Category Archives: Science fiction

Crowdfunding a UK sci-fi movie: The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

Bob Pipe at Soho Theatre Bar yesterday

Bob Pipe in alien invasion mode at Soho Theatre yesterday

Six degrees of separation, eh?

Matt Roper, who performs as the singer Wilfredo, is living in my spare room for another couple of weeks.

I was talking to TV and video producer/director Bob Pipe at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday and the fact that Bob recently directed the video for Wilfredo’s Christmas song (out soon) never came up because neither of us twigged that we had Matt in common.

Bob was talking to me about raising money for his feature film project The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

“We’re making a 90 minute version of our web series,” he told me. “We’ve written a first draft a lot of which encompasses the sketches from the web series. James Wren (of the Hen & Chickens theatre) is co-writing and co-producing it with me. Now we’re crowdfunding to get the development money – £13,586 – so we can hire a line producer and a script editor or script doctor.”

“Is there a market for 1950s-style sci-fi?” I asked.

The Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

“I think people do want the unexpected,” said Bob. “I mean, The Artist won Oscars – that was a silent movie in black & white – and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was successful. I think there still is a market for honing old tropes.

The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! will have modern CGI special effects, a modern style of acting, modern editing. There won’t be wobbly sets!”

“So it’s not really a pastiche,” I said.

“No. It’s not going to be a parody or a spoof.”

“More like,” I suggested, “Star Wars, which was not a parody but an homage to 1930s sci-fi serials?”

“On a lower budget! But, yes. The web series is very much in that vein. With humour.”

“So the film comes out of the web series of the same name…”

“Yes, we did the original web series for £16,000 for a production company called ChannelFlip – part of Shine. YouTube were funding production companies to create original content and ChannelFlip was one of 10 or 12 who were given £1 million each to create original channels. What ChannelFlip pitched was The Multiverse, with sort-of sci-fi home of geek content and I heard about this and pitched the idea to them of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and they said Oh, We want to do a 1950s sci fi alien invasion spoof! So they gave me £16,000 to make it.”

“How long did you have to make it? ” I asked.

“From commission, they gave me three weeks to supply a trailer. They wanted two trailers and then a series of ten episodes of 3-4 minutes. They wanted the trailers before the series, which was a challenge.”

“And then?”

“I made the first trailer. Then Warwick Davis saw it. ChannelFlip had him as an ‘ambassador’ for Multiverse to publicise their business. He loved it and asked if he could be in it, so I wrote a role specially for him. We shot all his stuff in one day up in Peterborough.”

“Showbiz is a glamorous world,” I said. “How did you start?”

“When I was in college, around 1998/1999, I did a HND in Media Production at North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design and our end-of-year project was to make short films. I made a 5 minute short version of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! back in 1999. I didn’t have access to proper actors and I had just watched Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and thought: I can do that!

“Then I started in TV as a runner and worked my way up to AP level – at North One and ITV. North One created the ‘list’ format.”

“Things like TV’s 100 Funniest Hats?” I asked.

“Yes. I worked on a lot of those shows. I worked for Endemol as a researcher on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.

We thought - perhaps wrongly - it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a small milk jug

We thought – perhaps wrongly – it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a milk jug to promote his science fiction film

“At Warner, in 2007, I co-set-up a comedy website called Comedy Box – record sales were going down and Warner were looking for new areas to invest in. We got John Lloyd in to be our figurehead, much like Warwick Davis was for ChannelFlip. We ran Comedy Box for a year – five sketches every week – but we couldn’t find revenue; this was only a year after YouTube had been set up.

“We were about to fold everything up and then MySpace came along – do you remember MySpace? They were setting up MySpace Comedy so they bought all our archive and we became their production company to supply original content. At that point, we went away from the John Lloyd esque sketches into more prank reality stuff. But, then, again, that part of MySpace folded in a year.

“And I’ve been freelancing ever since working on things like The Matt Lucas Awards – I did behind-the-scenes stuff for that; Dick and Dom’s Funny Business. I was a digital producer on The Voice this year – creating the content for their social media sites and producing  the highlights show The Voice Louder on BBC iPlayer and YouTube.

“So why 1950s science fiction films?” I asked.

One of Bob’s inspirations

One of Bob’s 1950s movie inspirations

“I’m a big fan. Films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet. And when I was growing up, on TV it was the era of Red Dwarf, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“Your interest,” I asked, “was in American B films, as opposed to British ones like Hammer and the Quatermasses.”

“Well, there’s a writer called Phil Whelans who used to write on The 11 O’Clock Show and be in Bill Bailey’s band and he runs an evening called Grand Theft Impro.

“When we made the web series last year, he brought an Englishness to The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and suggested we go for a more Quatermass kind of feel. He plays a Quatermass kind of doctor character in the web series: much more stoical than American.

“The challenge is trying to make a 1950s alien invasion movie applicable to the modern market. Do you remember the The Comic Strip Presents films with loads of celebrity cameos? There will be four or five strands running through our feature film, peppered with celebrity cameos.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for it?” I asked.

“Our tagline is ALIEN INVASIONS REALLY SUCK.”

“What cost over-all?”

“We think between £250,000 to £500,000 but, if we get in some script doctor who has worked on major films and a great line producer… At the moment, the production company is The Forgery Club which is also a comedy night we run  – a sketch, character and themed night.”

“How much have you raised so far?”

“We’ve raised £3,602 at the moment.”

“Out of £13,586…. When does the Indiegogo crowdfunding end?”

“Next Tuesday, December 2nd. Hopefully, with some private investors I know and this production company, I think we’re going to make it.”

There is a 30-minute compilation version of the web series on Vimeo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crowdfunding, Internet, Movies, Science fiction

Comic performer John Henry Falle on being an alien and an aspiring wizard

The Beta Males with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

The Beta Males comedy troupe with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

Yesterday, my blog was about the rise of storytelling nights in the UK – I was talking to comedians Matt Price/Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre in London. About two minutes after they left, John Henry Falle wandered past. He is a quarter of The Beta Males comedy group and 100% of The Story Beast.

My first words were:

“We should have a chat.”

And then:

“You are always taking your clothes off.”

“That did come up in your blog at some point.” said John Henry and then, apparently jokingly, “It’s possibly a way of… eh… dealing with any body dysmorphia I might ever have had.”

“The Beta Males are still going strong,” I said.

“Yes, we’re all doing little bits and pieces. We did half an hour each at the Edinburgh Fringe and I was doing my character The Story Beast, which is modern-day bardolatry. I tell the old stories in new ways and new stories in old ways. I want it to be three things. A cross between Ziggy Stardust, Tom Baker as Doctor Who and John Hurt as The Storyteller. They were all big influences on me.”

“I was talking earlier,” I said, “to Matt Price and Michael Kossew about their evenings at the Camden Head.”

“That’s where I first got naked,” said John Henry. “Well, in public.”

