Nostaligia Corner: Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World (1980), World of Strange Powers (1985) and Universe (1994)

Mysterious everything

Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World

There’s nothing like grainy TV and film footage and an authoritative-sounding narrator to really scare the crap out of people, particularly kids, with the mysterious and unexplained. This truism was very much proved with Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, a 13-part TV series narrated by newsreader Gordon Honeycombe that looked at every bit of weirdness the world seemed to offer in those days: the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Bigfoot, giant figures in the landscape, UFOs, the Tunguska explosion, giant squids, stone circles and more.

Bookended by science-fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, opining from Sri Lanka on how likely any of these things were, each episode went around the world to interview witnesses, take pictures and generally scare the crap out of you with the help of scary music and Honeycombe’s commentary. Not all of it was of the scary variety, however, with episodes looking at the ‘Antikythera mechanism’ (last seen in BBC4’s The 2,000 Year Old Computer a couple of weeks ago) and vitrified hill forts in Scotland, for example. Yet somehow, through the sheer power of suggestion, the creepy crystal skull logo, the equally scary theme tune and Gordon Honeycombe, it all still seemed terrifying, even when Clarke popped up at the end to invariably say he didn’t believe a word of it.

You can watch all of it on YouTube, so take your pick of how you want to frighten yourself with this playlist:

The show hit something of a vein in the public consciousness, with huge numbers of people watching it. It even got satirised by The Goodies in their LWT show.

So popular was Mysterious World that it launched a 13-part sequel show Arthur C Clarke’s World of Strange Powers, which followed in Mysterious World‘s footsteps by examining psychics, stigmata, clairvoyants and others, putting forward the best cases possible for their existence without any real scepticism whatsoever. It’s actually this series that most people remember, thanks to its focus on things that could really terrify, such as ghosts and poltergeists. However, whether it was because Anna Ford was now doing the narration or I was five years older, it all seemed less scary somehow.

Again, it’s all over YouTube, so choose which one you want to scare yourself stupid with from this playlist .

Nearly 10 years later, ITV returned to Clarke for yet more un-mined mysteries of the world, with Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious Universe, this time narrated by Carol Vorderman. Following the same template as the earlier shows, this looked at everything from the mysteries of the pyramids and zombies through to appearances of the Virgin Mary and crop circles. Whether it was just because the footage was less grainy now, Carol Vorderman is no Gordon Honeycombe or I was 10 years older, it wasn’t scary at all, although you can decide for yourself with this playlist.

The shows didn’t have a huge cultural legacy, although the Divine Comedy did release a song called ‘Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World’.

However, once seen, never forgotten…

What’s that behind you, by the way?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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