by Andrew Pixley and Nigel Kneale
Nigel Kneale has stated on many occasions that he is not a science-fiction writer, but a drama writer who uses science-fiction as a vehicle for his plays and serials. Nevertheless he created three of the basic forms of telefantasy in his serials with Quatermass in the Fifties: the mutation of a man into monster, an organised invasion by stealth, and the coupling of science-fiction with mysticism. On top of this, he has also written some of the best one off plays in the genre. Shortly after attending the National Film Theatre's landmark Past Visions of the Future event - 10 years ago - Mr Kneale gave me a marvellous interview that I have scarcely edited in which he was good enough to talk about his telefantasy works, despite his obvious reservations about the genre and its followers. Mr Kneale was also good enough to help on the editing and preparation of this piece.
Although film inserts featured prominently in QUATERMASS II and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, the two existing episodes of THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT were more-or-less studio bound and live. Had any pre-filmed inserts been made for the later episodes? "In THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT there was some pre~filming. I think if one had been able to see the whole thing, one would see film inserts in the later episodes. Not of special effects, but of a London park, London streets, just to add a bit of verisimilitude. In the case of special effects, they were done entirely live, which was a very hairy thing to do, but there was no alternative. In fact I did them myself. The appearance of the monster in Westminster Abbey was my two hands, stuck through a blow-up still of the interior of the Abbey, with my hands suitably dressed with gloves which I'd covered with a bit vegetation and leather until they didn't look like hands any more and became a single monster. In QUATERMASS II and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT of course, by then the BBC special effects team had developed and they were very good indeed, very inventive. Excellent people. The dome explosion in QUATERMASS II was a nice one. Actually it was done in a tank of water with a plaster dome full of milk, so that when a detonator split it, you got a very slow drift of what appeared to be smoke, but was actually milk coming out into the atmosphere which was actually water. The very best special effects were extremely simple, and quite adequate really for the definition of 405 lines of those days. Today, I think with the finer screen, one would expect to see higher definition, particularly with all the stuff coming out of Hollywood. The audience is trained to high expectation of the effects.
"There is a point there that in the Fiftes, in the early Fifties certainly, the greater proportion of television was live apart from the film news and of course the very modest film inserts in plays. They had to be modest because there was no money. Apart from those, everything was live, and often you saw rough edges, things that didn't quite come off; messy camera moves, actors fluffing, taking prompts. It did happen and the viewer's expectation was trained to that. You didn't expect high definition in visual quality. You were glad when you got it. But you were more receptive to suggestion, and of course that was good, It was an advantage in implying things, that you had an audience that prepared to co-operate, that already was half~way imagining things that they couldn't quite see perhaps. I think now we've got a much lazier audience, certainly an audience that demands, and has been given by every Spielberg epic, high-gloss definition without, very often, much content."
How closely was Nigel involved with his scripts after their delivery to the production team? "Well completely. I stayed with every rehearsal and every stage of the production. I worked very, very closely with Rudi Cartier - we were very close friends, and every detail was hammered out. I think that was an advantage we had that people rarely have nowadays in television. Today you deliver the script, there's a long gap - maybe a year - before the thing goes into production. And it's overmanned. There is a heavy load of people we didn't have: the producer in those days was the director. He was responsible for everything. Today you have an overseeing producer which means that the director has lost some of his authority. You have a script editor intervening, very often a person who's never written anything and is there to interfere and adds very little to the quality of anything you may see on screen. But where you had a small, compact, very concentrated team you got, I think, an additional layer of quality. There was no loss of concentration, which I think you see now too often as a kind of divergence into surface effect, particularly from directors who have spent too much time making commercials. We didn't have them in the early Fifties - thank God.
"When the scripts for the BBC Quatermass serials were published, it was noted that these often deviated from the actual broadcasts slightly. Were they draft versions? "Yes, they did deviate. It wasn't that they were early draft scripts, there were no drafts. I did one script and that was it. It went on as written. I plan things and I deliver treatments so that people know what's going to hit them, but the scripts, once written, stay that way. I've very rarely changed anything, except on a rehearsal floor if an actor finds he can't say a particular line, or if there's some technical detail that has to be corrected - but by and large I've managed to get first drafts performed every time. So there were no 'draft' scripts of those early Quatermasses. What did happen was that when we came to publish these things - and it was an innovation at the time - Tom Maschler who was working for Penguin suggested publishing the Quatermass scripts and making them a little more readable, because of course they were meant solely for actors and production team, not to be read for amusement. So I simplified them and coloured them up a bit in the descriptive matter, but that was for publication. There was no drastic change of any kind."
