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Monthly Archives: January 2016

A storm from the desert: The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

The Andromeda Breakthrough, broadcast by the BBC,   June to August 1962

Cast:  Earl Cameron (Yusel), Claude Farell (Mlle Gamboule),  Susan Hampshire  (Andre),  Peter Halliday (John Fleming),  John Hollis (Kaufman),  Barry Linehan (Colonel Salim),   Mary Morris (Madeleine Dawnay), Jean Robinson (Lemka) David Saire (Abu Seki)  and others.

Producer: John Elliot   Directors:  John Elliot and John Knight

Andromeda Breakthrough

In the previous post I discussed  A for Andromeda. In this post I will discuss the sequel,  The Andromeda Breakthrough.

Even before  filming had finished on A for Andromeda,  Fred Hoyle was working on  a follow up, sending his  initial ideas in June 1961  to John Elliot, who then worked  them up into an outline of a six part series. Initially the BBC hierarchy was not at all  impressed  by Hoyle’s  storyline,  which Donald Wilson, Head of  the Script Department,   described as “an intellectual exercise in cops and robbers” rather than  “a new and exciting science-fiction basis for a seria.l”  However,  after Elliot came up with a new storyline,  and  convinced by the high ratings of the first series, the BBC  agreed in January 1962 to proceed with the sequel,  which they wanted to air before the summer was out with   Elliot and John Knight directing.

At this stage the title  of the second series  was Andromeda in Azaran. Some preliminary filming was done in March  by Peter Halliday and Julie Christie at Tenby, but then a problem arose. Originally it was only intended to feature Andromeda  in three episodes (the original outline had actually killed her off),    but  in the latest rewrite she would  now appear in all six episodes. But the BBC had left it too late.  Julie was  now contracted to appear in a film,  and would not be available for  the filming required. It was decided, therefore,  to cast another actress, Susan Hampshire, in the role. (The footage already shot of Peter carrying  Julie across the beach and a brief glimpse of her in the boat with Peter  was still  used in the first episode).

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

The sequel (now  entitled The Andromeda Breakthrough)  picks up exactly where the first  series had  left off.  Returning to the cave  Fleming discovers that Andre has not, as they thought,   been drowned,  but was sucked underwater into another pool in the cave complex,  and is still alive, though badly injured.   He flees with her in a boat and they take refuge on a small island with Adrian Breen, a writer and  former CND supporter,  who  handily has a gun about the place.  Andre remembers nothing of the computer. Fleming secretly meets  Madeleine Dawnay at an airport  and gets the healing enzyme from her  to cure Andre’s burne dhands

With the computer gone Dawnay goes to the Embassy of Azaran (a small  Republic situated  supposedly somewhere between Turkey and Iran),  to see the Ambassador, Colonel Salim,  who has asked her to work  for his country   on environmental projects. At the Embassy she  is drugged and reveals  Fleming and Andre’s  location. Kaufman sends an armed team is sent  to  kidnap them,  but Breen and Fleming fight them off, killing several.  The British  military arrive and take Andre and Fleming to London.  Held in a  supposedly safe house,  they are then  kidnapped at gunpoint by Kaufman  and flown to Azaran.

Salim  and Mlle  Gamboule from Intel (played by Swiss actress Claude Farell as the epitome of a svelte, chic French woman) reveal that they have built a second indentical  computer in Azaran  – using the plans stolen by Bridger -,   but it is not working.  Fleming is loath  to help them,   telling them to destroy it, but when  Andre goes to the computer it starts to  work,  and she comes alive as before. “It speaks to me,” she cries. Andre  reveals that  she has seen the message and intends to save human civilisation before it destroys itself in  a war in 150 years time and will take a thousand years to recover before the cycle repeats itself “unless something better happens”.  Fleming objects: “...the world must be free to make its own mistakes, or save itself“, but   Andre replies: “I have chosen. It has already started“.

Mlle Gamboule

Mlle Gamboule (Claude Farell)

The last  three episodes   interweave storylines about science,  knowledge, the environment and the future of humanity.  These include  Andre’s attempt to  use Intel  and its power in Azaran for her own ends to protect the computer, recruiting Mlle Gamboule to her side by showing  her the message in the computer; Fleming and Dawnay’s realisation that the computer placed a harmful  bacteria in the sea at Thorness  a year ago which is now sucking the nitrogen out of the atmosphere and creating worldwide storms;  the ebbing of life from Andre who is dying from a fault in her metabolism; and finally an internal political battle in Azaran with Salim attempting to overthrow the President in a coup.

