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.


Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pass notes No 3,120: Worzel Gummidge
Someone actually wants to make a Hollywood film of 80s kids' series Worzel Gummidge? Shouldn't they get their thinking head on?

06, Feb, 2012 @8:00 PM

Article image
Worzel Gummidge review – he's back, he's hilarious and he's wearing a cravat!
What happened to the creepy scarecrow from the 70s we knew and hated? He’s been give the Mackenzie Crook treatment – and the result is a joyful, joke-filled eco-romp for our times

Lucy Mangan

26, Dec, 2019 @7:20 PM

Article image
How children’s TV went from Blue Peter to YouTube’s wild west
For many young people, the internet is now the go-to source of video entertainment. But the difference between traditional programming and leaving your children to watch controversial vloggers such as Logan Paul is vast

Tim Walker

09, Jan, 2018 @4:24 PM

Article image
Through the round window: how Brian Cant lit up kids’ TV
He was ‘Mr Play School’, presented Play Away and told the stories of Trumpton without cynicism or irony. He was there, wholly, for his young viewers

Lucy Mangan

20, Jun, 2017 @2:11 PM

Article image
Christmas Eve TV: Mackenzie Crook returns as Worzel Gummidge
Another tale from Scatterbrook Farm featuring Susan, John and the famous scarecrow. Plus: Carols from King’s. Here’s what to watch this Christmas Eve

Ammar Kalia, Ali Catterall, Ellen E Jones, Hannah Verdier and Paul Howlett

24, Dec, 2020 @6:20 AM

Article image
Boxing Day TV: Mackenzie Crook brings Worzel Gummidge to life
His scarecrow teams up with Michael Palin’s Green Man in a children’s rural adventure. Plus: a loving tribute to Paddington creator Michael Bond. Here’s what to watch this evening

Ammar Kalia, Ellen E Jones, Graeme Virtue, Hannah J Davies and Paul Howlett

26, Dec, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Pass notes, No 2,925: Rastamouse

He's a big hit on CBeebies with the kids. But some adults also love him because they reckon 'cheese' is code for 'marijuana' . . .

10, Feb, 2011 @10:22 AM

Article image
Is a family eating their pet pig the most 'transgressive' idea on TV?
Meat the Family challenges our ignorance of the industrial meat complex. But the claims it is more shocking than a reality show offering the chance to win cosmetic surgery shows our warped priorities

Elle Hunt

16, Oct, 2019 @4:20 PM

Article image
The most moving show on TV: why we should all be watching The Repair Shop
The BBC show about fixing treasured heirlooms is the TV equivalent of sinking into a warm bath. It’s just what everyone needs right now

Stuart Heritage

26, Aug, 2019 @11:48 AM

Leo Hickman tunes in, drops out - and bonds with his kids - with the help of CBeebies' Waybuloo

Leo Hickman and his children attempt to achieve a state of Zen-like bliss with the help of CBeebies' great new hope - Waybuloo

Leo Hickman

19, May, 2009 @11:01 PM