Had Nigel found himself limited at all by the facilities available for his story telling? "No, because I knew what the technology was. I knew we had very little and that is why the Quatermass stories were written as they were, with very little dependence on special effects. The stories are told through the characters and the action and they are also earthbound. We didn't take off into space, except on one occasion at the end of QUATERMASS II. The stories are very firmly on Earth, and depend completely on detailed character. Now that is one area where an awful lot of science-fiction stuff, so far as I've seen, collapses. It doesn't just weaken, it collapses, because there are very few coherent characters. Construction of the story is often rotten and is waiting to be saved by the special effects. If you haven't got a special effects team, you have to do something else - you've got to tell your story in a way that works largely without effects, and then the effects come in as a bonus. All too often nowadays, expensive films do depend on them and that's why we have this increasingly dry, hugely expensive stuff coming out of Hollywood. Dry in the real sense because the things are devoid of character. And that goes for an awful lot of science-fiction. That's why I don't really count myself as a science-fiction writer, because I find the characters and the settings far more interesting than sparks flying."
Did any of the serials or plays in those days have different working titles from transmitted titles? "Well, as I remember it. the original Quatermass, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, had the working title of BRING SOMETHING BACK which, if you remember the story, did happen, What was brought back was something very nasty indeed. The title would have been a light-hearted quote from a line by one of the characters waving goodbye to the people who set off in the rocket. The Quatermasses in their film versions shown in America were all given titles that were different from the British ones. They were all terrible, things like THE CREEPING UNKNOWN [for Hammer's THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT] which was the most awful title visited an any piece of work."
Was it always planned that QUATERMASS AND THE PIT would be the third and final serial of the Fifties or was a fourthe ever suggested at that time? "Not exactly, it just happened. I didn't want to go on repeating because Professor Quatermass had already saved the world from ultimate destruction three times, and that seemed to me to be quite enough. And long, long afterwards, when the world itself had changed a lot, I thought I would use that fact - that we were now in a different set up from the Fifties and far into Seventies - and the things we read in the newspapers, the whole flower-power business and all the other, often fashionable and trivial scenes had passed by. I wanted to make a story out of that. Out of the significance or this sort of phenomena one wars starting to see in the Seventies."
Before the last story came about in 1979, it had been suggested that other plans had been made by the BBC for Professor Quatermass. One [erroneous] source indicated that colour test footage of the dome sequence in a remake of QUATERMASS II was shot and ended up in a DOCTOR WHO serial, The Invisible Enemy. "Well if there was anything like that," commented Nigel, "they didn't tell me! That isn't to say they didn't discuss it, but they didn't tell me. I think a number of things turned up in DOCTOR WHO that have been pinched out of my stories. I know I switched on one day and was horrified to see practically an entire episode of one of mine stuck straight into DOCTOR WHO!" If remakes were ever suggested again, would Nigel go along with the idea? "That's not up to me. I'm afraid Hammer Films hold all the rights because they bought them, and it would be entirely up to them." The final serial, first known as QUATERMASS IV but finally broadcast as QUATERMASS, had started life as a storyline for Hammer Films in the Sixties, and then as a BBC project. "It was written in 1973," explained Nigel, "and they decided for various reasons, mainly cost, not to go ahead with it. I think it was commissioned by Ronnie Marsh, who was then in charge of serials, and Joe Waters was going to be the producer. It lingered through the summer and slowly died as a project." What differences would there have been if the serial had been made by the BBC? "The major change was that the BBC version would have been much more in the studio, whereas the Euston Films version was entirely shot on 35mm film with a great deal of it outside. Much more lavish than either the BBC or I had contemplated. Perhaps it was too lavish. The cost was about a million and a quarter, which was a lot of money in 1978 - not now but it was in 1978 - and there's always the temptation to go overboard on the production values if one has the cash. As I said before, if you haven't got the cash you have to do it another way, a simpler way - and often the simpler way is better."
As a writer, does Nigel prefer creative writing to the demanding task of adapting the works of others? "Obviously it's much more interesting writing your own stuff. Sometimes, as in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, there's a technical challenge that one can enjoy - not as much, but considerably - and when we did NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR in 1954 it was a huge technical challenge: simiply to get a live show lasting for two hours into the studio with the enormous complication that it had for its time. There'd been nothing quite like it."
Whilst the 1954 production starring Yvonne Mitchell and Peter Cushing is a well known television classic, totally overlooked is the THEATRE 625 remake in 1965. "I don't know how it came about," says Nigel. "Somebody thought that a few years had gone by and they would try again to see if it had the same sensational effect as the first one. It didn't. The script was almost exactly the same, except I think for the extreme opening, and we had certain additional benefits, but not a lot. The music for the original version was written by John Hotchkis and he conducted it himself with an orchestra in the second studio. The synchronisation, which was done live, had to be very, very finely timed. In the second production, the 1965 version, there was also an orchestra with specially written music by Wilfred Josephs. He conducted it, but I think it had been pre-recorded. I don't think we had the same awful problem of synchronisation. It was a skilful version, but for me the acting was much less good. The performance that I did like as an interesting variation was Joseph O'Conor as O'Brien, the Inner Party chief. In the original version, Andre Morell had played that part in a very alarming, authoritative, powerful performance. O'Conor played it in a different but equally effective way as a very religious man turned inside-out, which is a subtle observation on the kind of fanatic that O'Brien would have been. I think both performances were quite excellent, and hugely interesting because they were so different. There was of course no great reaction, and I'd put that down partly to some of the performances - which were pretty null - and also because the audience was much less suprisable and shockable. In 1954, it was a fairly new phenomenon - television. In 1965, it wasn't. You had two channels and a much, much bigger audience and they simply got used to the whole thing."
