Into the greenwood…


Public information films were a sudden shore of calm in the advertising on 1970s TV, in a way that’s unthinkable today. I’ve got a particular memory of one that has haunted me for a long time.

In my mind I can feel warm summer sun, the kind you can breathe into your lungs. I was hovering between that in our recently tacked-on 1970s conservatory (or ‘sun lounge’, complete with artificial-fibre orange curtains with archetypal flowers) and the coolness of the living room where the TV was on.

It appeared on screen in the way that aliens suddenly communicate via a TV in sci-fi films, but this was more like something beamed in from the ancients. The leisured, actorly voice – rich and full – spoke over the stillness of a path through the forest, half-lit in sunlight. And there were acorns carved into the trees; an arcane symbol that would take us away from today and down a rabbit hole past centuries.

Thanks to Rob Young’s book Electric Eden (more of which later), I’ve relived that moment again, knowing what to look for on Youtube. And here it is…

It’s a beautiful film – evocative of so many markers of the daydreams of our island, from silent stones to willow trees and swans, or the opening scenes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I would have been already fascinated with the legend of Robin Hood at the age I saw it – introduced by this version below from Dean and Sons, where the sun was always golden through the oaks…

robin hood and merrie men dean and sons

What or where would Robin Hood be now? There was a great book in 1998 by Michael Bracewell called England is Mine: Pop Life in Albion, which had a fantastic cover image of Malcolm Mcdowell as a seventies pop hero lost in the forest (taken from brilliant Lindsay Anderson’s film O Lucky Man, ‘sequel’ to ‘If…’).

England is Mine

Back in the mid-1990s this book brought together many of the strands of the films and music I was drawn to (taping sixties and seventies movies broadcast during the night on Channel 4 or ITV, when Jarvis Cocker and Pulp ruled the airwaves). It brought out the mythology: the bells that chimed from the Countryside Commission film food-mixered with anyone from Virginia Woolf and E M Forster to David Bowie, Pink Floyd and The Jam.

Rob Young’s Electric Eden follows the national trail further, far greater in depth, breadth and vision than the title and marketing would suggest. I’ve seen it at music festivals over the last couple of years and never bought it because I thought it was just a history of bands. It’s packed with beautiful observation and writing, with the quality of Ronald Hutton’s folklore histories or Peter Ackroyd’s visions. I’m kicking myself for what I’ve been missing, and there’s so much to see or listen to in here I expect to be bankrupt by Christmas…

Electric Eden

I’m also wondering if this book wasn’t by Danny Boyle’s side when searching for a framework for his Olympics ceremony (in the introduction, landmarks of the nation’s consciousness are pinpointed as the Industrial Revolution and the First World War…).

For more beautiful greenwood images, try Diana J Hale’s blog and the post The Rarity of the Everyday.