“In writing you’re always looking for conflict…” Malcolm Hulke, Gary Hopkins, recorded interview with Malcolm Hulke: The Doctor Who Podcast, 17th April 2013)
“To my mind the basic problem is that writers are by their nature back-room-minded introverts and yet, in the publicity jungle, they find themselves pitted against an army of highly extroverted actors and actresses. I don’t blame promotion people at all for taking the easy path of boosting the performers, if the writers fail to sell themselves as potentially equally good copy. Malcolm Hulke, The Stage, 12th September 1963.
“…we all really trusted his writing for us and had great respect for his work” Katy Manning
Malcolm Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television, and the cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s. On television his work included episodes for Armchair Theatre, Pathfinders in Space, The Avengers, United!, and Doctor Who, for which he is best remembered. He also wrote a number of Doctor Who novels for the Target series and an influential guide on writing for television.
Malcolm was known by friends and family as Mac, so that’s what I will call him from now on in this post.
My interest in Mac was sparked by coming across a pamphlet he wrote for Unity Theatre in the collection of the Working Class Movement Library with which I have been associated for many years.
I already knew of him as a writer on Doctor Who and therefore did some research on him, which was published as a guest post on the Lipstick Socialist blog in February 2013.
In December 2014 Five Leaves Press approached me, wishing to publish the post as a pamphlet, so I revised and expanded the article, and this was published in January 2015.
Whilst it was known that Mac had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), I failed to find out anything substantial about his time in the party, despite my looking in all the obvious places: the Working Class Movement Library, the People’s History Museum, the Marx Memorial Library, the National Archives and the various histories of the CPGB. This surprised me as the CPGB has been extensively researched and written about over the last 30 years.
In September 2015 the Doctor Who Magazine published an article by John Williams on Mac with a good deal of new information derived from his M15 file, which had been released into the National Archives in October 2014. I incorporated this new information into the post and updated it and posted it here.
From April to June 2020 during the Lockdown (with several months of unexpected and frankly unlooked for free time) I worked on a revised and expanded version of this post. I was assisted by Sally Edworthy who very kindly sent me copies of a “Family Bulletin” written by Mac in the late 1930s when he was a teenager. I am very grateful for her help and to Andrew Cartmel and Katy Manning for their comments and also to Andrew Pixley for his generous help with a summary of the files on Mac in the BBC’s Written Archives and his tips on obscure television lore which he has at his fingertips. I would also like to thank Paul Winter at the Doctor Who Appreciation Society for sending me a copy of an issue of Tardis. Finally I would like to thank Louise North at the BBC Written Archives for providing me with a copy of the script for a radio talk given by Mac.
In the midst of the research I gave a talk on 10th June 2020 for the Working Class Movement Library about Mac. We were delighted that Katy Manning, who played the Doctor’s companion Jo Grant in Doctor Who, was able to join us for a short while. The talk is available for viewing here,
In December 2020 I was able to obtain copies from the National Archives of the M15/Special Branch files which comprise copies of letters, transcripts of phone calls, transcripts from listening devices and assorted other correspondence between MI5 and the police. They confirm that all letters in and out of the Communist Party’s head office were opened and copied and that all phone calls were monitored. In addition there was a listening device in the office which provided a goodeal of additional information (labelled “Table”, then “North” and later “Lascar” in the files). Mac was only ever a minor figure in the Communist Party, whose commitment to the party was not consistent, and yet, once he had come to the attention of the security service and the police, his party activities, his place of residence, his place of work and his connections, both in London and Cumberland, were consistently monitored and reported on.
According to Dr Jennifer Luff : “The scale of the surveillance programme undertaken by the British government was truly remarkable. At one point, MI5 were checking over 25,000 names a month and yet the British public knew nothing about this. Workers were monitored and blacklisted from government employment without the opportunity to see or challenge the evidence presented against them.” This policy of mass surveillance was kept secret by the government and repeatedly denied by Cabinet officials and senior politicians. The records show that workers were monitored for the smallest of reasons and that the surveillance often went on for decades before concluding that the targets were “innocent”. (Dr Jennifer Luff, “British government history of secret anti-Communist surveillance”, June 2017)
MI5 had a list of most, if not all, Communist party members, obtained by breaking into the house of Roland and Nancy Berger in the summer of 1955 and copying 48,000 documents. (Keith Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta, M15, The Cold War and the Rule of Law (2020), pp. 212, 216). Copies of Mac’s own party registration cards are included in the files, very likely acquired in this or similar burglaries.
This post is by no means a complete account of Mac’s life and work. It is based primarily on written sources in archives, in newspapers, in books and magazines, or on the web. I was not able to visit the BBC Written Archives Centre, for instance, or indeed any other archives. And, forty years after his death, most of his contemporaries are no longer with us. The only person I was able to speak to who had met Mac was Katy Manning. Nor was I able to find out what happened to his papers after his death, which must have been considerable, and if extant, an invaluable resource.
So there is more work to be done.
Mac was born on 21st November 1924 in Hampstead, London. His mother was Elsie Marian Hulke and, until he was 21, Mac believed that his father was his mother’s second husband, Walter Backhouse Hulke (who had died before his birth), this being what his mother had always told him.
He wrote about how he discovered that this was not in fact the case and that he was “illegitimate” (as it used to be called) in an article he wrote, “The stigma you can never escape,” which appeared in The Observer in October 1973.
“One day when I was 21 I decided to track down my father’s relatives to find out why my recently dead mother always told me never to go near them. This well-to-do couple I found in a vast St John’s Wood flat offered me afternoon tea. As she poured, the lady I thought was my aunt said, ‘Well, where do you think you fit into our family?” I explained I was the son of her long-dead brother and mentioned when I was born. “That’s quite impossible”, she said, “because my brother died two years before then. Do you take sugar?” I never called again. It isn’t nice to go round shocking innocent house-holders. When you’re illegitimate you feel completely alone… You condition us to hide it. We are the totally silent minority.” (The Observer, 14th October 1973)
Mac revealed a little more about this encounter a few years later when he was interviewed by the Women’s Page of the Daily Mirror for an article entitled “Children of Love.” He told the newspaper after his mother’s death he went to call on Walter Hulke’s sister, Mrs Dora McFarlane, in St John’s Wood, who told him outright that he could not be her brother’s son because Walter had died in January 1923. “That’s how I found out. What hurt me most was the secrecy.” (Daily Mirror, 27th February 1979)
In 1963 he had taken part in a BBC Home Service radio documentary called Born Out of Wedlock, compiled and introduced by Tony Parker. Mac says of this programme:
…for the first time we learnt we number two millions in Britain alone. Irrational joy filled my heart that I was not alone. But listening to the other 50 voices I realised that most of my people suffer terribly. Being brought up rather oddly, with countless moves to avoid creditors and bailiffs, I had been well prepared to learn of my bastardy. These less fortunates had not. They suffered because they clung to ideas of respectability…
Why does it matter so much?…It matters because you frequently tell us it matters. Some illegitimates know their father’s name, and some even bear it. But many do not. So it matters when you’re young and sensitive and have done well at school and the teacher gives you a form to apply for university or teachers’ training college – and the form demands the name and occupation of your father It. matters if you fancy a job with the BBC, or the police, or the Civil Service…
If you are illegitimate don’t lie about it, don’t be an Uncle Tom, don’t pretend it doesn’t matter. You know it matters…but don’t let it destroy you. (The Observer, 14th October 1973)
Elsie Marian Ainsworth was born on 6th September 1882 in Chapel En Le Frith, near Buxton, Derbyshire. Her parents were William Ainsworth and Mary Ann Caroline Gallard. At the time of the 1891 census the Ainsworth family were living at 112 High Street, St Peter at Gowts, Lincolnshire where her father was a Methodist minister. The entry lists her sisters and brothers: Percy Clough Ainsworth, Edith Raistrick Ainsworth, Sidney Carley Ainsworth, Arthur Ogden Ainsworth, and Wisley Douglas Ainsworth. Elsie’s grandmother Mary Gallard lived with the family, as did a servant, Lucy Emma Grundy.
In the 1901 census, aged 18, she was listed as a pupil in a school at Henson Building on Kirby Road, Leicester, which was attended by a dozen or so other girls.
On 30th August 1909 Elsie, 26, who was living at the Limes, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, got married to George Sutton Gordon, 28, an Insurance Inspector, whose address was 496 Eccleshall Road, Sheffield, Yorkshire. The witnesses were two of Elsie’s brothers – Arthur and Sidney – and her sister Mary. The ceremony took place in a Methodist Chapel on Wentworth Street in Peterborough.
Elsie and George had two sons: George Sutton Gordon, born in April 1910, and John Ainsworth Gordon, born in November 1912. The 1911 census records that the Gordon family lived at 33 Empire Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield.
The marriage did not last. On 16th November 1917 Elsie’s husband petitioned for divorce in the High Court on the grounds of her adultery with a John Dowse Smith. Gordon sought £100 in damages from Smith but was granted £25 by the jury. The notion of compensatory damages seems extraordinary to our modern sensibilities. It arose from the long established legal principle that a wife was the husband’s property, a notion that was gradually being broken down through changes in the law in the twentieth century, but was far from dead. (The ability for an aggrieved husband to claim damages from a co-respondent had been introduced in the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 and was not abolished until 1970).
George also sought custody of the children, which I assume was granted since they did not live with her. Neither Elsie nor Smith appeared or defended the petition. So far as I can tell, Smith played no further role in Elsie’s life.
In the spring of 1922, using the surname Duff-Gordon (which is curious), Elsie got married to Brigadier-General Walter Backhouse Hulke in Paddington, London.
Walter was born on 10th September 1872 in Deal, the son of a doctor. He was commissioned in November 1892 in The Lincolnshire Regiment, retired in February 1911 but, after the outbreak of war in August 1914, he was recalled from the Reserve of Officers to be Adjutant of the 9th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment, on 6th November 1914. On 9th July 1915, while still ranked as a Captain, Walter was given command of the 14th Battalion (2nd Barnsley) of the York and Lancaster Regiment, and made a temporary Lieutenant-colonel. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 1 January 1917 and brevetted Major on 1st June 1917.
After being severely wounded Walter was invalided home in August 1918. He was granted the honorary rank of Brigadier General on ceasing to be employed on 18th April 1919 in the Reserve of Officers and was promoted to colonel on 1st March 1922.
Walter had been previously married on 17th November 1904 to Ethel Gwendoline Lloyd, eldest daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Lloyd, late of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. It was a marriage entirely in keeping with his class and profession. The couple had two daughters.
It seems that the marriage broke down during the war as many did under the strain of lengthy separation and the appalling nature of the fighting on the Western Front which left men damaged psychologically. On 28th May 1918 Ethel filed a claim for divorce in the High Court against Walter on the grounds that “he had refused to live, and still refuses to live and cohabit with your Petitioner and to render her conjugal rights.” After the divorce Ethel emigrated with her children to Canada where she died in 1966.
Back in civilian life, Walter’s career took a surprising turn when he began managing the Cinema Artists’ Club in Great Newport Street, London early in 1922. Both he and the Club were featured in the Daily Express in February 1922 (which was somewhat bemused at his new job):
As one honourably splashed with the mud of many staff-cars, I often ponder the civilian fate of our generals. Some, I fear (and in one case hope) have had to scratch vigorously for a livelihood. But I see that the new Cinema Artists’ Club…has done itself proud by selecting Brigadier-General W. B. Hulke, D.S.O., to be its manager. General Hulke commanded the 14th service battalion of the York and Lancasters in Egypt and France, and later commanded the 115th Infantry Brigade of the 38th (Welsh) Division, in France. He was severely wounded and invalided home in August 1918.
Then, with the easy grace that always marks a brigadier in process of post-war transition, he accepted a staff appointment as a “walker-on” at Stoll’s Cricklewood film studio. I am told (and well believe) that he walked on with distinction. I never saw a brigadier stepping out of a Vauxhall or addressing the ranks on parade without feeling that there was a market somewhere for so much . . . yes, aplomb is the word;… And now the film artists have persuaded General Hulke to take command of their social H.Q. They are in luck’s way. The indents will be all right in the hands of a brigadier. Had it been a quartermaster-sergeant I knew once . . . but this is delicate ground.
British cinema artists have given a lead in organisation to their disorganised employers, the film magnates. They have formed a club with a membership of 500, rapidly growing, and strongly occupy a large building in Great Newport-street, complete with restaurant, billiard-room, smoking lounge, card-room, and bar.
The ladies have a floor to themselves, but they share in the restaurant. “Everything is found,” as they say in the property room. You can see all the stars in Great Newport-street. Incidentally, you can hear more “shop talk” than at any other rendezvous within the four-mile radius.
The most interesting item among the “objects” of the club is the following: “To promote the production of one motion picture annually, the whole proceeds of which shall be devoted to the welfare of the club.” That should be a film with an all-star cast.
It is a splendid thing that the pluckiest class of the community—the acting profession—which has faced the hardships of these lean days with a stouter heart than any other, should have this excellent club in which to meet. ( Daily Express, 15th February 1922 )
There was a further article in the Daily Express in November 1922 by which time Walter and Marian were married and were running a coffee-shop together near Oxford Circus.
From commanding an infantry brigade in Flanders to running a coffee shop successfully in the vicinity of Oxford-circus is the proud record of Brigadier-General W. B. Hulke, D.S.O., who claims to be the only general, past or present, who can serve up sausage and mash or steak and onions with the same facility as bayonets.
“There was nothing left for me to do but to try my hand at catering” said General Hulke last night to a “Daily Express” representative. “I walked in here with my wife, and we took over the business without having done anything before in the catering line.
Next day I assumed active proprietorship. My wife cooks and superintends in the kitchen. I take the money and generally perform all the social functions of a host. If the men customers want a beer, I run and fetch it from the public house up the street. Curiously enough, the first chap who wanted beer was a one-time private in my own brigade
Catering here is real good fun, and means honest, hard-earned money.” said the general. “I manage to rise to all occasions, even to throwing out an undesirable customer, if it becomes necessary.” (Daily Express, 22nd November 1922)
It is hard to think of a lifestyle more dissimilar to his previous life as an army officer with a conventional marriage to a woman from his class and background. Perhaps that was its attraction for Walter. The war changed many social attitudes and mores. Did Elsie meet Walter at the Club? We shall never know. What we do know is that the marriage was brief, lasting less than a year. Walter died on 9th January 1923: probate worth £716 was granted 10th May 1923 to Elsie, who was living at 1 Marlborough Court, Carnaby Street. London. Some 18 months later her third son Malcolm was born.
In the years that followed Elsie led an itinerant lifestyle, frequently changing address. Mac himself referred in passing to having been “brought up oddly, with countless moves to avoid creditors and bailiffs...” (The Observer, 14th October 1973)
It seems that they moved around so much that he never went to school while the school inspectors never caught up with them. Thirty years later Mac recalled his childhood in a radio programme I Never Went To School, broadcast on the Home Service on 1st August 1963. The broadcast has not survived, but fortunately the script has, which I was able to obtain from the BBC archives in October 2020. Mac said:
…although my mother didn’t send me to school regularly, from time to time the thought would occur to her that I needed education. You see, she lived in a permanent state of reduction. Or that is to say, reduced circumstances, or more precisely, things weren’t what they used to be. Actually I sometimes doubt that things had ever been quite as she imagined they used to be. She was a woman with a vivid imagination. She would imagine that this or that business enterprise that she and her partner had embarked upon was going to flourish, or that this or that item of furniture which she had acquired on hire purchase was going to paid for.
She also imagined that I would, somehow, miraculously, go to Eton, and follow that up with Oxford or Cambridge. It never came within her sphere of thought that I might do better by going to a council school than by going to no school at all. Council schools were something to do with the working-class, like the Labour Exchange, free hospitals, council houses, and the Labour Party. In this attitude she was almost completely in accord with her partner, a lady in conjunction with whom she ran a succession of service-flats from one end of the Royal Borough of Kensington to another, thereby supplying food and five-shilling-a-week domestic servants to the younger sons of peers, the widows of admirals, and lesser members of the deposed Russian royal family. Indeed, reduced circumstances abounded, both above and below stairs, and in all degrees that you may like to name.
When, from time to time, my mother took a flight of fancy and deserted her vividly imaginative world, and faced the reality that she could not afford the fees of private schools, and that I was not in fact getting any education sitting around the house all day, she would decide yet once again to try to educate me herself. It was always put to me that we must start my education “in earnest” and this happened so frequently that until the age of ten, by which time I had somehow had learnt to read, and could understand a calendar, I had believed that “earnest” was one of the months of the year.
There were even occasions when she did make a stab at it. Once she set up a school of her own, consisting of myself and two other children – and I’ve no doubt, in retrospect, that at the time my mother envisaged that this enterprise would flourish and grow until finally she would become headmistress of a new English public school…My mother believed that a good morning’s schooling in her own private one-room school should start with the three of us marching around while she played the grand piano. This was a very large and glossy grand piano which she had acquired from a finance company for this specific purpose, and which in due course the finance company acquired back for the specific purpose of cutting their losses.
Her main interest, educationally, at this time was to teach me to speak properly – I was then speaking a mixture of Cockney, Southern Irish, and Lowland Scots, which I had picked up from our five-shilling-a-week maids – and to teach me to count to one hundred. I eventually managed this feat, and I remember very clearly the sudden realisation that figures had a system.
But occasional flashes of understanding do not make an education. And in any case, no amount of fireside tuition can possibly make up for the lack of that all-important school playground, where the child grows out of its egotistical babyhood and learns the rudimentary principles of good-humoured survival among other children…
As a child the world of the school, be it council, public or what you-will, was as remote from me as Lancashire factory life must seem to a dowager duchess living in retirement in Bournemouth. I got second-hand information about it from children whom I met in the street, and who no doubt regarded me as something of a freak. Because they knew I didn’t go to school , and quickly realised that schools, prisons, lunatic asylums, and workhouses were all one as far I was concerned, they would revel in telling me about the most appalling things which went on inside. So much so that most of the time I felt very much happier at never being discovered by the authorities. Not only was I pleased with myself , there was even a sense of credit about it. I was superior and different, and I even despised the children who had been ensnared into the educational trap.
My other source of information on what went on inside schools would be free from the occasional private tutors my mother employed at rash moments of great extravagance. There was the elderly one-time public schoolmaster with the drunken wife, who varied tuition in copperplate handwriting and completely incomprehensible algebra – he hadn’t realised I couldn’t add up at the time- with vivid accounts of nocturnal and apparently illegal dormitory floggings in boarding schools. There was the terribly attractive young woman who lived with her mother in Kensington Church Street, who I wished could have been my sister. And, when I was about thirteen, there was a man who by night wore a blackshirt and sold fascist newspapers in the streets, and by day eked out a living giving private tuition to educationally subnormal children because by the time I made his acquaintance I was, from a point of view of any formal education, really backward.
My fourteenth birthday meant that we could all breathe a sigh of relief, for no more could there be the fear in our hearts of the knock on the door in the middle of the day, and the schoolman standing in the doorway. I shall never know how exactly we managed to get through the then nine compulsory without his ever calling. We changed our addresses fairly frequently, which may have made things more difficult for the inspectors – since it certainly did for our creditors. Or it may be that the schoolmen presume that all children will start school at the age of five and occupy themselves solely with chasing up those who didn’t continue to attend regularly. (Malcolm Hulke, “I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Elsie teamed up with another woman, Winifred Nellie Boot. Winifred was born in December 1889 in Nottingham. In the 1911 census she is listed as a Music and Singing Teacher, aged 22, sharing a flat in Church Street, Stoke Newington with a fellow teacher, Louise Annette Derbyshire. Between 1918 and 1925 the two teachers shared a house on Maury Road in Hackney. It appears that Elsie and Winifred met at some point in the next two years, for by 1927 they were sharing a house in Ashford, Surrey.
In 1928 the two women were taken to court in Deal in Kent for shoplifting at a drapers. It was alleged that Winifred had hidden two cardigans down in her skirt while a shop assistant was attending to Elsie After their acquittal, somewhat foolishly, they sued the drapers for wrongful imprisonment at the Kent Assizes but lost, the jury finding that Winifred had stolen the goods. In court Else admitted two convictions for obtaining money with worthless cheques and for stealing a money order worth £15 and asked for a dozen other offences to be taken into consideration. (Daily Herald, 28th February 1928). (A Special Branch report on Mac noted this conviction, but also recorded that a woman using the name Elsie Marion Smith – whom they believed was Mac’s mother – had been taken to court at Matlock in 1920. I have traced a number of newspaper reports on this court case in which a Elsie Marion Smith, described as a private secretary of no fixed abode, was convicted of stealing a cheque book, money orders and bank books from a Mrs. Caplen, a resident in a hotel in Matlock, although the theft had taken place in a hotel in Holborn where the two women had become friendly. Superintendent Clark said that the prisoner had a brother who was an assistant bank manager. The magistrates found Elsie guilty and imposed a fine of £10 or two months imprisonment. I am unable to confirm whether this was in fact Mac’s mother: one newspaper report mentioned that she had a BSc which, if true, would rule her out. Belper News, 14th May 1920, p. 2. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 3rd May 1920, p.7. Lichfield Mercury, 7th May 1920, p,6. KV2/3968, Special Branch report, 1st March 1948.)
Twelve months later Elsie and Winifred were living in Kensington and were still there in 1936, albeit at a different address. In 1938 they were living in Ruislip: by the end of the year they had moved to Deal. Had they been helped out by the Hulke family?
In August 1938 the teenage Mac started producing a Family Bulletin which he very enterprisingly typed up and circulated around his relatives. The Bulletins are largely made up of family news, the kind of news that today is put on Facebook.
The first issue noted the birth of a baby named Judith on 8th July to Francis and Geoffrey Ainsworth, who already had a daughter called Susan. Joan Ainsworth had done well in classes at Retford Technical College and has also undertaken a course in First Aid in connection in ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Sydney Ainsworth was an apprentice at De Havilland in Edgware. Ruth Gilbert (née Ainsworth) had written two books for children Elsie’s son Edmund had taken his pupils from Ballymoney High School on a holiday trip, beginning in Dublin where they saw the Book Of Kells and then crossing to Holyhead, cycling across Anglesey, journeying on to Liverpool and finally ending up in Stratford upon Avon! Mac, like most editors of such bulletins at school or work, appealed for contributions: Remember anything will do. Poems, stories, news, stories, or even hints to do with everyday life. in fact. There are a thousand-and-one ways of filling up the columns of the “Family Bulletin”.
The fourth issue came out in December 1938. This had a photograph of “Hardicot” on the front which Mac proudly announced as the “new and charming home of Mrs. E M Hulke”. The family news included the fact Joan Ainsworth had won a prize for the Senior Commercial Course while on page 2 there were drawings made by Geraldine and Mark.
The fifth Bulletin (now priced at 2d) appeared in January 1939, and had news of a more sombre nature. “We regret to announce the death of Miss Edith Raistrick Ainsworth who passsed away at 1.30am on Wednesday, Dec 14th 1938, while staying with her sister, Mrs E M Hulke, in Kent.” It continued:
For many years Miss Ainsworth had wandered, from room to room, never having a home. She had very few friends, but had a habit of talking to such people as night-watchmen, and strangers in storm shelters. The suddenness of her death has been a great shock to us all. I have known her all my conscious life and I feel that I have lost someone of whom I am a part.
The room she occupied at “Hardicot” overlooked the sea. It was furnished to suit her own simple tastes, tastes which were carried out to the last. A rich purple carpet lay on a scarlet Indian carpet. Two trestles covered with purple palls picked out in gold and bearing the inscription “IHS” supported her. At her head were two high oak candlesticks in which were burning golden candles, which never went out. I felt as she carried down the steps through the garden of “Hardicot” she left her blessing there.
A simple service was held in the village church, and a saddened little group of two brothers, her sister and myself stood beside a grass-lined grave. As the last rites we performed we could hear the murmur of the Sea she lived so well.
I heard voices choking with emotion say “Goodbye Edith” and my Mother and Uncles turned sadly homewards.
This was a sensitive piece of writing for a teenager. His mother also penned a heartfelt tribute to her sister for this issue:
I find it difficult to write about my sister. She lived in a world which was all her own. Only on rare occasions did she invite me into her kingdom. When she did, she gave me an insight into her REAL self. During such intimate times, I found in her a wealth of beauty, poetry and art. She talked to me as to no one else. She seemed to be searching continually for something elusive and indefinable. This, I think, accounted for her restlessness, always so obvious, but particularly in the last few weeks of our intimate intercourse. She often remarked upon her happiness, and would single out particular days of enjoyment and contentment. Her dry humour was captivating and it was a great thrill to her when it was appreciated. My sister was the most courteous woman I have known. The little courtesies of life, its culture and refinements, meant so much to her: she gave so freely of them to all.
Elsewhere in this issue Mac recorded that he was going to stay with Dr and Mrs Geoffrey Ainsworth, while his mother was going to visit Mr and Mrs S C Ainsworth.
The surviving Family Bulletins show that Elsie and her son, despite their itinerant, rackety lifestyle, were not alienated from her family or her sons, but were in regular contact with them. Mac grew up in a house of women where art and beauty and laughter were not strangers at the door.