Gamboule shoots Salim dead  and takes over Azaran for Intel,  but  is then killed in a storm;  Dawnay and Fleming succeed in creating an anti-bacterium  for the oceans after Andre programmes  the computer for them;   Kaufman, now in charge in Azaran,  wants to market this through Intel and make a fortune for the company, but is stopped by Fleming and others who give the anti-bacterium to the world for free. Finally Dawnay and Fleming work together and succeeded in creating a metabolic  fix  which saves Andre. Now assured of life Andre  tells Fleming  that she is fully huma, n “I’m flesh and blood, Dawnay’s mixture“,  and they kiss.

As life flows back into Andre, so it also flows back  into the land as Spring comes to Azaran (cue shots of blossom and flowers).  The couple put a tape in the computer which, when  activated the next day,  will wipe its memory completely. As night falls Andre and Fleming  drive to an ancient  temple in the hills  and look at the stars in the night sky, includng the  far distant Andromeda Galaxy.   Fleming changes his mind: they will use  the computer for the good of humanity: “The new Renaissance starts in about an hour,” he tells Andre as they race off   in their car back to the computer centre.

I enjoyed The Andromeda Breakthrough because of the ideas bobbing around in John Elliot’s script. It was prescient of him  to set the series  in a country in the Middle East, rather  an Eastern European country,  which  might have seemed the logical choice  given that the Cold War was then in full spate.  The notion of  Intel as a ruthless multi-national anticipates the future, as in our own time we are used to global corporations ransacking  the planet at will, but this  was a less familar  idea in  1962. The series continues the theme of modernisation. In A for Andromeda the British Prime Minister spoke  of a new and finer  Industrial  Revolution: in The Andromeda Breakthrough  Salim and Abu Zeki regard themselves as modern men, eager  to use the knowledge and advanced  technology that Intel is offering –  at a price.

Another theme running through the series is what  the consequences of the work of scientists are upon the rest of  us.  The President says to  Madeleine Dawnay,  “Hundreds of thousands more may have to die correcting your mistake. The errors of politicians are sometimes expensive, and businessmen sometimes do their best to profit from them. But you scientists, you kill half the world. And the other half cannot live without you”;  Lemka, the widow of Fleming’s assistant, Abu Zeki,  (shot by Kaufman in the final episode) tells him bitterly in one of  the most powerful  scenes in the series : “You involved us  allYou save the world from your own bungle, so now you think it is all right. How can you be so arrogant? You don’t believe in God,  you don’t accept life as his gift. You want  to change it because you think you are cleverer … You try,  and we suffer”;  and finally  Madeleine Dawnay  confesses  to Andre, “You do something that seems perfectly correct and suddenly you lose control of it. It slips away from you and grows into something you lost control of…”

Dawnay and Fleming

Madeleine Dawnay (Mary Morris)  and  John Fleming (Peter Halliday)

The outdoor filming was done in Cyprus,  but the actors never got to go  there: they were confined to the studio. The cast is very good, with Mary Morris particularly outstanding,  and you wish she had been given a spin-off   Doomwatch-type  series called  something like “Madeleine  Dawnay Investigates”.

One odd thing, the character of Judy Adamson (Patricia Kneale), who played a prominent  role in A For Andromeda – including a an  affair with Fleming –  does not appear in the sequel, not even at the start in Thorness, even though she had been in the caves and on the beach with Fleming and Quadring  at the end of the first series.   The writers offer no explanation for her  disappearance, either in the television series or in the subsequent novel.  In the original outline for the sequel Judy had played a major role,  so I assume  that  in the rewrite they  decided that the character was no longer needed,  and just dropped her, not even bothering to explain her absence to the audience.

Although set in the Middle East a number of the actors playing Azaranis are  clearly  Europeans eg Colonel Salim is played by Barry Linehan, an Irish actor, and appears to have been  made-up  for the role.  This was not an uncommon practice until surprisingly recently. In David Lean’s film of  A Passage to India (1984)  Alec Guinness is made-up to play an Indian, Professor Godbole; in the Doctor Who serial “The Talons of Weng Chiang” (1977) John Bennett is made-up to play the Chinese magician, Li H’sen Chang; finally  the BBC light entertainment show The Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1978  and was very popular, which gives you pause for thought. That it would be unacceptable now is a sign of the cultural  change that has occurred on this issue at least.