“They do storytelling,” I said.

“It’s the oldest art form,” said John Henry, “and it does appear to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment. There are fewer gag merchants around and more storytellers.”

“The Story Beast tells new stories in old ways?” I asked.

“At the moment,” said John Henry, “I’m writing a load of poems about internet memes and YouTube videos, but in a heightened mock-heroic style.”

“And,” I asked, “you tell old stories in new ways?”

Beowulf is all told in gibberish.”

“Well,” I said. No change there.”

“But,” added John Henry, “there are references to Ray Winstone and the Beowulf film.

“I think,” I said, “I saw you at Jorik Mol’s Comedian’s Bookshelf evening doing… was it Beowulf?”

John Henry as The Story Beast

John Henry is The Story Beast but not the Son of Beowulf

“That’s my showpiece at the moment for The Story Beast,” said John Henry. “I failed Beowulf and, indeed, the whole of Old English as a language in my first year at university, but I always loved the story of Beowulf, even if I didn’t have a hang of the language.”

“You have a good voice for telling heroic sagas,” I suggested.

“It’s all about the resonance,” explained John Henry. “My dad was a… you call it a barrister here. He is an advocate in Jersey. So he taught me to project my voice.”

“Heavens!” I told him, relieved. “When you said ‘you call it a barrister here’ I thought you were going to reveal you were an alien from Mars.”

“That’s the way I do see myself as a Jerseyman,” replied John Henry. “I’m very much an alien in this country.”

“Years ago,” I told him, “I interviewed Nigel Kneale, who wrote Quatermass. He was from the Isle of Man and he thought it had made him a better writer, because he was ‘British’ but, at the same time, was not British, so he could view things simultaneously as an outsider and an insider.”

John Henry perked up at talk of Nigel Neale.

“In the three Quatermasses,” he said, “Nigel Kneale wrote the three basic types of science fiction… We go to them… They come to us… and They’ve been here all along. You can almost pop every sci-fi story into that.”

“You like sci-fi?” I asked.

“Science fiction and fantasy. I was a big Doctor Who fan.”

“Who was your Doctor?” I asked.

JohnHenryFalle2

John Henry, suspiciously alien-like, at Soho Theatre this week

“I was in the dead space,” said John Henry. “It wasn’t on TV.

“Someone who must have hated me gave me, when I was seven, a Doctor Who video – Time and The Rani, which is a terrible story.

“It’s the one where Sylvester McCoy regenerates after falling off an exercise bike. It’s really bad, but I fell unconditionally in love with it.”

“You must like the superhero films,” I suggested.

“Oh the Marvel films, certainly,” said John Henry, “once they became this on-going serial.”

“So you sat in Jersey…” I prompted.

“… believing I was some sort of wizard,” said John Henry. “Growing up with Harry Potter.”

“You could still become a wizard even now,” I said. “You have a beard.”

“Some. It was my girlfriend’s birthday recently and I decided I would cut off most of my beard and most of my hair and try to look a bit presentable for her dad.”

“What does she do?”

“She teaches English Literature.”

Beowulf and Old English?”

“No. She did her PhD on English travel literature from EM Forster to the present. Stories about Britishness abroad. Ideas of the Englishman as an alien.”

“More aliens,” I said. “But your beard still says ‘wizard’ to me.”

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and stick

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and staff

“I’m a big Alan Moore fan,” admitted John Henry, “and he walks around with a giant snake-headed staff, worshipping a snake god called Glycon who was revealed to be a sock puppet in the 6th century. The idea is you know magic is all nonsense, but you go after it and you try and make it happen.”

“So,” I said, “when you were a kid in Jersey, did you ever want to be a comedy performer?”

“I wanted to be a Time Lord wizard superhero.”

“With power over people?”

“I was terribly bullied. I don’t know if that fits this profile of the loner child who is in love with science fiction, but… I think kids nowadays are quite lucky in that things like Harry Potter and Doctor Who are in the mainstream. I don’t know what lonely children are like now particularly, but there’s enough room for them on the internet and the culture at large to provide them with something.

“I used to love The Hulk, who was so angry and repressed that he would become this immense creature and I always felt an affinity with him. And I think my dad quite liked him too because my dad was a body builder when he was younger.”

“And then he became a barrister,” I said. “Is there much connection between being a barrister and a wizard?”

“There is a legal spell in Jersey.,” said John Henry. “The Clameur de Haro. If someone is encroaching on your property or on common land, you say to them in front of witnesses: Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort. which means Hear me! Hear me! Hear me! Help me, Duke Rollo! Wrong is being done unto me. And then you recite the Lord’s Prayer in Jersey-Norman French and they have to stop what they’re doing or they go to prison. That’s an interesting spell. A bit of ancient Norman custom which is still there as part of the legal system in Jersey. My dad has brought three of those cases in the past 20 years.”

“What do they speak in Jersey?” I asked. “A sort on Norman-French-Scandinavian? Where were the Normans from anyway? They’re not French.”

“They had close connections to the kings of Norway,” John Henry told me. “So around 1066, when Jersey conquered England, there was a Harold Hardrada who was King of Norway who was also trying to get his greasy mitts on England, but only William had the proper claim and a mass of army. I’m intensely proud of Jersey. I love it deeply.”

“It’s an interesting thing,” I suggested, “like Nigel Kneale having an outsider’s insider view of Britain.”

John Henry or the Pret a Manger cup: which is more alien

John Henry and a Pret a Manger coffee cup sit in the Soho Theatre Bar: which is more alien?

“I do feel a certain alien-ness as a Jewish Jerseyman,” said John Henry. “I’m too Jewish for Jersey and too Jersey to be here and too odd an atheist around my Jewish family in North London.”

John Henry’s mother is Jewish from North London. His father is a Jerseyman.

“But maybe it’s a cultivated alien-ness,” said John Henry. “You choose who you are and I’ve decided to be an alien in London and in Jersey too. Or, looking at it another way, I can choose to be accepted in three communities and can pass for whatever I want to be within those communities. That’s a pleasure.”

“So,” I said, “whither John Henry now?”

“The Story Beast. I’m starting to do some proper YouTube videos and have one already – All The Kings and Queens of England. And I’m in a new Horrible Histories film – shot it in March, coming out next February. It’s called Bill and is a comedy about William Shakespeare. I’m a Spanish assassin: one of a load of Spanish assassins trying to kill Queen Elizabeth. I got a fight sequence with Damian Lewis; I was supposed to get a head butt from him.”

“And after that?” I asked.

“I don’t know what The Story Beast will do. Either I will become incredibly successful or I will go out onto a moor or a barrow somewhere and just freeze to death and be buried with my various accoutrements – my swords and wands.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Fantasy, Performance, Science fiction, Writing

Writer Nigel Kneale: one visionary’s view in a pre-Margaret-Thatcher world

Nigel Kneale (1922-2006). So it goes.