Deal was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 4th October 1940, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, including three children. This event may explain why Elsie moved with Winifred and Mac to run another guesthouse called Glen Ellen, situated in Braithwaite near Keswick. Mac recalled his early intellectual forays with guests:
By reading the newspapers I could talk to our guests intelligently about Hitler and Mussolini, in such a way that they were convinced I was a very intelligent and educated young man of sixteen or seventeen. I learnt also that it is often much wiser and more intelligent-seeming, to be a good listener if the subject is above your head. Let the other person talk, then murmur “I see. So that’s your point of view, is it?” At this moment you convince them of your enormous wisdom and superior knowledge about their pet theme. An even less reputable trick is to drop into the conversation – should it be, say, about English literature – “Now tell me, have you read the works of Johnson?”When the poor victim admits that they have not, you say. “Ah, what a pity.” (Malcolm Hulke, “I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
According to a Special Branch report when Mac was eligible at the age of 18 at the end of 1942 to be called up into the armed forces he applied to become a Conscientious Objector but he failed to attend a tribunal and his name was removed from the list ( KV2/3968, Special Branch report, 1st March 1948.) However I have been unable to find any records to confirm this as there is no central register available. Counterintuitively there were actually more Conscientious Objectors in the Second World War than in the First World War, with 59,000 men and women applying to Tribunals, of whom 46,000 were registered in different categories.
His mother Elsie died on 30th June 1943, aged 60. Curiously, probate of just £50 was not granted to her son John Ainsworth Gordon until 27th March 1961. Mac stayed on in Braithwaite, running the guesthouse with Winifred. He also worked as a clerk in Keswick and then in London.
In January 1945 Mac was called up, and spent his war in the Royal Navy as an onboard canteen manager. (I have yet not been able to locate any records on his war service yet). He recalled:
I so convinced the interviewing officer of my high standard of brightness that I was put in charge of a sea-going grocery on a corvette without even the delay one might expect by some training – that is to say, they were short of men at the time because corvettes sank so quickly. But no-one ever knew the agonies I went through, locked in my pint-sized canteen, as the corvette ploughed through darkened mine-fields, as I tried to keep the accounts straight. Unable to divide, multiply, or subtract, no surfacing U-boat struck more terror into my heart than the prospect of the NAAFI Inspector’s check on my book-keeping on our infrequent return to harbour. But necessity being the mother of invention, I devised my own system of mathematics which worked so well that, six months later, in Dakar, Senegal, I was able to run a highly successful blackmarket in three different currencies for ten inglorious days that shook life into my bank balance. (Malcolm Hulke, “I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Mac was discharged from the Royal Navy as medically unfit on 31st January 1946; his service recorded his conduct as “Very Good.” (Presumably his nefarious and profitable activities as canteen manager had not come to light.) (National Archives KV2/3968, Special Branch report, 1st March 1948)
After he was demobbed Mac got a job as a shorthand typist at the Restafold Permanent Wave Company, 63 Frith Street, Soho, London, acting as secretary to the sales manager. Fearful of being stuck in a dead-end job with few psospects, he decided to improve his education.
By then wary that if I didn’t get some sort of formal learning, my mind might ossify before I got anything into it, I took a course of evening classes in Russian – and for the first time learnt something about my own English grammar. (Malcolm Hulke, “I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Man left the Restafold at the end of June 1947 and then had a number of casual jobs. In December 1947 he worked briefly in the head office of the Communist party (the reasons for his leaving are discussed in detail below). After that brief interlude he got a job as personal secretary to Stanley Forman, Secretary of the British Soviet Friendship Society (BSS) at £5.5.0 a week in their office at 15 Devonshire Street. The Society had been established in 1927 to promote cultural exchanges between the Soviet Union and Great Britain: by the 1950s had a membership of about 12,000 individuals along with some 50,000 affiliated members.
It was regarded, with some justification, by the authorities as a Communist front organisation. Stanley Forman (1921- 2013) was born in East London in 1921 into a Jewish family which, like many others, had fled the pogroms in Poland. As a young man he rejected the Jewish faith, though not Jewish culture, and joined the Communist party, aged 15. During the war his army service included landing in a tank on D-Day and running a de-Nazification programme in Kiel. After the war his party connections got him the job of running the British-Soviet Friendship Society. In 1950 he set up Plato Films to distribute films from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. ( Martin Smith, obituary of Stanley Forman, The Independent, 5th March 2013)
Mac found lodgings in Marylebone at 159 Gloucester Place, paying 16s 6d a week in rent. His savings were slender: just £15 in Barclays Bank and £20 in the Post Office Savings Bank.
After the war Mac discovered that not only that he was illegitimate (as noted above) but also that his birth had not been registered and therefore he was forced to apply to the authorities for naturalisation as he was technically classified as an “alien” (ironic in the light of his later science fiction writing).
His application led to him being investigated by the Special Branch in connection with his application and a three page report was prepared by a police constable which said that Mac had claimed to have been born at 88 Alexandra Road, Hampstead, London, a former home for destitute mothers. However, further investigation had revealed that this was a pre-natal clinic only, and that women admitted there actually gave birth at Queen Charlotte Hospital. “The most exhaustive enquiry and search of official and other records has failed to trace the birth of the applicant and no information had come to hand to shew in what name his mother was admitted to the home, if ever she was was, in fact, a patient.”
After an account of Mac’s service in the Royal Navy, his various jobs since demobilisation and his membership of the Communist party, the constable concluded with an extraordinary attack on Mac’s character, unjustified by any evidence which he had so far presented:
This individual is a poseur and professed agnostic with an exaggerated idea of his own importance. Little reliance can be placed on his statements regarding the circumstances of his birth and enquiry shows that he is a man with little regard for the truth. It is suggested that his application for naturalisation has been submitted in an effort to throw on to the Home Office the onus of establishing his birth and parentage and, as consequence, his nationality. (National Archives KV2/3968, Special Branch report, 1st March 1948.)
It seems entirely possible that Mac’s mother gave birth to him at home, which would explain the absence of medical records confirming the birth, and then never bothered to register her baby’s birth. Despite this negative report the Registrar General eventually agreed to issue Mac with a Confirmation of British Citizenship at a cost of £10 in August 1949.
Mac moved back to Cumberland in the summer of 1948, working once more at Glen Ellen, and did not return to London until September 1951, where he stayed for a time with friends and party members, Ray and Renee Dowell. He worked for a short while for another fellow Communist Mark Jordan who had bought a building in Notting Hill Gate to house a Progressive and Cultural Club at 32 Kensington Park Road which opened in late 1951. Mac was recorded as living there in the 1952 electoral register along with Mark and Eileen Jordan, but by the end of January 1952 he had moved once more and was resident at 1 Hampstead Hill Gardens, Hampstead and now working at the Abbot Box company, 2/6 Rothsay Street, Bermondsey in the administrative and sales side of the firm.
He found the position frustrating, however, as “there is no scope for initiative, no drive, no conception of the delegation of responsibility.” (National Archives, KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to London District Committee, 19th September 1952) In June 1952 he moved again to 9C Porchester Road, Bayswater, lodging with a Communist party member, Frank Wilde.
Having long harboured a desire to become a writer, Mac set about this in a typically methodical way, much as he had previously taught himself book-keeping:
At twenty-five I started to do something about my life-long ambition to become a writer. I started to read books in a big way, analysing the construction of stories, and referring to a dictionary every word I didn’t understand. I have never learnt to spell, and still can’t; and if I have any style at all, it is probably because I invariably choose small words I know how to spell. About this time I wrote a full-length who-dunit which no-one wanted to publish, and some short stories which ended up the same way. (Malcolm Hulke, “I Never Went To School,” (BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
By September 1953 Mac was lodging at 45 Parliament Hill, Hampstead, the house of Betty and George Tate, fellow Communists, who had three daughters. Betty had read history at Oxford and joined the party in the early 1930s. In 1941 she married George Tate, who was a historian and journalist at the Daily Worker. George died in 1956, but Mac stayed on in the house, helping out with her party activities, writing pamphlets for the Socialist Sunday School, selling the Daily Worker, and running fundraising bazaars. ( Jean Tate, Annie Sedley and Sue Tate, “Obituary of Betty Tate,” The Guardian, 1st April 2010. John Williams, “Red Hulke,” Doctor Who Magazine, 489, September 2015)
In 1954 Mac got a new job, carrying out secretarial duties at the Electrical Industries Benevolent Association, 32 Old Burlington Street, in the West End. Towards the end of 1955 he moved job yet again, taking up the post of Hostel Appeal Organiser for the National Union of Students who were seeking to raise £30,000. A letter from Mac on this subject appeared in the Manchester Guardian in November: “Your report on Mr P L Brooke’s castigation of students at the National Union of Students council meeting at Ormskirk for their apparent “scandalous” apathy towards NUS hostel appeal has given the appeal unexpected but not unwelcome publicity. But how welcome the reporter would have been at the ensuing hostel appeal meeting when more than sixty invited delegates stayed up until the small hours to discuss the appeal and to report on their plans for raising funds...” (Manchester Guardian, 16th November 1955)
After the Hostel Organiser job came to an end, Mac went to work at an advertising agency, the Leighton Baldwin Group, 24 Fitzroy Square, in the West End. He worked for another advertising agency E.P.P.L., Chancery Lane, before taking the plunge in 1958 and becoming a full-time writer.
Around 1959 Winifred Boot moved from Cumberland down to London and she and Mac bought a house round the corner from Betty at 33 South Hill Park which they set up as a lodging house, with Mac acting as landlord and general handyman. The house sometimes held up to four lodgers. Eric Paice lived there for several years, as did Terrrance Dicks, firstly on his own and then with his wife Elsa in 1964. Winifred died in late 1967: Mac continued living at 45 Parliament Hill until his death in 1979. (John Williams, “Red Hulke,” Doctor Who Magazine, 489, September 2015. Electoral Registers for Hampstead)
Mac and the Communist Party of Great Britain
Mac joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in June or July 1945, not because of a sudden conversion to its politics or Marxist economics and philosophy, but because, as he later disclosed “…I had just met a lot of Russian POW’s in Norway, because the Soviet Army had just then rolled back the Germans.” (National Archives, KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Executive Committee, 16th November 1951) He later wrote that his adoption of Communism had been “more an emotional expression than a logical conclusion.” (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Emile Burns, 14th June 1949)
Directed by Moscow, the CPGB had initially opposed the war after Stalin had done a deal with Hitler in August 1939, both dictators pledging not to attack each other, but when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, the line changed and the British party faithfully swung fully behind the war. Its members now set up Anglo-Soviet Friendship Societies and played a leading roles in committees to increase productivity in war factories.
The party gained a great deal of prestige when the Red Army held Hitler’s armies at Moscow in 1941, encircled and broke the 6th Army commanded by Friedrich Paulus at Stalingrad in 1943, and then drove the German armies all the way back to Berlin, which they took in April 1945 after a ferocious battle which shattered the city.
In the 1945 general election the CPGB polled over 100, 000 votes and had two members of parliament elected – Willie Gallacher (West Fife) and Phil Piratin (Mile End) – as well as over 200 councillors in different parts of Britain. The climate soon changed however, with the beginning of the Cold War between the East and the West, often dated to a speech that Winston Churchill made on 5th March 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, in which he said that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Whilst anti-Communism in Britain never reached the levels of hysteria and paranoia that it did in the United States during the McCarthyite witchhunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which destroyed hundreds of people’s lives, it was not a popular or easy choice to be known as a Communist while party members were closley monitored by the authorities as we shall see.
The Communist party placed a great deal of importance on political education. Mac would have been encouraged to attend evening meetings and weekend schools on economics, history and politics as wella s social events. He may well have met some of the historians, poets, writers and musicians who belonged to the party in that era. These included Peter Blackman, Alan Bush, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, Doris Lessing, Edgell Rickword, John Saville, Montague Slater, Randall Swingler, Edward Thompson and Dona Torr.
Mac would have also been encouraged to understand the importance of discipline, of placing the interests and decisions of the party before personal preferences and desires. (This may have later helped his writing career, discipline is a very useful asset for writers faced with the inevitable fast-approaching deadlines.)
Back home in Braithwaite after being demobbed, Mac was enrolled as member of the Cockermouth branch, as there was no branch in Keswick. In the summer of 1946 he went down to London and transferred to the Marylebone branch where his party activity included becoming Secretary of the Marylebone Young Communist League. He also took part in picketing at the Savoy and in the squatting movement in the autumn of 1946 (National Archives KV 2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 28th January 1952)
Ted Willis – with whom Mac later worked on a number of television series and worked with to set up the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain – was National Secretary of the YCL from 1946 to 1951, writing a pamphlet called Fighting youth of Russia: the story of the young men and women of the Soviet Union (1942). It seems likely that it was in the YCL that Mac and Ted met for the first time, a friendship which would endure until Mac’s death.
Chafing at the limited nature of his job, Mac wrote to the party’s headquarters at 16 King Street, Covent Garden, to enquire as to whether there were any vacant positions of a clerical nature. He explained that he was 22, and that his previous experience included having been “manager of a family business, later as a Canteen Manager, and for year after demobilisation I was employed as a secretary, to a small firm, this position included short-hand-typing, book-keeping, full knowledge of P.A.Y.E.” He also wrote that he had been a party member for 18 months, had been active in the Marylebone branch, and was at present Branch Secretary of the Marylebone YCL. “Despite my many efforts to find essential work, I am at present in a non-essential capacity. As it does not seem possible for me to find industrially useful work I am very keen, therefore, to be employed in a politically useful occupation.” (National Archives KV2/2968, Malcolm Hulke to CPGB head office, 21st October 1947)
This letter was intercepted by MI5 which led the Security Service to send an enquiry to Special Branch at Scotland Yard, asking if they had information “about the individual mentioned below, who is known to be a member of the Communist Party.” The enquiry was made on a pre-printed form, so this was clearly a routine bureaucratic procedure. (National Archives KV2/2968, 30th October 1947, MI5 to Deputy Commander, Special Branch)
His application was successful (presumably after some rigorous vetting by party officials). On 20th November Mac rang the party’s head office to speak to Reuben Falber. For thee edecades Falber was a key official in the party’s hierarchy, becoming deputy General Secretary in 1968. Chris Myant wrote in his obituary: “If there were secrets the leadership did not want shared, he knew them better than anyone and protected them with a stubborn, sometimes ruthless, determination.” Chris Myant, “Obituary of Reuben Falber, “The Independent, 23rd October 2011
Falber was at lunch, so Mac spoke to Peter Kerrigan and confirmedthat he would be giving notice the following day. Kerrigan told him that he was most likely to be working at King Street, and not at the Daily Worker. (National Archives KV2/3968, transcript of incoming phone call to CP head office, 20th November 1947). The name “Hulke” is underlined on the transcript, a handwritten note asks: “this is not a common name. Could it be possible f identity?”). Kerrigan, a Glaswegian engineering worker who had been a party stalwart since the 1920s, was the National Organiser, having previously been the Industrial Organiser up to 1943.
Mac started work on 1st December, but within days he had drawn a great deal of suspicion onto himself by naively or foolishly phoning Scotland Yard from the party’s offices to enquire about his application for naturalisation. On 3rd December he phoned a Mr Clay, an official or policeman at Scotland Yard, who told him he should try and get his mother’s birth certificate and that they would want a history of his whole life. Mac told Clay that there were people who knew his mother before he was born but he was unable to produce a doctor or midwife who could certify anything about his birth. As far as he knew he had been born here and lived here all his life. Clay offered to come and see him at his place of work but, not surprisingly, Mac put him off and said that he would go and see him on Saturday morning. (National Archives KV2/3968, transcript of outgoing phone call from CP head office, 3rd December 1947)
How the party officials become aware of the phone call is not disclosed in the files. Either he was overheard or perhaps, as a new staff member, Mac’s outgoing phone calls were being quietly monitored by the switchboard..
A few days later the listening device in the party’s office picked up a conversation between Jimmy Shields and Reuben Falber in which the latter gave Shields a summary of Mac’s interview at Scotland Yard with the police. Mac ha dbeen questioned about his attitude to the constitution of a democratic government. In Shields’ view the police had done some considerable checking up. Later that afternoon Falber asked to see Mac. Presumably it was at this meeting that Mac was asked to leave his post in the interests of the party. (National Archives KV2/3968, transcript of Table material, 8th December 1947)
On 11th December Reuben Falber received a phone call from Stanley Forman of the British Soviet Friendship Society (BSFS) who told him that Mac had applied for a job as a secretary at the Society and that he he had given him “a rather involved story” as to why he had left King Street. Falber explained that Mac had worked “quite satisfactorily” but after a few days “this involved story” came out and they decided it was neither in his interests nor those of the party to continue his employment.
Falber said that Mac wasn’t “a bad lad,” although he did have “one or two small peculiarities that he might be able to overcome” but they had never employed anyone at King Street who was not a British citizen “for obvious reasons.” His own personal opinion was the BSFS should not employ him either. Forman, who was in need of a personal secretary. , said that they felt rather the same, but he thought it only fair “to check up on the lad.” Despite Falber’s misgivings, Forman decided to give Mac the job. (National Archives KV2/3968, transcript of incoming phone call to CP head office, 11th December 1947
In the summer of 1948 Mac moved back to Braithwaite, working once more at Glen Ellen and rejoining the Cockermouth branch of the party. Some party members stayed at the guest house from time to time, including Norman Levy from Stockton-on-Tees, Dr. Joss Horn from Birmingham, Maurice and Elsie Elliot from Coventry and Duke Grandjean who convalesced there in the autumn of 1948.
Grandjean (1899-1968), who had been an RAF pilot in the First World War, was active in the Labour party before joining the Communist party in 1935. He was London organiser during the Second World War, greatly increasing the Party’s membership. There is a reference in one of Mac’s letters to “an episode” that occurred when Grandjean was staying at Glen Ellen, but the nature of this is not disclosed, although Mac did tell some party members about “the sorry tale,” as he termed it. (National Archives KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Reuben Falber, 18th September 1951)
Mac continued his work for the party, but was less than impressed by some of the party literature he received. In fact, with the self-belief of youth, he wrote to Emile Burns at the head office with his criticisms, taking the opportunity to praise his own propaganda efforts:
Sometimes I think that many Comrades – and especially those deeply engrossed in party life – tend to imagine, rather hopefully, that the rest of the community, though they may be anti—Communist or anything else, are linguistically well-equipped and polemically astute. What’s more, they don’t always seem to realise that most people regard politics as not much more important than football pools or going to the pictures. This is not likely to change until people understand that politics in general, and Communism in particular, are bound up with their own private lives….Another point I wished to raise is that I have never seen any Party literature of a diagrammatic nature, apparently this way of conveying meanings is fairly successful, for it is used often enough in newspapers and magazines. I once drew a set of diagrams-cum-pictures to explain historical materialism to a young and not over intelligent friend: judging by the sort of questions which this provoked her to ask, the message had certainly reached its mark. Certainly I should have been most grateful for such pictorial education when I first joined the party. He also suggested that they should refer to themselves as “Reds”. (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Emile Burns, 14th June 1949).
Although now living outside London, Mac was still being monitored, this time by the local police force. On 22nd January 1949 the Chief Constable of Cumberland and Westmorland sent information about Mac to MI5, noting that he was assisting in running a boarding house and describing him as “5’6″, proportionate build, dark hair, brown eyes, aggressive type…There is no branch of the Communist Party in Keswick but he may still be a member of the Marylebone branch…Associates with Miss Eileen Lindsay.” Eileen, who lived at The Anchorage, Ambleside Road in Keswick, had her own file but this is not yet available in the National Archives. (National Archives KV2/3968, Chief Constable of Cumberland and Westmorland, to MI5, 22nd February 1949.)
Whether Eileen was a girlfriend or friend is not clear from the correspondence, but she was a member of the Communist party for a time: a letter intercepted by the Post Office in early March 1949 revealed that Eileen and Mac had written to Bill Ferrie, Secretary of the North West Communist party, proposing a resolution: “That the words ‘British Communist Party’ should appear on all party literature, etc.” ( National Archives KV2/3968, Head Postmaster, Carlisle to Investigations Branch, Special Section, 7th March 1949).
The only other party members in Keswick were Carmen and Leslie Walker. On the available evidence Carmen would appear to be Carmen Gil, a teaching assistant, who had journeyed from Spain to England in May 1937 on a refugee ship, accompanying, with other teachers, some 4,000 Basque children, who were escaping the Civil War. The ship was protected by a British destroyer.
Carmen had survived the bombing of Guernica the previous month and had volunteered to come with the children after a discussion with her family, who supported the Republican side in the Civil War. Interviewed in 2004 she said: “I remember my brother; he said ‘I know a lot of people who want their children to go to England. They are my friends; some are going to the front. They will always be grateful to you for taking their children to England where they know they will be safe.’ He said, I was not running away, I was doing the best job.”
The children were looked after in different parts of the country. Around 400 Basque children were looked after in the North East and and Cumberland. Carmen was at 40 Percy Park, Tynemouth, where the children were supported financially by the Northumberland and Durham miners’ lodges. She recalled that most people were kind: “They were very good, the people, except the next- door neighbour on one side. There was one neighbour, she was very, very, good. They had long gardens, allotments almost, and they used to send rhubarb, which we’d never had in Spain. ” Leslie Walker was a Labour party activist who was on the Percy Park hostel committee. In October 1938 he and Carmen got married in Tynemouth.
The Basque country fell to Franco’s armies in the summer of 1937, leading to many Republicans being jailed or executed. In October 1937 the Bishop of Vitoria had circulated a Bulletin in which he accused those who had been responsible for the evacuation of the children of committing “an appalling crime,” and conspiring with “the enemies of God and of their country.” Carmen said: “My father in Spain was in what would have been the Labour Party here, and he was in prison. He was released before the war ended. When there was talk about me going back, they wrote to say they would be very pleased to see me, but we haven’t very much room in the house, and if you are coming you will have to go and live with Pilar. Now I knew Pilar was in prison, so this was a way of telling me it was dangerous for me to go back.” In fact Carmen did not visit Spain again until 1966, when Franco finally declared an amnesty for the Republican side in the Civil War. (Politics and Humanitarian Aid: Basque refugees in the North East and Cumbria During the Spanish Civil War, by Don Watson (2005), pp. 3-4, 21. https://www.basquechildren.org/-/docs/articles/refugeesnecumbria Don Watson, The niños in the North East and Cumbria. Talk for the North East Labour History Society, 2005. https://www.basquechildren.org/-/docs/articles/refugeesnecumbria2)
Mac had some concerns about the Walkers’ membership because they were trying to get Carmen’s sister out of Spain. In a letter to Bill Ferrie he explained that they were “to an extent, under an obligation to the British police and, for that matter, to the Spanish Govt. Now I know that this may be making a mountain out of a molehill but I also know what a serious attitude the Party takes to situations such as these. ..had I known about the sister in Spain before they joined the Party I should first have put the matter before you prior to accepting their affiliation.” Mac admitted that with just four members (one of whom was inactive), the Keswick group was not involved in any campaigns, apart from Leslie Walker taking out five shares in the Daily Worker. As part of his attempt to promote the party in Cumberland, Mac asked Bill for lists of members and lapsed members in Cockermouth, offering to go and visit them on his bicycle. (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Bill Ferrie, 14th November 1949 and 23rd November 1949)
Malcolm reported back to Bill Ferrie that his cycling trip to Cockermouth had been “moderately promising “, having visited the homes of a number of former members, with some unexpected revelations vouchsafed to him on occasions. Mrs. Skillen, for instance, told him within five minutes of his arrival that she did not like her husband and that the party was “not big enough for both of them.” John Stephenson, a former secretary of the Cockermouth party, revealed to Mac that he no longer held a party card. “His experience has been one of continual victimisation until he found it almost impossible to get a job anywhere in the locality. Not only that, he has a grudge against most of the others in Cockermouth who he contends let him down too often. Not only that, he feels very sore about Hymie Lee who…destroyed all his good work by coming along and issuing directives, instructions and criticism in all directions.” Mac was unable to persuade Stephenson to renew his party membership. (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Bill Ferrie, 29th November 1949.) Lee had been in the party since 1923, and was on the Central Committee)
In December 1949 Mac attended a District week-end school, and also wrote to the Party in Glasgow offering to volunteer to do some work in the Gorbals – where Peter Kerrigan was the party’s candidate – in the forthcoming General Election, which took place on 23rd February 1950. Having received Mac’s letter, the party’s election agent Gordon McLennan wrote to Bill Ferrie to say that they were concerned that they would have to provide accommodation and meals and his fare, while some members felt that if Mac had some free time it should be spent on the election campaign in his own area. (National Archives KV2/3968, Gordon McLennan to Bill Ferrie, 10th January 1950.)If Bill replied, it is not present in the archives.
In any event, Mac wrote to the Glasgow party again on 19th January 1950 to say that he was withdrawing his offer as he was now going to go to Newcastle. Somewhat tetchily he complained that he had not received a reply to his previous letter, instead he had been told by Bill Ferrie over the phone that they could not put him up, and ended the letter less than diplomatically: “my point of criticism is that a less experienced party member might even have been lost to the party through such deplorable treatment.” (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Scottish District Committee, 19th January 1950). Party members who had gone through the 1930s, for instance, and fought against unemployment and fascism, might have queried whether Mac was experienced as he thought. During the election Mac spent a week in the Newcastle party office, working with Hymie Lee. ( McLennan was elected as General Secretary of the party in 1975, holding the post until 1989.)
There is a gap of a year in the files on Mac. It may be explained by his growing disillusion with the party which seems to date from the summer of 1950, leading him to become less active.