I will leave the last word on this intriguing series to Madeleine Dawnay: “You know what life is? A spot of soot, carbon, nitrogen, add various bits of dirt to taste, mix with water and stir well, and that’s life. When you put this commonplace stuff together it suddenly becomes very precious. No matter what form you give it, it’s  always the same. What you do with it, it’s up to you…”

The Andromeda Breakthrough was nowhere near as popular with the public as A for Andromeda had been: the ratings never  reached the height that they did with the first series,  instead hovering around 6 million viewers on average for each episode. It may  have been the plot that lost audiences –  which is more about politics and the environment than the menace of the conputer as in the original series –   or perhaps they were disappointed by the loss of  Julie Christie as Andromeda , although Susan Hampshire is perfectly fine in the role to my thinking.

The series  led to John Elliot developing the themes of politics, business  and  technology into  a drama about the oil industry called Mogul (1965)  which  then turned into  the  long-running, and very popular, series The Troubleshooters (1966-1972) which I used to watch regularly as a teenager.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

John Elliot’s novel of the series was published by Souvenir Press in October 1964.  There are some odd discrepancies between this novel  and  the television series and the previous novel eg  it mentions Dawnay have  burnt  by the computer  at Thorness which did not happen and also mentions Fleming and Bridger having  been shot  at which also did not happen. Perhaps Elliott was writing the novel at speed and relied on his memory for what happened previously. The scene with Arab dancer  when Fleming gets drunk is omitted.  Finally Elliott leaves out  Dawnay’s speech about life quoted above, which  is surprising as it is one of the best passages of the dialogue in the whole series. The novel ends thus:

He bundled Andre into the car.  After he had walked round to the driving seat he paused for a second, looking up to the sky, already paling with the false dawn. The stars were going out. Very dimly, between The Lady  in the Chair and  the Pole Star, he could make out the hazy light of the great Andromeda galaxy across the immensity of space.

In 2006 the BBC released a DVD  of A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough, which  included the surviving episodes and telesnaps, extensive notes on the production history  of both series researched and written  by Andrew Pixley (which  have been  invaluable for this post),  and interviews with  some of the then surviving  cast members, including Peter Halliday,  Michael Hayes, Patricia Kneale, Frank Windsor and Susan Hampshire. Sadly,  since the interviews with cast members were filmed, we have lost Peter Halliday  and Michael Hayes.

This series is available on Daily Motion.

Incidentally, Peter Halliday and Susan Hampshire worked together again in a drama called “Red Sky in the Morning,” made by Southern Television and broadcast in the Thirty Minute Theatre slot on 12 December 1963.

Reviews in the press

The Middle  East conflict has always been a hotbed of disturbance and most spy stories emerge from there or gravitate to there. So it wa rather disappointing to find that when Fred Hoyle’s computer girl Andromeda started on a new lease of life last night…the story was already veering towards oil and Araby. This seems bit mundane,  but actually there is more life and vigour in the new serial.  This may be because it is largely out of doors, and now that the computer is destroyed, most of the action happened on the wild, storm tossed, shores of the western Scottish isles. We seemed to be back in a traditional BBC serial, drawing in gulps of fresh air among beautifully photographed cliffs, waves, shores, gulls, and lonely cottages. I never found the first ‘Andromeda‘ very clear in plot and I always found John’s Fleming’s reasoning and actions  hurried and muddled. He is still the same impulsive  scientist, and he has rescued Andromeda,  who has not drowned in the pool after all. Now he calls her André or Andry and she grows more human every minute. They took refuge with a charming hermit-scholar who was promptly shot by the pursuit party who came after Fleming. I think it would take the combined brains of the Pilkington Committee to find out what it is all about and I should like them to write a brief, lucid report on it.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian,  29 June 1962, p.9.

Something about The Andromeda Breakthrough reminds me more and more of late lamented  ITMA. The behaviour of the characters  in the crazy little  Eastern set-up where Andromeda, Fleming and Madeline Dawnay have all arrived;  the sinister Intel whose agent Kaufman is just  as the famous Funf would have been, though we use donly to hear his voice; the beautifil Mlle Gamboule, a really sprightly vamp,  all are here, the old familiar voices. Gamboule? What a name, a perfect ITMA name. Last night the computer had revealed its secret to Andromeda, but her promise that she would make it work for good rather than evil was foiled when the villainous Salim  effected a coup d’etat, deposed  the President, and abducted the girl. When it comes to talking about the computer’s mysterious powers, Hoyle and Elliot are past masters of not saying anything definite, but stringing us along until the next time. When it is not like ITMA, the fun in Azaran with the computer spewing out observations like sporting editions slipping off the printing presses and little men rushing around in the hot Eastern sun is just like stories I used to read in the Boy’s Own paper long ago.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 13 July 1962, p.9.

