The Hexham heads. It’s a phrase I’d never heard until last night, when I attended a show called Scarred for Life.
Actually, I may have heard it before, in February 1976 when I was seven. But if I had, I’d repressed it, such was the trauma of hearing werewolves discussed as a real-life phenomenon on BBC1.
I should probably backtrack at this point, to explain that Scarred for Life is a show for British Generation X-ers, devoted to the unnerving-bordering-on-horrific children’s pop culture of the 1970s and 80s.
Merseysiders Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence celebrate all this in a mammoth, two-volume series of books, the first volume of which I’ve just bought online via lulu.com. It’s 740 pages long and I’m just itching to read it.
A spinoff stage show involves Dave, Steve and radio host Bob Fischer chewing the fat about everything from the ending of Blake’s 7 to those nerve-wracking public information films about electricity substations, broken bottles on the beach and, most hauntingly, the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water.
I have to say I loved it when I saw it at Stockton Arts Centre. Indeed, the small matter of a possible coronavirus pandemic wasn’t enough to stop Teesside’s telly nostalgics turning out in force for what I can only describe as a joyous bonding experience.
I don’t want to spoil the show for those who plan to see it, so I’ll confine myself to the after-show Q&A, where I raised the matter of my personal childhood terror.
Bob had noted – during a discussion about Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World and its follow-ups – that when we were young, in the era of UFO sightings and Erich von Daniken books, news and current affairs used to treat the paranormal with a straight face.
My contribution was to bring up a petrifying report from the BBC’s early-evening Nationwide series: The One Show of its day, if you like.
“Oh, the Hexham heads!” said the trio on stage. I had no idea what they were talking about, even though I’d started my career as a reporter on the Hexham Courant.
“It was something about werewolves,” I said. “They were talking about them like they were real – then they showed a clip of Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf, lunging at the camera.
“I screamed, bounded on to my mother’s lap and buried my face in her chest as tears streamed down my face. It was horrifying.
“The next night, Sue Lawley apologised to the country’s parents because so many had complained about the Hammer horror clip.”
Now, I can’t guarantee that my memories of 44 years ago are entirely accurate. But the werewolf clip (I’m pretty sure it was Reed) and subsequent apology definitely happened.
The report, I was told, concerned two miniature model heads, dug up in a garden in Hexham, Northumberland, which – supposedly – were cursed. So much so that at one point, a werewolf reportedly emerged from a bedroom wardrobe and vaulted over a bannister.
Well, that certainly took me back.
Search online for ‘Hexham heads’ and there’s no shortage of blog posts about it. About the hysteria in the press at the time. The academic who took the accounts seriously, transported the heads to her house at the opposite end of Britain and, she claimed, saw a werewolf in her own home. And, amusingly, the man who’d lived in the Hexham house years earlier and claimed he’d made the heads for his kids to play with.
They’re funny things, childhood memories. I took the last bus home, arrived in my town at midnight and walked for half an hour to my house, during which time I felt more nervous than I had any right to be. Reading about the heads gave me shivers down my spine. Of course, I knew it was all nonsense, but my primal fears really had risen to the surface.
Scarred for life? You can say that again.