Whereas in London Mac had been part of a party with many branches in the Capital and numerous activities to join in with, up in rural Cumberland he was an outsider, indeed an oddity, in a county where the Labour Party was the political vehicle for working class voters. So he filled his spare time with a study of Marxism, although, as he later confessed, when asking to be allowed back into the party: “…being politically isolated, I made the error of arriving at the point where I convinced myself that I understood it all from A to Z. … I convinced myself that I completely saw through it.” (National Archives KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Executive Committee of the Communist Party, 16th November 1951)
In January 1951 when Mac wrote to the North West District Secretary, now Arthur Taylor, with details of the three members in Keswick (Eileen Lindsay, and Carmen and Leslie Walker), he also advised him that he did not intend to continue his membership of the party. He gave a number of reasons: “not the least being a growing feeling that Communism may not as democratic as I used to think, but to be honest the straw that broke the donkey’s back was the Korean affair… (And once a man has started wanting to believe in a thing, it’s about time he really set about some deep thinking).”
After the end of the Second World War Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel into two countries; a pro-West South and a Communist North. On 25th June 1950 the North, backed by China, attacked the South. The United Nations voted to support the South with troops, including some from the USA and Britain, and the war raged on for two years, destroying much of the country and costing millions of lives, until the fighting was brought to an end by an armistice which left the two countries frozen in an uneasy peace. Over a thousand British soldiers died, many more were wounded.
Mac is quite defensive in his letter though, stating that he is not now “an all out opponent of the Party” but “one can only go so far accepting political lines with which one doesn’t wholehearedly agree because of the broader issues which are at stake, and I reckon I’ve gone that far.” He assures Taylor that he does not intend to voice these feelings to anyone else because he “did not wish to win personal prestige by disclaiming a doctrine which at the moment is not very popular.” (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to NW District Secretary, 3rd January 1951).
Arthur Taylor responded with a letter on 11th January, but this is not in the files. Clearly eager to justify his change of attitude towards the party, Mac replied the following day with a seven page letter.
“Your reference to my being a “middle class comrade”, though more or less accurate suggests that you conclude that my reasons for not wishing to continue party membership are personal…Never have I heard a Communist admit the possibility that another comrade’s deviations might be caused through real political convictions. Always it is ‘political confusion’ or ‘subjective thinking’.”
However, Mac then goes on to admit that “a) probably half my reasons for my joining the CP were personal and b) probably half my reasons for leaving the CP are personal” but also that “odds and sods of things have slowly built up on my mind the belief that there is something about Communism which I do not find altogether desirable.”
One of the “odd and sods” was the dictatorial way that Mac says he was treated by Stanley Forman when he was working for the BSFS. “...it came to me that life would be very unpleasant if we had a Cabinet composed of Stanley Formans….is it not faintly possible that his turn of mind is the type that is attracted to Communism. And if so, isn’t it possible that there’s something about Communism, something slightly unscrupulous and rather inhuman, which attracts that type?“( National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Arthur Taylor, 12th January 1951)
Another issue raised by Mac was the party attitude to Tito, the leader of Communist Yugoslavia, who fell out with Stalin in 1948 over his desire to pursue independent policies. Previously revered as a hero by them for his resistance campaign against the Nazi occupiers in Yugoslavia and post-war building of a Communist state, the British Communists slavishly fell into line with Moscow’s change of line in denouncing Tito. As part of this campaign, in 1951 a leading member of the British party, James Klugmann, wrote From Trotsky to Tito, described by Paul Flewers as “one of the most odious publications that ever emerged from the Communist Party of Great Britain during the postwar period.” (Paul Flewers, “A note on James Klugmann’s From Trotsky to Tito,“ New Interventions, volume 7, no 2, Spring 1996.
Mac clearly found the intellectual and ideological gymnastics involved in the change of line hard to stomach. “Simply because he elected to go his own way, he immediately becomes an arch-renegade, enemy of the Yugoslav people, an agent of the British and American capitalists.”
After several more pages of other complaints on how the party treated those who asked questions and its dismisive attitude to non-members, Mac summed up: “I am not sure that I want to live in a Marxist state, where everyone is judged by how terrifically Marxist they are…I hope I haven’t been all too long-winded. Even with seven pages I have only covered the very fringe of my doubts. Despite all his criticisms, Mac ends the letter with an invitation to Arthur to visit Braithwaite: “I’ll be very glad to make you welcome.” (National Archives KV2/3968 , Malcolm Hulke to Arthur Taylor, 12th January 1951) The letter’s length and numerous justifications suggest that the real argument Mac was embroiled in was with himself, and that he was internally conflicted about his decision to leave the party, otherwise he would have simply written a short note of resignation.
With its customary efficiency MI5 quickly circulated Mac’s decision to leave the party. On 26th January Percy Sillitoe wrote to the Chief Constable of Cumberland and Westmorland to advise him of what had happened. “The reasons for his change of heart would appear to be a genuine reluctance on his part to accept the Party’s attitude to the Korean war.” A week later Sillitoe wrote to the Chief Constable of the Borough of Barrow, stating that he would be grateful for any information that he could “pick up” and pass on. (National Archives KV2/3968, Percy Sillitoe to Chief Constable of Cumberland and Westmorland, 26th January 1951, Percy Sillitoe to Chief Constable of Barrow, 3rd February 1951).
In February Sillitoe was sent a copy of a report from Inspector Bell at Keswick police station in which Bell stated that, based on his personal knowledge of Mac, “I do not think he is the type of person who can sever his connection with the party, seeing he is so steeped in their doctrines. My information is that he is as active as ever, especially on the canvassing and distribution of literature side of the campaign. He does not appear to be making any headway on the furtherance of the Communist Party Policy in this district, probably this is the cause of his resignation, but at this time he should continue to receive every attention, as in my view he is a dangerous man and without scruples, so far as his Communistic outlook is concerned.” (National Archives KV2/3968, Inspector Bell to Superintendent Baum, 17th February 1951) It is hard to accept Bell’s evaluation of Mac as “a dangerous man” when, despite his best efforts over two years he had recruited no more than three people to the party in Keswick out of a population of 5,000.
In his response Sillitoe revealed that, although the police in Cumberland considered Mac’s resignation was not genuine, “our source…was quite emphatic that he had undergone a complete change of heart and repeated the numerous reasons for his having done so.” (National Archives KV 2/3968, Percy Sillitoe to Chief Constable of Cumberland and Westmorland. 28th February 1951) It appears that MI5 was receiving information from someone close to Mac, perhaps even a party member.
Despite having resigned, in June Mac wrote to Emile Burns at the party’s head office with a question on Marxist theory “Dialectical materialism is the process of applying dialectics (which are mental ) to materialism (which conform to an unchanging pattern of quantitative and cumulative change). Everything is material ; there is nothing ‘spiritual’. But if everything is material conforming to the immutable change-pattern, then the mind must also be material, in which case can the mind (which being material has no ‘free will’ of its own) apply dialectics (which are above, beyond and outside of materialism) to materialism?” (National Archives KV2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Emile Burns, 13th June 1951). If Burns replied, it is not in the files.
In September 1951 Mac returned to London, living in Marylebone again with friends, and almost immediately he re-applied to join the local branch, after speaking to some comrades and visiting Emile Burns at the party’s headquarters on 17th September (with whom he discussed some “theoretical issues”) and who advised him to read Anti-Duhring. He was asked to write a formal letter with biographical details which he did on 24th September. Mac was now staying at an address in St. Albans.
On his social origins he said that he was brought up by “two poverty-stricken clingers-on to the notion that whereas it is reasonably all right to soil one’s hand in filthy commerce (ie to run cock-eyed business ventures, so shaky that one never dare look the creditors in the face) it is hardly the thing to work for one’s living. This, I imagine, puts me in the middle-class bracket.” As regards occupations he said he had been “an office-boy, teleprinter operator, short-hand typist, sales manager’s secretary, commercial traveller, NAAFI canteen manager, partner in a guest house, and now… a caretaker-cum-bottle-washer (which is supposed to give me sufficient free time in which to revise a novel that I’ve written)”
Regarding his decision to leave the party Mac explained that it was “the result of 3 1/2 years of ideological isolation in Cumberland with the anti-Communist guns sniping at me from all sides.” In the section on “self criticism” he admitted that his past Party work “seems to have gone in spasms of lethargy and enthusiasms, sometimes because of the situation, sometimes because I was engrossed in something else (e.g. chasing a girl) or just felt pessimistic..“
In answer to the final question as to his “future aspirations” Mac wrote: “To hold a party Card, and, when possible, to gain further Marxist education. I intend to make a published writer of myself – until that goal is reached I do not see my way clear to becoming an active Party member again.” Which is a decidedly odd thing to end with when applying for re-admittance, particularly to a party which prized activism. (National Archives KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to CP Central Organisation Department, 24th September 1951)
His application was handled by Betty Reid, head of the Organisation Department. In his obituary of Betty in the Guardian in 2004, historian Kevin Morgan described her as “one of those responsible for maintaining “vigilance” against hostile or dissident elements. Reflecting the then atmosphere in eastern Europe, this was a time when the party rule book was toughened up, and Reid acquired a formidable reputation for deploying it.” (Kevin Morgan, obituary of Betty Reid., The Guardian, 11th February 2004) Reid quickly took against Mac and never changed her opinion thereafter, indeed her opinion of him worsened because of a number of other incidents.
After writing and speaking to Reid, Mac followed up with a letter, both defensive and self-congratulatory in tone, which reveals that he sensed (quite rightly) that Reid was already suspicious of him.
“There was after all one more point that I wanted to mention yesterday; a point which I hope may help reverse the idea (which I’m sure you must have formed) that I am an altogether unreliable type.
Trumpet-blowing as it may sound, it is true that although, as I told you, I began to feel that life without a party card would be so much easier, I did not and have not at any time announced my resignation from the Party to any non-Party people, or, for that matter, to any party members (such as the two comrades whom I recruited in Keswick, etc) who were not sufficiently politically advanced for my backsliding to have no effect on their own Party membership…the fact remains, however, that the Party’s name was in no way damaged by my temporary aberration. What’s more, during this period I have continued to talk as a Communist (and not without some little success in bringing individuals to our viewpoint), simply because I have found it impossible to think other than as a Communist.” (KV 2/3968, Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 6th October 1951)
Mac wrote to Reid again a few days later with some more references for her to follow up, including Chris Bainbridge in Manchester whom he describes as “Secretary, Keswick Socialist Holiday Camp.” (I have not been able to find out anything more about this organisation.) (National Archives KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 10th October 1951)
Betty wrote to Bill Ferrie, now living in Oxford, asking for his views. He replied briefly that he thought Mac “was too unreliable to be readmitted into the party” and that he was “unstable and erratic. Arthur Taylor responded in a similar vein, stating categorically that “on no account should he be readmitted” as he had heard from Keswick comrades that Mac had gone to London “to write a book of a political nature!” Arthur wrote to Reid again a fortnight later with copies of the letters Mac had sent him. He added that he made further enquiries and it seemed “from a personal and financial point of view he was not trusted by the comrades at Keswick who knew him” while Glen Ellen had a bad reputation as regards payment of debts and treatment of customers. As regards political activity in Keswick he alleged that when a small group was organised in the town to form a Peace Committee, Mac disrupted it by quoting passages from the Communist Manifesto. In conclusion. Taylor reiterated he did not feel Mac should be readmitted. (National Archives KV2/3968, Bill Ferrie to Betty Reid, 25th October 1951. National Archives, KV 2/3967, Arthur Taylor to Betty Reid, 24th October 1951. Arthur Taylor to Betty Reid, 12th November 1951)
Margaret Airey was of a different opinion, however, advising Betty that she thought Mac should be accepted back into the party. She said that he had been living in an isolated area of Keswick, running a hotel business, “but doing what he could locally.” She believed that when he was in the Cockermouth branch he was quite effective, though he “tended to be very sure of himself and self-opinionated but nothing very harmful.” She was surprised when he called in at Newcastle and told her that he had lapsed. “We had some argument and I told him he was making excuses for simple laziness, and argued he should be in the Party, even if he could not do very much.” (National Archives, KV2/3967, Margaret Airey to Betty Reid, 5th November 1951)
Reid had heard about Mark Jordan’s Progressive and Cultural Club and also the fact that he had apparently offered a job to Mac, which immediately raised her hackles. She wrote to Alex Miller on the London District Committee asking about Jordan and mentioning Mac’s application to rejoin. A few days later MI5 overheard Reid discussing Mac and the Club, telling her colleagues dismissively that he was “going to have a room there and cut sandwiches or something.” In early December Reid received some information about the Club from John Recordon, passed on by Miller. He said Jordan was a nationalised Greek who was a longstanding and very active party member who was absolutely reliable, and that he intended the Club to be a “Cultural and Social affair, showing progressive films, with occasional lectures on om music, painting etc and of course the usual social activities. There will be a comrade in charge of the club” (meaning Mac presumably.) Jordan, Recordon continued, “did not want it, at the moment at any rate, to be openly connected with the party. The aim is to attract progressive minded people who are interested in cultural activities.” (National Archives KV2/3967, Betty Reid to Alex Miller, 10th October 1951. Transcript of MI5 Table material, 16th October 1951. John Recordon to Alex Miller, 4th December 1951. In the 1939 census Mark Theodore Jordan was listed as a car dealer).
In mid November Reid wrote to Mac to inform him that his application had been refused. Mac immediately phoned Reid to say that it had come as a blow and asked if he could see her or appeal. He also wanted to know what had been said so that he might respond to any comments made about him. Reid advised him to put his statement to the Executive Committee. Mac replied that it was a farcical situation as he was going round encouraging people to join the party, but he could not get in it himself. Reid told Mac they had made the necessary enquiries from people he had referred to, and from people who had been associated with him in the past, and that, on the basis of their own feelings and replies, the general conclusion was that there was “a certain instability” and it was better for him not to be readmitted. In conclusion Reid assured him that if he wrote to EC it would be dealt with “in the proper way.” Mac ended the call by saying that he would get a letter off straightaway. (National Archives KV2/3967, transcript of incoming phone call to Betty Reid 16th November 1951)
And indeed Mac did so, penning a three page letter. In his account again of why he left the party he explained that it was the result of isolation, having been got at by his brother (“one of those clever-talking intellectual reactionaries“), anti-Communist propaganda and tremendous emotional stress, coupled with complete “ideological isolation.” However, as soon as he had arrived back in London ten weeks ago he had realised that his place “was in the Communist Party.” He asked if consideration could be given to allowing him to reapply in three or six months time (National Archive KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to the Executive Committee of the Communist Party, 16th November 1951)
On 20th November Reid wrote to Mac advising him that he could reapply in six months time and that it would be carefully assessed, taking into consideration his work for the party as well as the opinions of those with whom he had been working. Mac replied the following day, thanking Reid, but also adding that he was “trying to make a writer of myself and therefore, as I must also earn my living, I simply will not have the time to make a good show of working my way back into the party...” He also said that Mark Jordan believed that “it would not be politically helpful to the social-political-cultural club he is about to open if I, as front man, take part in local party street work.” Finally, he asked that Ray Dowell be allowed to give a reference on his behalf as he had not been approached, despite having been cited by Mac. (National Archives KV 2/3967, Betty Reid to Malcolm Hulke 20th November 1951. Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 21st November 1951)
Despite having been told to reapply after six months, Mac wrote again to Reid at the end of January 1952, asking to be readmitted on the grounds that he was doing work for the party such as helping with the Marylebone Daily Worker bazaar, and citing Anna Campbell and Bill Eburn as references for his work. This letter set off another exchange of correspondence between him and Betty Rei .
In her response Reid said that they found it difficult to understand his letter. “I see no reason why you should not work in co-operation with the Party branch and under its direction, although I must say that I doubt the wisdom of your undertaking such responsibilities as speaking to the branch on selling the Daily Worker.” She rejected his request to reapply before the six months was up. In his three page response Mac said he could not accept her attitude as “correct, justified, fair or constructive,” and pleaded that he had had no serious indication of “what I have done in the past to warrant the rejection of my application to rejoin the party. All that I did was to become theoretically confused..I have at no time attacked the party, nor have I in any way or at at any time conceded one point to our opposition… Being without a party card puts me in an awkward, and, at times, humiliating position…” (National Archives KV 2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 28th January 1952. Betty Reid to Malcolme Hulke, 30th January 1952. Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 19th February 1952)
Surprisingly, given Reid’s barely concealed antipathy towards him, Mac’s tactless persistence paid off and he was allowed to reapply, this time citing as his references Bill Eburn, Secretary of the Upper Holloway party branch, and Molly Carleton, Secretary of the Belsize party branch. In April MI5 recorded Reid having a conversation with several colleagues about Mac. She said Peter Kerrigan had agreed that on the basis of the “good drive he’s made” his application should be considered and that she had written to the branch secretaries who were in complete agreement that he should be readmitted. Betty was still unimpressed, telling her colleagues: “I’m not very happy about it. I don’t think he’s what you call a desirable character. On the other hand, I think it’s difficult to keep him out.” They were openly disparaging about the Club in Notting Hill, labelling it a “brothel.” (National Archives, Transcript of North, 17th April 1952).
In his letter to Reid Bill Eburn said that, during the two months he was associated with the branch, Mac had been “a very keen worker, displayed a good deal of initiative and, so far as one can tell from such a short acquaintance, – was politically sound,” while in her letter Molly Carleton said after he came to live in Hampstead two months ago he came to see her, asking to some work for the branch. He had sold the Daily Worker and attended branch meetings and education classes. “He seems reliable, keen & very anxious to do a job of work, I see no reason why he should not rejoin.” (National Archives KV 2/3967, W J Eburn to Betty Reid, 3rd April 1952. Molly Carleton to Betty Reid, 3rd April 1952)
Mac finally got what he wanted when Reid wrote to him at the end of April, accepting him back into membership. Reid still had her doubts, though, writing to Alex Miller that “we shall need to watch him.” When she learned that Mac had written an article for the Daily Worker, Reid wrote to the paper stating that it was important that “he in no way be given any kind of build-up.” (National Archives, KV2/3967, Betty Reid to Alex Miller, June 1952. Betty Reid to Reg Smith, 20th August 1952)
Finally back in the party, Mac set up a Social-Cultural Committee for the Baywater branch which held its first event on Saturday 22nd November at 2 Queensborough Studios, Queensborough Terrace, with admission set at 1/6d. Mac sent out a circular about the event to nearby branches which said that the future programme would include “poetry read by Donald Bisset; a play reading by Oliver Burt; Alex McCrindle presenting records brought back on his return from New China; and Elwyn Ambrose with his guitar.” (National Archives KV 2/3967, letter from Malcolm Hulke, 24th October 1952)
Reid’s opinion of Mac, already low as we have seen, fell even lower following an odd occurrence. On 25th October he telephoned Reid, asking to see her, and then went round to her house. He told her that on the previous evening bhe had brought his wages home to where he was lodging with Frank Wilde and put them in his room. He then went into another room where the party branch meeting was being held. But when he went back to his room, they had gone. Mac said he believed the £5 could have been stolen by somebody leaving the meeting: he had come to see Reid because he did not want to bring the police in. Reid told him that was up to the branch to sort out, not the head office. When Reid told Falber about this incident in a telephone conversation a few days later she said that it wasn’t past Mac to do “a double cross” but also said that it was “an unpleasant branch and an unpleasant situation all round.” The records do not show whether Mac ever got his money back from the branch. (National Archives KV 2/3967, transcript of North, 28th October 1952.)
By June 1953 Mac, working as assistant to fellow party member Tom Vaughan, was trying to raise money to send a group of amateur actors and actresses to perform Shakespeare plays at the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest in August. He wrote round to five London Area Secretaries asking if they could suggest some bomb-sites, market places and courtyards where they could hold a number of fund-raising shows. But he soon realised that the cost of hiring a lorry would make this an uneconomic venture and looked into holding the shows in pubs instead. (National Archives, KV 2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to London District Committee, 2nd June 1953. Malcolm Hulke to Ray Bernard, 11th June 1953)
In 1947 the party had set up a Cultural Committee which published a pamphlet in 1951: The American Threat to British Culture. The authors attacked American “Big Business” and American culture, such as comic books and Hollywood films, which, they asserted, was designed to brainwash the public into “dollar worship”. They were particularly alarmed that young working class people seemed to prefer American pop music to British folk music. The party therefore tried to popularise what it saw as “native” or authentic” traditions. This had some success by the mid-50s with the “folk revival” in which Communist party members or former members, such as Bert Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, played a key role, as well as the American musicologist Alan Lomax. The revival chimed with movements such as the anti-nuclear bomb marches organised by CND in the late 50s, although the young people on the protests were often drawn to the more hedonistic and libertarian politics, culture and coffee bars of the New Left, rather than the Communist party.
After having attended a Cultural Conference organised by the party in October 1953 Mac wrote to Sam Aaronovitch, the Secretary of the National Cultural Committee, asking for extra work for the party. He said that he was the Production Organiser for Unity’s next play “but I hope that by writing now a discussion might be arranged in time for me to do some other form of work at the end of the run of The Timid People. I wish to continue with Unity, but I should like to vary my work there with work in other spheres.” A few days later MI5 overheard Reid dictating a reply to Mac in which she said that his work with Unity “together with whatever local work you are able to do in your party branch” means that you will be be taking on as much as you can manage.” She forwarded the letter to Aaronovitch, asking if he would sign it. “The point is that I have had dealings with this chap…and it would be most helpful if you would sign this which amounts to a ‘putting -off’ letter.” Her suspicions undimmed, Reid was clearly loath to let Mac get involved in anything other than his work for Unity and his local branch.
Undaunted, Mac replied on 24th December to Aaronovitch (obviously unaware as to who had actually written the reply), stating that was he was regarded at Unity as “a good organiser” and asking if a niche couldn’t be found to lift him “out of the Goldington Street greenhouse just now and then.” He wrote again on 11th January 1954, asking for an interview “to discover whether I have any talents that could be profitably used between shows at Unity. ” The files do not disclose whether they ever actually met up. (National Archives, KV2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Sam Aaronovitch, 14th December 1953. Transcript of North, 21st December 1953. Malcolm Hulke to Sam Aaaronovitch, 24th December 1953. Malcolm Hulke to Sam Aaaronovitch, 11th January 1954 )
Reid’s animus towards Mac meant that when she read Mac’s letter in the Manchester Guardian about the NUS Hostel Appeal, MI5 recorded her hitting the roof. She immediately summoned a fellow official Colin Sweet to her office and grilled him on how Mac had got the job. Sweet told her that when the jobs had been advertised the party ie Tony Goss had put him and Mac forward. The transcript says that Reid “muttered furiously beneath her breath” and told Sweet that if she had known about it she would have put up “terrific barriers.…Tell Tony from he’s a silly (expletive deleted) because he should know enough now to check with me if you’re going to make any proposal about a party member. He’s not a student, he’s a bloke with a hell of a record – he’s most unsatisfactory and unreliable in every way, a conceited and difficult bloke if no worse. I wouldn’t trust him with farthing.” Sweet offered to go and see Mac but Reid said no, advising him to have nothing to do with him, he had got the job and there was nothing they could do about it. (National Archives, KV2/3967, transcript from Lascar, 16th November 1955. Colin Sweet (1927-1995) joined the Communist Party at the end of the Second World war. He was very active on the Brirtsh Peace committee, inviting Picasso to a Peace Conference in Sheffield in 1950. Sweet left the party in the early 1970s to lecture at the South Bank Polytechnic where he set up the Centre for Energy Studies and began a campaign against nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy sources. Chris Cragg, obituary of Colin Sweet, The Independent, 26th June 1995)
Mac remained in the party after 1956 when something like a quarter of its members left after the revelations concerning Stalin and the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising by Soviet tanks. The final file on him from 1957 onwards up to 1963 is sparse, and his interactions with the party’s head office were only occasional. In June 1960 Duke Grandjean rang Reid after hearing Hammerbeck, a radio play written by Mac and Eric Paice. She said she had not heard it. Duke remarked that he had “opened up a new career then.” (National Archives, KV2/3969, transcript of incoming phone call to CP head office, 2nd June 1960. Hammerbeck was broadcast on the Home Service, 26th May 1960)
In October 1960 Mac arranged to go and see Bill Alexander in the head office to discuss a document he had drafted on Road Safety for possible publication by the party. Alexander said that it was too broad and did not include the many political problems he felt arose in the field of road safety and road transport. The meeting ended with Mac going away to rewrite it and then submit it again to Alexander. There is no record of any such publication so it seems that Mac never bothered going back. (National Archives, KV2/3969, transcript of incoming phone call, 7th October 1960. Transcript of Lascar, 17th October 1960) Bill Alexander (1910-2000) joined the Communist party in the 1930 and fought in Spain in the International Brigade where he was commander for a time. He held a number of posts within the party and was Secretary of the International Brigade Association. Richard Baxell, obituary of Bill Alexander, 14th July 2000)
MI5 and Special Branch still kept tabs on Mac, updating their records from time to time. In January 1961, for instance, an MI5 report noted that he was believed to be the author of an ITV series called Pathfinders to Mars, while another noted that, although their Lascar reports showed that Reid “considers him thoroughly unreliable…he has now made good in his own right as a script writer.” A Constable Hicks of Special Branch drew up a report on Mac in March 1961 at the request of Chief Superintendent Williams which summarised his places of work, addresses and the party branches he had belonged to since 1952. It also included a photograph, perhaps a copy of his passport photograph. Curiously Constable Hicks seems not to have discovered that Mac was working for independent television. “Discreet enquiries show that he is now self-employed as a script writer, advertiser and journalist but it has not been possible to establish for whom his work is done.” Perhaps Special Branch only watched sport, and not drama. (National Archives KV2/3969,report on Malcolm Hulke, 24th January 1961. Report from P F Stewart, F1A, 14th February 1961. Metropolitan Police Special Branch Report, 17th March 1961)
When in September 1962 Betty Reid learned from a party official, Nora Jeffrey, that Mac was Secretary of the Unity Theatre Trust the ever-present MI5 recorded her swearing at the news and exclaiming that she “would not trust that man with money.” Nora told Betty that the Trust was aiming to raise £30,000 and that Freda Field had said how good Mac was. She could get hold of Alan Bush, she continued, and say to him that she would not trust this man with two pennies, but she had no basis for saying it. Betty then recounted the story of when Mac had had his wages stolen, and also mentioned that Mac had once remarked that he had taken someone to the sights of London including a cafe “where homsexuals hang out.” “Betty was lost for words,” noted the MI5 officer laconically. There is no evidence that Mac was other than entirely honourable when acting as Secretary to the Trust. (National Archives, KV2/3969, transcript from Lascar, 7th September 1962) Freda Field was a Communist party member who was then working for the Musicians’ Union. She took over running the Unity Trust appeal from Bessie Bond and, according to Colin Chambers, ran it “with extraordinary energy and organisational ability” including gala nights with stars such as Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth, Dickie Henderson and Frankie Howard. Colin Chambers, The Story of Unity Theatre (1989), pp. 375-376) Alan Bush (1900-1995) was a composer who was also in the Communist party, having joined in 1935 after witnessing first-hand the rise of the Nazis in Germany whilst studying in Berlin. He was Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, 1925-78, and the founder and president for many years of the Workers’ Music Association. Rupert Christiansen, obituary of Alan Bush, The Independent. 22nd October 2011.