“Then there was The Andromeda Breakthrough which careers on with more delicious absurdity every week, and now has reached such a pitch of  sci-fi folly that I cannot bear to miss an instalment. All the oceans are proliferating a horrid bacteria that sucks the nitrogen out of the air, all the winds of heaven blowing a great gale, and the Cabinet Minsters suffering from rapid respiration.  I take it really as a warning against having any science  at all. Down with science  (except in fiction).”  Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 21 July 1962, p.5.

Where else have I seen them?

Earl Cameron played an astronaut, Williams,   in the Doctor Who serial “The Tenth Planet” (1966). Earl was born in Bermuda in 1917 and  arrived in England in 1939, taking any job that came up.    His first acting role was in 1942 in the stage show Chu Chin Chow after one of the actors didn’t turn up. Earl survived on small parts in regional repertory until 1951 when Basil Dearden cast him in a leading role as Johnny Campbell, a Jamaican merchant seaman, in the film Pool of London, a thriller evocatively filmed amidst the real docklands of the capital. Earl recalls, “Pool of London still remains the best part I’ve ever had in a film. It was important for the fact that I was the first black actor to have a relationship with a white girl, although it didn’t develop very far…”

In real life Earl got married to Audrey, a fellow actor from a Jewish background, whom he had met in repertory. Her parents weren’t happy but, as Earl says, “Audrey…did what she wanted to do and that was that.” Mixed-race couples often experienced a great deal of hostility. His other films in Britain  include Sapphire (1960), also directed by Basil Dearden, a detective thriller  in which he plays a doctor whose sister, Sapphire, has been murdered; and Flame In the Streets (1961), directed by Roy Ward Baker,  which dealt with racial prejudice and tensions at work and in the streets.

Peter Halliday appeared in Doctor Who four  times. In The Invasion (1968) he plays Packer, Tobias Vaughn’s not very bright henchman,   and is  excellent  in the part. (The company  that Vaughn runs is called  International Electromatics, by the way, which could be shortened to Intel, perhaps). He is even better in Carnival of Monsters (1973), playing Pletrac, one of the annoying rulers of the planet Inter Minor. He had a small part in  City of Death  as a soldier, holding the Doctor at swordpoint when he goes back in time in search of Leonardo da Vinci. Finally he had a  cameo role in Remembrance of the Daleks as a  blind priest., presiding over  the Burial of the Hand of Omega.

Mary Morris appeared in Doctor Who  in Kinda (1982) , playing the shaman Panna,  and is  wonderful in the role.  She  lived in Switzerland  and was  so intrigued by the mystical nature of Christopher Bailey’s script, one of most beguiling in the history of the show, that she drove across Europe to take part. She also appeared in The Prisoner as Number Two, in an episode called “The Dance of the Dead” which  you watch here.

John Hollis played Kantwich in The Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven”  (sounding very like Kaufuman). He played in the Doctor Who episode ” The Mutants”.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me directly , fopsfblog@gmail.

 

A message from the stars: A for Andromeda (1961)

Front RT A for Andromefa

A  for Andromeda, broadcast by the BBC,  October – November 1961

Cast:  Julie Christie (Christine Flemstad and Andre),  Peter Halliday (John Fleming),  John Hollis (Kaufman),  Patricia Kneale (Judy Adamson),   Esmond Knight (Ernest Reinhart), Mary Morris (Madeleine Dawnay) Frank Windsor (Dennis Bridger),  and others.

Producers: Michael Hayes and Norman James.  Director: Michael Hayes

The series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  Hoyle was an astrophysicist at Cambridge, one of the best known in the country,  who often appeared in the press, on the radio or in television documentaries.

He also wrote science fiction eg The Black Cloud (1957),  a bestselling  novel about a sentient gas cloud which enters the solar  system and causes devastation on the Earth when it blocks the light from the sun. (It bears some  similarities to H G Wells’ short story The Star, published in 1897).  His science fiction play for children, Rockets in Ursa Major,  was performed at the Mermaid Theatre in December 1962.

The BBC broadcast a radio adaptation of The  Black Cloud   in December 1957,  and entered into discussions  with Hoyle about a six part television adaptation,  which  in the end fell through. However John Elliot, assistant head of the BBC’s script unit, accompanied by Norman James and Donald Bull, had a meeting with Hoyle in  a pub in Cambridge by the end of which (after a few pints no doubt) they had come up with the basic outline for A For Andromeda.  Hoyle provided the scientific background:  Elliot, an experienced writer for television, wrote the scripts for the seven episodes.