Another Fifties production by Nigel was THE CREATURE, later filmed by Hammer as THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN. With the original play gone, how did it differ from the existing cinema version? "Not a great deal, just the sort of 'opening up' one would get in a film. I remember I added characters. Peter Cushing, who played the same part in both, was given a wife, Maureen Connell, and an assistant, Richard Wattis. Of course the sets were much more elaborate. Hammer Films made an extremely effective monastery set down at Bray Studios. In fact it was so expensive and so good I think it was adapted to all sorts of subsequent uses, like Dr Fu Manchu's palace and so on. The baddie of the story was played in the television version by Stanley Baker. In the film version we had Forrest Tucker, and I suppose there was again a character difference. Baker played it as a subtle, mean person, Forrest Tucker as a more extrovert bully, but they were both good performances and I found very little to choose. Tucker was, I think, an under-rated and very good actor."
Nigel has mentionned that he was asked to write for DOCTOR WHO at its conception, but refused, not liking the idea. "That's quite true. It sounded a terrible idea and I still think it was. The fact that it's lasted a long time and has a steady audience doesn't mean much. So has CROSSROADS and that's a stinker. I was approached by Sydney Newman, who was then running BBC drama, and it was his idea. It struck me as a producer's idea and not a writer's idea, and I think there's a difference. I think what offended me about it was that it was clearly to be put out as a Children's Hour story, and I didn't write Children's Hour stories. It was to go out at five or six c'clock and the tinies could watch - and I felt I'd find that very inhibiting because I didn't want to bomb tinies with insinuations of doom and terror. In fact, that's what they got to doing. And the tinies were bombed and I found this horrible. I had small children of my own at the time and I found DOCTOR WHO thoroughly offensive in that respect. And you get people saying, "Oh yes, I was frightened. I hid behind the armchair when I saw the so-and-sos...". That doesn't make it right to implant nightmares in the minds of little children. I think it is a bad thing to do, and I wouldn't do it."
"I was approached to write DOOMWATCH. That didn't seem to be much good either. So I didn't. It seemed to have a sort of over-formatted shape and I couldn't see myself fitting into that sort of thing at all."
From 1963 to 1972, Nigel also provided the BBC with a set of memorable plays. How had these come about? "Mostly they were original ideas that I'd had and took to the BBC, things like THE ROAD, THE YEAR OF THE SEX. OLYMPICS - I mean that isn't a producer's idea! You wouldn't get a producer capable of thinking of that one in a million years - WINE OF INDIA and THE STONE TAPE. THE STONE TAPE was the only one where I was approached directly for a Christmas story, a yarn. Christopher Morahan who'd been newly appointed to be Head of Drama, asked me about some six months ahead to write a Christmas play, and I did. I said, "Well, it should be a ghost story. Let's do it with a difference. Lets mix ghosts and high technology" - and that came out as THE STONE TAPE.
"The collection of three of the plays (THE ROAD, THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS, THE STONE TAPE) into a little book was done rather lovingly by a South London bookseller. His name is George Locke and he had been getting enquiries for scripts - because booksellers of an investigative nature like himself dig out all sorts of fantasy material - and he thought he'd like to stick three of them together and publish them himself. His bookshop is known as Ferret Fantasy."
Had Orwell's 'newspeak' in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR influenced the even more-corrupted form of English used in THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS? "Not directly, no. I mean there's no connection. People in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR speak more-or-less in the manner Orwell had designed for them in his book, and I was following the book. When I came to do THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS, it was pitched much further in the future and I was working out how they might realistically talk then. I thought that there'd been a much greater change and the story I was telling was about a much more mentally impoverished civilisation, if you can call it a civilisation. Different. Worse in its ways although more comfortable than NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. A completely feather-bedded population being steadily reduced by being exposed to non-stop ponography so that they're discouraged right out of sex. But they have a very nice time, the weather is controlled, they live completely in ideal conditions and everything is provided for them. They don't have to do any work, they're just being kept afloat as a huge gene pool. And I thought people in those conditions would have very, very, reduced language - they wouldn't be really a verbal society any more, and I think we're heading towards that. Television is mainly responsible for it, the fact that people are now conditioned to image. The pictures they see on television screens more and more dominate their thinking, as far as people do a lot of thinking, and if you had a verbally reduced society, you would get the kind of language - possibly - that you did get in the play. Interestingly we had a studio discussion afterwards, and one of the participants was Anthony Burgess who had just had his A CLOCKWORK ORANGE filmed, and we were talking at some length about the change or perversion of language. By different routes, we'd got to rather the same conclusion."