Nigel Kneale talked on the eve of Thatcherism

In a couple of blogs this week, I have posted extracts from a 1979 interview I did with writer Nigel Kneale, creator of the Quatermass TV serials. This is the concluding extract. The interview took place after Thames TV (via their subsidiary Euston Films) had produced the fourth Quatermass serial titled simply Quatermass (aka The Quatermass Conclusion). As you read the end of this interview, also bear in mind that it took place very shortly after Margaret Thatcher was elected UK Prime Minister. So the thinking is still based in the UK’s immediately pre-Thatcherite world.


Several projects you have worked on have folded.

Well, one of the first ones was when I was working with Ken Tynan again. We were going to do what would have been the last Ealing Studios film – Lord of The Flies. We were going to do that on a big scale, but Ealing folded. Then it became a property just lying about and Peter Brook decided to do it his own way (in his 1963 film) and simply stuck to the book. It is a very clever book, but very narrow. It seems to me to emerge as a satire on the public school system. We tried to get away from that and make it into a satire on people in general. I drafted a whole lot of girls into it: this was received with horror. Only girls – and children who were from a secondary modern school. They were not all trotting straight out of Westminster School.

I thought, otherwise, what are you saying about the state of humanity? You’re saying that children who come from Westminster School are innately a bit naughty. That’s all. Which seemed not to be sufficient comment on the state of mankind. Nor did it seem so to Ken Tynan. So we expanded it, but then there were squeaks of horror from other quarters. For me it worked and still does; it would have been, I think, a much better film.

Another project which folded, of course, was Quatermass IV which was originally going to be produced by BBC TV.

The previous Quatermasses had always been rather attached to their time. So the one in 1973 was to be of an impending social disaster, because there were signs of it. Then the oil crisis hit and it would have had even greater relevance. But it didn’t get made for a variety of reasons… including Stonehenge.

That was the one final, crucial complication. I had lightly written in Stonehenge because my last visit to it had seemed to make it very possible. What I hadn’t realised was that, in the interim, it had become big business and the place was like a factory with tourists there from dawn to dusk. It was the pride of the Department of the Environment and they were not going to let anyone go near it.

Stonehenge (Photograph by Diego Delso)

Stonehenge scuppered BBC TV’s planned Quatermass IV (Photograph by Diego Delso)

But it would have been possible to build a polystyrene Stonehenge.

Well, it would have taken a longer time in planning than we had at our disposal and there were budget problems.

What budget problems?

Well, it would have been VERY expensive. It really would have been. I can see their problems, having watched Thames TV go through the same agony.

Was the script the same as the Euston Films script?

No, it’s quite a bit different. For one thing, it’s now a film version entirely. At that time (1973), the great problem was to get as much of it as possible into TV studios because, in BBC terms, it is always cheaper. And, of course, it’s the sort of story that doesn’t very easily go into the studio.

It was lying around for a couple of years and Thames expressed interest in doing it and then it was a matter of finding exactly what form it could best be done in. And that was this dual format of a TV four-episoder (Quatermass) and a film (The Quatermass Conclusion) made out of the same material – which is very difficult to handle.

What did you think when you first heard of this format idea?

Well, I wasn’t crazy about it, because you feel you are either going to pad the long one or murder the short one.

The Thames TV production of the fourth Quatermass serial

The Thames TV/Euston Films production

So how did you resolve the problem?

I was very careful not to pad, because I knew that was the obvious thing, but to write in material which could be removed.

At a certain point, you can allow it to go in either Direction A or Direction B.

Direction A will take you into a kind of loop which will bring it back to where it joins Direction B and you just exclude the loop. That is not padding. It’s an apparently essential piece of action and it’s a perfectly legitimate part of the story, but you can do without it.

You wrote two separate scripts?

Yes, but that was only as far as one could guess. Because, as none of it had been shot, one could not tell what would actually work out best; some things paid off better than we’d ever thought.

How involved were you?

At that stage, I was busy doing the book version, which is radically different from the film.

The plot is different?

Considerably. We had three versions on the go – a novel which, I think, will read as though it was the prior piece. The TV version. And finally the cinema version, which is the shortest and meagrest telling of the story. So trying to juggle these three together could be extremely confusing.

So the book is a stand-alone novel rather than a novelisation?

Well, it was certainly intended to be. Because a novelisation is a cheapie thing of just changing the dialogue and putting ‘He said’ in front of it. Whereas this tries to explain the whole of Quatermass’ life way back beyond where any of the TV shows started. His family life, which we never see anything of in the others.

Did you always have these background details in your mind?

No. I think I worked it back logically. What it must have been.

This Quatermass sounds more pessimistic than the others.

Well, I don’t think it is really, not by the end. I think it’s got quite a lot of balancing material. The people are nice and it’s all about the people.

Thames TV Quatermass

The human race is being harvested

The police are mercenaries.

Well, our police have gone and they’ve hired very nasty people instead. In the book, I’ve clarified that – a thing which only began as a hint in the TV version – that they’re (white) South African mercenaries. I thought that was the most likely source. I think it’s quite probable, by a development of events there, that they make it too hot for themselves and they’d be all too ready to offer themselves as a mercenary force.

We have a complete breakdown (of Society in the story) – All the social services have completely gone and there is no petrol or oil. Everything has stopped. The North Sea oil pipelines have simply ceased to exist and there is no fuel coming in. The only thing that survives is a minuscule pretence that everything is normal.

For instance, television still exists, broadcasting about two hours a day. They simply put on the last remnants of rubbish to show that everything is normal. Hardly anyone is able to view it because, for one thing, there’s hardly any electricity. It’s a continual series of power cuts and everybody’s too frightened to go out, so they sit in their houses hoping that perhaps their television set will come on.

Do you think things are actually going in that rough direction?

Well, don’t you think they might? There’s every indication of it at the moment.

So what happens? The end of Western Civilization?

It could very well be. I think there are alternatives. One is that the Arabs simply cut the juice off, knowing what will happen and being prepared to watch it happen. And then there’s the question of Will we let it happen or do we start bombing the Arabs and take ‘our’ oil back? So then what do we do? Have World War 3? Or a great technological downturn.

Is that what interested you in Quatermass? Seeing the way things are going and taking them to one possible ultimate conclusion?

Yes. The alternatives are fairly horrid. We’ve put ourselves in hock to a certain type of technology, which is oil technology. Another option is to rapidly develop nuclear power stations. But you’ve then stuck yourself with a new technology and you’re in hock to that. If anything goes wrong with that or the reactors all go critical, we’re finished and probably dead in the process. So we’re worse off.

The only safe thing is to go back to horses and carts with everybody keeping and eating rabbits and having a Stone Age technology. But that’s no real solution. We have too many people to feed.

A scene from Nigel Kneale's final Quatermass serial in 1979

A scene from Nigel Kneale’s final Quatermass serial in 1979

At the time your Year of The Sex Olympics was screened eleven years ago (1968), you were quoted as saying that, in ten years, television and computers would be taking over people’s lives.

