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J.G. Ballard … you know, for kids

Author: • Apr 16th, 2008 •

Category: Ballardosphere, science fiction, television

Ballardian; Squirrel Boy

According to Polygon Castle, there’s hope for the kids yet!

Since there’s never anything good on TV during the day, I switched it to the Cartoon Network, in the hopes that its programming would at least be tolerable (at least compared to the malodorous MadTV). But lo and behold, it was more than tolerable– the episode of “Squirrel Boy” (which, as a cartoon, I could grow to like, I think…) was a partial recreation of JG Ballard’s novel Concrete Island. Rodney the Squirrel gets stranded on a dividing island after a car crash, surviving there for over two weeks. Of course, it’s been ages since I read the novel, so I really only remember that bit. But still! I was amused.

Ah, that sounds truly transcendental. Here’s some more info on the episode, called “Islands in the Street”. You’re supposed to be able to watch the ep via the Cartoon Network, but I couldn’t get it to load.

The Concrete Island allusion may be accidental, but even if deliberate it wouldn’t be the first time children’s TV has wrestled with Ballard: in 1966 JGB actually wrote an episode, “Gulliver in Space”, for Jackanory, the venerable British kids’ show.

This fact was buried on IMDB, unknown and unreferenced by all scholars, fans and critics of Ballard for all this time — until 2007, when David Pringle stumbled across it. Mr Pringle was unable to believe it. But Rick McGrath took the initiative and wrote to Ballard, receiving this snippet of information from JGB in return:

Yes, I did write a script for the BBC TV’s children’s programme, Jackanory — I really wrote it for my children, who were keen viewers at the time.

Now I’m going to try and do my bit by hunting down the actual episode. But I don’t fancy my chances, given that the BBC may very well have, gulp, wiped it.

If anyone can help with unearthing footage of “Gulliver in Space”, even if it’s just providing some more concrete information as to its availability, please be in touch.

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4 Responses »

  1. JGB did one other children’s project few people have ever read — a book in collaboration with longtime Ambit Art Director Michael Foreman. The project was called Next Rocket To The Moon, and “It was about an old astronaut living in an overgrown and neglected Cape Canaveral”, according to Foreman. The year was 1973 and HarperCollins had indicated interest. According to Foreman the story was “Pretty much complete. It was to be a picture book so Jim’s text was short. I did a cover and a dummy and several pictures plus a complete layout.” Ironically, the project was never finished. “The book was on the launch pad but countdown never happened. Don’t remember why. Jim went onto bigger and better things, I guess.” Hmm… that was a busy time for JGB: Vermilion Sands and Crash were published in 1973, followed by Concrete Island in 1974. Without any squirrels.

    JGB would certainly have written the Gulliver TV episode for his kids — in 1966 they were 11, nine and eight (depending on the birthdays). But by 1973 they would have been way too old for an illustrated kid’s book, even if it was about a Ballardian astronaut. I wonder if JG lost interest, or thought it bad branding, or if Harper got cold feet after Crash sent shockwaves through the big kids at Cape?

    Regardless, good luck on yr hunt. 1966 is slightly before the invention of home video recorders.

  2. We’ll only know if it’s accidental/incidental when a car flattens Rodney the Squirrel, or if he gets rescued from his Concrete Island by aircraft means… ;)

  3. May well be impossible to find a copy, Simon. There was a brief discussion about this on Mike Moorcock’s forum a few months back, and it seems that the BBC’s INFAX service shows no episodes of Jackanory from 1966 surviving; (5 survive from 1965 and 2 from ’67.)

    See http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/catalogue_offline.shtml

  4. I suspected as much. But was Jackanory ever sold overseas? Maybe, just maybe a Swedish regional broadcaster has a decaying tape…

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