The last party card held by Mac in the files dates from 1961 so he may have lapsed from membership after that date. The final entry in Mac’s file dates from September 1963. At time of writing I am uncertain as to whether there are more files on Mac that are as yet unreleased into the National Archives, or whether MI5 decided that, as he was no longer a member, it was no longer necessary to maintain a file on him.
In his dealings with the Communist party Mac often displayed the naive enthusiasm of the convert and the brittle self-confidence of a middle-class young man who had read all the books, but not experienced working-class life at first hand. He ran up against a party hierarchy whose politics had been shaped in the 1920s and 1930 in a struggle against unemployment and the threat of fascism at home and abroad. Above all the party prized conformity and adherence to the current political line issued by Moscow. It was also socially conservative: Mac attracted additional suspicion because of his association, albeit brief, with the Progressive and Cultural Club, and his knowledge of a cafe frequented by gay men.
For a young man who was creative and imaginative, it was not the best of homes, and Mac’s lengthy struggle to be re-admitted is therefore puzzling.It may be, having suffered the double shock of discovering that Walter Hulke was not his father and that he did not exist legally as far as the government was concerned, the party offered a kind of family that he could feel comfortable in, for a time at least. On his return to London it seems that all Mac’s friends were in the party, and he was faced with being an outsider again unless he could persuade Betty Reid to let him back in again. Mac seems to have been one of the few people who prevailed against this hardened Stalinist!
Unity Theatre, on the other hand, offered quite a different atmosphere, and a more congenial home for Mac, and I will discuss this next.
In the early 1950s Malcolm became involved with the socialist theatre company, Unity Theatre, founded in 1935, which after 1937 was housed in a former chapel on Goldington Street, Somers Town, London.
Colin Chambers, who has written the history of the theatre, says: that the Unity began:
…with irrepressible determination amid the political struggles of the early 1930s that were fought against the savage cuts in state benefits, the imposed means tests, the waste of widespread unemployment and poverty, and above all against the rise of fascism. Four decades later, when the theatre’s auditorium was destroyed by fire, Unity had become a shadow of its former glories. Yet, despite its non-professional status and limited size, Unity made a major and lasting contribution to the British theatre through its own work and that of its members who became professional. It pioneered direct political commentary on stage, in its satires and documentary-based shows and developed a drama that represented working-class life and speech with insight and integrity. (Colin Chambers, The Story of Unity Theatre (1989), p.17).
Acording to Colin Chambers by 1952 : “Unity was in serious trouble in those days and there had been a major internal dispute in 1952 over who was to blame for the theatre’s plight. A conference at the end of that year was highly critical of the management committee but offered no realistic solutions (plays drawn directly from life and classics that reflected peoples’ struggles). The perceived failings of a production at the end of the year – Christmas Bridge by Nancy MacMillan – led to a change in the leadership and the general manager Mick Manning going. ” (email from Colin Chambers, 15th January 2021) There is short note in files based on a report made by Aaronovitch which states that Mac was “playing a bad role in Unity Theatre conflct – with Hancock and Felber.” There are no further notes on this subject (National Archives, KV 2/3967, January 1953)
In January 1953 Mac wote a short note to Harry Pollitt, the party’s General Secretary who attended the first night of The Bridge of Life by Julius Hay, a British premiere of a prize-winning play by Hungary’s leading playwright. Mac apologised to Pollitt being “tipsy” : “Despite whatever on hears about conduct at Unity, we are really a well behaved group, though perhaps a little high spirited. I think I was probably more drunk with tiredness and the strain of the first-hand night than with Hungarian Vodka.” (National Archives, KV 2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Harry Pollitt, 20th January 1953. My thanks to Colin Chambers for identifying the play)
There was a group of Communist party members in Unity known as “Unity Leadership” but Mac was not invited to meetings, leading him on several occasions to complain to Reid and John Mahon, Secretary of the London District Committee (National Archives, KV 2/3967, Malcolm Hulke to Betty Reid, 1st December 1952. Malcolm Hulke to John Mahon, 18th May 1954)
In 1954 Mac was listed in Unity’s annual report as the production manager. In 1961, to mark the 25th anniversary of the company, he devised, edited and produced a booklet entitled HERE IS DRAMA– behind the scenes at Unity Theatre. The foreword was by Benn W Levy (a playwright and the former Labour MP for Eton and Slough), while the illustrations were by Ken Sprague, who contributed to the Daily Worker and many other progressive organisations and causes.
In his introduction Mac wrote that the booklet was designed with three purposes in mind:
First, as a booklet to help new active-members speed up their integration into the life of Unity Theatre. Second, to answer the already active-member who, after working 18 months backstage, asked if anyone knew what a Production Organiser did. Third, to take at least some of Unity’s faithful audience and outside supporters behind the scenes.
HERE IS DRAMA is a very incomplete booklet. Ask any Unity Theatre active-member and he will you that his particular job is not described correctly; and the vehemence of his condemnation will be the measure of his interest in and enthusiasm for his chosen spare-time profession. It is, however, only an outline of the jobs to be done by people in a people’s theatre; it is not an encyclopaedia.
Mac finished his introduction by stressing that almost all jobs at Unity “can be done, and are done, equally well and equally badly by women as well as men.”
At the end of the booklet he wrote:
Unity is a theatre of ideals. But don’t you be too dreamy-eyed in your approach. Only the very mature, and the lonely, stand the test of time. Some people have even been known to use Unity as a jumping-board for West End theatre work, don’t forgot they may do a lot of good for Unity Theatre in the process. Never store up grievances : take them to the Management Committee. In the final analysis, however, there is only one person who will change and improve unity theatre. You.
Mac’s time at Unity would have given him invaluable practical experience in observing how a drama is created, from the first draft of the script to the final curtain on the last night. He would also seen at first hand what worked on stage – and what did not. Finally Mac would have learned how to survive the stresses and strains of drama production (often more drama offstage than onstage…) and coping with the temperaments of one’s colleagues. In 1962 Mac became Secretary of the Unity Theatre Trust as it mounted an appeal for survival.
Mac does not seem to have written for Unity himself, which is surprising in view of his later successful career as a writer. Eric Paice, with whom Malcolm worked in the 1950s and 1960s, was also involved with Unity, did write a number of plays for the company.
It seems reasonable to assume that Mac and Eric Paice became acquainted through Unity. It’s puzzling therefore to read in an interview they gave to The Stage in 1959 that they claimed to have met when both working at an advertising agency. Did they want to conceal their involvement with Unity?
Eric was born on 13th November 1926 in Pevensey. He grew up on a landed estate in Kent where his father was the gardener. He attended Sevenoaks Grammar School until it was evacuated during the Blitz. Aged 14, he was apprenticed to a printer as a machine minder but his indentures were cancelled when he tried to set up a trade union branch. He then served in the Royal Navy from 1943 to 1946. He joined Unity in 1949, and worked on the lighting side of productions. In 1951 he became Unity’s nightwatchman, living in a room in the theatre.
His first shows were for the company’s mobile unity, Focus On Peace and Focus On Germany. In the summer of 1951 Eric was sent as a British delegate to the Writers World Youth Festival in Berlin, but his group were twice turned back in the American zone in Austria. After a protest campaign in Britain, the group eventually got to Berlin. Like any good writer Eric made use of the experience, turning into a show for Unity which he called Barrier Across Europe. His other plays for Unity were The Rosenbergs (1953), Turn it Up (1953) and World On Edge (1956), which was about the Suez crisis He went on to write many single plays and series episodes for television and the radio. The Rosenbergs was refused a licence by the theatre censor in the person of the Lord Chamberlain who wrote: “ ‘Unity theatres are v. left-wing….One wonders if it is right to use the theatre for this sort of personal propaganda especially in a case which is still, really sub-judice.” (Colin Chambers, The Story of Unity Theatre (1989) , William Ash, obituary of Eric Paice, The Guardian, 12th July 1989)
Mac’s television and film work in the 1950s and 1960s
By 1955 he was working for the National Union of Students as the Hostel Appeal Organiser, trying to raise £30,000. In November of that year the Manchester Guardian published a letter from him
Your report on Mr P L Brooke’s castigation of students at the National Union of Students council meeting at Ormskirk for their apparent “scandalous” apathy towards NUS hostel appeal has given the appeal unexpected but not unwelcome publicity. But how welcome the reporter would have been at the ensuing hostel appeal meeting when more than sixty invited delegates stayed up until the small hours to discuss the appeal and to report on their plans for raising funds…(Manchester Guardian, 16th November 1955).
Mac resumed his efforts to become a writer:
When I was about thirty, and by then working for a social service organisation – and, once again, mainly involved in figure work – I picked up a discarded book on the seat of London bus. It was called “Trading in Bodies”, and its lurid front cover depicted a man wielding a whip at a cluster of half naked young women. It was about the most badly written, appallingly printed book I had ever seen. But it was published in London, and I reckoned that if anyone could sell a story as bad as that – characters no longer needed in the plot just disappeared and weren’t referred to again – then surely I could break into that market. I phoned the publisher , asked their requirements. they told me : “Thirty-eight thousand words, no more, no less. American city setting; and no smut – when the man goes the bedroom with a woman, the next scene’s next day, see?”The outright fee, for all rights, into perpetuity would be the colossal sum of eighteen pounds. (Malcolm Hulke,“I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Mac brought his book-keeping skills to bear on his embryonic career as a pulp fiction writer:
I calculated how fast I would have to write in order to earn by writing for this amrket at the same hourly rate I was earning by going out to work. It must, I discovered, writing at one thousand words an hour, including plotting, correcting, and the physical job of typing. So I sat at my typewriter for two hours every evening for nineteen evenings , and produced the required thirty-eight thousand words. In due course, and without any nonsense and re-writing a word of this epic, I received my first cheque for professional writing – eighteen pounds. Thus encouraged the next step was to try television… (Malcolm Hulke,“I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Mac and Eric Paice wanted to break into still relatively new medium of television where there was an increasing demand for drama on the BBC and also , after September 1955, on its rival ITV.
Television drama was then in its infancy: plays were still being filmed live with actors hurrying between sets – sometimes getting there just in time for the camera shot! The introduction of videotape in 1958 allowed plays to be pre-recorded and edited for broadcast, much less stress for all concerned.
Eric looked back to this era in his book The Way To Write For Television, published in 1981:
Until the invention and mass availability of the video recorder, a television play or series would appear before a mass audience for a brief hour, then vanish like the morning dew. And the television companies were extraordinarily profligate with material that seemed to them to be in unending supply. Most of the plays produced in the late fifties and early sixties were wiped so that the tapes on which they were recorded could be used again. To find any trace of them today you must rummage in the attics of writers with storage space to keep their old scripts. It was instant drama, with no shelf life. (Eric Paice, The Way To Write For Television, (1981), p.1)
In an interview in 1975 in Tardis (the magazine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society) Mac told Gordon Blows that he and Eric broke into television “simply by getting together evenings and weekends and writing a complete play. We submitted it to the BBC and they bought it. After that we switched channels and did a number of plays for Armchair Theatre produced in those days by ABC television. The plays market is not a closed shop at all, then or now.” (Gordon Blows, “The Malcolm Hulke Interview”, Tardis, 2, 1975)
“This Day in Fear”: 1st July 1958.
Their first success was “This Day in Fear,” rejected by ITV but then taken up by the BBC, and broadcast on 1st July 1958 in the series Television Playwright. The play was produced by George Foa, and the cast included Billie Whitelaw and Patrick MGoohan, who in the 1960s played the lead role in the very popular series Danger Man (for which Mac wrote one episode) and then created and starred in the cult TV classic The Prisoner (1967).
It seems that the play may have gone out live. In his book Writing For Television Mac recalled that that: “a scene between Billie Whitelaw and Patrick McGoohan included the surprise appearance of one of the “extras” (small part actors) who wandered across the space between the window of the supposed first floor bedroom and the “drop” (canvas curtain with picture of houses across the street), startling viewers with his seeming levitation act. ” (Writing For Television (1974), p. 14)
The main character is a former IRA member who, having turned his back on the movement, is on the run after betraying a comrade and who seeks safety with the police.
The Times described it as “the most arresting yet” in the series. “The development is most graceful: irony discloses in advance that the courteous and solicitious ‘police’ are in fact the killers but there is no preparation for the bombshell that the protagonist himself is the Republican hero whose death was to be avenged…the revelation of identity kaleidoscopically shakes the disconnected ends of the plot into order.” (The Times, 2nd July 1958)
The Belfast Telegraph reviewer thought that it was “…well acted by a largely Irish cast, the end packed, even for Ulster viewers, two surprises.” (Belfast Telegraph, 2nd July 1958)
Harold Darton in The Stage was also impressed :
Malcolm A Hulke and Eric Paice…took their first step into TV writing with this play, and a most successful debut it was. The setting was that of an almost conventional thriller plot – a man is about to be murdered, and he is given forewarning of his fate so that he can sweat it out suitably (and so that the playwrights can have an excuse to build up the suspense).
What lifted “This Day in Fear” out of the rut was the extras that go to make a play out of the thriller permutations. The extras here were an IRA background, twists and double twists at the end (where the “police” turn out to be the assassins, and where the man destined to be shot turns out to be in fact, the man he is accused of betraying (if you see what I mean), and by clever little touches to the deliberate policy of suspense.
How would you feel if a threat to murder you appeared in the In Memoriam columns of the news paper, and then you found your papers had been cancelled and the milk order to your household cut by half a pint. “This Day in Fear” may not be a great play, but it was most entertaining and television could do with more like it. Messrs. Hulke and Paice were lucky to have producer George Foa for their first piece. An overall smooth production was helped by some very effective filming. Patrick McGoohan in the main part was most convincing, though he sometimes swallowed his words. But one tends to feel with Patrick McGoohan that one has seen him playing the same part before. Billie Whitelaw as his wife look a step up the social ladder, from her usual parts of a tart or a Cockney, she progressed to an architect’s wife, and she did it with her usual efficiency. Allan McClelland as the would-be assassin was hardly a strong enough character to be a bullying Irishman, and hardly a small enough character to be a sinister ferret-like type. Bad casting, perhaps. (The Stage, 10th July 1958)
The play was adapted for radio by Cynthia Pughe and broadcast on 7th March 1959. I have not been able to find out a great deal about Cyntia ; she is named as a script reader in the Script Unit at the BBC in the 1950s and was working as Val Gielgud’s Secretary. She also wrote a number of radio plays, often adaptations eg Murder Happens by Arnold Ridley, broadcast 27th June 1951; The Wandering Jew by E Temple Thurston, broadcast on 19th November 1952 and Ladies in Retirement by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham, broadcast on 24th July 1965.
On 25th August 1961 a version of the play was broadcast on the German television channel ARD 2 under the title Treibjagd (The Hunt) directed by Rüdiger Graf. The cast included Paul Glawion, Eva Berthold. and Hans Zesch-Ballot. The translation was by Marianne de Barde who translated over 50 dramas for German television from 1952 to 1983. Retro-Media-TV.de
Soon Mac felt confident enough to make a bold move:
Within a year of the first television production I was able to move over to full-time writing and to give up my job – which by then was as manager of an agency selling advertising space. With that job I was earning enough to feed both me and the six thirsty cylinders of my very old car. But I realised that to ever make real living, I had to break out of being employed by other people, who inevitably tend to fix your rate not so much by what you do as by your educational background, and to work in a world where anyone can play – no matter where they come from or whatever their education has been. The entertainment business is only interested in results, and as a consquence has its own peculiarly tolerant democracy.
So I had to become professional writer because I had no real qualifications to be anything else. During those long days of my school-less years, cut off from other children because they were at school and I was at home, I played endless games of the imagination on my own. In a sense, as I sit down at home each morning at my typewriter, I’m still doing just that.
(Malcolm Hulke,“I Never Went To School,” BBC radio broadcast, 1st August 1963)
Political Vetting at the BBC
Given Mac’s Communist party background and both Mac’s and Eric involvement with Unity Theatre it is surprising that they were allowed to work for the BBC which vetted its staff and writers for their politics. The history of vetting at the BBC was examined in detail by Paul Reynolds in 2018 in an article on the BBC’s own website. Despite its denials over many decades, political vetting began in 1935 and continued until the 1990s, carried out in liaison with M15.
Vetting was brought into play once a candidate and one or two alternatives labelled “also suitable” had been selected for a job. The alternatives served a useful purpose. If the first choice was barred by vetting, the appointments board moved easily on to the second. The candidates were told only that “formalities” would be carried out before an appointment was made. This sounded harmless enough; it would allow time to follow up references, perhaps. Candidates did not know that “formalities” meant vetting – and was, in fact, the code word for the whole system.
A memo from 1984 gives a run-down of organisations on the banned list. On the left, there were the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency. By this stage there were also concerns about movements on the right – the National Front and the British National Party.
A banned applicant did not need to be a member of these organisations – association was enough….
If MI5 found something against a candidate, it made one of three “assessments” in a kind of league table:
- Category “A” stated: “The Security Service advises that the candidate should not be employed in a post offering direct opportunity to influence broadcast material for a subversive purpose.”
- Category “B” was less restrictive. The Security Service “advised” against employment “unless it is decided that other considerations are overriding”.
- Category “C” stated that the information against a candidate should not “necessarily debar” them but the BBC “may prefer to make other arrangements” if the post offered “exceptional opportunity” for subversive activity.
The BBC procedure was in principle never to employ someone in Category “A”, though a few did get through the net. This contradicted its public position that the BBC controlled all appointments. In theory it did. In practice it gave that choice to MI5 in Category “A” cases.
If staff came under suspicion only after they had been employed by the BBC or applied for transfer to a job that needed vetting, an image resembling a Christmas tree was drawn on their personal file.
Paul Reynolds, The vetting files: how the BBC kept out “subversives”. BBC website, 22nd April 2018.
For whatever reason Mac and Eric must have passed the vetting.
Mac and Eric wrote four plays for Armchair Theatre, a series launched in July 1956 by Howard Thomas, head of ABC, which had the franchise for weekend television in the Midlands and in the North unril 1974.
Thomas said that “television drama is not so far removed from television journalism, and the plays which will grip the audience are those that face up to the new issues of the day, as well as to the problems as old as civilisation.” For the first three years the plays were staged in ABC’s northern studios in Didsbury, Manchester, housed in the former Capitol cinema. (Sadly the building was demolished in 1999).
Sydney Newman was approached by ABC to become the producer of Armchair Theatre and worked on the series between 1958 and 1962, often seen as its golden period. Newman came to England from Canada where he had made hundreds of documentaries and been head of drama at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. He had pioneered a new approach, commissioning drama which reflected social issues.
Newman produced 152 episodes of Armchair Theatre, which were shown on Sunday evenings. Many writers, later to find fame, cut their teeth on the series. Newman said of England: “At the time, I found this country to be somewhat class-ridden….The only legitimate theatre was of the ‘anyone for tennis’ variety, which, on the whole, presented a condescending view of working-class people. Television dramas were usually adaptations of stage plays, and invariably about upper classes. I said ‘Damn the upper-classes -they don’t even own televisions!’ My approach was to cater for the people who were buying low cost things like soap every day. The ordinary blokes the advertisers were aiming at.” The viewings figures for the plays often reached 12 million.
Malcolm and Eric’s plays for Armchair Theatre were as follows:
The Criminals: 28th December 1958.
This was directed by James Ferman and starred Stanley Baker, Raymond Huntley, and Allan Cuthbertson. The plot centres on an escaped convict hiding in a Piccadilly office who plans to break into the strong-room of the adjoining bank and who forces four businessmen to assist him in the raid.
The reviewer in The Times was taken with the play:
The irony compressed into the title…is prepared so cunningly that not until the end of the performance of the thriller last night on Independent Teleision were all its layers of meaning exhausted. The play is based on the idea that a criminal lurks inside every honest man, but the authors’ means of turning this familar idea into action is anything but derivative. For the purpose of the plot honesty is made to equal hypocrisy and cowardice and the only possible hero is a self-confessed criminal….The criminal from the outset is the only sympathetic character but by degrees he acquires a total moral ascendancy as the other figures reveal their shiftiness, self-interest, and readiness to take a share of the pickings if no danger is involved. The ironic climax comes with the accidental death of the convict leaving his four inadvertent accomplices with a murder on their hands and a room full of banknotes. By this time the atmosphere has taken on a biting moral invective: and in Mr James Ferman’s concentrated production the performances of Mr Raymond Huntley and Mr Stanley Baker ensured that none of it was lost. (The Times, 29th December 1958)
However the Birmingham Daily Post was less enthused, describing it as “… a contrived crime thriller with a topical touch. The safe-blowing episode was incredible, but the characters were drawn in some detail. Stanley Baker played the principal criminal with great force.” (Birmingham Daily Post, 29th December 1958.)
Margaret Cowan in The Stage was not overly impressed either:
The theme of the play seems to be that cupidity will get the better of all of us, given the right circumstances. Four businessmen on New Year’s Eve are about to leave for Germany, At the office, they are having a last drink. Waiting for them is an escaped convict (Stanley Baker). He is forceful, intelligent, and has worked out a daring robbery which he plans with the enforced help of the four executives, who are construction engineers. Their offices adjoin a bank.
He tricks them into believing that their wives are in danger. All night they help him tunnel a passage, and fail to take their opportunities to overpower him. In the end he is trapped and killed by fallen masonry, but not before the others have shown that they are interested in taking large sums of money, provided they are not found out.
The whole thing is incredible. The action, motivation and execution of the plot are all artificial. It fails to convince and fails to move. Stanley Baker gave a strong performance as a forceful leader, and the others did their best with their parts. But they fought a losing battle with an unconvincing script. It was directed as well as possible by James Ferman with good settings. (The Stage, 1st January 1959)
Swedish television broadcast a version of “The Criminals” on 1st November 1961 under the title Medbrottslingarna (Accomplices) It was directed by Yngve Nordwall and starred Bengt Brunsko, Olof Bergström and Ake Engfledt. The translation was by Marianne Höök.
“The Big Client”: 17th May 1959.
This was a satire set in the advertising industry, directed by Ted Kotcheff, and starring Ian Bannen. (Both Eric and Mac had worked in advertising).
The Times TV critic was not so taken with this as he had been with their previous play.
Last night…we were introduced to the bedlam competitions of the advertising agency, and incidentally to the brand of the ruthlessness that drives ambitious young men of to-day towards an even more unscrupulous future. Fred Cooper is a manager in a small and unambitious agency, intent on finding room at the top, and the play follows his curiously heartless and dishonest moves to secure an important American client, and to get the personal position with him that belongs by right to his directors. In the big client and ambitious youngster like meets like. and Fred secures his future with a final compact of degradation in which the boy’s own fiancée is sacrificed to the new and infuential boss.
Unfortunately the authors, after creating potentially an interesting study of egoism, drive and inferiority complex, lay on the unscrupulousness too thickly for credibility and not all Mr Ian Bannen’s vitaility and brash yet uncertain charm could save the play from disintegration and a slick artificiality. (The Times, 18th May 1959).
“Telecrit” in the Liverpool Daily Post was more favourable :
Just when I was beginning to tire of ABC’s Sunday night talent scouting for budding TV dramatists along came Malcolm A. Hulke and Eric Paice last night with a work that made many of its “Armchair Theatre” contemporaries appear as amateurish as Monty playing diplomats. The drama: “The Big Client” a story of a ruthless young rogue grasping his opportunities with both hands—and cheating his pals in the process.
With a plot twisting as skilfully as the twister it portrayed, “The Big Client” was sixty solid minutes’ tightly-compressed entertainment.
The authors didn’t waste a second spinning their yarn – they couldn’t afford to. In the telling of this tortuous tale. each line had to count. And it did.
They gave us nothing profound. That wasn’t their target. Instead, they served-up fast-moving drama with assured technique.
Like a galvanic minnow, darting among the big fish, lan Bannen gave the opportunist just the right blend of boyish charm and dangerous deceit. As the play closed with its last. effective twist, one saw he’d cheerfully murder his mother for a choc ice.
But for all Bannen’s magnetic performance. the real stars of the show were Messrs. Hulke and Paice—who also wrote “The Criminals” that recent ITV drama of bank robbery with a difference, starring Stanley Baker. Here on last night’s evidence is a combination to watch with the keenest interest. (Liverpool Daily Post, 18th May 1959.