The play the least is known about of this quartet is WINE OF INDIA. "I called it that because there is no such stuff. They don't make wine in India except a very small quantity in a very limited district. I wanted a title that suggested something that didn't exist, because this was again about a future society where all problems are overcome, but this time it had gone yet another route. It was written at a time when heart transplants and kidney transplants were coming in in a big way, and I wondered: Supposing you had people sustained by highly perfected medical means at the peak of youthfulness for up to a century. Then you'd have to get rid of them. Kill them off. To make it civilised what you have in this society is a contract. You're guaranteed until the age of 90, or 95, or 100, and at the end of that time, you have to go. During that time you will have perfect health and vigour, right up to the last minute. So this play was the story of a funeral in which all the relatives assemble; the children and grand-children and of course great-grandchildren, because generations are longer, the only difference being that the couple who are to go are still alive and kicking. At the end of it, they go. They walk out through the curtains in the same way that a coffin disappears in a crematorium. They know this is the deal, and they accept it.
"The atmosphere of the play is rather one of a party. Of course there is very little apparent difference in their ages. The old look remarkably young, and the young have caught up with them - the generations are crushing on one another. People assemble for this ceremonial production - and it is a production. There's even a producer who is the equivalent of a present~day undertaker. He has to put on the show and keen everybody calm. Nobody has to panic or get too close to reality on this occasion. It might get painful. In fact the thing that breaks the spell in my play was that somebody turns up: a genuinely old lady, a contemporary of the youthful couple who are about to terminate, and this old lady is somebody who has refused to join the system and sign the pledge. She looks her years. She is in her eighties, and wrinkled and ancient looking. And this seems very alarming and frightening and upsetting to all those present. In fact, it's a clever bit of production by the mortician/producer because he's afraid that on this particular occasion, one of the couple is not going to be able to go through with it, and so he has sprung a suprise on them: the production of this person whom they knew many, many years ago - and her sheer ancientness provokes them into a feeling that they've been lucky and to accept the deal and go through with it. That seems better than having got old, which they have never been. They look as young now as they did when they were 30. although they're about 90. And the crisis over, the guests disperse with their heirlooms or little things they've come to remember the departed by, and it's the end of the production and they toast them. And the toast is drunk in Wine of India."
With the recent screening of THE STONE TAPE by the BFI, did Nigel feel this play still stood up well, fourteen years later? "I was very pleased to see it at the NFT the other day, particularly as it stood up very well. It was a good production - entirely an tape including outdoor material - directed by Peter Sasdy, and I thought it looked pretty good. Extremely well acted by a distinguished cast, and that's always a very pleasing thing for the author, so I was quite happy about it."
In 1971, Nigel contributed a script to the final season of the anthology series OUT OF THE UNKNOWN: The Chopper. "It's a long time ago," chuckles Nigel. "I don't really remember it very clearly. It was a ghost story, yet again, and this time it was about a garage where they converted Harley-Davidsons and heavy-duty motorbikes into choppers: they chopped them down. And the ghost was a tearaway youth who'd got himself killed on the M4 and came back to haunt the place. He was a very noisy ghost indeed and pretty unpleasant and destructive. It was again mostly a character play."
Another fondly remembered anthology was written entirely by Nigel. Screened in 1976 and made by ATV, BEASTS was a set of six plays linked by a main theme. "I think it was in 1975. I had written a play for the same producer, Nick [Nicholas] Palmer, and during the stages of production it was suggested I should do a set of half-a-dozen plays with a very simple connecting link, which was that there should be an animal element, the beast, that could be implemented in any way at all. In fact the aim was to make them as different as possible: one comedy, one horror, one straight drama, one mystery ... all sorts. And this from the point of view of commercial television was probably a tactical mistake because they like things firmly labelled and if you've got six, they want six the same, not six all different. So when these things had been made, and pretty well made, the programming became an awful problem because they had six quite different pieces of an anthology. There was no easy trademark and I think this proved a problem with networking.
"The one that I think went down best of the set was called During Barty's Party - Barty being a radio personality with a 'phone-in programme. And during the time that he's on the air, the two people in this story - the only two we sep - are holed up in their country house by what they gradually, and in horror, realise is a rat swarm, assembling underneath Lhe floorboards of the house. Now the only contact they have with civilisation is through this radio programme. They 'phone in, they call Barty, and he tries to help, and until the rats cut the line of the telephone, they manage a very tenuous link with the outside world. But when this breaks, they're finished. What was interesting to me was it was like making THE BIRDS with no birds - in this case it was rats with no rats. The rats were purely sound, you never saw one, and it was only through the superb acting of the two principals that the thing worked. It was entirely in their minds and their eyes. "Another one which I personally liked - although there were things wrong with it - was about the making of a horror movie. It was called The Dummy and it was supposed to be one of a long, long series of 'Dummy' films made not so many miles from, say, Bray Studios, and it had the essential cosiness that always eminates from the floor of the studio where they're making a horror film. It's a very cosy sort of industry. And it was a lot of fun doing this, again extremely well acted and I enjoyed it immensely. There were some other pretty good ones too. I liked that series and I'd be very, very sorry if the tapes were wholly wiped - there should be master tapes somewhere."
