Monday, 14 September 2015

Serial offender - Archer's Goon (CBBC 1992)

Its time for another delve into the murky world of children's television serials again...

Archer's Goon was a 1992 CBBC adaptation of the 1984 young adult fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones.

Howard Sykes is an average 13 year old boy who lives with his parents, younger sister and their au pair in the fictional town of Holisbury.
One day, Howard is surprised when a leather clad, thuggish looking man, the titular "goon", turns up in a bin lorry at his home demanding to speak with his father Quentin; a local writer and teacher of English, with regards to "the payment of 2000".
Obviously, Howard and his family assume that this means some kind of monetary payment, and the"goon" is an enforcer for some shady criminal organisation, however, when they finally speak with Quentin, it turns out that "2000" actually refers to 2000 words.
Quentin explains that 13 years ago, he was suffering from writers block, but was miraculously cured of it when he was made an offer by local councillor, Mr. Mountjoy. In exchange for Quentin producing a document containing 2000 nonsense words once a year, Mountjoy would make sure that the Sykes household kept its amenities (gas, electric, water etc), and not have to pay for them, also, writing the document would force Quentin to come out of his writers block, and, oddly, it worked.

The goon explains that this years document did not reach "Archer", despite being delivered to Mountjoy at the local town hall as promised, and, as such "Archer" had sent the goon round to collect the "debt", with failure to produce an acceptable document punishable by having local amenities removed. Quentin sits and writes a replacement document, however this one is later found to be unacceptable, as it contains passages which appeared in previous entries, so, the Sykes family find themselves coming under some bizarre attacks, such as their water and power being cut off, local shops refusing to serve them, schools refusing to allow Howard and his sister to attend, rubbish laying uncollected and, most bizarrely, Howards mothers musical instruments playing themselves loudly and continuously.
The goon takes an unusual interest in Howard, and takes him to see Mr. Mountjoy to find out who "Archer".
As it turns out, the town of Holisbury is actually run by seven mysterious individuals with magical powers, all of whom "farm" certain aspects of town life in order to maintain their power:-

Archer - Controls the towns money and local authorities
Shine - Controls local crime
Dillian - Controls local law enforcement
Torquil - Controls local music, religion, sports activities and shops
Hathaway - Controls local transport, as well as town record keeping and administration
Erskine - Controls local refuse collection and water supply
Venturus - Controls local education and housing

Howard, after eventually getting to meet with Archer, begins to unravel the mystery as to what the 2000 words his father produces are actually used for, and exactly what part he personally plays in all this.

This is one of those stereotypically "British" bits of telly that folk from other countries would find difficult to "get". The fantasy environment it takes place in is wonderfully weird in its premise, insofar as that although most people live in the "ordinary" world, there is in fact a secret "underworld" that few people know or care about that actually pulls the strings of everyone in the town. The story also has a wonderful kind of "whodunnit?" mystery attached to it, and, eagle eyed viewers should be able to spot tell tale signs of the true story right from the first episode.

This is an enjoyable serial, and, having read the book, I can say that the TV adaptation is pretty damn close to the original source material.

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