According to The Stage the advertising trade press was full of letters protesting about the unscrupulous “hero” of the play Fred Cooper. “It is not a malicious atack on advertising,” Mac responded, “It is about a boy called Fred Cooper. That he should gravitate to the world of advertising is just the way it most likely would be. But there are Fred Coopers in every line of business.” (The Stage, 12th August 1961)
This play was later turned into a musical with music and lyrics written by Michael Pratt which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in November 1961. The cast included Harry H Corbett and Elizabeth Shepherd.
Peter Ford reviewed the show for The Guardian:
Mike Pratt….has caught the brittle spirit of the piece in his music and lyrics. What then caused the Big Client to lose its edge in the theatre? The answer may lie partly in the script and the fact that its climactic development is affected by bittiness of scene, in spite of the ingenious job done by the designer, Daphne Hare. But the burden lies more with the company. Val May’s cast…enact the play sharply but with or two exceptions…they neither the voice nor the drive for singing music of this genre. It is thus left to the professional dancers to set the pace. (The Guardian, 30th November 1961)
The reviewer for The Stage said that the show “ought be as good a formula as most, for entertainment of this kind, but at the first showing the impact was less than one would have expected. The characters conform to type, and some of the laugh-lines generated by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice are good quality, but there are not enough of them. The lyrics of Mike Pratt’s vocal number appear stronger than the music but judgement on this is complicated by the lack of vocal accomplishment among the players – at any rate for this kind of jazz-cum-blues music. If there is a hit tune in the score it is not given a chance to emerge in Val May’s production… (The Stage, 30th November 1961)
Mac discussed a scene from the play in chapter 6 of Writing for Television which is on dialogue.
Most directors and actors prefer the cut and thrust of an exchange of short, sharp sentences between characters . In some series drama, you may even find a rule that no speech shall exceed four lines of typing. But there is a case for the occasional very long speech. Here is a long speech from the play The Big Client by Eric Paice and myself…The speaker, an American pharmaceutical tycoon called J G Henderson, had already been established in the play by way of third -person reference. By the time we arrived at the big speech, the audience was eager to hear everything Henderson had to say about himself. The scene took place in a London hotel suite where Henderson had summoned representatives from most of London’s biggest advertising agencies. Having handed round the drinks, to show his hail-fellow-well-met face, Henderson mounted a rostrum, put on his sincerity face and talked.
Gentlemen, as you know, I have to return to New York tonight. That means I have to decide on my advertising agency within the next few hours.
HE PAUSES AND MAKES AN ALMOST IMPERCEPTIBLE SIGNAL. GRETA HEFFNER, HIS PRIVATE SECRETARY, COMES OVER TO HIM WITH A SILVER TRAY ON WHICH IS A DISPLAY. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAY IS A PACKET MARKED “ZYGOTEN”. HENDERSON PICKS UP THE PACKET, SHAKES OUT A PILL, AND HOLDS IT BETWEEN HIS THUMB AND INDEX FINGER, AND CONTINUES.
This item is worth half a million pounds to one of you gentleman or ladies here. I want you to prepare for me an idea – no details – you haven’t got time for that; an idea for advertising this product. You know your public, and that’s why I want a British advertising agency to handle this. I want your ideas by four o’clock this afternoon. Are there any questions?
THERE IS ABSOLUTE SILENCE.
Well, gentleman, may I presume the question you’d all like to ask me? Why did I quit my previous agency so suddenly? I’ll tell you because there’s a lesson we can all learn from this. I spent a whole month with this agency, actually sitting in with them from eight o’clock every morning working out the copy platform . But last night we had a party. One of the Executives got drunk. He started calling me a lot of bad names. That I didn’t mind at all because I am used to taking hard knocks. But then he said something about what I might do with this product.
HE HOLDS UP THE SMALL PILL BETWEEN THUMB AND INDEX FINGER AND LOOKS AT THE ADVERTISING PEOPLE BEFORE HIM
I don’t have to tell you what he said.
HE LOOKS AT THE PILL AGAIN, THEN CAREFULLY, ALMOST REVERENTLY, REPLACES IT IN THE PACKET.
As successful men and women I think you will agree with me that if you are selling a product you must have confidence in that product. Because if you don’t believe in it yourself, how can you expect millions of ordinary people to believe in it? (SUDDENLY TURNING TO FRY) Don’t you agree with that, Mr Fry?
THE YOUNG ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE , FRY, IS ASTONISHED TO FIND HIMSELF PICKED OUT AND SPOKEN DIRECTLY BY NAME.
Oh, good gracious, yes, definitely. Obviously one must believe in one’s product.
Deeper than that, Mr Fry. You see, belief is a neccessity for living. It’s like food, it’s like friends. The problem with our society is that there’s a belief vacuum. And we have to fill it. (THEN WITH A TWISTED SMILE) You know, only the other day I was toying with the idea of setting up belief clinics all over the United States for those deprived faithwise.
This was an extraordinarily long speech for a one hour television play, but there was some justifications for it. First, it was entertaining. In Henderson we had a larger-than-life character, and everything he said and did was entertaining. Second, the speech was full of suspense. Between Henderson and his trapped audience of advertisng people there existed a tension relationship. The slightest wrong move by any of them, and they knew they would never get that golden account. Third, and most important, this scene and Henderson’s explanation had been prepared for. All the earlier scenes of the play had been about Henderson, about his advertising account, above all about his pill. (Incidentally, the construction of The Big Client contravened a rule favoured by many script editors and producers, which is that it is generally inavdvisable to have characters talk about a third character who has not yet been seen, albeit fleetingly, on the screen. The belief is that audiences never really listen to names mentioned unless they have met the people concerned, although they may absorb descriptions of characters not-yet-seen, eg “father”, “the boss”, “my son”. In The Big Client we were able to disregard that rule, because in those earlier scenes people only talked about Henderson; so, by the time he finally appeared, it was like the Second Coming, and the audience felt they were seeing someone whom they already knew very well). Writing for Television, (1974) pp. 53-54.
A production of “The Big Client” was broadcast on 19th July 1961 by the Australian Broadcasting Company, directed by James Ushaw. The cast included James Condon, Barry Linehan and Alisair Duncan.
Another production under the title Das große Geschäft was broadcast on 22nd September 1966 on Austrian television by Österreichischer Rundfunk, directed by Walter Davy. The cast included Alfred Reiterer, Tatjana Schneider and Walter Kohut.
“The Great Bullion Robbery”: 25th December 1960.
This was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starred Donald Wolfit, Colin Blakely, James Booth and Douglas Wilmer. The play was based on the first notable British train robbery, which took place in 1856 on a train from London to Folkestone.
The script was adapted by Eric and Mac from an original script by retired judge Gerald Sparrow. They told David Griffiths in Playbill that they had read the transcripts of the Old Bailey trial: “our adaptation uses the names of the people involved. The method of the robbery is the same as the true case but in unfolding the plot we have taken a certain amount of theatrical licence.”
The Times reviewer described Mac and Eric as “that accomplished and productive writing team”. He continued: “The television script…drew on a transcipt of the original Old Bailey trial, and though a fictional drama had been woven around the bald facts, the result, aided by a taut production by Mr John Moxey and some stylish mid-Victorian sets by Mr James Goddard. The mechanics of the robbery itself, were, as they usually are, fascinating, with clashes of temperament and crises of nerves as unforeseen complications were unravelled, but the suspense was cleverly kept up until the case against the successful perpetrators began to piece itself together and Sir Donald Wolfit as the shifty lawyer Saward found himself fighting what was to prove, in more ways than one, the most important case of his career. ... ” (The Times, 28th December 1960)
“The Girl in the Market Square”: 20th March 1961.
This play was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starred Susan Denny, Rupert Davies and Michael Collins.
The girl of the title is found dead as a result of a car hit and run accident. However, both the town and the driver regard his importance as ranking above the girl’s to warrant any further attention from the police.
It was later broadcast as a radio play, part of a series of plays broadcast by the BBC in 1961 in conjunction with the Writers’ Guild. Apart from Mac and Eric, the other playwrights in the series included Bryan Forbes, Howard Clewes, Ted Willis, Alun Owen and Gale Pedrick.
According to Mac, the Independent Television Authority told ABC that it couldn’t go on because the story included a corrupt police inspector. “The company paid us an additional £100 to turn him into the hero.” Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p. 139)
Life In Danger: 1959
Eric and Mac wrote the script for Life in Danger, a film directed by Terry Bishop, and produced by Butchers’ Film Service, who released many low budget films in this period. The cast included Derren Nesbitt, Julie Hopkins and Christopher Witty.
It begins with a child murderer escaping from a Parkways Institute. In the nearby village the inhabitants are fearful, particularly when an unknown man appears in the village and takes refuge in a barn with two teenagers. Led by a retired major the villagers are ready to take matters into their own hands…
In tone, atmosphere and plot twist Life in Danger is very smilar to the work that Eric and Mac were doing for Armchair Theatre at this time.
You can watch a short extract from the film here
Gert and Daisy: August and September 1959
Mac and Eric wrote three episodes for this ITV comedy series, created by Ted Willis and produced by Jack Hylton, which starred Elsie and Doris Waters.
They were very well known as a comedy duo on the radio in Workers Playtime (1941-1964 and Flogitts (1956-1957) and had also made a number of films during the war: Gert and Daisy’s Weekend (1942), Gert and Daisy Clean Up (1942) and It’s in the Bag (1944). (Incidentally their brother was Jack Warner).
Elsie and Doris played Gert and Daisy, two sisters who used to work in show business who now run a boarding house for theatrical visitors. Other cast members included Hugh Paddick and Patsy Rowlands. The series was poorly received and only ran for six episodes.
You can read more about Elsie and Doris and the contribution they made to comedy here.
Tell it to the Marines: September 1959
Eric and Mac wrote the first episode for this comedy series, also created by Ted Willis, which starred Jack Allen, Ian Colin, and Ronald Himes. It was an attempt by Jack Hylton to emulate the success of Granada’s The Army Game.
The series is based on the rivalry at both officer and lower ranks level between the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines when the latter are billeted with the former. It ran for two series and was directed by Milo Lewis.
No Hiding Place: October 1959.
No Hiding Place was a police series – made by Associated Redifussion – which ran from 1959 to 1967. .It was the sequel to the series Murder Bag (1957–1958) and Crime Sheet (1959), both of which starring Raymond Francis as Detective Superintendent Tom Lockhart at Scotland Yard. Eric Lander played Detective Sergeant Harry Baxter.
Screeonline says that it was “the first detective series produced for the commercial network that was ‘live’ and totally British in flavour.” The format proved very popular and regualarly attarcted seven million viewers. No Hiding Place, Screenonline)
Mac and Eric wrote an episode in the first series called “The Stalag Story” (in which Patrick Troughton, later the Second Doctor, had a part as “Blakey”).
Mac wrote a further two episodes on his own: “A Menace to the Public,” broadcast on 15th February 1965, and “A Moment of Freedom,” broadcast on 1st December 1965.
Mac and Eric Spotlight on Scripts.
The duo were interviewed by The Stage in August 1959 for their regular feature “Spotlight on Scripts”.
Comedy scripts, more often than not, are a matter of team work; the reverse is true in the field of drama. And it is rarer still to find such collaboration among tv dramatic writers. One that has proved eminently successful is the team of Malcolm A Hulke and Eric Paice. From their beginning their efforts had immediate success; “This Day in Fear”, “The Criminals”, “Life in Danger” and “The Big Client” are a few of their hour-length (or more) plays which have been repeated on the radio and tv in America, Australia and the Continent. From this they wrote several half-hour scripts for tv film series, did scripts for feature films, and are now also scripting shows for live tv serials, this time for comedy.
These two writers have more work than they cope with, and, as will be seen, this has had some reaction on the scripting formulae.
Overwhelmingly success brings its own problems, but the remarkable fact remains that their success was immediate and continuous. To what was this succsess due?
“We approach the matter in a coldly scientific manner”, they said. “We analysed good tv scripts and then evolved a method of work that would make them as foolproof as possible.”
“Certain points emerged as axiomatic. Static drama does not come across on tv, it must be fast-moving.”
“We are primarily storytellers and go into the background of every character thoroughly, even though we may not use this. That way we are both familar with the character.”
“We work out everything live on the tape, imitating the voices we want, editing and rejecting as we go along.”
“It is important to be completely detached – not to get ourselves involved with the characters. And it is important to work to a deadline – and keep to it.”
Working together, suggesting and rejecting, and putting everything immediately on tape, these two writers attain speed, mutual generation of ideas, accuracy of facts and attitudes, and dialogue which is functional and economic.
The interesting thing about this partnership is that, with the constant increase in work, they have lately found that they do not always have the time to work together. Now they meet once a week to discuss their scripts instead of working in the same room every day. With their newest contract with ABC-TV (three plays a year for three years) the new pattern of collaboration emerges – they will, under the contract, do two plays a year together and one play will be written by either partner.
Does this mean that a close collaboration between two writers cannot continue with excess of work? Anytime now Messrs. Hulke and Paice may be able to supply us with the answer. The Stage, 12th August 1959.
Mac and Eric were represented by Harvey Unna, a refugee from Nazi Germany. Harvey worked for the BBC on German broadcasts during the war, acted as a translator for Hartley Shawcross at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, and then created one of Britain’s most successful literary agencies.
Target Luna and the Pathfinders series: 1960 and 1961
In 1960 Sydney Newman commissioned Mac and Eric to write six episodes for a children’s science fiction serial for ABC, Target Luna, which was broadcast in April and May of that year, directed by Adrian Brown.
Newman’s aim for the programme was to educate young people about science. The series centres on Professor Wedgewood, head of an experimental rocket centre which launches missions into space from Buchan Island, a remote Scottish isle. His children, Geoffrey, Valerie and Little Jimmy, have come to spend the holidays with him. However Little Jimmy is accidentally launched into space: the rest of the series shows how he is rescued after facing numerous perils in his trip around the moon and back to earth. It was filmed in the ABC studios in Birmingham. (Geoffrey was played by Michael Craze who in 1966 joined the cast of Doctor Who in the serial “The War Machines” playing Ben Jackson, a sailor).
Mac was very keen to show a situation in which the different nations of the world unite. “We soon see how the plight of one human being in an Earth-bound rocket catches the imagination of the whole world. Radar stations – Russian, American, British and others – are linked in a global effort to bring the rocket home. Space travel, it turns out, is a great unifying influence among the nations. The old law of the sea becomes the law of space too.” (Andrew Pixley, Pathfinders On Television)
In his post on Pathfinders in Space Andrew Pixley suggest that the series “bore a strong resemblance in early stages to André Norton’s THE LOST PLANET, televised by the BBC six years earlier. In the 1954 production, Jeremy Grant, a sixteen year old, comes to stay with his uncle Doctor Lachlan McKinnon at a remote house in Scotland. Here, McKinnon was about to launch a rocket to the planet Hesikos, with Jeremy and young, pretty Janet Campbell, a university student, firmly involved in the journey, during which they faced the standard dangers of any 50s ‘B’ movies: meteorites and the like. (Andrew Pixley, Pathfinders On Television)
Target Luna was a success with the public and Newman commissioned three sequels: Pathfinders in Space (seven episodes), Pathfinders to Mars (six episodes) and Pathfinders to Venus (eight episodes), which aired between September 1960 and April1961, directed by Guy Verney.
The cast was completely revamped with new actors playing both the main roles and the children, while there was greater emphasis on science in these sequels. “This is a more ambitious story,” announced Eric, with Mac adding, “We’re steeped in scienography.”
In these new adventures the adults, the children and Hamlet the Hamster travel to the Moon, Mars and Venus, encountering amongst other perils lost civilisations, an alien spaceship, sandstorms, dinosaurs and Venusians. In many ways the series, with its pedagogic intention and imaginative science fiction story lines, was a predecessor to Doctor Who. Unusually for this period the cast included a woman scientist, the selonographist Professor Mary Meadows, played by Pamela Barney, who is used to convey science lessons to the watching children.
Reviewing Pathfinders to Mars in The Stage Dena Hamlin said that the first episode: “rocketed off with a good start but soon fizzled out. In the opening minutes a fuel tank explodes, Professor Wedgwood (Peter Williams) is injured and we see science reporter Conway Henderson (Gerald Flood) take over as leader of this latest expedition from Buchan Island into space.
But, after this, and until shortly before the end of this episode, came a dreary introduction which lacked action, speed and excitement. I even felt that George Colouris, playing a mystery man who tricks his way into the expedition by misleading the Canadian professor (Bernard Horsfall), was not really sinister enough to excite the audience.
Hester Cameron, a 13 year-old making her TV debut as Henderson’s niece Margaret, was slightly precocious and did not seem suitable awed at the pospect of her journey into space. Stewart Guidotti, again appearing as Prof Wedgewood’s son, managed to smuggle Hamlet – the guineapig who is already a seasoned luna explorer – aboard.
The last few minutes after take-off saved the episode from collapse as the mystery man radioed a “first part of the plan completed” message to his unseen accomplices. Perhaps the next five instalments will come up to the exciting standard of previous Pathfunder serials. (The Stage, 15th December 1960)
Mac told The Stage that Pathfinders to Venus” ...follows on from the Mars adventure. The crew are on their way back to earth when they get a radio message to rescue an American who is orbiting around Venus. Needless to say, once he is picked up the Pathfinders find an opportunity to land on Venus and have a look around. No one actually knows what Venus looks like because it is covered by a white gas cloud. So we can use our imagination.” The Stage, 16th February 1961)
Perhaps Eric and Mac had taken criticism of Pathfinders to Mars to heart, for the anonymous reviewer in The Stage was considerably more enthusiatic about the first episode of the final serial. “ Unlike most serials, where the first episodes are devoted to introducing the characters and explaining the plot, this went straight into orbit. Hester Cameron and Stewart Guidotti as the two teenagers aboard the British ship gave good performances and reintroduced the hamster who is perhaps the most seasoned of the space travellers. Altogether, I am sure, children will be looking forward to future episodes.” (The Stage, 9th March 1961)
Before they wrote Pathfinders to Mars Eric and Mac sent out a three page questionaire to selected schools in London, Newcastle and Northern Ireland. The idea was to get schoolchildren to answer questions on the credibility of the recent series, to grade the personality appeal of the characters, and assess the entertainment value of the show. (The Stage, 10th November 1960)
Ghost Squad: 1961-1964
Ghost Squad was produced by ITC and ran for three series 1961-1964. It follows the cases investigated by a Special Division of Scotland Yard which fall outside of normal police work. The series was based on a book of the same name written by John Gosling, a retired police officer and former member of the squad. The regular cast included Michael Quinn with Donald Wolfit playing his boss.
Mac is listed on the IMDB as writing for the series, but his episodes are not identified.
The Man in the Back Seat: 1961
This was Eric and Mac’s second film script.
The Man in the Back Seat was produced by Lesley Parkyn and Julian Wintle (Independent Artists) and directed by Vernon Sewell. The cast included Derren Nesbitt, Keith Faulkner, Harry Locke and Carol White.
Two small-time crooks attempt to rob a greyhound track bookie, only to find that the money is in a bag securely chained to his wrist. Piling the unconscious victim into the back seat of his own vehicle, the pair take off in panic determined to first free the bookie from his money and then free themselves of him altogether. But their attempts fail and their desperation increases as the night wears on…
The Avengers: 1962-1969
Malcolm’s connection with Sydney Newman continued when he wrote nine episodes for the cult TV series The Avengers, which Newman created for ABC in 1961.
Whilst Newman’s Armchair Theatre drama series had been successful Howard Thomas, head of ABC, recalled that: “As the percentage increased of gloomy and realistic plays I suggested to Newman that our drama schedules needed something more lighthearted and sophisticated. I reminded him of the days when MGM produced spakling comedies for their contract stars like Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Norma Shearer, elegantly dressed and in fashionable settings.
Why couldn’t we make a series based on the Thin Man, with characters like those made famous by William Powell and Myrna Loy? This suggestion appealed to the ever-perceptive Newman and he came back with a proposal. (Howard Thomas, “The birth of The Avengers”, The Times, 2nd April 1977)
It was originally a vehicle for Ian Hendry, following from his appearance as Dr Geoffrey Brent in the series Police Surgeon which lasted for just one series in the autumn of 1960. The Avengers takes its title from the first episode, “Hot Snow”, in which Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry) investigates the murder of his fiancée Peggy (Catherine Woodville), shot in the street by a drug ring.
He is assisted by a shadowy stranger named John Steed (Patrick Macnee) who was also investigating the ring, and together they avenge her death. They then form a partnership to investigate crimes and mysteries.
Hendry left after the first series. Patrick Macnee then became the lead character, while his female partners in the investigations were in order: Venus Smith (1962-1963) played by Julie Stevens), Cathy Gale (1962-1964) played by Honor Blackman, Emma Peel (1965-1967) played by Diana Rigg, and Tara King (1968-1969) played by Linda Thorson. The series evolved over the decade from a black and white gritty crime and mystery thriller to a stylish fantasy series, filmed in colour, which combined English eccentricity with elements of “Swinging London” carefully crafted to appeal to the American market.
Of these nine episodes Mac co-wrote four episodes with Terrance Dicks, whom he had got to know when Terrance rented a room in his house and whom Mac asked to work with him on the scripts when he learnt that Terrance, an advertising copywriter, was very keen to write for television. In interviews Terrance has freely acknowledged the influence of Malcolm on his career, describing him as his mentor. In 1968, after a spell on Crossroad, Terrance became assistant script editor on Doctor Who, and about a year later, the chief script editor.
Terrance recalled :“the great thing about Mac, you see, from a technical point of view, was that he was a touch typist. He was always terribly efficient and well organised, a kind of human machine, and when he decided to be a writer the first thing he did was go to a typists’ school and learn shorthand and typing. So the way we would work was that Mac would sit at the typewriter and we’d discuss a line or whatever, agree on it, and “zap”, it would appear on the paper.” (Richard Marson , “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
Malcolm’s episodes for The Avengers were as follows:
“The Mauritius Penny“ (with Terrance Dicks) : 10th November 1962
It was produced by Leonard White and directed by Richmond Harding. The cast included Alfred Burke, Richard Vernon, and Sylvia Langova.
A man called Goodchild rifles through stamps for sale in a stamp dealers back office and then shoots the owner Peckham dead. The next day Steed tells Cathy they were watching Peckham because an agent was killed in Rome three months ago, bearing an envelope addressed to him. Steed goes to the shop in disguise wearing glasses and makes enquiries, but arouses suspicions. After he leaves Shelley and Goodchild unload a crate of sub-machine guns.
Steed and Cathy meet at a stamp auction at which Goodchild is shot dead. Cathy gets a job at the stamp dealers shop as an assistant. She overhers Brown being given instructions to kill her. He agrees and says he’s received final instructions from Paris: Norway and Denmark will move at the same time they do. Cathy opens a crate and finds Peckham’s body inside. She is surprised by Brown but knocks him out.
Steed impersonates Goodchild at the dentist. He is drugged by Miss Gray and questioned by Shelley but is rescued by a delivery driver who says, “If I were you guv’, I’d change my dentist”.
Cathy arrives at the stamp convention with Brown’s invitation and discovers it is in fact a fascist rally: an organisation called New Rule is planning a coup. She is unmasked and taken for questioning. The leader arrives and is revealed to be Lord Matterley (who has been using the codename “The Mauritius Penny”). Steed turns up and rescues Cathy, and together they subdue the fascists brandishing sub-machine guns
You can find a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
“Intercrime” (with Terrance Dicks): 7th January 1963.
It was produced by John Bryce and directed by Johnathan Alwyn. The cast included Julia Arnall, Alan Browning. Jerome Willis and Kennth J Warren.
Two men are raiding a safe when Moss surprises them with a gun and shoots them dead for carrying out the job without permission. Steed tells Cathy that that an international criminal organisation – Intercrime – has based itself in London and is carrying our major robberies. A German contact for Intercrime called Hilda Stern lands at Heathrow who is arrested and imprisoned. After a brief spell in prson in the same cell, Cathy steals her ring and goes to the offices of Intercrime at Rifle Ranges International, masquerading as Hilda. She is told to kill Steed and convinces them that she has done so. But Hilda has got of prison and turns up as well and Cathy is unmasked. Steed turns up and together the overpower the bosses of Intercrime.
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website .
“The White Dwarf” :17th February 1963
It was produced by John Bryce and directed by Richmond Harding. The cast included George A Cooper, Philip Latham, and Vivienne Drummond
Professor Richter is recording his observations of the white dwarf, Riesel Alpha, and estimates it has moved 3° in the past six months. Then he is killed. Cathy reads that the army has been mobilised. Steed tells her that Richter has predicted that a white star would re-enter the solar system and was making some final observations. Cathy is sent to the Tor Point Observatory in Cornwall to investigate, staying in a boarding house with the astronomers.
An astronomer called Rahim is also murdered whilst carrying out observations Steed arrives and together they discover that Richter was wrong and that the scientists were killed as part of an elaborate scheme to make money on the Stock Exchange in the panic over the end of the world.
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
“The Undertakers”: 5th October 1963
It was designed by David Marshall and directed by Bill Bain.
The cast included Howard Goorney, Lally Bowers and Mandy Miller.
Undertakers turn up a flat and the chief pallbearer shoot a man dead. They remove their top hats and bow solemnly.
Steed meant to be escorting Professor Renter to America but when he goes to his flat to collect him his wife tell Steed that he has suddenly retired to a rest home. Steed goes there but is refused admittance. He sees a coffin being carried out of the building. Steed shows Cathy a list of the ‘inmates’ of Adelphi Park: she exclaims that they’re all millionaires.
