From Worzel Gummidge to Grotbags: the 10 most disturbing children’s TV characters

With Mackenzie Crook bringing a grotesque version of the raggedy scarecrow to the small screen, we remember the most horrifying creations to haunt kids’ television

Worzel Gummidge is the latest kids’ series to get a reboot, with Mackenzie Crook playing the titular scarecrow for two hour-long specials that will air later this year. But rather than the raggedy, straw-haired look of old, he has been reimagined with skin as crumpled and weathered as an ancient oak, and creepy roots sprouting from his chin. In short, he is half-man, half-tree – and 100% sure to scare your children (and maybe you, too). But isn’t children’s TV all about burying nightmarish characters into the psyches of successive generations? Here are some of the scariest.

The Daleks (Doctor Who)

Like body-snatched Question Time audience members, Doctor Who baddies often have no hair, wrinkled skin and sunken eyes. The scariest of all remain the Daleks, the metal tanks of doom whose exterminatory antics were supposedly based on the Nazis. Cheery.

Raggety (Rupert Bear)

Rupert is a cuddly-looking bear dressed as if on a “big four” accountancy firm away day. Then there is Raggety, his moody and terrifying pal, who is shaped like a twig. Time to get some new mates, Rupes.

Grotbags (Grotbags)

Nightmarish ... Carol Lee Scott as Grotbags.
Nightmarish ... Carol Lee Scott as Grotbags. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Try to imagine a more horrible-sounding word than Grotbags. You can’t, can you? Perfect, then, for a green-skinned witch with broken teeth, first seen on Rod Hull’s Emu’s World in the 80s. These days, everyone has seen the musical Wicked – about a green-skinned witch – at least eight times.

The Demon Headmaster (The Demon Headmaster)

As if being the image of Jack Straw isn’t scary enough, the Demon Headmaster is also, well, a demon headmaster. The series, created for CBBC in 1996, followed his exploits to control a school and then, eventually, seize all the information in the world. Who says teachers are only in it for the holidays?

Mr Blobby (Noel’s House Party)

Mr Blobby
Chilling ... Mr Blobby. Photograph: BBC

Of course Mr Blobby is terrifying – he is basically a Dalek with legs and a fancy paint job. But it is his lack of personality that makes him so spooky: there is, categorically, nothing inside Mr Blobby’s skull. He is a void of clumsiness, repetition (“Blobby, blobby, blobby”) and nonsense. As the New York Times said, some consider him “proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash”.

Wizbit (Wizbit)

Everyone remembers Caroline Aherne’s withering question to Debbie McGee, in her Mrs Merton guise. But maybe she shouldn’t have been asking what first attracted her to a millionaire, but rather what on earth possessed the pair of them to make a children’s TV show about a sentient wizard’s hat with a monobrow. Chilling.

Chocky (Chocky)

Every child has an imaginary friend, right? But do all kids have imaginary alien friends? Such was the USP of Chocky, the 1984 series about a boy who has his brain infiltrated by an otherworldly creature, attracting the attention of the government. Terrifying – although nice to remember an era when they had time for things other than stockpiling and backstops.

The Sun baby (Teletubbies)

Teletubbies' Sun baby
Make it stop ... the Sun baby. Photograph: BBC Worldwide/PA

The Teletubbies baby is now in her 20s, with an internet rumour earlier this year claiming that she had had a child of her own (it wasn’t true). But, amid the faux-nostalgic “Oh my God, I feel so old”, it is easy to forget that the decapitated Teletubbies baby was kind of terrifying, despite being one of the more normal elements of a programme about toddlers with TVs in their stomachs.

Entire cast (Rentaghost)

Creepy jester – check. Pallid witch – check. Pantomime horse with a rictus grin – check. Everything about Rentaghost was scary. At least its vision of west London suburbia avoided the horror of surging house prices and babyccinos.

Noseybonk (Jigsaw)

With his protruding nose, cavernous nostrils and eyes like wormholes, this character from the retro puzzle show looks like something out of A Clockwork Orange. But Noseybonk was, unfortunately, not censored. Even years after the show ended in 1984, he hadn’t gone, popping up on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe in 2008.

Contributor

Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

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