Yes, it hasn’t moved as fast as that. Maybe it will be a technological downturn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science fiction, Television, Writing

Nigel Kneale on Quatermass and BBC TV production techniques in the 1950s

Nigel Kneale, interviewed in 1990

The great Nigel Kneale, interviewed about his career in 1990

In 1979, I interviewed Nigel Kneale, creator of the iconic and highly influential Quatermass stories.

A couple of days ago, I posted my original 1979 introduction.

This is the first half of the interview.


Rudolph Cartier was your producer on all three Quatermass serials in the 1950s and on the 1954 BBC TV production of 1984. How did you meet him?

Well he moved into the BBC at the same time I did. I realised he was a man who never took No for an answer – which is a great thing. All he needed to know was that it was practically impossible and he would immediately go off and do it. There was certainly no other director-producer who would ever have got those Quatermass things on the road.

The Quatermass Experiment monster inside Westminster Cathedral (it’s a glove puppet)

The Quatermass Experiment monster in Westminster Cathedral (a glove puppet)

In those days, television was live…

Yes. You had to have film inserts, of course, if you had an exterior scene, like someone walking through a park. The studio we shot that first Quatermass (The Quatermass Experiment) in was that old one at Alexandra Palace, where the cameras were literally the oldest electronic cameras in the world. They were the ones that were put into commission in 1936.

How did Quatermass start?

It was really an accident. They had a gap in the schedule and somebody said Oh! You must write something! So I wrote it (a six-part serial) as far as I could and it was being transmitted before I’d actually written the end of it. It was not a rave success. I dug up old notices recently and they’re quite funny because they say: This dreary programme started last night – it’s scientifically incorrect… and so on. Now, of course, it’s been transmuted into having been a great success.

Outrage was expressed in the House of Commons about the BBC’s version of 1984 with Peter Cushing & Donald Pleasance

Outrage was expressed in the House of Commons about the BBC’s version of 1984 with Peter Cushing & Donald Pleasance

You did 1984 after that.

I suppose they felt that, if we’d done one, we could do another. Technically, that was a very difficult one indeed – to get it into a studio live. (The rats scene was on film.) In a two-hour show like 1984, you would pre-film perhaps a quarter of an hour and the rest would be live, which was very heavy going.

The play caused a furore (in particular because of the horrific scene with the rats). Questions in the House of Commons.

Yes! It was a question of lying low after that one. Nothing like it had ever hit television before. They tended to use three-act stage plays and you got little intervals between the acts. Very well done and beautifully acted, but a little bit sedate. What you didn’t get was a purely television-type narrative, where you intercut in the middle of scenes: the thing that you do in any film script. That was new. And, I suppose, if one started writing in those terms, immediately the thing had far more impact.

You were interested in that technique.

I suppose I’d have liked to write films but, at that time, it was all locked up firmly in a closed shop. I could no more have got a (union) card to write film scripts than to fly. So I stuck to television.

You didn’t script the feature film version of the Quatermass Experiment?

No. There was the usual hurried deal by Hammer Pictures with some American people and they insisted on having an American actor and an American adaptor. So this chap came over who worked out some nonsense which turned my poor old Quatermass into a screaming, shouting person – probably like the last film producer he had worked for. It had no control over it at all. I still see that thing turn up and I hate it.

The feature film version of Quatermass II

The cut feature film version of Quatermass II

But you did co-script the movie of Quatermass II.

Well, there were some changes to the script – cuts – so it came out like it did.

Why the cuts?

The TV version was six half-hour episodes and they all over-ran by anything up to ten minutes. There was no way the BBC could stop us – except by taking us off the air – because we were live. We knew this and took a chance.

When you tried to compress those six episodes into a 90-minute film version, a lot had to go and too much went and the substitutions were not very clever. The characters are so cardboard you literally have to strain yourself to tell one from the other. It seems to me to be a lesson in how not to do it.

A special effects man applies titanium tetrachloride to make an actor smoke in the movie of Quatermass II

Special effects man applies titanium tetrachloride to make an actor smoke in the Quatermass II film

Quatermass II was about the evils of science…

No – not science. I’m not a bit anti-science, only occasionally some scientists. After all, old Quatermass himself is one: perhaps a bit more sensitive to his responsibilities than some. In the new serial (transmitted by Thames TV in 1979 simply as Quatermass), his main ally (Dr Joseph Kapp)  is also a research scientist. Even Kapp’s wife is a qualified archaeologist. The whole of the fourth Quatermass is about a last-ditch use of logic and dwindling technological resources, pitted against suicidal mysticism.

Quatermass II was about the evil of secrecy. It was a time when mysterious establishments were popping up: great radar establishments and nuclear establishments like Harwell and Porton Down for germ warfare. All the Quatermass things have been very much tied to their time.

Quatermass and The Pit was written at a time (1958) when there was a lot of building going on. So I thought, well, you dig down to an enormous depth and find a spaceship. Immediate recognition.

Quatermass and The Pit terrified me as a child

The BBC TV’s Quatermass and The Pit terrified me as a child

It absolutely terrified me when I saw it as a kid on television.

Well, we always really aimed at an adult audience for these things. And we hoped that the kiddies would be in bed. It was made very clear that this was not for children. I don’t mind frightening adults. They can take it. But not small children, simply because they haven’t the resources of fact in them to sort out what’s real and what’s unreal.

If a little six-year-old is confronted with some nightmare situation, that little creature is at the mercy of all your special effects, because he hasn’t really been in the world long enough to know what is real. And if he sees some dreadful thing – an apparition appearing out of the floor – he’s not to know that it’s been made by Jack Kine and Bernard Wilkie (of BBC Visual Effects). He thinks it may really happen to him and it may happen in his bedroom tonight. That’s not a thing to play with.

Do you find that Quatermass is an albatross around your neck?

Well, a little bit. It’s like an actor being in a series: you get stuck with the image. But I think the worst thing is what people expect things to be – the word ‘horror’. The Quatermasses were never meant to be ‘horror’ stories. There’s more humour than horror in them, I hope – certainly that applies to this new one.

The stars of Beasts - with a non-beast in the middle

Beasts – with (in middle) a non-beast

I liked your Beasts stories for ATV.

I liked them very much indeed.

There weren’t actually any beasts in them.

No! That was the trick! That you would never SEE a beast.

The series had very ordinary settings: a supermarket, a living room.

I always feel that the most interesting ‘strange’ thing has to have an ordinary setting. Once you have Dracula’s castle, it’s totally dead: you’ve just brought in a huge, tatty, cobweb-hung cliché. Whereas, if it just happens in somebody’s house, in a room like this, in my living room, then it can be very upsetting indeed.