Cathy gets a job at the home as assistant matron and discovers that the inmates are all impostors. The episode culminates in a gun battle with the ring leaders of the plot in the grounds of the home amist the giant Grecian statues of women. It transpires that the impersonations were a way of avoiding death duties. No-one ever saw the inmates in the home , so they could be kept alive “on the books” for the required time.
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website
“The Medicine Men”: 7th November 1963
It was designed by David Marshall and directed by Kim Mills.
The cast included Peter Barkworth, Newton Black and Monica Stevenson.
A young woman is smothered in a Turkish bathhouse. Steed knows she was distributing imitations of Willis Sopwith cosmetics. Through their investigations (which includes visits to the world of advertising and marketing) Steed and Cathy discover a plot to destablisise an oil-rich country Karim by flooding it with poisonous powders with intent of putting the blame on Britain
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
“Trojan Horse”: 8th January 1964
It was designed by Richard Harrison and directed by Lawrence Bourne.
The cast included Basil Dignam, T P McKenna and Derek Newark.
This is set in the world of horse racing. Steed is concerned about the security of a stallion belonging to a sultan and goes to the stables to investigate. At the track next day, Steed tells Cathy there have been a dozen unsolved murders of important men in the past year. They discover that assassinations are being carried out using dart guns hidding in binoculars.
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
“Concerto” (with Terrance Dicks): 7th March 1964
It was designed by Robert Macgowan and directed by Kim Mills.
The cast included Nigel Stock, Sandor Eles and Dorinda Stevens.
A visiting Russian pianist, Stefan Veliko, who is giving his first concert in London, become embroiled in a plot to derail crucial East-West trade talks in London. Firstly a young woman is found dead in his hotel room. Then he is enticed into a Soho club and photographed. Finally he is blackmailed into shooting a delegate during recital. Forunately Steediand Cathy are on hand to save the day and the talks by cooperating with Veliko’s security adviser, Zalenko, an old adversary.
Steed: “What were you trying to do to your ‘friend’?” Zalenko: “Disjoint his left arm from its socket over my right shoulder.” Steed: “And where did you learn that particular piece of nastiness?” Zalenko: “Saturday afternoon British television, last time I was here. You should watch.”
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
Honor Blackman left the show to appear in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). She was replaced by Elizabeth Shepherd but after shooting one episode the producers decided she was not suitable and in turn she was replaced by Diana Rigg playing Emma Peel.
“The Gravediggers”: 7th October 1965
It was directed by Quentin Lawrence.
The cast included Ronald Fraser, Paul Massie and Wanda Ventham.
A funeral is coming to an end. After the mourners depart an aerial comes out of the grave. Steed and Emma are called in after the country’s early warning radar system has been blacked out several times by unknown means. The centre of the operation is the small village of Pringby where Dr Marlow, who had been working on a similar blacking out scheme, has been buried recently.
Steed goes to the village and follows some undertakers to “The Sir Horace Winslip Hospital for Ailing Railwaymen” where he meets Nurse Spray who tells him she’s never seen Marlow – but a few moments later later Marlow is seen briefly by Steed. Steed looks around the home and is attacked by Sager who comes off the worst. Emma investigates a funeral parlour and finds Marlow in a coffin. Steed send her to work in the home as a nurse.
Steed visits Sir Horace’s House, “Winslip Junction”, which is done up like a railway station with a ticket office, a signal box and a mock carriage. Sir Horace tells Steed he leaves the running of the hospital to Johnson and Thirlwell. Steed enjoys a ride on the model railway in the grounds of the house
Steed goes to hospital where Mrs Peel has learned that they are operating that night, but Baron won’t let her near the theatre. During the operation Dr Johnson asks for forceps, then a scalpel, then a blow torch…
Steed and Emma find electrical equipment at the undertakers and discover that the funerals are being booked ahead and form a ring around the warning station.
Emma disguises herself and takes part in the next operation at the hospital but is discovered. She is tied to the rails of the model railway, but Steed arrives and saves her after an epic fight with Baron on the model railway.
You can read a full summary of the plot on The Avengers website.
Diana Rigg left the series and was replaced by Linda Thorson who played Tara King.
“The Great Great Britain Crime” (with Terrance Dicks) 1967
This episode was never broadcast.
The reason being that John Bryce had replaced Brian Clemens and Albert Fennel as producer. However the three episiodes he produced were considered well below par and Clemens and Fennell were brought back to save the series.
The story involved a plot to steal the country’s art treasures (including the Crown Jewels) by Intercrime, (who featured in a previous episode written by Mac and Terrance Dicks). The international crime organisation stages a fake national emergency involving a missile attack on the London, resulting in the treasures being placed in a high security vault to which they have the access codes.
Parts of the episodes were later recycled into “Homicide and Old Lace”
“Homicide and Old Lace” (with Terrance Dicks): 26th March 1969
It was directed by John Hough and Vernon Sewell.
The cast included Patrick Newell, Joyce Carey and Mary Merrall.
“Mother” – the head of the organisation that Steed and Tara work for- spends his birthday with two of his aunts, and entertains them with a tale of “The Great Great Britain Crime” mentioned above. Bits of that episode were framed with Mother telling the story, while some clips from a previous episode were also intercut, badly,
The result? Well, The Avengers Forever website described this as the worst ever episode of The Avengers. I would not disagree.
You can find a summary of the plot (such as it is) on The Avengers website.
Sergeant Cork 1963-1968
Sergeant Cork was another series created by the seemingly inexhaustible Ted Willis for ATV in which John Barrie starrred as Sergeant Cork who solves crimes in Victorian London.
The cast included William Gaunt and Charles Morgan and ran for six series.
Mac is listed on the IMDB as writing for the series but his episodes are not identified on the IMDB listing.
You can watch a trailer for the DVD release here.
Zena Kakvu Nisam Ozenio (A Woman I Never Married) 15th March 1964
This was a play broadcast on Yugoslavian television, directed by Ivan Hetrich and starring Naja Drach and Ljubica jovic.
Ivan Hetrich (1921-1999) was a Croatian film, theater and television director, television presenter, and one of the founders of Television Zagreb.
The Protectors: 1964
“Channel Crossing” : 13th June 1964
It was directed by Kim Mills.
“When personal disaster strikes terror into the heart of a prominent government minister, the Protectors, assigned to guard the man during a luxury cruise, find themselves in very dangerous waters.” IMDB
Malcolm Hulke is a busy man…”
In October 1964 Mac was featured in a short piece in The Stage.
“Malcolm Hulke is a busy man. He has just completed a draft for an episode of Gideon’s Way, he is in the process of completing an episode for No Hiding Place (called A Menace To the Public) and will then work on an episode of Danger Man and another for The Avengers. Without pausing to draw breath he will then complete a play for radio called A Boy For Zelda, work on the English version of a successful stage play from Holland, and perhaps turn his radio play Man on the Island into a novel. Having such much time on his hands (!) he is helping to organise the first assembly of the projected International Writers Guild, to be held in London November 19th-21st . “I’m a sort of glorified bedding officer, fixing acccommodation for delegates and so on…” (The Stage, 15th October 1964)
Winifred wrote to one of Mac’s brothers in December 1963: “Mac is well but very busy. He is writing a six part serial for television to be produced in early 1964, and has just completed a one hour episode for The Avengers series. Somehow he makes time to see me every day and last week took me to St Martin’s Theatre to see The Sound of Music. It was a lovely evening there and back in his lovely car, with the heater on. I wish your mother had lived to see his success.” John Williams, “Red Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 489, September 2015)
The six part serial was for a new Saturday early evening show called Doctor Who.
Doctor Who: 1963-1969
Sidney Newman was headhunted by the BBC to be Head of Drama and started work in January 1963. He wasn’t impressed by the BBC’s drama output.
I found it was to be really absolutely asleep. I thought the camerawork was sluggish…There was no real depth. It was all rather stagey. After I’d been there about three weeks, I really was totally dismayed because, other than a handful, there were really very few marvellous people I felt were really good directors. I didn’t like the writers that were being used and I disliked intensely the fact that all scripts were purchased by the Script department run by Donald Wilson, because I found that directors wanted to be involved in the creation of a script . (Andrew Pixley, “Newman at the BBC”, Doctor Who magazine, 466, October 2013)
Newman re-organised the BBC’s drama production teams and launched a number of new drama series. He then looked at the 5.15 Saturday afternoon slot between the end of Grandstand and the start of Juke Box Jury. Traditionally this had been used for reruns, cartoons or adventure series such as Garry Halliday but Newman wanted something different.
At a number of meetings in the spring of 1963 Newman and his staff evolved the notion of a mysterious Doctor who could travel in time and space. The aim of the series were educational, similar to Pathfinders in Space, with the remit of teaching its young audience in an enjoyable way about space and history. In its first years the serials alternated between a science fiction adventure and an adventure set during a dramatic historical event such as the travels of Marco Polo, the Crusades, and the St Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre of 1572 (a surprising subject for a tea-time children’s serial, although no actual killings were shown). The series was to be called Doctor Who.
Newman brought in as producer a young woman he had worked with at ABC, Verity Lambert, which caused a stir as the BBC was then a very male world. Verity persuaded the veteran actor William Hartnell to take on the role of the Doctor. Hartnell had been working as an actor since the 1930s, but was frustrated by the limited roles he was now being offered, often as an army sergeant in films and on television. Verity had been impressed by his role in a recent British film This Sporting Life (1963), set in the world of Rugby League in which he had played a talent scout.
The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on 23 November 1963. “An Unearthly Child” introduced the Doctor and his grandchild, Susan, whose science and history teachers at Coal Hill school, Ian and Barbara, are puzzled by her advanced knowledge on some matters and total ignorance on others.
They follow her to junkyard at 76 Totters Lane and burst into what seems to be a police-box, but is in fact, as the Doctor explains to their disbelief, a space and time machine, the Tardis, as Susan has named it: Time and Relative Dimension in Space. He and Susan are travellers who left their unnamed world. At the end of the episode, fearful of being found out, the Doctor sets the machine in motion and the Tardis leaves the earth for an unknown destination. The rest of the first serial takes place in the Stone Age. and is frankly rather drab.
It was the second serial, set on a dead planet called Skaro and which introduced the Daleks – emotionless mutants in a mechanised travel machine – that caught the imagination of whole generation of young people.
“Britain 408 AD”
Mac had been asked to write for the new show and had submitted a storyline in early September for a serial called “Britain 408 AD”, the period when the Romans were about to abandon its colony and pull out its legions. The story editor David Whitaker felt that the story had a lot of colour, but was too complicated with its various opposing factions: Britons, Romans, Celts, Saxons.
It was hoped that a rewritten version of “Britain 408 AD” might occupy the sixth slot of Season One. Later that month it was decided that the production block did not need another historical story and Mac’s serial was not proceeded with : instead he was asked to work on a serial called “The Hiddden Planet” which he had also submitted. Mac resubmitted “Britain 408 AD” to Whitaker’s successor, Denis Spooner, but Spooner rejected it in April 1965 because the Romans had already featured in his own recently broadcast serial “The Romans” set at the court of the Emperor Nero. (“Lost Stories”: Doctor Who, a brief History of Time Travel website)
“The Hidden Planet”
In October 1963 , “The Hidden Planet” was pencilled in as the seventh story of Season One. But when Mac delivered his script for episode one in January 1964, the production team didn’t like it and asked him to rewrite it. Mac disagreed with this, arguing that the script followed the storyline they had agreed and that he should therefore be paid extra for any rewrites. The production team rejected his argument , and in March Mac agreed to revise his scripts. By July, Hulke had rewritten the script, but after Carole Ann Ford (who played the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan), had left the show it was felt that too much work would be needed to restructure the serial while it was felt the story lacked monsters, now viewed as essential in the show’s science fiction serials, part of the Dalek effect on Doctor Who.
In October Mac was advised by David Whitaker that the story was not now going to be used. As in the case of “Britain 408 AD” he resubmitted it to Denis Spooner but this too was rejected by him in April 1965 because it still included Ian and Barbara who were about to leave the series at the end of “The Chase.” (“Lost Stories”: Doctor Who, a brief History of Time Travel website) .
Mac later explained that this serial was about:
“… a planet which is the same size as Earth, but on the other side of the sun, and therefore we have never seen it. The Doctor goes to the planet and for obvious reasons the Tardis crew think they are on Earth. But they find things are different: I think they landed in a field and Susan notices a four-leaf clover, and then they see they are all four leaf clovers. And then other mysterious things happen like birds flying backwards or having double wings, and things of that sort. (Richard Marson, “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
This idea of an identical planet crops up in a later serial “The Tenth Planet,” broadcast in the autumn of 1966, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, in which the planet Mondas appears suddenly in the solar system, a twin of the earth, except that this planet has Cybermen on it who come calling on their new neighbours. It’s not a friendly visit.
“Journey Into Time” : the forgotten Doctor Who radio series, 1966
In 1966 Mac wrote a script for a radio version of Doctor Who. The story of this forgotten production was told by Richard Bignell in issue 3 of the Doctor Who research magazine, Nothing at the End of the Lane. In 1965 Richard Bates of Watermill Productions approached the BBC about the possibility of making a radio series of Doctor Who for transmission abroad in Australia, Canada and the United States. Whilst there were reservations by some at the BBC a contract was finally agreed in early 1966., giving Watermill an option for six months. Boris Karloff was under consideration to play the Doctor: some 52 episodes were planned.
Mac was obvously approached by Bates to write for the projected series (they had worked together on The Avengers) for in June 1966 Watermill sent the BBC a 17 page script for a pilot episode written by him called “Journey Into Time”. Watermill told the BBC that they were now considering Robert Coote for the role of the Doctor, and the BBC extended the option until September. In the end the role was taken by Peter Cushing, who played the Doctor in two films made by Aaru prodictions: Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966). A recording of Mac’s script was made and sent to the BBC for evaluation.
Richard Williams, Commercial Manager – Television Enterprises at the BBC, wrote to Bates: “All my colleagues who have heard the pilot have been very impressed and we trust that this enthusiasm will be shared by your customers.” The company (now called Stanmark) began issuing promotional material.
But some key figures within the BBC now starting to have doubts. Martin Esslin, Head of Drama (Sound) wrote in September that, whilst it was technically well produced:, “As a piece of science fiction, however, it strikes me as extremely feeble and it certainly isn’t anything I would recommend for broadcast in any of the spots for which I am responsible.” Others were more favourable, but in the end nothing more happened, the series was not proceeded with, while the recording vanished.
Mac’s script also vanished until Richard Bignell rediscovered it when researching the story of this lost radio series and it was included in the article in Nothing at the End of the Lane.
In the script the Doctor and Susan land the Tardis on Earth in 1967, three thousand years adrift from where they wanted to be. The Tardis turns into a police box while Susan decides she wants to go to school where she displays unusual knowledge eg of the binary system. Classmate Mike Logan rescues her from a bully and she vistis his house where Susan displays a great knowledge of plants. She tells Mike and his father : “My grandfather and I, we were once at a place that was covered in plants. They were all much bigger than your father’s..but the same varieties Zantedeschia Aethiopica and Adiantum Capillus Verens ..I mean they’d become big.. It was after an atomic bomb explosion. They’d mutated. They were rather dangerous.”
Mike tells his father: “...some of the things she says – it’s like she came from a different world.” He walks with her near to her home, but the only building nearby is a police box in a park. They meet Doctor Who (as he is called in the script) dressed in old fashioned clothes as Mike remarks. Doctor Who tells him he bought them in New York in 1910.
Back at school Susan draws a Neanderthal Man on the blackboard and gets into trouble with her teacher. Walking her home again Mike thinks he sees Susan go into the police box. He goes back the next day and meets Doctor Who outside. When he hears Susan calling he manages to get inside the box and exclaims in shoc , “It’s like a giant electronic palace… .it’s so large Susan… I…I can’t believe it. How can it be so small outside and so big inside?” Doctor Who tells Mike that they come from Earth but from three thousand years in the future. They are unable to return home to their own time because the telechronometer is not working. Mike accidentally sets the Tardis in motion. On landing they discover that they are surrounded by soldiers and have landed in the middle of the American Revolution. (Fade Out) (Richard Bignell, “Journey Into Time”, Nothing at the End of the Lane, 3, 2012.) The Times, 14th January 2012, p.29.)
“The Faceless Ones”: April and May 1967
“The Tenth Planet”, broadcast in October 1966, was William Hartnell’s last serial. He had been suffering from ill-health and at that time Doctor Who was produced 40 weeks a year, so it was a relentless work schedule.
Rather than lose Doctor Who the programme makers, Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis, took the bold and quite risky step of replacing the by now much-loved Hartnell with another actor, Patrick Troughton, ascribing the change to the Doctor having worn out his old body. As the new Doctor explains at the beginning of “The Power of the Daleks”: “ I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the Tardis. Without it, I couldn’t survive…”
The change of actors worked: the serial continued and remained just as popular for several years more, although the ratings did fall off in 1969.
It was in this new era that Mac’s first serial for Doctor Who was broadcast. It was co-written with Derrick Kerkham (who wrote under the name “David Ellis”), with whom he had started working after meeting him at the annual awards dinner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain in March 1966. Kerkham had written for series such as Dixon of Dock Green, Compact, and Crossroads. Like Mac., he had also pitched unsuccessfully to Doctor Who. Both knew the new Doctor Who script editor Gerry Davies from their time working on the football series United!
First they pitched a story to Davies called “The People Who Couldn’t Remember” but this rejected by him in June. Davies explained that it was not the kind of story he was looking for and that in future they should avoid satire and humour. “Our viewing figures take a dive every time we introduce a joke in a script.” He went to advise them that what the show needed was a “strong scientific concept and loads and loads of menace.” At a meeting with the two writers to discuss more ideas Davies told them “We’d like you to do a story set in a big store.”
By November they had submitted a story line. In this the Doctor and his companions land in a department store in 1973 where they discover a plot by aliens to colonise the earth by wiping out out humanity with a plague. The aliens have infiltrated the store with a sub-species called The Chameleons who can change their appearance to mimic humans. Mac was keen to show the aliens as individuals with a range of beliefs rather an anonymous species. After receipt the producers told Mac and David that they had decided that they wanted it to be set in airport instead.
The revised serial (now called “Doctor Who and the Chameleons”) was formally commissioned by Davies on 3rd January 1967 to be delivered a month later. The future setting was abandoned, as was the plague (only to reappear in 1970 in Mac’s serial “The Silurians”). In February they were asked to write out Ben and Polly from the series, leaving just Jamie as a companion. (For an excellent in depth analysis of the development of this serial, please see: Andrew Pixley, “The Big Store”, Nothing at the End of the Lane, 4, Autumn 2015.)
Mac and David’s serial was broadcast under the title “”The Faceless Ones” in six parts in April and May 1967. The cast included Pauline Collins, Wanda Ventham and Gordon Kaye.
The Doctor and his companions – Ben (Michael Craze), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) – land in the Tardis on a runway at Gatwick airport and run for cover when they are spotted by a policeman. Whilst hiding, Polly sees a man killed in the offices of Chameleon Tours with some kind of electrical weapon. She shows the body to the Doctor and Jamie, but when they return with the airport’s Commandant the body has gone.
Unknown to the Doctor and Jamie, Polly is taken prisoner by the Chameleon Tours aircrew. When Doctor and Jamie next meet Polly she denies knowing them or even being Polly. The Doctor tells Jamie : “You don’t want to believe everything you see…” Later we see duplicates of humans being revived and given faces in the medical centre.
Jamie meets Samanatha, looking for her brother Brian who went on a fight with Chameleon Tours – and never returned. We see the plane take off – and turn into spacecraft while the passengers appear to vanish. The Doctor discovers that aliens are stealing the identities of young air passengers in order to take over the world, their own planet having been devastated in an explosion. The aircraft is going into space to rendezvous with their command satelite. The Doctor tells the Commandant: “Things are not always what they seem…Chameleon Tours are not quite what they seem either.”
The Doctor defeats the aliens after taking an aircraft to the satellite masquerading as his duplicate while the originals of the duplicated humans are found just in time in the airport car park. In tone it feels similar to a number of episodes of The Avengers. which often featured mysterious disappearances.
In an interview in 1975 Mac said that this was the serial he enjoyed writing most. “If you remember the Chameleons… had taken over part of an airport and were methodically changing themselves into Earth people. So at any point in the story you were never quite sure whether a character whom you had got to know had been changed or was still him. It was a lot of fun…” (Gordon Blows, “The Malcolm Hulke Interview”, Tardis, 2, 1975)
Although The Stage mentioned that the duo intended to collaborate on future projects and were working a six-part thriller for adults, this was their only work that made it to the screen.
You can read the full script as broadcast here.
Sadly only two episodes have survived of the serial but In 2020 an animated version of the missing episodes was released on DVD.
“The War Games”: April to June 1969
Malcolm’s next contribution to Doctor Who was “The War Games” which he co-wrote with Terrance Dicks, renewing their writing partnerships. It was broadcast between April and June 1969 and lasted an epic ten episodes, one of the longest Doctor Who serials ever made.
It was written at haste, because, as Terrance admitted in interviews, they had run out of scripts and needed something very urgently. He brought in his good friend Mac to help out and they were still writing the final parts when filming had already started on the first episodes. Pat Troughton had decided he wanted to leave the series, as had the actors playing his companions, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury.
In “The War Games” the Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, lands in the midst of what appears to be the First World War. The Doctor tells Jamie:“We’re back in history, Jamie. One of the most terrible times on the planet Earth.” They are pickud up by a British officer and nurse and taken to the British lines where they are accused by General Smythe of being spies. The Doctor is sentenced to death but escapes at the last minute, the first of many such escapes in the course of the story. Something is not quite right, though. The General has a modern video communicator in his bedroom and has the power to hypnotise his underlings, while nobody can remember how they got to the Front.
They discover that other wars from history such the Roman invasion of Britain and the American Civil War are taking place in different zones. Using the Aliens’ travel device – the Sidrat- the Doctor and Zoe get into the headquarters from where the wars are being co-ordinated. Here the Doctor meets a renegade from his own race, the War Chief.
WAR CHIEF: You may have changed your appearance, but I know who you are.
DOCTOR: Oh, do you?
WAR CHIEF: Your machine is a Tardis. You’re too familiar with it’s controls to be a stranger.
DOCTOR: I had every right to leave.
WAR CHIEF: Stealing a Tardis? Oh, I’m not criticising you. We are two of a kind.
DOCTOR: We most certainly are not!
WAR CHIEF: We were both Time Lords and we both decided to leave our race.
DOCTOR: I had reasons of my own.
WAR CHIEF: Just as I had.
DOCTOR: Your reasons are only too obvious. Power!
WAR CHIEF: How much have you learnt of our plans?
DOCTOR: I know that you’ve been kidnapping soldiers from the Earth from various times in it’s history and bringing them here to kill one another.
WAR CHIEF: But do you realise our ultimate objectives?
DOCTOR: No objective can justify such slaughter.
WAR CHIEF: The war games on this planet are simply the means to an end. The aliens intend to conquer the entire galaxy. A thousand inhabited worlds.
DOCTOR: Yes, but why choose the people of the Earth?
WAR CHIEF: They are the most suitable recruits for our armies. Man is the most vicious species of all.
DOCTOR: Well, that simply isn’t true.
WAR CHIEF: Consider their history. For a half a million years they have been systematically killing each other. Now we can turn this savagery to some purpose. We can bring peace to the galaxy, and you can help. You see, I’m not the cold-hearted villain you suppose me to be. My motives are purely peaceful.
The Doctor, his companions and a motley army of rebels from different zones combine to defeat the Aliens, but the Doctor then has to summon the Time Lords to return all the soldiers back to their own times. Despite his efforts to escape they put him on trial for interfering on his travels and not standing aloof.
TIME LORD: You have heard the charge against you, that you have repeatedly broken our most important law of non-interference in the affairs of other planets. What have you to say? Do you admit these actions?
DOCTOR: I not only admit them, I am proud of them. While you have been content merely to observe the evil in the galaxy, I have been fighting against it.
TIME LORD 3: It is not we who are on trial here, Doctor, it is you.
DOCTOR: No, no, of course, you’re above criticism, aren’t you.
TIME LORD: Do you admit that these actions were justified?
DOCTOR: Yes, of course, I do. Give me a thought channel and I’ll show you some of the evils I’ve been fighting against.
(The Time Lords nod to each other.)
DOCTOR: The Quarks, deadly robot servants of the cruel Dominators, they tried to enslave a peace loving race. Then there were the Yeti, more robot killers, instruments of an alien intelligence trying to take over the planet Earth.
TIME LORD 3: All this is entirely irrelevant.
DOCTOR: You asked me to justify my actions, I am doing so. Let me show you the Ice Warriors, cruel Martian invaders, they tried to conquer the Earth too. So did the Cybermen, half creature, half machine. But worst of all were the Daleks, a pitiless race of conquerors exterminating all who came up against them. All these evils I have fought while you have done nothing but observe. True, I am guilty of interference, just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!
TIME LORD: Is that all you have to say?
DOCTOR: Well, isn’t it enough?
TIME LORD: Your defence has been heard and will be carefully considered, but you have raised difficult issues. We require time to think about them. You will be recalled when we have made our decision.
The Time Lords accept his plea, but exile him to Earth with a new identity as yet unknown, while Zoe and Jamie are returned to their own times, all knowledge of their travels with the Doctor removed from their minds.
In this story Mac and Terrance show war as violent, brutal and pointless, controlled by ruthless leaders who place no value on human lifer and who, whilst apparently on different sides – German, British, Yankee, Southerner – are in fact all working together.
