1. The Blue Whale Set
Sy Tomashoff's designs for Dark Shadows were nothing short of genius. With limited resources and studio space, he created a whole world for the show to live in. My favourite set is, without a doubt, the Blue Whale pub. Why does no one ever talk about this? It's a truly beautiful piece of design. Of all the Dark Shadows settings, it feels the most distinctive, and the most like a real place. From the sea reflections at the windows (such a lovely touch, achieved in low-tech style by a stagehand rippling a tray of water), to the little details like the hanging fishing nets and lanterns, you can almost smell the beer and cigarette smoke.
2. Violet Welles
During my recent 1897 re-watch, I became mildly obsessed with the episodes by the mysterious Violet Welles, an occasional writer on the show. She's seldom discussed, but for my money, hers was the voice that captured Dark Shadows best. With clever, sometimes raucous dialogue, a heartfelt sense of character, and a penchant for particularly bonkers dream sequences, Violet's scripts made me fall in love with the show all over again. She's also the woman who named Count Petofi, giving Dark Shadows its most entertaining villain. Surprisingly, she wasn't a full-time writer, earning most of her living as a Broadway theatre publicist. I'd love to know more about what influenced her and drove those wonderful, passionate scripts. Alas, information about Violet is scant, but somehow that adds to her appeal all the more.
3. Mrs Johnson
Spare a thought for Collinwood's perpetually-anxious housekeeper, played to perfection by the late Clarice Blackburn. With her quavering voice and frayed nerves, Mrs Johnson's semi-regular appearances were always a particular delight. Compared to rest of the characters, with their increasingly-convoluted melodramas, Mrs Johnson's greatest virtue is that she barely changed during her four years on the show. Most soap characters evolve beyond recognition, but Mrs Johnson remained resolutely the same – no one at Collinwood ever became familiar enough to dare call her Sarah. Endearingly anxious, God-fearing, and ever-so-slightly nosy, amidst Dark Shadows' gods and monsters, it was great to have one character whose ambitions extended no further than doing the dusting.
4. Fashions by Orhbach's
Though its heart was rooted in the past, the Orhbach's department store on West 34th Street kept the residents of Collinsport firmly connected to the present. In return for an on-screen credit, the store supplied free clothing for all the contemporary storylines. Occasionally the Ohrbach's credit would confusingly run on a flashback episode, so perhaps they had a Young Republic department tucked away in the basement. Carping aside, it's fair to say that a small but significant part of the Dark Shadows look can be traced to Orhbach's. From Victoria's trademark sleeveless dresses (a speciality in various shades of shapeless nylon) to Barnabas' cape (cheaply made by cutting up two identical coats from Menswear), Orhbach's deserves a little love for their seemingly-endless range of plaid shirts, and for giving the spectrum a particular shade of bilious lime green not seen before or since.
5. Dan Ross
When I first discovered Dark Shadows as a teenager in the mid-1990s, there were no episodes available here in England, so all I had to go on were a couple of magazine articles with blurry photos. Something instinctive told me that I would love Dark Shadows if only I could get to see it, but America and actual episodes seemed unobtainable and far away. All was not lost, when I discovered some yellowing copies of the Dark Shadows Paperback Library tie-in novels at a London comic fair. Suddenly Collinwood (or Collins House, depending on which book you were reading) was alive and real, and I steadily began to track down copies. The books were written by author Dan Ross, under the more marketable pseudonym Marilyn. Ross didn't have access to broadcasts of Dark Shadows at his home in Canada, so relying on scripts and story outlines, he crafted his own alternative Collinwood, where the supernatural was usually explained away in Scooby Doo fashion by the final chapter. With hindsight, it's easy to dismiss these stories as flawed, pulpy tie-ins, but for giving me my first proper chance to experience those characters and storylines I loved them dearly.