Then in 1979 came the final Quatermass serial made in two forms: the four part Euston Films QUATERMASS serial and the film THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION. "That was a freak operation," says Nigel. "I was asked, and perhaps mistakenly agreed, to making it in two versions. This was at that time held by Euston Films to be essential, in fact they would make the deal no other way. For sales abroad it had to be available in a film version of some 100 minutes and also a mini-series version. And so it was a matter of finding a short version and adding material - making two versions equally valid if possible so that when you pulled the switch, the bits would drop out of the long version and it would become the short version. This was in fact much more difficult than it sounds because you feel you've got to pad it to get the long version, but one doesn't really want to do that - so you write in material which is not just padding, but just as good as the rest yet it can be discarded. In the end we had two versions, neither of which was the right length for the story. You had the four hour commercial version and what was eventually cut down to a one-and~three~quarters hour version. I think the actual ideal length of the thing would have been something like two-and-a-quarter hours, and at that the whole story would have been coherent and right. As it was, it was rather messy and I was rather disappointed. I don't think it was the greatest story. I don't think it had the pure effectiveness of the earlier Quatermass serials, and although the filming, sets and production values were very good, there was something lacking in it which I think mattered a lot."
In addition to the two visual versions, the excellent novel Quatermass contained slightly different material again."Well I was writing it during the time that the television version was being actually filmed. I wasn't using material intended for the serial and then deleted. It was quite different material because the novel had to stand up in its own right. It wasn't merely the serial novelised. I'd agreed that with the publishers that it should be a separate story told in a separate way, but completely truthful to itself, and I think it works better than the television version. I suppose it contained a number of second thoughts, and although I offered those as scenes to the makers, of the serial, there wasn't really time to use them."
Would Nigel consider producing novels basedd on more of- his work, BEASTS for example? "I have thought about the BEASTS series, it is possible to turn them into stories. Might do it some time."
With the final Quatermass ended, which of the many actors bad Nigel found best in the role? "There were quite a bundle of those. Of course the man who created the part was Reginald Tate in 1953, who had a tremendous attack and vigour of personality. Unfortunately just before we got to the second serial, Reggie Tate died which was very, very tragic and saddened us very much, but I think if he'd continued to play the second and third and fourth and make various film versions, he would have been definitive in the role. As it was, the film versions that Hammer made used an American actor, Brian Donlevy, in the lead because of contractual arrangements with the American distributors, and he was certainly my least favourite. He was then really on the skids and didn't care what he was doing. He took very little interest in the making of the films or in playing the part. It was a case of take the money and run. Or in the case of Mr Donlevy, waddle."
In 1981, there came a new approach to science-fiction, the LWT comedy series KINVIG. Had this come about maybe as a dig at science-fiction fans? "I simply wanted to try something new, and I think it was because I had suddenly found people who believe in flying saucers to be very funny. This is not sending up science-fiction fans, it is sending up the people who believe literally in flying saucers. People who actually persuade themselves in some fashion that they have visited a flying saucer and been given a ride by Venusians. I mean these are some kind of con-trick merchants because the stories that they tell when the supposed episode is over are so grotesquely lame and halfbaked and feeble every time that it can be nothing but a bad joke. So I was attempting to make a slightly better joke about a little man who did just that. I thought basically that he would have to be bored out of his skull with his actual life, wishing to impress a very impressible pal who does believe in flying saucers implicitly, and between them they convert reality into a kind of game: one believing in it totally and the other making the game up, rather like two children - and the way children can persuade themselves to believe and yet at the same time not believe that a dragon's round the corner. It's a sort of double-think. And my little Mr Kinvig, who is one of the laziest people ever seen, I think would be the sort of person who would claim to have been inside a flying saucer. Now the version that he produes is of someone who has very little imagination, and most of that drawn from very, very second-hand tatty, old ideas and things he's read. So, the flying saucer is the corniest thing, and the beings in it are the most corny kinds of image. The important point was that this was all his kind of very feeble imagining. I think that some people took it to be thst it was my kind of very feeble imagining! I can do better tban that, believe me. But this was Kinvig's version. Now what happened I think, or where the production went wrong - because I insisted otherwise - was that it was not clear that this stuff emanated from Kinvig's mind, that he had made it all up, and there were some people - who should know better - who thought that I was trying to present my kind of science-fiction in these sorry creatures, the Mercurians, who lived in a flying saucer. There was no clear point at which he started to make it up. That's where it went wrong.