The Thames TV production of the fourth Quatermass serial

Thames TV production of 1979 Quatermass serial aka The Quatermass Conclusion

There was a psychological strangeness in your play The Road.

Oh, it’s a favourite of mine. It’s only a little play, but it’s interesting. It’s set in the 18th century, but with a group of people doing what they imagine to be a scientific investigation – trying to bring rational minds to bear in The Age of Reason on what appears to be a haunting in a wood. Terrible noises are heard, which are extremely upsetting.

What they’re actually hearing is a motorway in our time on which a huge traffic jam has occurred, caused by people trying to escape from thermonuclear war. It ends with a nuclear blast which has actually blown itself back in time to the 18th century and produced a kind of back-reflection, a ripple. So these people have no conception of what they are hearing… The terrified voices on the motorway, people trying to escape… It’s all completely recognisable to us: it’s all in our terms. But they don’t know what it means.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Television, Writing

Nigel Kneale: Manx writer of intelligent British Isles horror and science fiction

Nigel Kneale (1922-2006). So it goes.

Nigel Kneale, writer (1922-2006). So it goes. (Photograph by Mark Gudgeon)

When I recently chatted to writer Chris Lincé about science fiction and horror, inevitably the writer Nigel Kneale came up in conversation.

Chris is a fan of the movie Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) which I have never seen, largely because Nigel Kneale felt the producers had butchered his script. Chris thinks it remains a fascinating script (which has nothing whatever to do with the two previous Halloween films) because Nigel Kneale is such a fascinatingly original writer.

Yesterday I saw that, in London, the National Film Theatre’s October programme says they are screening both Nigel Kneale’s 1954 BBC TV version of George Orwell’s 1984 and the recently rediscovered (with 10 minutes missing) 1965 BBC TV version.

In 1979, I interviewed Nigel Kneale for Starburst magazine. I talked to him at his home. He was 57 at that time, slightly deaf and spinning off fantastically original plot ideas just in general conversation. He died in 2006, aged 84. So it goes.

This is the introduction to that 1979 interview.


Thomas Nigel Kneale was born in England by accident, but he’s really a Manxman. His father owned a newspaper on the Isle of Man and young Nigel was brought up on the inward-looking island which is part of, and yet apart from, the rest of the British Isles.

He tried being a lawyer on the island, then went to London’s RADA for a couple of years, followed by twelve months in Stratford as an actor. But he decided he was really a writer.

He had started writing in his early teens and, in 1950, his book Tomato Cain and Other Stories won the Somerset Maugham Award. However, it was as a screenwriter that he became famous.

He joined BBC TV in the early 1950s and worked initially on children’s programmes at a time when very little material was specially written for TV. He stayed on at the Corporation for about five years, working in a wide variety of departments – music, documentary, comedy and drama.

The Quatermass Xperiment was a Hammer horror

The Quatermass Xperiment was a Hammer horror in 1954

His big television breakthrough came in 1953 with a six-part story The Quatermass Experiment, which was filmed by Hammer Films the following year as The Quatermass Xperiment (US title: The Creeping Unknown).

More furore was caused, though, by his BBC TV adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, which resulted in an outcry over the horror of the ‘rat’ scene. That was in 1954.

He followed it in 1955 by Quatermass II, another six-part BBC TV serial filmed by Hammer in 1956 as Quatermass 2 (US title: Enemy From Space). Hammer also brought his 1956 television drama The Creature to the big screen in 1957 as The Abominable Snowman (US title: The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas), but it took them until 1967 to film his 1958 TV success Quatermass and The Pit.

By the late 1950s, Kneale was identified as a science fiction writer and so it was with relief that he broke this typecasting by writing the film version of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960). He continued to write extensively for both TV and films.

His film work as an adaptor included First Men in the Moon (1964) and, in 1966, The Witches (US title: The Devil’s Own) although in neither case did he have any control over the end result. His TV work included The Road (1963), The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), Wine of India (1970) and The Stone Tape (1972), all for the BBC.

In 1973, the BBC planned to make his new story Quatermass IV, but the project collapsed. His excellent six-part series Beasts was made by ATV in 1976 but the next year the company dropped his 90-minute play about a Manx slave trader one week before the rehearsals began – because of rapidly escalating scenery costs, of all things.

Time Out’s representation of John Mills in Quatermass (1979)

John Mills starred in Quatermass IV (1979)

In 1978, Thames TV resurrected Quatermass IV and their film-making subsidiary Euston Films  turned it into a £1 million TV series/feature film The Quatermass Conclusion (transmitted as simply Quatermass aka Quatermass IV in 1979 and directed by Piers Haggard, a great-grand-nephew of writer Rider Haggard).

Kneale found the name Quatermass  by glancing through a telephone directory, but that is about the only random factor in the work of a writer whose highly-visual plots and ideas are tightly-controlled, constantly fascinating and always intelligent. Piers Haggard says: “Kneale is the best science fiction writer in Britain.”

… CONTINUED HERE

2 Comments

Filed under Horror, Movies, Science fiction, Television, Writing

A rather sad Space Precinct legacy for Thunderbirds producer Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson in his Pinewood office in 1979

Gerry Anderson in Pinewood office, 1979

In the film industry, there is a long tradition of chisellers, cheats, conmen and crooks. Put this together with lower TV budgets, a morally decent producer and a British TV production company trying to create an expensive-for-TV, glossy sci-fi series made for both the US and UK markets (which have differing expectations) and shot at a major British film studio and you have a recipe both for major production problems and an almost certainly tragic sitcom.

In 1979, I chatted to TV producer Gerry Anderson at Pinewood Studios during one of several low points in his life.

I reprinted parts of the interview in three blogs back in January last year

Seven years after I had that chat with him, in 1986, Gerry Anderson produced a 55-minute TV pilot film entitled Space Police.

Shane Rimmer (right) in Space Police pilot

Shane Rimmer (right) in original Space Police pilot

The pilot featured Anderson regular Shane Rimmer as a New York cop called Brogan. The series failed to sell and the pilot was never aired.

Fast forward another eight years and, in 1994, Gerry got together with Mentorn TV boss Tom Gutteridge. They re-styled the Space Police concept and made an ill-fated series called Space Precinct with Ted Shackelford as Brogan.

The new Space Precinct documentary

The Space Precinct Legacy documentary

Last night, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, I attended what was rather grandly called the ‘world premiere’ screening of Space Precinct Legacy, a 90-minute documentary on the troubled making of the Space Precinct series.

Space Precinct was conceived as a cop series set in space, where “instead of the usual run-of-the-mill baddies, you’ve got aliens as baddies”. It centred on the adventures of New York cop Brogan, transferred to take care of trouble on a distant planet filled with cops and baddies wearing prosthetic heads. Animatronics inside the heads made the eyes move.

Expectations were high but were slowly dashed as the production progressed.

Last night, the documentary’s director Paul Cotrulia explained: “We tried to keep it as honest a telling of the making of Space Precinct as we could without getting sued.”

