The Prisoner meets 1970s public information films – be very afraid…

Discovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler

scarfolkI love reading creepy novels in autumn, and this year I’ve had the pleasure of not only reading the fabulous Horrorstör (see here), but also the even creepier Discovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler.

Anyone will be able to enjoy this book, but to really get the most out of it, you need to have an appreciation of when it is set  which is firmly in the 1970s – a few years after The Prisoner and at the height of paranoia about the threat of nuclear war.

Between programmes, TV was full of those fatuous public information films and patronising posters were on billboards everywhere.  We watched Dr Who from behind the sofa and cringed at a certain track-suited DJ (whom I had always reviled) on Top of The Pops.

As a child of the 1960s and teenager throughout the 1970s I was there! (Although a bit young for The Prisoner first time around.)  Discovering Scarfolk brought it all back!

A real Hamlyn Guide from the 1970s from my shelves

A real Hamlyn Guide from the 1970s from my shelves

Again, like Horrorstör, this book is impeccably well-designed. The cover is in the style of a book very much in the Hamlyn guide mould with the san serif Helvetica font. When I first saw the book, I had to do a double-take (again) not seeing beyond the cooling towers at first glance – then you see the eye’s pupil and read the sticker flash and it dawns that this will be an hilarious horror spoof.

Let me tell you about the text a little…

The Introduction is by Ben Motte, Editor of the International Journal of Cultural Taxidermy. He tells the reader that it contains:

 a selection of archival materials pertaining to Scarfolk, a town in North West England, which is just west of northern England, though its precise location is unknown.’

Motte had been sent a large parcel of said papers including a worn copy of a 1970s’ tourist guide to said town. The papers are well-thumbed and ‘accompanied by often nonsensical annotaions.’ of which he realised he knew the author – one Daniel Bush (‘a fellow student when we read Telepathic Journalism at St Cheggers Pop Christ College, London, in the late 1960s.’).

Scarfolk poster 1It seems that Daniel was trying to get out of Scarfolk with his two young sons, but they disappeared at a motorway service station. Daniel was overcome and later found himself back in the town with two boys who said they were his sons…

Motte pieces together Daniel’s tale from all the papers, and in doing so gives us a portrait of this unique town.

What raises Discovering Scarfolk above Horrorstör is not only that it’s an even bigger design job – there’s scarcely a page-turn without a familiar yet different graphic that makes you look twice. Each paragraph too yields nuggets of pure 1970s gold that I devoured as I carefully read this book – I didn’t want to miss any, often chuckling out loud.

As you can see from the scary (but not the scariest illustration by far) Scarfolk information poster above, immense attention to detail has been taken to make it appear as if it had come out of a parcel folded up. Book covers have scuffed corners, pages are foxed, typed reports are slightly fuzzy, colours are often faded; all subvert familiar images from the period.

An important note on the bottom of each Council poster etc. says:

For more information please reread this poster.

This one is real!

Compare it with the real thing!

I also loved how Littler, the author and designer, is also the mayor of Scarfolk. He has a truly warped sense of humour and I loved it.

Oh the joy of reading this book!  I don’t want to tell you any more about it, because it will just spoil the fun of discovering all this for yourselves!  You may want to visit the website, but I saved it until after I’d read the book.

I might be buying this for everyone for Christmas I loved it that much (folks, you have been warned!). (10/10).

I shall leave you with one more quotation – from the ‘Things to Do’ page:

Old Market Square
You can now take a tour of Scarfolk’s historical market square from the comfort of your own car. It is, or rather was, located where the Market View multi-storey car park now stands. The Market Square was originally situatioed approximately 22 feet below Level O between exits 0A and 0B and is commemorated with the sticker attached to the fire extinguisher by the disabled parking spaces.

Open 9am to 9pm,
Good parking facilities.

* * * * *
Source: I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Discovering Scarfolkby Richard Littler. Pub October 2014 by Ebury publishing. Hardback, 192 pages.

For more information please reread this blog post.

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11 thoughts on “The Prisoner meets 1970s public information films – be very afraid…

  1. This looks hilarious, and who wouldn’t report that child! I also did a double take with the cover but that’s because I’ll be changing trains at Didcot later this morning.

  2. This looks sooooo fun! And boo, I am heartbroken that none of my libraries has it! I may ask for it for Christmas myself (& direct my loved ones to the Book Depository) because it looks JUST THAT FUN.

  3. I read about Scarfolk somewhere else, and as someone who remembers the 1970s well I think it will be an essential read (especially as I have something of an attachment to The Prisoner as well!) Great review!

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