They add to this by not giving the Aliens any names – only titles such as “The Security Chief” and “The War Lord” – while we never learn the name of their planet which is only ever referred to as “The Home Planet”. The writers go one further by showing that by combining together the soldiers can defeat their rulers, now that looks distinctly like Mac’s touch.
The serial seems to draw on Peter Watkins’ drama documentary about a nuclear attack on Britain The War Game (which was banned by the BBC in 1965 but screened by CND) and also Joan Littlewood’s theatre show Oh What A Lovely War, which was based on songs the soldiers made up themselves to tunes of the day and sang during the war. Some scenes in “The War Games” were actually shot on the set near Brighton where the film of Oh What A Lovely War had recently been made.
The serial attracted the lowest audience of Patrick Troughton’s last season in the role, just 4.9 million. In the years since, however, it has attracted greater appreciation. It’s my personal favourite of Mac’s serials for Doctor Who.
When asked by Gordon Blows in an interview in 1975 whether “The War Games” could be made into a film, Mac replied that it would make a terrific film “but would be very expensive to produce. In television audiences will accept it if someone rushes in and tells the Doctor that they’re surrounded by ten thousand Romans soldiers/monsters/ Daleks…Only one or two need to be seen. But in the cinema adiences expect to see everything and that rockets up the costs.” (Gordon Blows, “The Malcolm Hulke Interview”, Tardis, 2, 1975)
Mac spoke about the serial in the only recorded interview I have been able to locate, made by Gary Hopkins: “You know when you work in collaboration it’s a good idea to forget immediately whose idea is which, so who got the basic idea and the development I would’t like to comment on.”
He said that they were given an important instruction:
To find way of changing Patrick Troughton’s appearance but to leave it open… Patrick had said he didn’t want to go on being Doctor Who, he’d done it for three or four years, he wished to leave. No one had been selected, so they wanted an open-ended serial. We then came up with the idea of Time Lords, this was a very complicated way of doing things, I suppose really, but it gave us a good few scenes about the Doctor’s trial and how he gets sent into exile.
That was another thing, they wanted him to look different in the next series, because they hadn’t got Patrick Troughton any more, and they had also found that serials that took place on Earth tended to get higher ratings so they wanted him exiled to Earth for some reason or other, then they just left left it to us to work it all that out. I think we did quite an interesting job. It was to have been a six parter but after we started, a four parter by somebody else fell through… We were told after we had scripted three or four episodes, “Can you make it go to ten?” It was the sort of story you could stretch. I believe it did begin to lose ratings towards the end. Now the War Lords idea must have come early. I wonder if we got the Time Lords idea at the same time? Certainly we wouldn’t have started scripting until we got those things sorted out.
Writing for television you’ve got to think all the time economically about sets and cast..
Sicher ist Sicher (Better Safe Than Sorry) : 4th October 1964.
This crime comedy by Eric and Mac was broadcast on German television by ADR/WDR. It was directed by Kurt Wilhelm and starred Marlene Rahn, Charles Regnier and Wolo Luond. According to Die Krime website (devoted to German crime series) the plot involved a firm called GSD Investment run by the Commander, assisted by Big Taff and Wiesel, which seems respectable but is actually a criminal organisation. They want to carry out a diamond robbery, but first they must free the top safecracker from prison…
Die Krime also says it was based on “The Safecrackers” by Eric and Mac and appears to have been an original script. It was repeated on 10th June 1965 on ARD, on 10th September 1966 on WDR 3, on 25th August 1968 on WDR 3 and on 17th February 1969 on WDR. http://krimiserien.heimat.eu/fernsehspiele/1964-sicheristsicher.htm
Gideon’s Way: 1965.
Gideon’s Way was based on a series of books by John Creasey and was made by ITC in 1964 and 1965. The very popular actor John Gregson played Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard as a solid dependable family man while Alexander Davion played his second-in-command, DCI David Keen. The directors make good use of London’s locations. Twenty six episodes were broadcast.
Mac wrote one episode “Fall High Fall Hard” which was broadcast on 16th January 1965. It was directed by Leslie Norman. This is the review posted on Archive TV Musings website:
Tony Erickson (Donald Houston) and Charles Randle (Victor Maddern) are co-owners of a building company who are facing a potentially damaging court case. Randle has fought his way up from nothing and has no qualms about using every underhand trick in the book to achieve his ends. His street-fighting ways are confirmed by Thompson (Gordon Gostelow), one of Randle’s more unsavoury contacts. “You’re very thin-skinned these days, Charlie boy. A proper little social climber. Underneath that fancy suit you’re still an East End slum kid, like me.”
On Randle’s instructions, Thompson bribes Smith (Michael Robbins) to perjure himself on oath and thanks to his testimony the case is decided in Erickson/Randle’s favour. When Erickson learns of Randle’s corrupt practices he’s appalled, but what can he do?
Donald Houston was never the most subtle of actors and this is demonstrated very clearly in Fall High, Fall Hard. When he learns that Smith (and others) have been paid off, he reacts like a bull in a china shop. He rushes into Randle’s office and proceeds to give him a good battering and then storms out to get very drunk. His drunk acting is hardly a model of restraint either – although the moment when he returns to his palatial home and crashes into his teenage son’s birthday party (to the boy’s disgust and his friends’ amusement) is a memorable one.
Whilst Houston’s unrestrained hysterics are a little distracting there’s plenty of compensation elsewhere. Victor Maddern is, thankfully, much calmer as Randle – he’s someone who views corruption as nothing more than normal business practice. Gordon Gostelow (along with a young Mike Pratt as Jenson) are a menacing double-act who successfully bribe Smith with both money and threats (water from a boiling kettle is poured over his hand to reinforce the point that he’d be well advised to take the money and keep quiet). And Michael Robbins, as Smith, is perfectly cast as a little man easily manipulated.
Making his second appearance as Det. Sgt. Carmichael is Donald Houston’s younger brother Glyn. Unlike Donald, Glyn never felt the need to soar way over the top and gives a characterically subtle performance.
Donald Houston’s overplaying does detract from the effectiveness of the story a little, but it’s still a decent tale of corruption and murder.
Danger Man: 1965
Danger Man starred Patrick MacGoohan as John Drake, an agent working for a government security agency, M9. It was created by Ralph Smart at ITC and broadcast between 1960 and 1962, and again between 1964 and 1968. The series was very popular, making MacGoohan a household name, reportedly the highest paid actor in the country at this time. He refused to carry a gun in the series, preferring his character to rely upon his wits, and a succession of technical devices, and also stipulated that there should be be no romantic involvement with his lead actresses.
Mac wrote one episode, “Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet,” broadcast on 16th March 1965 and directed by Don Chaffey. The cast included Moira Redmond, Earl Cameron and Errol John.
The working title was ‘Let’s Make One too”. When a couple of atomic researchers go missing it is assumed they have defected and Drake is sent to investigate. Drake discovers that the Haitian millionaire Desilles is ingeniously using his fleet of ships to kidnap atomic scientists from around the world, regardless of their political affiliation, and is planning to make a nuclear weapon.
Although supposedly set on Haiti, it was actually filmed at MGM Borehamwood studios in February 1965. The cast included a number of black actors, unusual in a television series at this time.
You can watch this episode here.
The Flying Swan: 1965.
The Flying Swan was a BBC series – set in a riverside hotel – which ran for 24 episodes in 1965. It starred Margaret Lockwood, a British filmstar in the 1940s and 1950s, who was now doing more television work.
The cast also included her daughter, Julia Lockwood, playing her air-hostess daughter who helps out between flights. It was made in Gosta Green studios in the Midlands, although the opening exterior shots of the hotel were of “The Compleat Angler” on the banks of the Thames in Marlow.
It was a somewhat delayed sequel to a 10-part BBC series The Royalty, about events at an exclusive London hotel, in which Lockwood played Mollie Miller, and was broadcast from 1957 to 1958.
Bill Boorne in the Liverpool Echo praised the series:
Ever since Margaret Lockwood began the “Flying Swan” E.B.C. T V series in March I have admired the sheer professionalism she brings to her part of Mollie Manning, owner of the hotel. The stories vary in quality. but whatever situation she is given. Margaret’s experience comes over even more clearly on television than it does on film or stage. “It’s jolly hard work. I had never quite realised what a slog these weekly stories are.” she told me. “l have never done weekly repertory acting in my life and I don’t mind admitting that the first two or three weeks of this series was absolute hell. When I’m doing a play I usually turn up at the first rehearsal practically word-perfect. But then I’ve had the script for some weeks. With Flying Swan we get the next week’s script on the Saturday, begin rehearsing Monday,. move to Birmingham on Wednesday where it is staged and the whole thing’s in the can by Friday. Saturday another script and off we go again. Somehow you get into the rhythm of It. but when I was away for a couple of weeks holiday recently I found the winding-up part again pretty fearsome. Julia’s on holiday at the moment and I expect she’ll find the same trouble when she gets back. So you don’t have to ask me what I’m going to do when the 26 weeks of the series are up in September…yes, that’s right, laze and laze. In the sun for preference.” Liverpool Echo, 31st July 1965.
Mac wrote just one episode “Quarantine,” broadcast on 3rd July 1965 and directed by Michael Imison. Most of the series was wiped.
Sigurno je sigurno (It Sure Is Safe): 28th August 1965.
This was broadcast by RTC Belgrade and directed by Sava Mrmak. The cast included Oliver Kantina, Zoran Longinovic and Milan Panic. The play was another version of Sicher Ist Sicher.
United! was a BBC drama series, created by Anthony Cornish, which followed the ups and downs of Brentwich United, a second division football club in the Midlands. The football scenes were filmed at Stoke City’s ground, while the former player and BBc sports presenter Jimmy Hill was an adviser to the series. It was not a success and was cancelled after two seasons. The cast included David Lodge, Bryan Marshall and Stephen Yardley.
Mac wrote 10 episodes in total , eight in 1966 and two in 1967. None of the episodes have survived.
In the spring of 1968 Mac spent three and a half months in Australia, creating and script editing a series called Woobinda, about a vet in the outback, made by NLT productions.
“Woobinda” is an Aboriginal word meaning “healer of animals”. An earlier Australian series about a kangaroo, Skippy, had enjoyed worldwide success and it was hoped to emulate this. The producer on the series was Roger Mirams. In the end 39 episodes were made, filmed in colour. Don Pascoe played the vet, John Stevens, while Sonia Hofmann played his daughter, Tiggie, and Bindi Williams played his adopted son, Kevin, an aborigine. As well as the human cast there were, of course, numerous animals; not just dogs, cats, sheep and cattle, but also kangaroos, emus and a platypus.
Mac also wrote two episodes: “Where Dead Men Lie” (co-written with Suzanne Baker) in which Kevin, Tiggie and Peter are stranded in the desert after their plane is stolen; and “Silent Witness” in which a man claims to be haunted by a dog.
Whilst in Australia Mac sent back a report on their television which was printed in Allan Prior’s column in the Stage;
The days of pauperdom for Australian television writers are over. Last year’s new ruling requiring all stations to show at least 30 minutes per week of Australian drama forced an airing for local talent. And surprise, surprise, the audiences liked it! Thus Australian television’s money-men discovered that their biggest potential rating-puller was something previously ignored: Australia. The canned shows from Britain and America still take most of the screen time. But it’s McGooley (situation comedy). Mavis Bramston (satire) and Homicide (Z Cars a la Melbourne) that people go home to watch .
In Britain it is accepted that filmed series are only possible if they get a North American sale. Here, even live television is stretching the purse strings. Yet almost every major city now has four television channels. The Australian Broadcasting Commission runs a national network of television and radio, and gets from the Government a proportion of the licence fees. The commercial networks have no restraint on the number of “messages” which can interrupt every programme. How quaint that the news showing ‘Digger’ soldiers battling the Communists in Vietnam can be interrupted twice in ten minutes to urge viewers to go to Sydney’s Wentworth Park to see the Moscow State Circus now on tour here.
There’s always been a fifty per cent quota on foreign-bought shows, but the home grown half can include the News, weather, sport, knitting-lessons, toddlers story-time and so on. Or, if the station owner is powerful enough, the quota can just be ignored. What controlling authority or politician dare fall foul of the Press in a country where every boot-black believes in free enterprise?
Owing to a total lack of communication between Sydney’s four transmitters, on Sundays at 8.30 p.m. you’ll probably find a 20-year-old movie showing on every click-point of your dial. In this respect at least, the English viewer would feel very much at home. In 1967, ABC produced 13 half-hour plays (Australian Play house), plus 12 one-hour plays (but many of these were from British scripts). Thus far into 1968, the record has not been so good. It is widely rumoured that ABC has run out of cash for the time being. Even so, with four television film drama series in production or preparation (mainly independent television-film companies), six live series in production and three in preparation, it is suddenly a bonanza for the Australian script-writer. It’s the script-editors and producers who’ve got problems now – how to get the scripts in!
With all this explosion of production, will anything exciting come out of it? The whole shoot looks very much to me like imitations of Britain and America, and of varying quality. But that is Australia. You’re either frightfully, frightfully English, and claim your forefathers arrived with the first fleet (in chains or otherwise), or you come from Irish slock and you are now alarmingly Americanised. Which must be frantically confusing for every Italian, Yugoslav, or Greek migrant, who only wants to know how to become a dinkum Aussie. It would be good to think that our medium of television might one day solve the riddle, and break through with just what Australia really is and means. The sheer size baffles. Sydney to Perth, for example, is over 2.000 miles! If ever a country needed a cohesive soul, it’s this one. Perhaps television could be its Joan of Arc!” (The Stage, 18 April 1968)
Once safely back home in Britain, Mac contributed some more unvarnished opinions on the state of Australian television in an article in The Stage in May 1969:
I was in Australia three and a half months without seeing one Australian television play. Yet I saw so many hundreds of commercials that I almost gave up watching television.
In the three and a half months in Sydney, spent very much in television circles, I rarely heard anybody talk about quality. People talked about making money but quality was unmentioned. I saw Australian television celebrities interviewed – none celebrities of drama; only of quiz show and spectaculars – and all they talked about was how much loot they were making. Perhaps the English way of not talking about money is a manifestation of our world-renowned hypocrisy, but the truth is that we start off thinking in terms of quality: and then, quite possibly, we do make money. The Forsyte Saga, currently showing in Australia, is not a bad example. I really cannot imagine that the BBC executive-producer at the first planning meeting opened by saying “Look, sports, we’re going to make a few quick bucks by doing this Forsyte Saga thing.” I am sure they sat down and talked very seriously about doing some good television. The result was first-class television that is selling all over the world. Australia could be doing just the same thing.
Unfortunately Australia tends to be a dumping ground for used goods from Britain and the United States. It is argued that there is insufficient native talent to produce locally. I question that. I worked with Australian writers, and know their calibre. Just recently the Australian Writers Guild held its Awards Dinner, and one of the winners was a New South Wales writer. Gregory Martin, who won an award for his play Silo Fifteen which has not been seen in Australia and probably never will be. He had to sell it abroad, in Europe. Why?
One of Australia’s major problems is that television there has grown too fast. In the United Kingdom we started the world’s first regular television service back in 1936. With the interruption of war years, it has been continuing ever since. Yet today, with a population nearing sixty millions, we have only three channels. So we have built up gradually. In Sydney, where television is on a far more local basis than Britain’s, there are four channels for two and a half million people. This is mad, uncontrolled expansion to the point where the latest Australian commercial station can only just make ends meet.
Australia is not only a dumping ground for foreign shows, it is also a dumping ground for foreign people, those who dump themselves on Australia in show business. There is this peculiarity of the Australian character which firmly believes that everything and everybody from overseas must be bonza. This attitude means that some people who have not made the grade in Britain or the States can come to Australia and talk big and they will get big jobs. True, there are many talented people from overseas working in Australian showbusiness. But there are phonies, too. When any migrant American producer talked about his work on the Warner lot, I asked him what the Hollywood zip-code was. Half of them had never been near the place. And some of these fakes are top-rated in Australian television.
There is another basic problem: the lack of strong trade unions. Trade unionism can be restrictive, but it can also ensure that the only people who can be employed are craftsmen. I was helping a technician to peg down a tent on location in that dust-bowl wilderness west of Broken Hill, and as a joke I said: “In Britain, if I helped you set this prop, you’d go on strike.” He turned to me and said: “Mate, that’s why you’ve got an industry and we haven’t.” I have thought about that, and I think there is a lot of truth in what he meant.
There is so much power in so few hands in Australia. I have heard of one well-known actor who has been totally black-listed from television in Australia because he asked for a rise. A critic Veritas, was banned from one Channel’s previews. Why? Presumably because as a critic he had criticised something. I have had it put to me by a television tycoon in Sydney that “Agreements here mean nothing.” He added: “We can crush anyone we like writers or actors because we’ve got the power.”
There is an old saying that a people gets the government it deserves. That can apply to television. Put another way, if Australians don’t like the way television is, they should do some thing about it. They should get the Government to force the television buccaneers to spend some of their dollars on training and on promoting Australian production, . particularly in drama. They should get the Government to grant to its own Australian Broadcasting Commission at least enough money to put on some Australian plays. They should get the government to change its quota system which allows 50 per cent of foreign shows, and allows the 50 per cent of home-grown shows to consist of knitting lessons, commercials and weather forecasts. I had never been to the United States but I never realised until I saw them in Australia how appallingly bad are some American television shows. In Britain, with a 14 per cent quota, we get the cream of the American product. Australians must surely be taking everything dumped on them. (The Stage 29th May 1969)
Woobinda was screened in Britain by some ITV companies in 1969 and 1970
More information about the series is available here.
Gestern Gelesen (Read Yesterday)
After returning from Australia Mac spent some time later in 1968 in Cologne writing for the German television crime series Gestern Gelesen (Read Yesterday) which ran for four seasons between 1969 and 1975. It was produced by Profil-Film for Westdeutches Werfernsehen GmbH.
Erik Schumann played the role of lawyer Dr. Fuhrmann who represents his clients in even the most hopeless cases: theft, insurance fraud, embezzlement, burglary and even murder. Fuhrmann receives support from a succession of trainee lawyers: Gisela Lohberg (Vera Jesse) in seasons 1 & 2, Eva Petersen (Eva Kinsky) ( in season 3 (1st half) and Agape von Allenstein (Monika Gabril) in season 3 (2nd half).
In Die Krimeserien website it says the following (Translation):
Director Jürgen Goslar told Hörzu at the time (41/1970, p. 62): “Basically we show a ‘true’ thriller with every episode. And when I was talking to the program director of WWF, Dr. Andreas, we agreed that there should be cases so common that they could happen at any time. Cases about which you might have only read in the newspaper yesterday.” This was the reason for the title of the new series: “Read Yesterday”. At the start of the season on October 27, 1970 in the WDR regional program, the editor in charge said Lisa Scheu, herself a lawyer: “These are criminal cases that actually happened in this way. Only the name and location of the action were changed in each case. We want to demonstrate that an exciting story can be told without resorting to murder and brutality. In addition, we want to give viewers an insight into German criminal justice. We show how truth trials can and should go in court.” Die Krimiserien website
Mac included the script of an episode he had written, : “Eine Rechnung Zuwiel” ( One Bill Too Many), in his book Writing for Television. The plot is as follows
Franz Schläger and Jospeh Lemmer are jointly accused of a confidence trick. Their “business” has been to check the obituary columns daily, then send to the recently dead invoices for the repair of non-existent umbrellas. They never charged more than a few Marks. The bereaved executors usually paid up without question. The story opens with Schläger being talked into joining the racket by Lemmer. Then we realise that this is only Schläger’s story, because now we see how Schläger talked Lemmer into becmining a criminal. Dr. Fuhrmann, who defends Schläger, must prove that of the two villains his client is the least guilty. He does so finally by proving that Lenmmer was busily sending out phony umbrella repair invoices years ago when his client, Schläger, was safely behind bars in a Bolivian jail for a different confidence trick. (Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p. 211)
In his comment on this episode Mac explained that the production team wanted to try having an occasional comedy episode:
…but apparently there aren’t many comedy writers in Germany. So I was invited – not because I’m known as a comedy writer, but because they think all Englishmen are born wits. It meant finding a German lawyer in London to explain to me West German courtroom procedure. Ours is accusatorial, theirs is inquisitorial. This means the Judges do most of the talking, great importance is attached to the Accused’s character, and the Accused can take all the time in the world to make his “excuses”. As to the story, I had read of this umbrella trick actually being done…A peculiarity of the Continental inquisitorial legal system is the establishment of the degree of guilt. This suggested that two villains should be jointly accused, one defended by the series star, Dr. Fuhrmann, the other by another attorney. This would provide not only pre-arrrest mileage, but also good Courtroom conflict. I write in English, and they translated. However, the awareness that it was all to be trnslated into another language had a peculiarly stitifying effect on the flow of my English dialogue, from which I couldn’t break myself during the writing. The general comic-dramatic style I adopted, and which they liked very much, wasn’t difficult. I had worked with and for Germans before, and have close friends there, so I had some idea of what makes them laugh. (Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p. 220 )
Letters to The Stage
From time to time Mac wrote letters to The Stage.
In April 1964 he responded to a comment in the press by Allan Prior as follows
“The plain fact” says Allan Prior “is that no-one can write with hangover” (see Television Today, 16 April).
Many thanks, Allan. I have sent a copy of the entire article post haste to my car insurers who remain the most steadfast believers in the envious dream that everyone in television spends their lives groping through swirling mists of marijuana smoke from one drunken orgy to the next, occasionally pausing – as the delirium tremens catch up with them – to fall flat on their faces outside police stations and emergency wards which they believe in their stupor to be television studios. The Divorce Court, the whisky bottle, the drunk-in-charge, as seen by the beedy eyes of insurance men who put up thier premiums accordingly, and profitable.
But what an unfair picture. Certainly we writers in NW3 haven’t had a really good orgy since the last Saturnalia on Hampstead Heath and even then it rained (great fare for the raincoat specialists but rotten for the boys in drag). As to affordable post-Budget whisky, most of us are forced back onto the meths bottle again – or, in such emergencies as dawning sobriety, high octane petrol direct from the twin carburetters of our Aston-Martins.
yours faithfully, Malcolm Hulke
In June 1964 the actress June Monkhouse was quoted in The Stage as complaining, “There just aren’t any good parts for women in British films. If you’re teen and twenty you just may get into a comedy picture playing sexy blondes for laughs. Hardly me. I’m off to France. They know how to write for women there. (The Stage, 25th June 1964). (It seems that the quote was actually from Television Today)
What a peculiar parting shot from June Monkhouse….Does Miss Monkhouse imagine that it is the writers who decide that all women who appear in British films should be “sexy blondres for laughs”. It is the producers and distributors who decide what sort of films should be made if any. And to be fair to them, it is the public who express their need for sexual blonde laughter by way of the box office.“ (The Stage, 2nd July 1964.)
June riposted a few week later, setting things straight (and with her tongue firmly in her cheek). “I have just returned from a holiday in France and was slightly dismayed when my agent confronted me with a copy of Television Today…I have also read the correspondence on July 2 and July 9 in your columns. I am delighted and grateful indeed for the interest the press takes in my career from time, but I would like the opportunity to correct the impression your paragraph has given, as several members of the profession (and who knows, possibly directors) seem to think I am now pursuing a career in French films! I am an ardent Francoophile, have worked in France and would like to do so again, but at the moment I am firmly rooted in London and working here! Like most actresses in England I bemoan the dearth of good women parts in British films and television, and especially for women of my age group, and I still believe that Fraech and Italian films provide much more scope. However, since my sojourn in the beautiful Mediterranean sun my agent tells me I now look so bronzed and lovely (??) that he might well suggest me for the “sexy blonde” roles to which I referred.
Mac’s Work in the 1970s
Doctor Who : 1970-1974
Doctor Who was reborn in 1970, and re-established itself as a Saturday teatime must-see for a new generation of young people. This was brought about by a number of factors.
Firstly, the producer Derek Sherwin opted for a new story line, anchoring the Doctor on Earth as a scientific advisor to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), a quasi-military outfit first encountered by the Second Doctor in “The Invasion”. UNIT was led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), (who first appeared as a regular army officer in “The Web of Fear”) assisted by Sergeant Benton (John Levene) and Captain Yates (Richard Franklin). Together the Doctor, his companion of the moment, and UNIT see off the numerous alien threats to the earth – or more accurately to the South of England, seemingly the invasion point of first choice.
Secondly, the inspired choice of Jon Pertwee as Troughton’s replacement, a surprise to many as he was principally thought of as a light comedian in radio series such as The Navy Lark. Interviewed in 1994, he said “I wanted to play him straight, to be a figure that the children believed in, who have enough faith in the Doctor to say the Doctor will do it, he will look after us and we’ll be all right under his wings.“
Thirdly, the new series was driven forward by script editor Terrance Dicks, and the new producer Barry Letts, who formed a close creative working relationship which was instrumental in popularising Doctor Who to a fresh audience over the next four years.
Finally, the series was now being filmed in colour which allowed a whole new look, although it was not without problems when the screen showed less than convincing monsters or sets. Of course, many viewers were still watching on black and white sets as colour televisions were much more expensive. In March 1969, there were only 100,000 colour TV sets in use, though by the end of the year this had doubled to 200,000. Colour televisions did not outnumber black-and-white sets until 1976.