During the production of the Space Precinct series, there were problems with the US distributor who had claimed to have pre-sold the series across the nation in peaktime slots (a necessity to actually finance the series). In fact, in the US, the series tended to be scheduled in early morning kids slots or very late night graveyard slots with far lower advertising returns.

At one point, Tom Gutteridge had to borrow £2 million to continue shooting the series himself when money from the US backers stopped and twelve US lawyers flew over to the UK to try to get out of the watertight contract signed by the backers.

The backers backed down and continued to finance the show, though presumably through gritted teeth.

US and UK dramatic needs varied

The US and UK markets required incompatible drama types

There was a fundamental problem because of the differing tastes and expectations of US and UK audiences. The  Americans wanted darker adult drama for peaktime screening. The British wanted twinkle-in-the-eye knowing humour.

Executive producer Tom Gutteridge says:

“If there had been a second series, we would have had to have decided precisely what the show was that we were making. If we were making an American show just for America – which is really what we should have done – it would have been a completely different animal and I’m not absolutely convinced that Gerry Anderson would have been the hands-on producer.

“I think it would have been creatively very different. We would have had a much clearer, stronger, probably darker vision. The humour would have been more consistent all the way through, there would have been fewer – better – writers. There would have been a single voice and that voice I don’t think would have been Gerry Anderson’s… if there had been a second series.”

The Space Precinct title logo

The Space Precinct on-screen title logo

In retrospect, he thinks there was not enough money, certainly not enough time and that more money should have been put into special effects and less into “lining some people’s pockets”.

Other people involved in the production agree that the series was, partly, scuppered by “jobs for the boys” and dodgy geezers.

One seemingly generally-held opinion was that: “Gerry was listening to all the wrong people – his friends or his trusted allies – and that was a mistake… There were just a handful of people there who were taking the money and running – lining their pockets as fast as possible.”

Jamie Anderson, Gerry’s son, said after the screening last night:

Christine Glanville (left) and Mary Turner on Gerry Anderson’s series Four Feather Falls

Christine Glanville (left) and Mary Turner working on an early Gerry Anderson puppet series Four Feather Falls

“I was ten years old. I just had an amazing time, but I remember being sat awkwardly trying to ignore a conversation in which Christine Glanville who had worked from the very beginning as a puppeteer – right from the start – and had been with dad all the way through his various shows… She said she felt really let down by some members of the crew.

“Up until that point, in every show they’d worked on, there had been a real close-knit family feel and all-of-a-sudden there were a few people there who did seem to be lining their pockets and were just happy to do sub-standard work. Even as a ten year old I could pick that up.”

Even now, there might seem to be a bit of a curse on anything to do with the Space Precinct series.

Director Paul Cotrulia at the premiere last night

Director Paul Cotrulia at premiere last night

Last night, the documentary’s director Paul Cotrulia told me: “My production company and my business partners were very keen to do a Space Precinct re-boot and we explored that idea for some time with Mentorn – developing script outlines – then, halfway through the documentary and developing the (new) show, Mentorn said Oh, actually, by the way, we only own the UK rights to Space Precinct. So you’re not going to be able to sell this project internationally. So it came to a halt.”

There are no clips from the Space Precinct series in the documentary.

Paul Cotrulia explained to me: “About halfway through production (of the documentary), Mentorn told us they didn’t get buy-out contracts from the actors, which meant that we would have had to pay those actors their original fee again just to use a clip. It would have cost too much. The same with the music. I love the music, but EMI wanted an enormous amount of money and we had to be realistic about our projections of how the documentary would perform with just releasing it in the UK.”

A sad legacy for the late Gerry Anderson.

3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Science fiction, Television

Late producer Gerry Anderson on his TV success, movie catastrophes and the state of pre-Thatcher Britain

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Yesterday, British TV and film producer Gerry Anderson died, aged 83.

Back in the media mists of 1979, I interviewed him. This was just  two years after Margaret Thatcher was elected for her first term as British Prime Minister. Earlier this year, I posted the interview in three of my daily blogs.

Below, those three blogs are combined, in their original, unchanged 1979 form.

* * *

Producer Gerry Anderson is best known for Thunderbirds and Space 1999, but his career dates back 23 years; it includes thirteen TV series and three feature films. For sixteen of those years, he worked for the expansive (Lord) Lew Grade, boss of ATV and its subsidiary ITC. The ending of that long working relationship seems to have left at least a trace of bitterness.

Anderson is a Londoner. He was born on 14th April 1929 in West Hampstead and educated in Kilburn, then Neasden – “I lived in Neasden,” he says. “What can I say? I can’t deny it.” His father supplied cigarette machines which ordinary people kept in their living rooms. The business was literally run from a cupboard under the stairs. Anderson Sr acquired customers by knocking on doors and asking: “Would you like this French-polished cigarette machine in your house?”

One of young Gerry’s first ambitions was to be an architect. In fact, he says, he would still like to design his own house but, whenever he’s had the money, he’s had no time… and whenever he’s had time he’s had no money. In his early days, he went to Building School and studied plastering. However, after an accident, he discovered he was allergic to plaster. So he went to work in a photographer’s studio in Regent Street and became interested in the visual medium.

He soon moved on to the post-war Colonial Film Unit at the Ministry of Information. He says that was “when we still had a British Empire – Before Lew Grade bought it all”. After that, Anderson moved to Gainsborough Pictures (at what is now BBC Lime Grove Studios). He worked in the cutting rooms on The Wicked Lady, So Long at The Fair, Jancy, Caravan and various other movies.

At this point, he was called up for National Service with the RAF and (he claims) his IQ was so low he “was offered the choice of the cookhouse or the military police”. In fact, he became a radio telephone operator, guiding aeroplanes in to land – this started his interest in flying.

After military service, he returned to the film industry and worked as a sound editor at Pinewood Studios, where director Lewis Milestone gave him the advice: “It’s impossible to please everybody, so please yourself”.

Anderson says: “I’ve tried to follow that advice without any success at all.”

Spreading his wings, he went to a small company, Polytechnic Films of Maidenhead. He worked for them on a series of documentaries about unusual people – a man in Austria who lived for a year in a bottle… a woman who could type in ten languages simultaneously… a man who hypnotised crocodiles. The series was called You’ve Never Seen This. No-one did; the company went bankrupt.

He stayed in Maidenhead to form AP Films with Arthur Provis in 1955. Their premises were a disused ballroom at Islet Park and, eventually, they were commissioned to make a 52-part series for the newly-created ITV. It was only after they agreed to the project that Anderson and Provis discovered it was to be a puppet series: The Adventures of Twizzle. This led to Torchy The Battery Boy, then Four Feather Falls for Granada TV (with Nicholas Parsons as the voice of Tex Tucker).

