Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
King of the Castle (1977)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd.

Main image of King of the Castle (1977)
HTV for ITV, tx. 8/5 - 19/6/1977
7 x 25 min episodes, colour
DirectorTerry Harding
Production CompanyHTV
ProducerLeonard White
ScriptBrian Hayles
PhotographyIan Hilton
MusicHoward Blake

Cast: Philip da Costa (Roland); Talfryn Thomas (Vine/Vein); Angela Richards (June/Lady); Derek Smith (Voss/Voysey); Fulton MacKay (Spurgeon/Hawkspur); Milton Johns (Hawker/Ergon); Jamie Foreman (Ripper/Warrior)

Show full cast and credits

After an accident in a tower block lift, teenager Roland finds himself in a strange dreamworld that is a twisted version of his own anxieties.

Show full synopsis

"Kafka for kids" is how co-writer Bob Baker concisely summed up this, another in a long line of unsettling mid-70s fantasy-based serials from West Country ITV franchise HTV. As Baker hinted, the title almost certainly came from Franz Kafka's allegorical novel The Castle, a study of the dehumanising alienation wrought upon us all by modern society. And this was for children?

ITV's planners recognised this was something apart from the norm and, feeling it might be too frightening for young viewers, delayed its planned weekday transmission by four months until a family-friendly Sunday teatime slot became available. The horror is of a psychological nature - in fact adults would probably be more frightened than children by this existential essay on life.

King of the Castle is a nightmare journey into the subconscious anxieties of teenager Roland Wright, in fear of his school choir master and distant from both his laidback musician father and his stepmother. Even worse, his family has moved to the top of a grim tower block, tough kids blocking Roland's path when the vandalised lift is out of order. All of Roland's problems find expression in the dreamscape of his mind when the broken lift plunges to the basement of 'the Castle', a bizarrely twisted reflection of the real world.

As Roland tries to escape the Castle he confronts his real world challenges in allegorical and symbolic ways. Crazed scientist Hawkspur keeps a caged Frankenstein's monster, reflecting Spurgeon's control over his errant choirboy. Roland argues that the drudgery of work in the castle kitchens, where young children toil in irons, "is all pointless". Frustrating bureaucracy features in a bewildering cycle of form-filling where he is shunted from pillar to post. When Roland finally becomes King by overthrowing father figure The Lord it is only to find that having power is as frustrating as lacking it.

The entire cast, bar Roland, plays dual roles in the two worlds, their normal selves and exaggerated alter-egos. There's an experimental fringe theatre feel, heightened by crazily-angled camera work and demented organ music. Though just a bit too pleased with its own subtext at times it's hard to fault something this ambitious. HTV executive Patrick Dromgoole modestly recalled it as "quite a serious piece of work" and the serial was nominated for a BAFTA. It stands as a benchmark of just how far ITV could sometimes push the envelope in the mid-70s.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Trashing Roland's comic (3:07)
2. Down to the basement (3:48)
Complete first episode (24:55)
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV in the 1970s