"Whether because of this, or again because of our old pal networking, it fell foul again. People didn't know what to do with it. They weren't sure whether it was meant to be straight science-fiction or funny science-fiction or sending up science-fiction fans or what the hell. So some of then thought it was a children's epic and some thought it was to be pushed into slots any old where. It wasn't helped by the fact that, in London anyway, it was preceded by the appalling, terrible, crap series THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN which trademarked it fatally. So I don't blame myself. I think we did a good show, and everybody connected with it was enormously enthusiastic.
"Another thing I hadn't bargained for in attempting a comedy series was the studio audience - which is apparently obligatory in most cases. It certainly was in this one. And you have the image of interested people who are fans of the show who are brought along, and are seeing it in a live theatre and enjoying what they've come for. It isn't that way with a new series. You get people who have no idea what they've come for. It's a free evening out, and a lot of then arrive half-canned anyway, and are processed for twenty minutes by a dreadful figure, the warm~up man, who simply sloshes a large quantity of blue jokes at them, at the end of which the show which they are presented with has no chance at all, because it will not resemble the fearful activities of the warm-up man. And all the wrong jokes are laughed at, the whole thing is treated with a kind of witless hysteria, and at the end of it all additional laughter is slammed onto the track in the processing before the thing is shown. The result is a killer to any imaginative, satirical or even good series. Now the institution of the studio audience is something to be shunned and avoided if possible, which I suppose means steering away from a comedy series. Sad though, because the whole production team on KINVIG thought we had a winner, and we were all set to go to a second series, looking forward to it confidently. A great pity, because I think if we'd had time to find our audience at the right hour on the right network, it could have been a very successful show. Anyway, one is older and wiser.
"l should add that there's always been a comic streak in everything I've written - right back to the original THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, where I had the returning rocket sideswipe the home of a little old lady and got a superbly funny performance from that 'Little-Old-Lady-To-End-Little-Old-Ladies', Katie Johnson. And a scene where my evolving monster took refuge in the darkness of a cinema showing a terrible space-movie in 3D. Rudi Cartier actually got a 3D effect on the screen, too. Guess how."
Which of his works had given Nigel his greatest satisfaction? "I suppose the original Quatermasses because we took the biggest chances and we got the most satisfaction from the results. They did come off and we had for that time enormous audiences. And they were adult audiences, we didn't get the kids. I suppose children did watch and occasionally I'm approached by someone who says "I remember. the first Quatermass and I was three years old and I hid behind the sofa ..." and that stuff. and my answer is "You shouldn't have been watching, you should have been in bed," because we did warn. We did our best to see that small people didn't watch them because we knew that we were exciting, or trying to excite, veins of unease in the viewers - and whereas an adult can cope, a small immature mind can't cope with suggestions of that kind. Even background music can give nightmares."
And his favourite director of his works? "That's a very tricky and personal one to answer, I suppose my happiest realtionship has been with the director I worked with many times, Rudolph Cartier. We had a lot in common mentally and we got on well, so it was a great pleasure in those days to work on shows where we both knew we were taking risks and Rudi was ready to take fearful chances technically. I think he was the only person in the BBC who would have attempted or succeeded in bringing off those early Quatermass shows at that time. The director had to carry an awful lot of responsibility. Now, much more is taken by the additional invented personnel, and of course the technical wizardry that surrounds any show. The personal load is less."
Does Nigel have any views on other British Telefantasy? "I haven't watched much of it, and what I have seen I've found very disappointing. DOCTOR WHO I mentioned. I think the low point for me would be the very few bits I've seen of a thing called BLAKE'S 7 which I found paralytically awful. The dialogue/charactorisation seemed to consist of a kind of childish squabbling. Disappointingly, they don't try much to present shows for an adult audience, obviously later in the evening. I suppose there are so many old and newish movies that cover that ground, with more lavish special effects."
Are there any works written but unmade, or made but unshown? "No I don't think so. I think practically everything I've ever written has been made and shown eventually. Last year  I planned a series that would have been ultimately for American cable which got to a fairly advanced stage before financial doubts struck. That would have been called PUSH THE DARK DOOR, a set of supernatural stories, and there's still hope of getting it off the ground some time.
"I did write a couple of pieces that failed to get made, but neither came under the head of SF or fantasy. The first was a 1966 serial for the BBC called THE BIG, BIG GIGGLE. It was about a teenage suicide craze and the Corporation got cold feet, afraid it might find real imitators. Looking back on it, and some of the trends since then, I think they were quite right, particularly as it would have been protracted through six weeks. The story nearly made it as a feature film for Fox but was stopped by the film censor, John Trevelyan, after long agonising talks. He was probably right too. The seconds was an ATV play called CROW about a Manx slave-trader, cancelled for financial reasons."
