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Witch Hunt
BBC 1967
The unbridled creative licence authors contributing to Alan Bromly's enormously successful collection of thriller serials were afforded continued unabated in the Spring of 1967 with Jon Manchip White's Witch Hunt, a five-part series which combined the best elements of the supernatural with the quality hallmarks of Bromly's output.

The serial concerned the arrival of Red Fordham (Patrick Kavanagh) in a small Gloucestershire community. Suffering from the side-effects of recurring malaria, Fordham finds Brookthorne Farm as the ideal locale for a fresh start, and though he believes it will not be up for sale, he is surprised to learn his close friend Shelby Jones (Robert MacLeod) is prepared to sell. A first-class property at a reasonable price, Fordham believes he has fallen on his feet, but when he moves into the farm he is perplexed to find that bunches of dried thorns have been pinned to the door of his cottage, and when he later pays a visit to Shelby he discovers that his friend's wife, Nancy (Anna Palk), is in a particularly disturbed and inexplicable state. When Fordham approached Shelby about his wife's condition, he is reluctant to discuss the matter, leaving him to wonder if they are the unfortunate victims of a systematic campaign of persecution. He is determined to ascertain the dark forces ranged against his friends, and the brief clues he uncovers seems to suggest that, far from persecution, the pair may have become the victims of a cultist witchcraft plot to drive them from the village. Unable to reconcile the facts against such superstition, Fordham is nevertheless shocked when Shelby dies from a fall whilst riding on his grounds in what appears to be an accident, but upon closer inspection seems to bear all the hallmarks of something far more sinister.


His further investigations identify a link between Shelby's death and that of the daughter of a prominent ex-colonial Colonel in the area, Prue. He approaches Nancy with this information, but she is in no state to afford him any confirmation of the facts. Determined to seek out answers (and fast), he approaches Pat Rogers (Roger Mutton), a senior figure in the community, where he discovers several unexplained deaths - seemingly accidental - have taken place in the past year. No sooner has he left Rogers, the man in question also meets an untimely end. Fordham, who has established the slimmest of links between the superstitious witchcraft practices referred to by Shelby and the unexplained "murders", endeavours to contact the police but is knocked unconscious and dumped into a deserted quarry before he can do so. He is later found by The Reverend Philip Nyren (Morris Perry), who confirms his suspicions that the dead parties may have been sacrifices for the cause of the bizarre cultist group, and furnishes him with film recording of a witch's coven practicing the black arts in the area. Armed with enough evidence to finally contact the police, he leaves the church but is surrounded by coven members, who seize the film and take him to the woods…where they intend him to become the next sacrifice.

A delightfully gripping and high-calibre thriller serial, Witch Hunt was directed by Peter Duguid with design contributions from Roy Oxley, and featured supporting performances from Timothy West, Katharine Parr and Sally Home. The series is one of the more memorable inclusions in Bromly's successful production line of thrillers, and perhaps one of the most highly-regarded in terms of its ability to manipulate the best of both genres. The series was globally exported but was never commercially released.


Characters
Portrayed By
Rex Fordham
Patrick Kavanagh
Nancy Jones
Anna Palk
Colonel Cooper
Derek Francis
Harvey Collier
John Paul
Cass Russell
Peter Blythe
Maggie Lowther
Sally Home
Shelby Jones
Robert MacLeod
Pat Rogers
Roger Mutton
Doctor Howard Agister
Timothy West
Mrs Drew
Katharine Parr
Charlotte Hayes
Rachel Herbert
Peter Griffin
Barry Stanton
Kitty Morse
Thelma Ruby
The Reverend Philip Nyren
Morris Perry
The Young Man
John Railton


The series was created and written by Jon Manchip White. The series was produced by Alan Bromly and directed by Peter Duguid.

Text © Matthew Lee, 2004.
1
TX : 29th April 1967

Publicity : Patrick Kavanagh as Rex Fordham in Witch Hunt - A new thriller serial tells a tale of witchcraft in Gloucestershire: The number of people who believe in witchcraft will rise rapidly from tonight. This confident forecast is based on the power and strength of BBC-2'a new serial, set not in some ancient past, nor in an exotic tropical present, but amid the winding lanes and wooded pastures of Gloucestershire today. There are African overtones, some colonial legacies as it were. Rex Fordham, not too generously compensated for property lost in Kenya, has recurring malaria: "Still makes me sleepy sometimes. Confused". But the situation is confusing. For in looking for a new place to farm he is attracted to Brookthorne - and startled to find that his friend Shelby Jones is prepared to sell. Both regard it as a first-class property and the price is not unreasonable. But there is something sinister in the air, with odd bunches of dried thorns found pinned on the front door, and with Shelby's wife Nancy distraught and shut within herself. Are the Joneses being persecuted? If so by whom? And why? And what sinister means are being employed? With the adventurous Peter Duguid directing there should be atmospherics in plenty and in "who-dun-it?" terms there are candidates enough in the very first episode with its parade of an ageing Colonel confined to his wheelchair; his nurse companion "part-Indian, some think she's Burmese"; the newly-affluent grasping landowner and Master of the Hunt; and his elegant hanger-on with a taste for fast cars. The manipulating author of all this is Jon Manchip White, novelist and anthropologist, screenwriter and academic: he goes shortly to become Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas. (Radio Times, April 27, 1969 - Article by Elwyn Jones).

Notes :
Episodes were originally transmitted 10:20pm to 10:45pm on BBC 2.

2
TX : 6th May 1967

Synopsis : Rex Fordham suspects that his friend Shelby Jones is letting superstitions drive him and his wife from their farm. But then Shelby dies in a riding fall - a so-called accident.


3
TX : 13th May 1967

Synopsis : Rex links Colonel Cooper's late daughter Prue with the mystery of Shelby's persecution and death. Nancy, shocked and frightened, still refuses to help.

4
TX : 20th May 1967

Synopsis : Rex finds evidence that the death of Pat Rogers was no accident. Before he can act, he is brutally assaulted and hurled into a quarry.


5
TX : 27th May 1967

Synopsis : The Reverend Nyren at last gives Rex the film of the witchcraft practised by the local hunt. As Rex leaves he is cornered and chased by members of the coven.