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

Hoyle’s involvement  meant that the science was up to scratch and up to date.  The Jodrell Bank radio telescope (undoubtedly the model for the  Bouldershaw Fell  radio telescope in the story)  had only opened in 1957,   while  the double helix structure  of DNA – the basis for the creation of Andromeda –  had only been conclusively identified by James Watson and Francis Crick  a few years earlier.

The 1950s (which I  was born in the middle of, by the way) is often portrayed as a conservative era  as Britain recovered from the war and enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom under a succession of Tory governments. There were,  however, increasing signs of change.   Britain  invaded Egypt in 1956 but then had to pull out after  the Americans  told them to:  many of its colonies were demanding independence  and  there were conflicts in places such as Kenya, Cyprus and Malaya.  There was a growing sense that Britain was no longer the world  power it was, unsettling to  many who had taken this for granted, something played  on in the series when the government realises what the computer can offer by way of technology, or appears to offer  anyhow.  In 1957 the Russians shocked the world when they put the first satellite   “Sputnik 1” into space. What  might  come next? A message from space?

On  October  1961, to coincide with the broadcast of the first episode, The Observer ran a profile of Fred Hoyle. “International intrigue, gunplay and cunning, romantic interlude with nubile woman security officer, alien cosmic intellience darkly  threatening over all, is this the ultimately revealing common touch?…This Hoylian swoop to the popular  level has by now become of his best known  characteristics. He first made his  mark as a straightforward populariser of science ten years ago with a series of broadcast  talks on astro-physics that were scholarly, imaginative, and lucid –  qualities that seemed to grow naturally out of his passion for the subject and that people should be on the same affectionate terms with outer space as he himself is.”

Unfortunately, due to the BBC’s policy in the 1960s  of wiping the video tapes of programmes that  it thought it no longer had any use for, only the sixth  episode “The Face of the Tiger” has survived in its entirety,  along with some short filmed  extracts from other episodes,  and, fortunately,  the  dramatic scenes at the end  of the seventh and final  episode, “The Last Mystery”.  Fortunately photosnaps of the missing episodes have survided and  these have been  used to recreate the missing episodes for the DVD release with subtitles and  ambient  music. Viewed as a whole this  is enough to give a flavour of the serial, at least. Outside filming for the series  was done at an army camp on the coast  near Tenby, standing in for Scotland.

The story begins in  1970 when the radio telescope at Bouldershaw Fell, designed by two  scientists, John Fleming and Dennis Bridger, detects a complex radio message  from the direction of the Andromeda Galaxy. Fleming realises that the message contains the design and programme for an advanced  computer and decodes it,  assisted by Christine Flemstad. The government agrees to build the computer at Thorness, a remote military  location in Scotland. But other people are also  interested in the message:  Bridger is covertly  handing over information to a German  named Kaufman who works for a shadowy multi-national corporation, Intel. On completion  the computer is switched on and prints out  information on how to create living cells.  A biologist Madeleine Dawnay is  brought in and succeeds in creating a primitive one-eyed organism. Fleming has now become very suspicious of the computer and its true motives: “Dawnay thinks the machine’s given her power to create life; but she’s wrong. It’s given itself the power.” He urges them to destroy the  organism, but is ignored.

Bridger’s espionage  activities are discovered  and he  dies  after falling over a cliff whilst  being pursued by Judy Adamson, ostensibly the press officer,  but also a covert  MOD security officer. Christine is increasingly drawn to the computer and  is killed  after receiving a high-voltage charge through a terminal. The computer now  produces a fresh set of instructions which  enable Dawnay to create a fully-grown young woman who when she comes to life she is the double of Christine, except  she is blonde. She can communicate directly with the computer:  the team name her  Andromeda, Andre for short.

Christine (Julie Christie)

C             hristine Flemstad  (Julie Christie)

Frankly the series takes a long time to get going. Whilst A for Andromeda is remembered  for Julie Christie’s performance as Andromeda (she was  offered the role as she completed her final year at drama school), she does not appear  as that character  until the fifth episode. Before that she plays Christine in a dark wig.

The plot  up to  this point has revolved around  the message from space, the construction of the computer,  and Bridger’s spying activities. In its  look the series  has a lot in common  with the Quatermass serials, broadcast by the BBC  in the 1950s, with  the screen being  filled with politicians,  civil servants,  scientists and the military, almost all male.  Although set in a decade in the future there is little effort  made to show  what this might look like, except that there are more women in the main roles than was usual. Michael Hayes  suggested  that by 1970  women  would be more equal and the part of  Dawnay  was therefore  rewritten for a woman.