These series proved a success, so the Anderson company moved to a factory on the Slough Industrial Trading Estate. There they made Supercar for Lew Grade’s ATV. That was followed by Fireball XL-5, the only Anderson series to be networked in the US. Following that success, Lew Grade told Anderson: “I am going to buy your company”.

First series after the take-over was Stingray, which was also the first British TV film series made in colour. Then there was the world-wide success of Thunderbirds. Followed by what Anderson calls the “tragic error” of Captain Scarlet. – The heads and bodies were made in realistic proportion to each other, so the puppets stopped being caricatures and this, he thinks, was unacceptable to the viewers. Anderson’s last two Supermarionation series were Joe 90 and The Secret Service. He then went into live-action with UFOThe Protectors and Space 1999.

But, for all this success, Gerry Anderson is not a totally happy man. He’s had great success and everyone can understand success. But he’s also had sudden commercial failures which, to this day, he cannot explain. Also, three years ago, his marriage to Sylvia Anderson broke up. It happened between the two series of Space 1999 – a show which itself must have been tiring because of the much-publicised production and front-office problems.

Since then, in his own words, he has been “marking time”. His company Gerry Anderson Marketing currently has the lucrative European merchandising rights to pop group Abba. Last year, he also made a Supermarionation TV ad Alien Attack for Jif Dessert Topping – the only ad he has done apart from three award-winning ones for Blue Cars (a travel agent) in the late 1950s.

I interviewed Gerry Anderson in his office at Pinewood, the studios where he worked after National Service and where Space 1999 was shot. He is a surprisingly quiet man who is very polite and whose apparent policy in interviews is to be as helpful, honest and open as possible. He talks quietly and reasonably slowly, as if choosing his words carefully. Presumably, he is a man made wary by a great deal of contact with media corporations. He worked with Lew Grade and ATV/ITC for sixteen years and, as he says, “sometimes it’s better to be a big cog in a small machine, rather than a small cog in a big machine.”

* * *

At last year’s Fantasy Film Convention, you said Thunderbirds was the highlight of your career to date.

Well, I think I would probably stand by that statement. When I was making Thunderbirds, it was not the highlight of my career. It was a terrible chore with horrible little puppets whose strings kept on breaking and whose eyes went cross-eyed and it constantly shortened my life. We got very little footage in the bag every day. It was a long, laborious, painful process. There were many films that didn’t work and were weeks in the cutting rooms being repaired and new shots being made.

So, at the time, I think my attitude was that puppets were a pain and the quicker I get out of this the better. But, looking back, people would say: “Gerry Anderson – Thunderbirds,” and there would immediately be a crowd wanting autographs. That series brought me real fame. I think it did more for me than anything before or since.

Lew Grade of ATV, who commissioned it, changed his mind about the format, didn’t he?

I think really what happened is that he ordered a half-hour show and, when we delivered the pilot, it was such a fast-moving, unusual and action-packed show that he obviously screened it to a few people and somebody must have said, “What a shame it isn’t an hour!” So he called me up and said: “Can you turn it into an hour?” And I said: “Look! We’ve completed the first one. We’ve got eight more shot. We’ve got about six more scripted! My God!” But he has a marvellous way with him inasmuch as he puts his arm round you and says: “Y’know, Gerry, I have such faith in you! I know that if I told you it meant a lot to me, you somehow or other would do it.” How can you resist that? So we did it.

And the three US Networks bid for it, but didn’t screen it.

I was not present at the meetings. I have never been involved in the sale of the programmes and therefore I don’t know the whole story. But certainly Lew went to America and came back with two of the three Networks having made an offer for it. When he got back to London Airport, he was tannoyed and when he went to the telephone it was the other Network saying they wanted to bid for it as well. I don’t know what happened, but the deal fell through.

Since this is going into print, I can only speculate. Whether he asked too much money or whether they had second thoughts or whether there are some politics I’m simply not aware of… I don’t know the reason, but I know that one Network dropped out and then, of course, panic set in – “I wonder why they’ve dropped out!” – and the next one went and then BANG all three went. And that was tragic. I say tragic for me – I mean, it must have been tragic for Lew. Let’s face it, he must have been bitterly upset about it.

You made two Thunderbirds feature films which seemed to be quite successful.

They weren’t successful. They were terrible failures.

How did they get financial backing?

Lew had made Thunderbirds Are Go on spec. United Artists saw it and picked it up immediately. They were so impressed with the picture. David Picker who, at the time, was with United Artists, when the lights went up turned to me and said, “Whatever subject you want to make, Mr Anderson, it’s yours.”

When it went out for its premiere, Piccadilly was blocked. It caused more of a stir in Piccadilly than the Abba premiere. It was a wonderful premiere and it was absolutely packed. Everybody cheered and I remember leaving the cinema and the manager said, “You get a picture like this and they start queuing up at four o’clock in the morning”. We went back to the Hilton, where they’d made all the vehicles in ice – a fabulous party. The head of UA at the time said to me, “I don’t know whether it’s going to make more money than Bond or not. I can’t decide.” I was sitting there (thinking I was) already a millionaire. I mean, all these experienced people: how could they all be wrong?

The next day, the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road (a large London cinema) had about ten people in it.

How was it promoted?

Well, I made a film called Doppelganger with Universal which had lousy promotion. But, I’ve got to be fair about this, Thunderbirds Are Go! was superbly promoted. The Dominion had all the vehicles made in fluorescent lights – a fantastic display. It was well-advertised. It went out over Christmas. But it failed. And I went to my local cinema and there were like five people in the back row and three down the front and that was it.

So why did they make Thunderbird 6?

I think the reason they made the second film was that nobody could believe that this thing had failed. They didn’t know what the mistake was but somewhere there was a mistake. Perhaps it was the wrong story. Perhaps it was released at the wrong time of year. Perhaps they built it up too much in the minds of the potential audience. I don’t know. Anyway, they had to try again. They tried again and the same thing happened!

Why did your film Doppelganger have its title changed for the American market?

Well, you know, I’m not too anxious to knock the Americans on this one. I thought Doppelganger was a fabulous title. A friend of mine thought of it and I thought it was a very, very good show, but I’m not exactly sure the Americans aren’t right inasmuch as they try very hard to get an immediacy into their titles, which gives you an idea of what it is you’re going to see. And, rightly or wrongly, they felt that the average person would not understand the title Doppelganger. So they changed it to Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

The interesting thing about the whole exercise is that I insisted that it should be called Doppelganger over here because I thought it was an interesting word and, if people didn’t understand what it meant, they would find out. It made the film sound rather unusual. But it failed in Britain and America. Which goes to prove something or other. I’m not sure what it proves, but it certainly proves something.

Doppelganger got nasty reviews. ‘Puppets without strings’ reviews.

Well, generally speaking, I think critics (pause) like to write clever lines. And some subjects make it all too easy. What a great line – “The actors are wooden… Gerry was pulling the strings” and so on. (Pause) I don’t think that their criticism was unfounded. I just think it was wildly out of proportion.

