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.
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).
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“.
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 all…You 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…”
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.
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.
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