In the sixth episode the plot moves forward a good deal.  Andre provides the plans for a successful anti-ballistic missile and also apparently  for an enzyme which can reverse cell damage.  Fleming challenges Andre:  is she  really human or merely an extension  of the computer?  Andre   tells Fleming,  “I do not understand you.  Nice, nasty, good, bad,  there is no logical distinction…You are like children with your missiles and rockets. All the same, I am going to save you. It’s quite simple really.”

Judy Adamson and John Fleming

Judy Adamson and John Fleming

Fleming attempts to humanise Andre by  suggesting that she wears  perfume and kissing her forcibly, not a scene you would include today.  Kaufman meets Geers, the project director, to discuss an agreement with Intel  to market the  healing enzyme, his role in the death of Bridger  brushed aside when Judy objects: “the climate has changed…the government needs world markets“.  The Prime Minister (looking remarkably like Harold Macmillan),  broadcasts to the nation, announcing that  Britain will have “a new, and  a finer  Industrial Revolution.”  Fleming is now even more   suspicious : “A year ago the computer had no power outside its own building, and even then we were in charge of it. Now it’s got the whole country depending  on it and the original team are all pushed out…This machine wasn’t programmed for our good.”  At the end of the episode  Dawnay has been poisoned by the enzyme, but  Fleming realises this  and is able to save her by creating a new formula.

Andre (Julie Christie) and Fleming (Peter Halliday)

Andre (Julie Christie) and  John Fleming (Peter Halliday)

In the final episode Andre is freed from the control of the computer after Fleming  manages to  get into the control room  and smashes it. She tells him that she and the machine are slaves to an intelligence that  will take over humanity,  that she is only  human by accident: “The logic you can’t deny is the strongest chain. I did what I had to but now the logic is gone,  and I don’t know what to do...” Fleming persuades Andre to return to the control room and burn the message, ensuring that the computer  can never be rebuilt.  Then in some well-handled  dramatic outdoor scenes scenes,  shot at night, she is chased by the military. Fleming finds Andre,  uses a digger to get through the security fence,  and they head off in a boat, pursued by a launch.  Landing on an island, they seek refuge in some caves where they get separated and  Andre vanishes, apparently having drowned after falling  into a deep pool. Fleming comments bitterly,  “We taught her everything else. We didn’t teach her to swim, did we“: Judy tells him, “…You don’t have to  do anymore…It’s all over..It’s finished“.

To truly enjoy A for Andromeda you have watch it, not with the eyes of  own era – when we are used to quick-fire storylines,  rapid editing  and  an overload  of CGI effects – but with the eyes of 1961,  as best you can. At this time television drama was only just emerging from the era when it was broadcast live with actors racing  between sets in time for their cues.  A for Andromeda has  sound scripts and direction,  and a solid cast. It  has also a luminous performance by Julie Christie in her first important acting role, who makes Andre both human  and alien.

The series  has some intriguing scientific  ideas (more ideas than the entire Star Wars oeuvre, in fact) mixing astronomy and biology.  It was also  in tune with the idea current  in the early  1960s that, having lost its empire,  scientific  advances would be the way forward for the country. The Prime Minister’s speech in episode six  anticipates  Labour party leader Harold Wilson’s speech in October 1963,  in which he spoke of a new Britain that would be forged in  “the white heat” of  a “technological revolution.”

In terms of the history of science fiction on television A for Andromeda  clearly follows on from the three  Quatermass series of the 1950s and points the way towards Out of the Unknown, four series of science  fiction stories   broadcast by the BBC  between 1965 and 1971, and also  series such as R3 and   Undermind (1965).

I do not see it  at as a predecessor to Doctor Who,  whose direct ancestor is  surely  Pathfinders in Space, written by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice.  I do see a parallel with Doctor Who in so much as that in the mid 1960s its script editor Gerry Davis brought in Kit Pedler to act as the scientific advisor to the show, creating serials such as “The War Machines”,  “The Tenth Planet” and “The Moonbase”. And there is perhaps an influence in the sense that a sentient computer with a plan to dominate the  world and the ability  to exercise mind control  appears  in number of storylines; WOTAN in “The War Machines” and  BOSS in “The Green Death.

The series was very popular with the public,  with the numbers watching  rising from  6 million at the start to nearly 13 million by the end. Reviews in the press were mixed, though, as can be seen below.