With Nigel having attended the BFI weekend in July 1986, is this his first 'fan' event, and would he attend another? "The BFI weekend was not the first 'fan' event I've attended. Really I didn't see very much of that weekend either, just one evening, but I had been to a science-fiction convention a few years ago and found it a fairly horrendous experience. It didn't seem to have very much to do with imagination, but a lot to do with exhibitionism - mainly by the fans - and it's not an experience I'm able to go along with and enjoy. I don't like large gatherings of people romping about, whether it's a football match or the Nuremberg Rally, they all frighten me. I suppose, deep down, I don't want to be anybody's fan, no matter how excellent, noble or horrible they are - whether it's Daley Thompson or Hitler or Arthur C. Clarke. I wouldn't want to chase around for their autograph. "We musn't forget that it's Kinvig's ultra-impressionable, gullible pal Jim who would have gone to such a convention with a bundle of Flying Saucer Review under his arm, hoping to swap them for something even more exciting. And who would've hoped for some really dramatic manifestation like the unmistakable evidence of a visit of a Venusian spacecraft imprinted in the gravel of Brighton beach? And then when Jim had got Arthur C. Clarke's autograph, he might, just possibly, have come to me to get mine, and I'd have had to say "But Jim, Quatermass didn't really exist. There was no such person. I made him up". "And Jim would look at me disbelievingly, and he would say "That's what you think!"."
PLAYS FOR TOMORROW
Compiled by Andrew Pixley
To compliment our interview with Mr Kneale, we are presenting a guide to his individual telefantasy plays - with the exception of The Chopper which is an episode of OUT OF THE UKNOWN.
12th December 1954
by George Orwell.
Adapted as a tv play by Nigel Kneale
Produced by Rudolph Cartier
Designer: Barry Learoyd
Incidental music composed and conducted by John Hotchkis
Models and Effects by Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine
Cast: Yvonne Mitchell (Julia), Peter Cushing (Winston Smith) and Andre Morell (O'Brien) with THE PARTY: Donald Pleasance (Syme), Arnold Diamond (Enmanuel Goldstein), Campbell Gray (Parsons), Hilda Fenemore (Mrs Parsons), Pamela Grant (Parsons Girl), Keith Davis (Parsons Boy), Janet Barrow (Woman Supervisor), Harry Lane (Guard) THE PROLES: Norman Osborne (First Youth), Tony Lyons (Second Youth), Malcolm Knight (Third Youth), John Baker (First Man), Victor Platt (Second Man), Van Boolen (Barman), Wilfred Brambell (Old Man/Thin Prisoner), Leonard Sachs (Mr Charrington), Sydney Bromley (Waiter), Janet Joyce (Canteen Woman) with Party workers, State prisoners, Thought police. Narrator: Richard Williams
A chilling adaption of George Orwell's classic novel performed live twice with the same filmed inserts. This play caused upset over the rat scene of Room 101, calling for the government to ban the play's planned second showing. Wiriston Smith, a citizen of Oceania, is slowly turned into a thought criminal in the regime of Big Brother as he falls in love with the girl, Julia
Broadcast: 2030 ~ 2230 (approx)
Second Performance: 16th December 1954 2130 - 2330 (approx)
Repeat: 3rd August 1977 2100 - 2155
This was in the season of FESTIVAL 77 shown on BBC2 and billed as 1954: NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
BBC TV producton - Black & White
30th January 1955
A play for television by Nigel Kneale
Produced by Rudolph Cartier
Designer: Barry Learoyd
Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr John Rollason) and Stanley Baker* (Tom Friend) with Eric Pohlmann (Pierre Brosset), Simon Lack (Andrew McPhee), Wolfe Morris (Nima Kusany), Arnold Marle (The Lama of Rang-ruk Monastery) with Monks, Devil Dancers and Musicians. * by arrangement with British Lion Film Corporation Ltd.
Dr John Rollason pioneers an expedition into the Himalayas to search for the mythical beast, the Yeti, using the Rangruk Monastery as his base to search for huge, man~like creatures with telepathic powers.
Broadcast: 2115 ~ 2245 (approx)
Second Performance: 3rd February 1955 2115 - 2245 (approx)
29th September 1963
FIRST NIGHT: THE ROAD
by Nigel Kneale
Directed by Christopher Morahan
Producer: John Elliot
Designer: Tony Abbott
Script Editor: Vincent Tilsley
Cast: John Phillips (Gideon Cobb), James Maxwell (Sir Timothy Hassall) and Ann Bell (Lavinia) with David King (Big Jeff), Victor Platt (Lukey Chase), Rodney Bewes (Sam Towler), Reg Lever (Landlord); Richard Beale, Beaufoy Milton (Countrymen); Meg Ritchie (Tetsy), Clifton Jones (Jethro).
In 1770, scientist Sir Timothy Hassall and philsopher Gideen Cobb come into conflict as they mount an investigation into the strange hauntings in a woodland clearing. Is it a supernatural phenomena, or a visit from the past, or the future? Broadcast: 2100 - 2155
28th November 1965
THEATRE 625: The World of George Orwell - 1984
by George Orwell.