Doppelganger was live-action. You were trying the same thing on TV with UFO.

Yes.

Was that because you had saturated the market for TV puppet series? You were competing with re-runs of your own series?

Well, I think we had saturated the market and I think Lew knew that I wanted to do live-action. I think people were beginning to say, “Lew, you can do this with puppets… If you can do it with live-action… you can clean up!” And so we did UFO and, like a lot of things, it was ahead of its time. I think if it was in production today, with all these UFO sightings going on, it would be marvellous.

We had a bit of bad luck on UFO because there were a lot of sightings at the time but, when the programme was halfway through being shot, the US Army Air Force issued the findings of an inquiry they’d been conducting for about two years. And they said categorically, “There are no UFOs”. It did tend to kill interest in the subject for quite a long time.

UFO almost went into a second series, I believe.

Well, the second series was really Space: 1999.

The Space:1999 series was refused by all three US Networks despite its very high production values. Why?

I think the reason is all too clear now. (Pause) It was ‘serious’ science fiction. On the other hand, so was Star Trek. But, you know, Star Trek got away with it because of (studio) politics. A studio (Desilu) was sold to a Network (NBC) and part of the condition was that they bought Star Trek with it. Then they took it off the air and 12,000 fans – who were probably the only people who watched it in the States – went to NBC and demanded its return. And then it became a cult show. But, I mean, it never had high ratings ever. It’s a show all on its own. I think Space: 1999 suffered from being British.

It didn’t get networked in Britain either. Why do you think that was?

I don’t know the answer to that. I wish you could tell me.

Well, at the time, programme planners for regional ITV companies were very jealously guarding their control over films and film series. There was a lot of resistance over networking film series.

I really don’t know. When I see some of the rubbish that is networked…

It was shoved away into Saturday morning slots on some ITV stations.

Well, I think we were killed before we even started. If you don’t get simultaneous networking, then the newspapers aren’t interested in commenting; if they don’t comment, people don’t watch; it’s like the hoola hoola bird going in ever-decreasing circles until you disappear up your own channel.

I heard somewhere that the original stars of Space: 1999 were to have been Katharine Ross and Robert Culp.

Not Katharine Ross. Robert Culp was interviewed. We met in Beverly Hills. I’m a great fan of his because he’s a very, very competent actor and has a very great charisma. He arrived and I said, “Right, I’ll tell you what the series is about…” And he said, “Look, before you tell me what the series is about, may I say a couple of things?” So I said, “Certainly.” He said, “First of all, I am a superb actor.” And I said, “Yes. That’s why we’ve invited you here.” He said, “Fine. But what is not generally known is that I am also an outstanding writer.” So I said, “Well that, I must confess, I didn’t know.” And he said, “Finally, I am an even better director.” Now all of those statements may well be true. But, knowing what television production means, where you’ve got one picture a fortnight going through – one hour every ten days – in my view the lead artist hasn’t got the time or the physical strength to cope with leading the series and be involved with the writing and also criticise the direction.

I felt that this would be a great danger and so, very politely, I said, “Thank you very much and goodbye.” And, equally politely, he said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” We didn’t have any kind of argument. I respected his point of view. Whether he respected me, I don’t know. But the interview terminated there.

That poster on your wall is for the new Space: 1999 film , isn’t it?

Yes. I think Destination – Moonbase Alpha, is going to be damn good entertainment, particularly for people who like science fiction. What I think is a great shame is that here we have Superman on screen with its $50 million or whatever budget. Close Encounters with its $20 million budget. We’ve got some mighty expensive pictures on the screen at the moment. Even Star Wars was almost $10 million when it was made and probably now the same picture would be $25 million. With Destination – Moonbase Alpha we have two television episodes (Bringers of Wonder, Parts 1 & 2) strung together and the title reads: Sir Lew Grade Presents a Gerry Anderson Production and it doesn’t say it’s two television episodes strung together. The damage it does is that people who’ve seen all these (other) fabulous pictures now go and see that and say, “I would’ve expected something a bit better than that from Gerry Anderson.”

I’ve heard you say you’d like to move more into theatrical presentations.

Well, hopefully I’ll never see television again. That means if I were offered a good television series this afternoon I would crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate and do it and love every minute of it. But it is such a terrible strain, producing one hour a week, that I would much prefer to do theatrical – that is cinema – pictures. At the time of this interview, I’m at the point of a very, very big breakthrough. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about or who’s involved because it would spoil the chances of the picture going.

Is it for a studio or for an independent?

It is a major subject with a major studio, a major director and a major star. And a fantasy subject. We’re right on the knife-edge at the moment.

If it works out, you’ll be producing again. Why do you produce rather than direct?

I always wanted to direct and I made the fatal mistake of thinking if I start my own film company and I’m making my own pictures, when it comes to the director, I will be able to direct. That’s how I hoped to become a director. Instead of which, you find you are so busy organising production that, when it comes to the crunch, you have to take somebody else on because you can’t handle it yourself.

You have directed, though.

When we first started, I directed 26 Twizzles, 26 Torchys, 52 Four Feather Falls, the pilot of UFO – I’ve directed an awful lot of our stuff.

Do you think you’re a bankable director?

No, certainly not. Because most of the films I’ve directed have been puppet films and bankable directors are directors who have directed theatrical (cinema) pictures that have made millions of dollars. I haven’t directed any theatricals, so I can’t be bankable.

You were saying there are a lot of big-budget films around at the moment. There’s a danger in big budgets, isn’t there? With a big budget you do what’s easiest whereas, with a small budget, you have to be more creative.

Well, this is Gerry Anderson feeling sorry for himself. I think, in an ideal world, people who have for years worked on a small budget and therefore got the very best out of each pound or dollar… when science fiction took off, those were the people who should have been given the chance to take the big budgets and produce something really sensational. But business doesn’t work that way. Americans are so much more adventurous than British people at the moment. They get the money and they arrive at London Airport with their sack containing $20 million and they’re certainly not going to come into a British studio and say, “Can you recommend a British producer to whom I can give this $20 million so that he can make himself a fortune?”

That is not going to happen so, consequently, people like myself have not benefitted from this tremendous book in science fiction. It is, in the main, American money. The profits, as in the case of Star Wars, which was shot in Britain, will go back to America to encourage further investment for new American producers. British technicians have gained, but that’s short-sighted. The profits are going back to America. They are not remaining here and they will not fund future British productions.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to get backing in Britain?

Why do I think that is? Why, as we sit here, are we likely to have a State of Emergency in the next 48 hours? Because, sadly, this lovely country of hours which, at one time, had so many wonderful qualities, is falling apart. People don’t think any more; people are lazy here; people don’t want to work; people don’t want to take chances; people are out of touch with new ideas. It’s a national disease.

Leave a comment

Filed under Children, Movies, Politics, Puppets, Science, Science fiction, Television