Yesterday, I read in the newspaper of the death of the children’s author John Rowe Townsend. I used to enjoy his books and was particularly keen on ‘Noah’s Castle’, his 1975 novel about a Britain that is disintegrating through unrest and riots. At that time in the 70s, the news was full of strikes and hardship so a novel about a country where society becomes increasingly selfish to protect and feed itself was not that far fetched.
The book was turned into a television series at the end of the 70s. Mike Read, who was then principally known as a stand up comedian, was a threatening black market presence while the main character of Barry was taken by Simon Gipps- Kent. Back then, I had a crush on him so was glued to every episode.
The story is about one family run by a stern father who starts hoarding food against government advice so that they can survive the troubled times ahead. Barry and his sister become involved in a group trying to provide poor families with food to live on so they experience a crisis of loyalties; both disagree with what their father is doing but feel too powerless to disobey him. Their younger brother, meanwhile, admires the strength of purpose shown by their father.
Things take a turn for the worse when their father’s boss, knowing what his employee is up to, moves in. The government turn their advice into a law: anyone caught hoarding food will be punished. This provides the boss with the perfect blackmail device enabling him to move in and enjoy the home comforts he would otherwise miss.
I knew all along it would end in tears, but was not sure about how or whose tears.
‘Noah’s Castle’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?