A for Andromeda novel

John Elliot wrote a novel of A for Andromeda,  based on his scripts, which was published by Souvenir Press in February 1962 and sold well. It has been republished several times since.  In 1971 the Italian television company RAI made their own  version, A Come Andromeda, which  followed  the original version very closely, even keeping the English names of the characters.  If you have good Italian (there are no subtitles), you can watch it here.

In 2006 BBC Four showed a remake of A for Andromeda, written by Richard Fell,  and lasting a mere 85 minutes with a number of plot  and character changes. Personally I thought it completely failed to capture the feeling of the original and was a pointless exercise.

Also in 2006 the BBC released  a DVD   comprising  A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough. This  includes the surviving episodes and telesnaps, extensive notes on the history of the  production of both series prepared by Andrew Pixley (which  were  invaluable for this post),  and interviews with  some of then surviving  cast members, including Peter Halliday,  Michael Hayes, Patricia Kneale, Frank Windsor and Susan Hampshire. Sadly since then we have lost Peter Halliday  and Michael Hayes.

You can watch episode 6 on Daily Motion.

Reviews in the press

Although it is encouraging to have the authority of Professor Fred Hoyle for the scientific credibility of the new BBC science fiction serial  A for Andromeda, which  he has written with Mr John Elliot, evidently it is the skill of Mr  Hoyle the novelist which will mainly be called upon to hold our attention for the next six episodes.  In the first episode last night it was well in evidence. The tensions and cross-currents in the scientific establishment , where a new giant radio telescope is about to be inaugurated,  were economically hit in the first few minutes: the little bouts of feline malice among the scientists, the general disaffection among the staff  so far as the tactical aspects of the work are concerned (they are all ex-Communists, Aldermaston marchers and other ‘undesirables’ by western alliance standards), the mysterious new ‘press officer’ who is clearly not what she seems. Interest has certainly been piqued and, if one major character,  the angry  young physicist Fleming, who is drunk for much of the time and transported by wild-eyed attacks of hysterical fury when sober, seems likely to prove wearing, in compensation the series promises us Mary Morris as a leading player in later instalments.” The Times, 4 October 1961, p. 16

“Fred Hoyle is my favourite cosmologist and  astronomer. The news that he written a science  fiction serial script for the BBB to be this autumn’s Quatermass equivalent would have excited me had I not read or failed to read his science fiction thriller. The first instalment of A for Andromeda was as dense as one of those White Dwarf  stars a pinch of whose dust weighs a ton. There may be a nice globally  significant plot working out with messages from Andromeda coming through on the radio telescope,  but the earthly characters  are terribly hard to believe in yet. They telegraph their punches like old pugs.” Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 8 October 1961, p.26.

“Professor Fred Hoyle’s science -fiction serial on the BBC appears to be a cooling star – but let us hope it is not a dying one.  Last night the second episode of A for Andromeda got very little further forward than the first instalment. Although one had hoped that the slowness and stodginess of the opening would loosen up and give way to some  exciting events, as the meaning of the  code message from  the Andromeda  constellation  came through,  this expectation was not fulfilled.  Very little happened in the second instalment: the events were all on the celestial  plane,  and the plot  and the dialogue were not at all arresting.  There was no hint of any thrilling or extraordinary events until the very last moment of the episode, when we were, exactly as at this time last week, left with a question which could possibly mean that terrifying posibilities were in the air.  While one still believes in Professor Hoyle’s capacities as an astronomer  and a science  fiction writer, the progress of A for Andromeda makes one doubt his ability as a television writer, something very different. Still, we must give him the benefit of the doubt,  and there are still five episodes in which  the serial can make headway and pull out something  really impressive.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian,  11 October 1961, p. 9.

Another programe that is picking up a bit is the BBC’s A for Andromeda. Its characterisation is and always be epileptic, but some combinations of producer and script-doctor seems to have provided a powerful transfusion.  Both Fleming and that almost equally hysterical woman  scientist madden me: before, they merely perplexed. The beautiful blonde zombie under the spell of the computer is a distinctly welcome addition to one’s hearth  rug. Her innocence of right and wrong is very neat: a genuine piece of science fiction, as distinct from the amorality which magistrates discern in teenagers.” Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 5 November  1961, p.25.

A for Andromeda moves towards its close next week  with little hope now  that it will ever make the grade. When the computer girl was created there was a hope that she might be really horrid but now the scientist  Fleming has started kissing her,  it looks like happy ever after. True, Madeleine Dawnay  and some of her staff are dying of a myserious illness, but in science fiction thrillers one expects an authentic jab of fear which we have never had from Andromeda. One reason may be that everyone talks too much. As a compensation Maurice Hedley has been as mischeviousky satirical as  the Prime Minister we saw making an amusing speech about television at the  BBC anniversary dinner immediately after A for Andromeda.”  Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 9 November 1961, p. 9.

