Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Owl Service, The (1969-70)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Owl Service, The (1969-70)
Granada Television for ITV, 21/12/69 - 07/02/70 (LWT)
8 x 30 min episodes, colour
DirectorPeter Plummer
ProducerPeter Plummer
ScriptAlan Garner

Cast: Michael Holden (Gwyn), Gillian Hills (Alison), Francis Wallis (Roger), Edwin Richfield (Clive), Dorothy Edwards (Nancy), Raymond Llewellyn (Huw)

Show full cast and credits

Teenager Alison finds a dusty dinner service in the loft of her Welsh holiday home. Seemingly possessed, she traces their flower pattern and from the tracings makes paper owls. This unleashes ancient forces feeding on the jealousy and attraction between Alison, her new stepbrother Roger and local boy Gwyn.

Show full synopsis

This serial, adapted by Alan Garner from his prize-winning novel, was a sexually-charged tale of adolescent jealousy that broke new ground by pushing hard at the boundaries of children's television.

The Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd is a tale of betrayal retold in the 11th Century book of The Mabinogion. Blodeuedd, a woman made of flowers, was unfaithful to Lleu Llaw Gyffes with Gronw Bebyr. Gronw then killed Lleu with a spear so that Lleu became an eagle - Lleu's magician Gwydion turned the unfaithful woman into Blodeuwedd, the owl, as punishment.

Now three modern-day teenagers are revisited by Gwydion's curse. Upper-class Alison, her haughty public school stepbrother Roger and working-class Welsh boy Gwyn are similarly locked into a triangle of love and hate that threatens to destroy them. Gwyn later learns of the father he's never known and discovers that his mother was once possessed by the same old plates Alison uncovered in the attic.

Very much a product of the 1960s, the serial used a contemporary source novel (Garner's book was two years old when adapted for television) that dwelled upon class struggles and adolescent permissiveness, albeit within a supernatural fantasy framework. Then-fashionable jump cuts and psychedelic imagery were used for the all-film production. This was the first fully-scripted drama to be made entirely in colour by Granada Television, although it was shown in black and white on its original runs and not seen in colour until its 1978 repeat. This ruined the visual joke of Alison, Gwyn and Roger always wearing respectively red, black and green outfits - the colours of electrical wiring at the time - hinting at the power the three could unleash.

The serial was shot in and around Dinas Mawddwy, North Wales, although Poulton Hall in Liverpool was used as the house location when Bryn Hall, the Welsh mansion where Garner had set his novel, proved unavailable.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete episode - Part 1 (11:15)
Complete episode - Part 2 (13:08)
Extract 1 (4:59)
Extract 2 (5:46)
Ace of Wands (1970-72)
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama
Ghost Stories