reviewer.

And here's the episode (though it's probably Summer where you are, are you sure you wouldn't rather just subscribe on your phone and listen while you take a walk?):



    Don’t read these comments if you haven’t seen A PHOTOGRAPH!

    Okay, it has taken me a while to respond to this, because I am still not sure I have figured out everything going on in A PHOTOGRAPH.

    Something I am thinking about is that this was broadcast once only, and back in a day before VCRs had become popular. So the initial audience would have been expected to catch every detail, without being able to go over it again and again the way we can.

    I also wonder what time of day this was broadcast. I feel like they are doing things that in the 70s could not be done at all on American television, no matter the time of broadcast. Like when Michael talks frankly about his erections. Is the clue in the time stamp in the upper left corner of our version? Did this go out originally at 10pm, after the children had gone to bed? (Or was it at 10am?)

    I think both you and Mike missed the bit where Gillian says to her therapist “He thinks I am an orphan”. Which implies that she is not an orphan, but that Michael has not met her family. So when MIchael says that she doesn’t have any family to turn to, he is completely wrong.

    But that is just one clue buried amongst quite a few red herrings.

    Is the photograph a McGuffin? Yes and no. The girls in the photograph turn out to be a McGuffin. They turn out to not be important. Mrs. Vigo just dismisses them as bad girls, who recently died. (Are we to assume that Mrs. Vigo and her family killed them for some reason?) But they are a McGuffin because they turn out to be unimportant, because it could have been just about anything else in that photograph instead of the girls.

    However, the caravan in the photograph turns out to be what is important. While initially we may think it is just a background. So the caravan turns out to be the important clue, while the girls are just a McGuffin to distract us.

    So if I understand correctly, what we discover at the end is that “Our Boy” was Michael’s lover? Now when we first see the scene with Michael and the tattooed arm, we are assuming (that is, the original viewers of the time would have assumed) he is with a woman. When Michael talks the person on the phone in the later scene, he says that he can’t see the person for a while, one of the reasons he gives is that “money is a bit tight”. Then he talks about “your profession” and “your line of work” and “your clients”. This all suggested to me that the lover is in fact a prostitute, and that Michael is paying them. So is that what is going on, “Our Boy” supplements the family income through male prostitution? (Also, Michael seems to have no way of contacting “Our Boy”, instead “Our Boy” contacts him when he is in town (in London), being careful not to call in the evening. But this further implies that “Our Boy” makes regular trips to London.)


    In “Our Boy”’s first scene with Mrs. Vigo, he does clearly call her “mother”. I don’t know if you remember our elderly neighbors in England who still called their son “Boy” even though he was probably 50 or so.

    I like your idea that “Our Boy” could be a Robin Redbreast, but since we saw the last Robin Redbreast get killed in 1970, when his successor was just conceived. So the new Robin Redbreast would only be six or seven by the time A PHOTOGRAPH was broadcast in 1977. Also, as far as we know “Our Boy” is a gay man, with no sexual interest in women, which would make it impossible to be a Robin Redbreast!

    (Okay, there is a short scene where the tattoo arm is in Michael and Gillian’s home. Then the phone rings, he picks it up, and there is a man’s voice. Who is calling? It can’t be Michael, because this short scene is put between two bits that show Michael in his car stopping for the hitchhiker [but now I understand that the tattoo arm made the hot tea that Fred later discovers!])

    Now Mike’s question about gay characters on British television. I don’t think this can be answered. Homosexuality became legal in England in 1967. Before that, people had be rather discreet about homosexuality. Before that date, homosexuality tended to only be discussed very allusively in British media. I think you will find a lot of characters who you have to say “I think they are implying this character is gay, but I am not certain.”

    Think of the 1964 movie “Goldfinger”, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. (Okay, this may not be the best example if we are looking for positive portrayals of sexual diversity). In Fleming’s novel it is very clear that Pussy Galore is a lesbian. But that couldn’t be included in the movie. However, both Sean Connery and Honor Blackman were aware of this fact from the novel. Today when folks watch the movie many can see that the lesbianism remains in the subtext.

    And of course there have been many homosexual or bisexual people in history, so technically a lot of historical dramas include characters who were historically were gay or otherwise “queer”. There really isn’t time to go into this in more detail!