Where else have I seen them?

Peter Halliday appeared in Doctor Who four  times. In The Invasion (1968) he plays Packer, Tobias Vaughn’s not very bright henchman,   and is  excellent  in the part. (The company  that Vaughn runs is called  International Electromatics, by the way, which could be shortened to Intel, perhaps). He is even better in Carnival of Monsters (1973), playing Pletrac, one of the annoying rulers of the planet Inter Minor. He had a small part in  City of Death  as a soldier, holding the Doctor at swordpoint when he goes back in time in search of Leonardo da Vinci. Finally he had a  cameo role in Remembrance of the Daleks as a  blind priest., presiding over  the Burial of the Hand of Omega.

Mary Morris appeared in Doctor Who  in Kinda (1982) , playing the shaman Panna,  and is  wonderful in the role.  She  lived in Switzerland  and was  so intrigued by the mystical nature of Christopher Bailey’s script, one of most beguiling in the history of the show, that she drove across Europe to take part. She also appeared in The Prisoner as Number Two, in an episode called “The Dance of the Dead” which  you watch here.

John Hollis played Kantwich in The Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven”  (sounding very like Kaufuman). He played Sondergaard in the Doctor Who episode ” The Mutants”, again sounding much like Kaufman.

Michael Hayes directed three Doctor Who serials:   The Androids of Tara (1978), The Armageddon Factor (1979) and City of Death 1979), the latter story being a particular favourite amongst many fans.

Frank Windsor appeared in Doctor Who in The King’s Demons (1983)  playing Ranulf and in Ghostlight (1989) playing Inspector Mackenzie.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

In my next  post I will be looking  at the sequel  The Andromeda Breakthrough.

 

 

 

 

“fantasies of possibility”: classic science fiction in books, on television and in film

H g wells

I will be writing  in this blog about science fiction in books, on television and occasionally on film. I have taken the title from H G Wells since  this  is what he himself called his work, he  never called it  “science fiction,” a  term  then unknown.

In  a preface to  a new edition of The Sleeper Awakes, published in 1921  by Odhams Press,  H G  wrote

It is the first of a series of books I  have written at intervals…they are all “fantasies of possibility,” each one  takes some great creative tendency, or group of tendencies , and develops its possible consequences  in the future.

I think H G summed  up in his inimitable style   what has always attracted me to the genre of science fiction:  the ideas and imagination which at their best can make you look at the world in a different way.

Marlow Library

Marlow Library

I have been reading and watching  science fiction  for more than  fifty years. As an eight  year old I watched the first episode of Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child”, on 23 November 1963 –  and have been watching ever since.

I read the Doctor Who novels written  by David Whitaker,  The Daleks and The Crusade, and then moved on to other works, essentially  all the science fiction  novels which  Marlow Library  possessed. I read the classics – Jules Verne, H G Wells, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury.

In addition I also read many  of  the science fiction  novels which were published by Victor Gollancz in distinctive yellow covers,  and were  therefore easy  to pick out on the shelves.  Naturally I went  to see the Doctor  Who films in 1965 and 1966 , either at the Regal Cinema in Marlow or The Palace in High Wycombe (both buildings sadly demolished).

I  also went to see 2001: a Space Odyssey  in 1968 which I enjoyed,  but struggled to understand, especially  the last section. As a child  I spent a lot of time off school with asthma  and thus books were a godsend. One of our neighbours, lent  me  back issues of an American  science fiction magazine ( I cannot recall the title),   and I read them from cover to cover, often several times.

stand on zanzibar

By the 1970s I was reading novels  by John Brunner such as  Stand on Zanzibar and The Shock Wave Rider, James Blish’s  Cities in Flight series,  and Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand  of Darkness:  on television I  was still watching Doctor Who with Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker as the Doctor,   and also  watched series such as DoomwatchSurvivors and Blake’s Seven.

Recently  I have been reading works by Ian Banks,  Neil Gaiman, Kate Griffin,  Ken Macleod,  Ian McDonald,   China Mieville and Cherie Priest.

I have also been revisiting  some  of those novels  that  I first read as a teenager : H G Wells, John Wyndham,  Fred Hoyle, for instance. Over the next few months I will be  writing  about these,  and how they seem to me now.  Of course in some sense you can never read a book twice in the literal sense;  you are never the same person as when you read it for the very  first  time.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who shares this passion. My email address is: fopsblog@gmail.com