Television screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Directed by Christopher Morahan
Producer: Cedric Messina
Designer: Tony Abbott
Music composed by Wilfred Josephs
Cast: David Buck (Winston Smith), Joseph O'Conor (O'Brien), Jane Merrow (Julia), Cyril Shaps (Syme) with Tony Cyrus (Soldier), Mohammed Shamsi (Arab Colonel), Alexis Chesnakov (Russian Marshal), Hugo de Vernier (French General), John Brandon (American General), Tom Macauley (British General); Brian Badcoe, Raymond Mason (Telescreen announcers); Vernon Dobtcheff (Goldstein), Marjorie Gresley (Prole in Canteen), Norman Chappell (Parsons), Sally Lahee (Mrs Parsons), Sally Thomsett (Parsons Girl), Frank Summerscales (Parsons Boy), Henry Kay (Pedlar), Eric Francis (Blind Man); Anthony Blackshaw, Edwin Brown (Proles); Sydney Arnold (Old Man); Tony Lyons, David Baxter, Patrick Ellis (Prole Youths); Fred Hugh (Barman), John Garrie (Charrington), John Barrett (Waiter), John Mincer (Janes), Eden Fox (Aaronson), George Wilder (Rutherford), Peter Bathurst (Foster), Julie May (Singing Prole Woman), John Moore (Orator), Paul Phillips (Martin), Raymond Graham (Man with beard), William Lyon Brown (Thin man); Norman Scace, David Grey, John Abineri, Michael Sheard (Men In White Coats).
A remake of the 1954 script for a George Orwell season.
Broadcast: 2000 - 2200
29th July 1968
THEATRE 625: THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS
by Nigel Kneale
Directed by Michael Elliott
Producer: Ronald Travers
Designer: Roger Andrews
Story Editor: John Brabazon
Make-up: Pamela Burns.
Costumes: Joyce Hammond.
Film Editor: David Taylor.
Film Cameraman: Peter Hall.
Sound: Derek Miller-Timmins.
Lighting: Sam Barclay.
Cast: Leonard Rossiter (Co-ordinator Ugo Priest), Suzanne Neve (Deanie Webb), Tony Vogel (Nat Mender), Vickery Turner (Misch), Brian Cox (Lasar Opie), George Murcell (Grels), Martin Potter (Kin Hodder), Lesley Roach (Keten Webb), Hira Talfrey (Betty), Patricia Maynard (Nurse) Custard Pie Fight Arranged By Trevor Peacock Custard Pie Experts: Trevor Peacock, Brian Coburn, Derek Fowlds, Wolfe Morris, Graham Murray, Jo Stewart Artsex Girl: Sheila Sands
In the future England, Area 27, programmes shown of sex as a sport helps to keep the population down as the low-drive feel they cannot compete. When Sportsex productions from Nat Mender start to lose impact, his superior Ugo Priest soon finds other methods of entertainment to stir up involvement of the passive viewers.
Broadcast: 2105 - 2250
Repeated: THE WEDNESDAY PLAY 11th March 1970 2110 - 2240 (BBC1)
15th April 1970
WINE OF INDIA
by Nigel Kneale
Directed by Gilchrist Calder
Producer: Graeme McDonald
Designer: J. Roger Lowe
Script Editor: Shaun MacLoughlin
Make-up: Jean McMillan.
Costumes: Catriona Tomalin.
Lighting: Robert Wright.
Cast: Annette Crosbie (Julie), Brian Blessed (Will), John Standing (Russ), Rosemary Nicols (Nitau), Catherine Lacey (Bee), Ian Ogilvy (Sam) with David Burton (Adam), David Munro (Fat), Judith Bellis (Nonie), Nicholas Young (Dod), Vicky Williams (Joanna), Glenn Williams (Celebrity), Reg Whitehead (Mac), Alexandra Dane (Lexy), Neville Hughes (Dave), Roger Ferry (Martin). In 2050, the funeral ceremony is organised for an apparently middle-aged couple who have benefitted from the government's longevity scheme, and having reached 100, must now die.
Broadcast: 2120 - 2210
25th December 1972
THE STONE TAPE
by Nigel Kneale
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Producer: Innes Lloyd
Designer: Richard Henry
Script Editor: Louis Marks
Music and special sound by Desmand Briscoe, BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Cast: Michael Bryant (Peter Brock), Jane Asher (Jill) with Iain Cuthbertson (Collinson), Michael Bates (Eddie), Reginald Marsh (Crawshaw) and Tom Chadbon (Hargrave), John Forgehan (Maudsley), James Cosmo (Dow), Philip Trewinnard (Stewart), Neil Wilson (Sergeant), Hilda Fenemore (Bar helper), Peggy Marshall (Bar lady), Michael Graham Cox (Alan), Christopher Banks (Vicar).
Ryan Electric Products move a research team led by Peter Brock into the old mansion of Taskerlands to search for a new recording medium. In an old storage room, Jill Greeley, a computer programmer, sees a shadowy figure fall from some steps. Realising they have a ghost, the team set about using the latest technology to analyse the phenomena
Broadcast: 2125 - 2255
Repeated: 2nd October 1973 2100 - 2230
Back to the Quatermass Home Page