The Intruder (1972) – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Ah… the 1970s – a time of flares, industrial action, three-day weeks and TV programmes seemingly designed to scare children witless.
We’re currently undergoing our own energy crisis and strikes are aplenty. So far we haven’t all started donning flares, but there is a resurgence of spooky kids shows thanks to Network Distribution – among their latest roster of blu-ray releases are Come Back Lucy, The Owl Service and The Intruder.
The latter is an eight-part series made for the ITV network by Granada TV in 1971. It was aired a year later and was adapted from the acclaimed, award-winning book of the same name by Leeds-born journalist-turned-author John Rowe Townsend.
Shot completely on location in Ravenglass in Cumbria, doubling here for a remote coastal village called Skirlston, it follows a few weeks in the life of Arnold Haithwaite, a 16-year-old boy working as a sand pilot while also helping his ageing father run their somewhat dilapidated corner shop.
Arnold is a straightforward, simple lad who longs to understand his roots – he knows the man he calls Dad isn’t his biological parent, and that there’s some mystery or other he hasn’t been told about his origins. His desire to learn the truth comes to a head following the arrival of Sonny, a one-eyed stranger (the intruder of the title who, rather off-puttingly, dresses like Frank Spencer, but with an added eye patch), who claims he’s the real Arnold Haithwaite.
Sonny is a truly terrifying character and clearly deeply disturbed. So disturbed, in fact, that he wheedles his way into old man Haithwaite’s life via veiled threats, cunning and claims that he’s a long-lost relative. ‘Dad’ is suitably terrified.
Arnold is suspicious of him right from the start, but proving that Sonny is a wrong ‘un isn’t easy. Luckily he has help from two new friends – upper crust siblings Jane and Peter who’ve recently moved to the area. Arnold and Jane are drawn to each other romantically too, but it’s Peter who turns out to be the most useful amateur detective, helping Arnold discover the truth about his past as well as Sonny’s true intentions.
Although the sun is shining in many scenes, the tale itself is bleak, covering such tricky themes as identity, conflict and class, topics you might not immediately associate with a children’s story.
James Bate and Sheila Ruskin are rather too old to play Arnold and Jane, but that perhaps adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the piece, which benefits from strong direction by Peter Plummer, who had already enjoyed success with The Owl Service. Milton Johns, however, is genuinely chilling as Sonny – in an interview among the special features, Simon Fisher Turner, who plays Peter, reveals he was as terrifying on set as he was in the finished drama.
Watch out too for an appearance by future Coronation Street star Lynne Perrie as a hairdresser who may hold the key to unlocking Arnold’s past.
A must for anyone of a certain age, The Intruder should also go down supremely well with those looking for something that will disturb their soul, give them pause for thought and take them well off the beaten track.