Mac contributed six serials in this era, serials which often had a political dimension. Terrance Dicks said :”What we never did was commission a Doctor Who with a political message but nonetheless if you look at it there is a streak of anti-authoritarianism in all Mac’s work: he doesn’t trust the establishment.” (Interview, “On Target”. special feature on “The War Games” DVD (2008)
Barry Letts concurred : “You could be pretty certain that anything that he wrote would have an underlying political message which we didn’t mind because we liked stories to have a reason.” “ (Interview, “On Target”. special feature on “The War Games” DVD (2008) )
Mac himself told an interviewer: “Remember what politics refers to. It refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesnt necassarily mean left or right., Conservative or Labour, it refers to relationships betwen groups of people. So really, all Doctor Whos are political, even though the other people look like reptiles, they’re still a group of people if they’re thinking creatures “
“Doctor Who and The Silurians”: January-March 1970
Terrance Dicks’ recollection of the origins of this serial is that “we were looking for a story about a civilisation that rose and fell before Man . So I had an idea – no more than that – and asked Mac what he thought might have happened. And he said, “Well, suppose they went into hibernation?” “Why? “Well,” said Mac …and we kicked it around between us, discussing the reptile men, their hibernation, what wakes them up, and the whole thing unfolds. Then Mac was commissioned to go away and write a storyline, then the scripts and so on.” (Richard Marson, “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
Mac recalled: “I was asked to do something in caves. In science fiction there are only two stories: they came to us or we go to them. I thought, what about, they come to us, but they’ve always been here. I said, reptilian men…”Home Reptilia” they were called by the Doctor. In the days of the Brigadier and the Master, you were told, we want the Brigadier in this or the Master.
In the opening scene we see two men attacked by some kind of large reptile. Shortly after UNIT is called in to investigate why an underground atomic research centre – seeking to provide cheap, unlimited power – is suffering problems with their energy supply and experiencing mysterious attacks on staff. One man who has survived an attack now spends his time drawing on walls like a caveman.
The Doctor and his companion Dr Liz Shaw (Caroline John) discover that in the caves below the centre they have accidentally awakened an ancient race, the Silurians, highly intelligent reptiles who ruled the earth millions of years before the evolution of the human race. They had gone into underground hibernation when they believed an approaching asteroid would destroy all life on the surface – and never awoke. Despite the best efforts of the Doctor to broker a peace, suspicions on both sides prove insurmountable. The Silurians want their planet back, the humans are fearful of this alien invasion from below.
Mac explores a number of themes in this serial, including the threat posed by unfettered scientific research, the relationships between races, and the military mind-set which believes that violence can solve all problems The Doctor berates the Brigadier; “That’s typical of the military mind, isn’t it? Present them with a new problem, and they start shooting at it.”
The Doctor makes several attempts to persuade UNIT that they should not attack the Silurians, arguing that “they may not be hostile”. When Doctor first encounters a Silurian, he tries to communicate with it, asking: “what do you people want, how can we help you, unless you tell me what you want the humans will destroy you.” Mac shows divisions within the Silurians, the elders are prepared to consider sharing the planet; the younger ones want to wipe out the humans with a plague.
In the end his efforts end in failure when the Brigadier orders the destruction of the Silurians’ base. The Doctor is outraged : “…that’s murder. They were intelligent alien beings. A whole race of them. And he’s just wiped them out”.
Mac gives Liz Shaw some sharp lines. When she is stopped from going into the caves with UNIT she enquires sarcastically: ” Have you never heard of female emancipation?” When the Brigadier asks her to look after the phones, she snaps back, “I am a scientist, not an office boy.” In 1970 the Women’s Liberation movement was just beginning to make its voice heard.
Writing in Doctor Who magazine in 1984 Richard Marson wrote that “The Silurians” was “very much the testing ground for the new Doctor Who. Whereas “Spearhead from Space” had been an adventure of exceptional pace, with new Doctor, companion, setting, format, and monster all introduced in one four-part story, “The Silurians” allowed time for a closer examination of the new face of Doctor Who and its length allowed an exceptional depth of characterisation and more scope for UNIT to work as a concept. “Doctor Who and the Silurians” was a successful, popular seven-parter, which combined all its elements into a well-made and well received show…” Richard Marson, “The Making of the Silurians,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
Marjorie Bilbow praised this serial in The Stage under the heading “A Fine Display of Craftmanship”:
This could have been a bore. It wasn’t. Personality clashes were hinted at in tightly written dialogue leavened with humour arising out of Dr Who’s penchant for pricking the bubble of official pomposity with the direct question that served the double purpose of clarifying detail for the lay viewer. With an elaborate multiple set, adequately dressed with extras busying themselves with highly complicated machinery to provide a background of convincing activity, Dr Who and the Silurians promises to put many a million-dollar filmed fantasy to shame. It was not an enviable task for Jon Pertwee to take over the title role. Already he has created a brand new Superbrain with all the eccentric charm of his predecessors but with a humour and forcefulness all his own. The decision to turn the series into lightweight entertainment for adults instead of children has freed Caroline John from the need to act the well- meaning but irresponsible teenager and she makes Liz Shaw a worthy as well as an attractive assistant to the Doctor. Nicholas Courtney suggests hidden depths to the otherwise routine military figure of Brigadier Stewart by investing his dialogue with the sardonic humour of a man of action manifestly unawed by the wrangling boffins… And you know what? I bet that now Dr Who is being written especially for adults the kids will be flocking back in their thousands. A joke that will no doubt be savoured to the full by writer Malcolm Hulke, director Timothy Combe, Script editor Terrance Dicks, and producer Barry Letts. (The Stage, 5th February 1970)
You can read the broadcast script here.
“The Ambassadors of Death”: March– May 1970
This was originally written for Patrick Troughton by David Whitaker and then had to be rewritten for Jon Pertwee.
Terrance Dicks recalls that he”inherited this nightmare called “Ambassadors of Death” which was a good idea from David Whitaker, who was an excellent writer, but he’d been mucked about so much he sort of lost heart and direction. ..I decided I coudn’t put him through any more rewrites because it just wasn’t going to work and so I went to Barry and said they must pay David off, in full , for his six episodes – although he’d probably written about thirty-six by then – and then we took the basic idea and turned it over to Mac. He came to it fresh and went on from there, and stretched it out by an episode for economy reasons.” (Richard Marson, “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
The serial harks back to the first Quatermass serial of 1953 with its storyline of astronauts from a British space expedition to Mars who vanish before landing back on Earth. Instead three alien ambassadors land in their stead who are kidnapped by a cabal of politicians and military men, who then force them to carry out a series of robberies using their extreme radioactivity to break into safes, etc. Carrington, the leader of the conspracy, is convinced that the aliens are a threat to the world.
The Doctor,UNIT and Liz Shaw defeat Carrington as he is about to broadcast to the world, rescue the aliens and avert a war. Despite his unfounded paranoia, Mac allows us some sympathy for Carrington at the end as he is led away.
CARRINGTON: They’re here! We’re being invaded!
(Carrington shoots at the aliens.)
CARRINGTON: Security patrol!
(Carrington runs out of bullets. The Brigadier enters, followed by the Doctor and Benton. Other armed UNIT soldiers appear.)
BRIGADIER: It’s no good, General. I’ve released my men. This place is in my hands.
CARRINGTON: I must make this broadcast. It’s a matter of world survival.
BRIGADIER: I’m sorry, General. I must place you under arrest.
(Carrington hands his empty gun to Benton, and gives the Brigadier his revolver back.)
BRIGADIER: The Sergeant will look after you.
(Carrington stops in front of the Doctor.)
CARRINGTON: I had to do what I did. It was my moral duty. You do understand, don’t you?
DOCTOR: Yes, General. I understand.
(The Doctor walks over to the communications room door.)
DOCTOR: Please release that gentleman.
(The opaque screens around the alien lift and the figure with it unties it from the chair.)
DOCTOR: Right, Mister Cornish, we’ve got to get a message up to that alien space ship and tell them that their ambassadors are safe and well.
CORNISH: Doctor, where are my three astronauts?
DOCTOR: My dear chap, they’re still up there. But don’t worry, they’re all right. They’re quite safe. Now, we’ve got to make an exchange.
(The three aliens now stand together.)
DOCTOR: We’ll send these three up in Recovery 7. They’ll send down our three astronauts.
CORNISH: But what about the fuel problem?
DOCTOR: Well, simple. We’ll use pure M3 variant. And don’t forget, they’re not susceptible to g-force.
CORNISH: This is Control. Get me the fuel bay.
DOCTOR: Well goodbye, Mister Cornish. I’ve got a lot of work to do in my own laboratory.
CORNISH: Doctor, I’ll need your help to communicate with the ambassadors.
DOCTOR: Well, here you are. Here’s Miss Shaw. She’s much more practical than I am. Goodbye Brigadier.
BRIGADIER: Thank you, Doctor.
LIZ: Goodbye, Doctor.
DOCTOR: (to aliens) Goodbye, gentlemen. Have a nice trip.
The theme of an establishment conspiracy occurs in a number of Mac’s serials. Another theme in this serial is paranioa about aliens, fear of the Other, a highly relevant storyline in a Britain which was still coming to terms with the growth of new communities from Asia, the West Indies, Ireland etc. The anti-immigrant racist organisation – the National Front – steadily grew in size and support throughout the decade until confronted by the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism in the late 1970s.
It’s probably my least favourite of Mac’s work on Doctor Who. I don’t think it ever quite overcomes the problems of the storyline (why does the alien mother ship simply not swoop down to rescue its ambassadors, for instance), although it is enlivened by some set piece action sequences with the stunt company Havoc, the Doctor’s journey into space, and the chase sequence with Liz Shaw, which ends with her running across Marlow Weir, a place I know well as I went to school in the town.
You can read the broadcast script here.
“Colony in Space”: April-May 1971
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks inherited from Derrick Sherwin the premise that the Doctor had been exiled on Earth by the Time Lords at the end of “The War Games” and could not leave in the Tardis, despite his endless futile tinkering around in various serials with the dematerialisation circuit.
Increasingly they saw this as a restriction, they wanted to get the Doctor off the planet and having adventures around the universe as he used to do. “Colony in Space” is one of the stepping stones to achieving this.
In this second Jon Pertwee season The Doctor has been given a worthy opponent, a fellow Time Lord known as The Master (Roger Delgado), playing Moriarty to his Holmes.
In this story The Master steals information from the Time Lords about a Doomsday weapon which could destroy the universe. The Time Lords therefore pluck the Doctor out of exile on Earth and send him into space with his new companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning). It’s her first trip in the Tardis.
They land on the planet Uxarieus in 2472, where a group of colonists (who with their long hair and clothes resemble a Californian commune) are building a new society. There is also a native race, the Primitives, who are telepathic and never speak. A mining company named IMC (the Interplanetary Mining Company), lands an expedition and plots to expel the colonists and extract the mineral wealth, using a robot to make attacks on the colonists and blame it on giant reptiles. The Master also arrives in the guise of the Adjudicator. The Doctor learns from the Guardian of the Primitives that they once had a very advanced civilisation which was destroyed by the radiation from the Doomsday weapon At the end the weapon is destroyed by the Guardian, the Master is defeated, and the mining company is sent packing.
There is a strong storyline in this serial about the environment and the rapacity of international (or rather interplanetary) mining companies. The colonists have left Earth because of a population and environmental crisis which is killing the planet. The Doctor argues with Dent, the leader of the IMC expedition.
DENT: I’m Captain Dent, in charge of this survey team. A great pleasure to meet you, Mister?
DOCTOR: Not Mister, Doctor. How do you do?
DENT: Well Doctor, it seems a most unfortunate mistake has been made.
DOCTOR: I’m glad you admit it. I take it you’re preparing to leave at once.
DENT: It’s not necessarily out mistake. As things have turned out, this planet doesn’t seem very suitable for colonisation.
DOCTOR: Oh? Why?
DENT: I understand it’s still infested with hostile animal life.
DOCTOR: The hostile animals, if they exist, can be found and destroyed, sir.
DENT: I admire your optimism. Is it shared by the other colonists?
DOCTOR: I’m not a colonist, I’m a visitor.
DENT: I see. Then you’re not really concerned.
DOCTOR: I’m very much concerned.
DENT: The colonists shouldn’t be here. My Corporation has been assigned the mineral rights on this planet. Our preliminary survey indicates a very rich concentration of duralinium. You know how the Earth needs that mineral.
DOCTOR: Earth, or your corporation’s profits?
DENT: What’s good for IMC is good for Earth. There are one hundred thousand million people back on Earth and they desperately need all the minerals we can find.
DOCTOR: What those people need, my dear sir, are new worlds to live in like this one. Worlds where they can live like human beings, not battery hens.
DENT: That’s not my concern. Minerals are needed. It’s my job to find them.
DOCTOR: Even if it means turning this planet into a slagheap?
DENT: I can see we’re on opposite sides, Doctor.
The other theme is the threat of nuclear destruction which in the 1970s seemed very real as the USA and the Soviet Union squared up to each other, each armed with colossal nuclear arsenals. In a favourite device of Mac’s, a moral argument, the Doctor and the Master argue in the cave of the Guardian:
MASTER: You must see reason, Doctor.
DOCTOR: No, I will not join you in your absurd dreams of a galactic conquest.
MASTER: Why? Why? Look at this. Look at all those planetary systems, Doctor. We could rule them all!
DOCTOR: What for? What is the point?
MASTER: The point is that one must rule or serve. That’s a basic law of life. Why do you hesitate, Doctor? Surely it’s not loyalty to the Time Lords, who exiled you on one insignificant planet?
DOCTOR: You’ll never understand, will you? I want to see the universe, not rule it.
MASTER: Then I’m very sorry, Doctor.
(The Master aims his laser gun at the Doctor, and the Guardian’s panel rises.)
MASTER: What’s happening?
DOCTOR: Wait and see.
(The Guardian’s throne comes out of the wall.)
MASTER: What is it?
DOCTOR: The ultimate development of life on this planet.
GUARDIAN: Why have you returned? What do you want here?
MASTER: I want to restore this city and this planet to their former glory.
DOCTOR: Don’t listen to him, sir.
MASTER: You have here a wonderful weapon. Why, with it you could bring good and peace to every world in the galaxy.
DOCTOR: On the contrary. He’ll bring only death and destruction.
MASTER: This planet of yours could be the centre of a mighty empire! The greatest that the cosmos has ever known.
DOCTOR: Tell me, sir, has this weapon of yours ever brought good to your planet?
GUARDIAN: Once the weapon was built, our race began to decay. The radiation from the weapon’s power source poisoned the soil of our planet.
DOCTOR: Exactly. The weapon has only brought death, and yet he wants to spread that death throughout the galaxy! Unless you destroy this weapon, sir, he will use it for evil.
MASTER: No! You must be mad! Why, with this, we could control every galaxy in the cosmos! We could be gods!
GUARDIAN: You are not fit to be a god. I sense that if you have control of this weapon, you will bring only unhappiness and destruction to the entire universe.
MASTER: Then die!
(The Master points his laser gun at the Guardian, and it disappears from his hand.)
GUARDIAN: There is a self-destructor mechanism. You will please operate it.
DOCTOR: Not only does justice prevail on your planet, sir, but also infinite compassion.
(The Doctor goes to the console and touches a device. The Guardian shakes its head. Then he touches a lever and the Guardian nods, so he pulls it. The room shakes violently.)
GUARDIAN: You must leave at once, or you will be destroyed with the city.
(The Master leaves.)
DOCTOR: Thank you, sir
You can read the broadcast script here.
“The Sea Devils”: February-April 1972.
This serial brought back the Silurians, this time a group living under the sea.
In this story exploration for oil in the Channel has re-awakened another group of Silurians in a base under the sea who begin to attack shipping. The Master (who is in prison on the coast) makes contact with them, offering an alliance to destroy the human race. The Doctor goes down to their undersea base in an attempts to broker a peace, but this fails when a bumptious politician, Walker (“Parliamentary Private Secretary”) orders an attack. In the end the Sea Devils’ base is destroyed.
The storyline echoes the first Silurian story with attempts by the Doctor to reconcile the two races, but ultimately failing and ending in violence. A key scene occurs in the Sea Devils’ base when the Doctor argues for peace against the Master, a typical piece of writing by Mac.
DOCTOR: I beg you not to listen to this man. He’s the personification of evil.
SEA DEVIL: The Master is our friend.
DOCTOR: He wants only to provoke a war.
MASTER: I do not! I came here to help you revive your people.
DOCTOR: Why should you need his help?
SEA DEVIL: Our hibernation unit is faulty.
MASTER: And I can now repair it for you.
DOCTOR: But why revive your people only to have them killed? Let me try and negotiate that peace for you.
MASTER: As you did before, Doctor? The last time this man encountered your race, he tricked them. The humans destroyed them all.
SEA DEVIL: Is that true?
DOCTOR: Yes. I tried to make peace but I failed.
MASTER: You see? He admits it. Man is weak. Your conquest will be easy.
DOCTOR: Believe me, man is not weak. He’s only too proficient at devising weapons of annihilation and using them.
SEA DEVIL: He says man is weak. He says man is strong.
MASTER: He’s lying! He’s trying to frighten you!
SEA DEVIL: No. I do not think he lies. Perhaps it would be better to make peace. I shall have consider what you have said.
MASTER: Don’t trust him!
(The Doctor raises his right hand and the sea devil puts its own hand against it.)
In an interview Mac said he thought “The Sea Devils “… was very well produced. It had the submarine which was very good trick photography…the people who do the trick effects for Doctor Who do a marvellous job. They really take it very seriously.”
The production team contacted the Royal Navy who offered them locations in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight and equipment, including a hovercraft. (Andrew Pixley, “Factfile: The Sea Devils,” Doctor Who Magazine, 192, 28th October 1992)
You can read the broadcast script here.
“Frontier in Space”: February – March 1973
In an interview Mac said of this serial:
The BBC said to me “We’ve just had a whole load of models of space ships from a Lew Grade show on ITV. We can paint ’em up different colours, can you write a story which will use them?” It was obvious that with that amount of hardware, there has to be conflict because without conflict you’ve got no drama and this leads your thinking, fairly naturally, to wondering what was ‘Frontier in Space’ all about? A kind of ‘Star Wars’ – you’ve got two sides and who are they? Why are they at war? And the idea came of two great empires with an imaginary frontier drawn across them, across which their spaceships weren’t supposed to travel, but of course they did and that’s what gave us a story.
All these problems have to be solved by drawing on sheer creative imagination and you have to think ‘What makes this story different?’ because with science fiction, as with crime, romance, or any other genre of writing, there are only so many ideas and all the writer can do is keep shuffling them like a pack of cards and keep dealing out in a different way. And in the case of Frontier what made it different was that there was a third party which was manoeuvring the Ogrons to make each side antagonistic towards each other. That, incidentally, is a very political idea really. The two sides as far I was concerned were the Soviet Union and America and somebody else trying to tickle ’em up and get them at war with each other when they were quite capable of living in peace. (Richard Marson, “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who magazine, 91, August 1984)
In this story the Doctor and Jo arrive in the C26th where the Earth and the Draconian Empire are on the verge of war after a series of attacks on their spaceships which each blame on the other side. It turns that the Master, in alliance with the Daleks, is seeking to provoke a war, and then move in unimpeded to conquer the galaxy. The dirty work of attacking the spaceships is carried out by a thuggish race, the Ogrons, who work for the Daleks. Suspected by both sides the Doctor finally convinces the humans and Draconians of the real threat and a joint expedition defeats the Master. Sadly this is the last time that Roger Delgado played the Master as he was killed in car crash in Turkey later that year.
As Mac openly acknowledged in the interview quoted above, this story is shaped by the Cold War when the United States and its allies confronted the Soviet Union and its allies. Both sides possessed vast arsenals, including nuclear weapons, and, on a number of occasions came very near to war which unquestionably would have ended life on this planet.
It’s a very ambitious serial with scenes set on Earth, the Moon, Draconia and also on a number of spaceships, while the Doctor goes on a spacewalk at one point.
As in “Colony in Space” and “The Sea Devils” Mac writes a scene in which the Doctor and the Master verbally joust, this time before the Draconian Emperor:
DOCTOR: May I have permission to address the Emperor?
PRINCE: This is an insult!
(The Doctor bows over the Emperor’s hand.)
DOCTOR: My life at your command, sire.
PRINCE: How dare you address the Emperor in a manner reserved for a noble of Draconia?
DOCTOR: Ah, but I am a noble of Draconia. The honour was conferred on me by the fifteenth Emperor.
PRINCE: The fifteenth Emperor reigned five hundred years ago.
MASTER: Your Majesty, do not be taken in by this ridiculous story.
EMPEROR: Be silent! There is a legend among our people of a man who assisted the fifteenth Emperor at a time of great trouble when we were almost overwhelmed by a great plague from outer space. But you could not be that man. No Earthman lives so long.
DOCTOR: Your Majesty, this man that you speak of, was he not known as the Doctor? And did he not come to this planet in a spaceship called the Tardis?
EMPEROR: He did.
DOCTOR: Well, I am that man, sire. And I come from a race of people that live far longer than any Earthman.
EMPEROR: Even if I accept your claim, you have broken our law. Why did you violate Draconian space?
MASTER: Your Majesty, this man was, and still is, my prisoner.
DOCTOR: It is true, your Majesty. I did come here as a prisoner, but I came willingly, in order to warn you that this man is plotting a war between Earth and Draconia.
PRINCE: All Earthmen are determined upon war.
DOCTOR: Ah, but the Master is not an Earthman. I’m sorry to have to admit it, but he’s a renegade of my own race, and he’s using creatures called Ogrons to attack your spaceships and those of the Earthmen.
EMPEROR: The Earthmen who attacked our spaceships, they have been seen many times.
DOCTOR: I’m sorry, but there you are in error, sir. Your people have seen Ogrons, but they appear to them as Earthmen because of a hypnotic device.
JO: It’s true, your Majesty. When Ogrons attacked the Earth ships, the Earthmen saw them as Draconians.
PRINCE: Silence! Females are not permitted to speak in the presence of the Emperor.
MASTER: Your Majesty, do not be deceived by the pathetic ravings of two criminals trying to evade justice.
EMPEROR: If what you say is true, it would explain much. We lived at peace with the Earthmen for many years, then suddenly they began to raid our spaceships. When we protested, they said that we were attacking them.
PRINCE: In order to cover up their own attacks, This is simply a plot of the Earthmen to lull us into false security.
(A Messenger enters.)
MESSENGER: Your Majesty, a spaceship from Earth seeks permission to land in the palace spaceport. They say they’re on a special mission from the President of Earth.
PRINCE: This is a trick! You must not allow them to land!
EMPEROR: We are not yet at war with Earth. I shall hear what their President has to say. I give my permission.
MESSENGER: Your Majesty.
(The Messenger leaves.)
DOCTOR: A wise decision, your Majesty. For only by Earth and Draconia working together can we hope to arrive at the truth.
MASTER: I too welcome your wisdom, your Majesty. Nobody could be more devoted to the cause of peace than I. As a commissioner of Earth’s Interplanetary Police, I have devoted my life to the cause of law and order. And law and order can only exist in a time of peace.
DOCTOR: You feeling all right, old chap?
MASTER: Only during a period of social stability, can society adequately deal with criminals such as this man and this unfortunate girl.
JO: Doctor, listen! That sound!
PRINCE: Silence, female!
JO: Quiet! It’s the same noise that I heard on the cargo ship. Doctor, it’s the Ogrons!
DOCTOR: Your Majesty, I beg of you to be cautious. Something is seriously wrong here. This ship that has just landed. I beg you, place it under guard immediately.
MASTER: Your majesty, please, I
(Ogrons burst into the throne room, firing as they come.)
MASTER: Seize them, fool!
(The Doctor knocks out an Ogron and the Master joins the other Ogrons.)
MASTER: Bah! You idiots! Back to the ship, all of you!
(The Master and his Ogrons leave.)
PRINCE: Now will you believe in the treachery of the Earthmen?
DOCTOR: Your Majesty, look down here and tell me. What do you see?
(The noise is still audible.)
EMPEROR: I see one of your Earth soldiers who attacked my palace and killed my people.
DOCTOR: Jo? Jo, can you still hear that sound?
JO: Yes, it’s fading. It’s almost gone.
DOCTOR: Your Majesty, I beg of you. Please look again.
PRINCE: Why do we delay? Destroy him!
EMPEROR: Wait! He has spoken the truth.
(The Emperor can see the Ogron.!)
Mac makes the President of the Earth a woman, quite a forward thinking idea at this time. However he also indicates that this is a repressive society as the Doctor encounters members of the Peace Party imprisoned in the Lunar Penal Colony where he is sent for a short time. He gives a great line to one the Draconians: “The ways of the Earthmen are devious. They’re an inscrutable species.”
In his review of Mac’s writing for Doctor Who Magazine Richard Marson argues that this was his greatest script: “not only on the strength of the story but also because of the detail – his dtermination to create a future structure that whilst strong was also so well defined that you felt you had lived there for years.” (Richard Marson, “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who Magazine, 91, August 1984)
You can read the broadcast script here.
“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” January-February 1974
Mac said of this story:
Now that again was very political. Because there you ‘ve got these people with a lovely idea of “A Golden Age” but sometimes people with very good altruistic ideals can overlook the main issue, that’s really what the message behind that one was. What they said to me was that the special effects department had found if we liked, they could show monsters wandering around contemporary London, so could I think of some reason why dinosaurs were in contemporary London? So that was my brief. And I came up with this idea.
In this story the Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Lis Sladen), land in a deserted London which was been placed under martial law. They learn that dinosaurs have re-appeared in streets of the capital, forcing the evacuation of the population. After a number of adventures they discover a conspiracy of politicians, scientists and army officers who, concerned for the destruction of the environment and the threat of nuclear war, are planning to return the earth to what they believe will be a pre-industrial “Golden Age”, using a device called Timescoop.
The planet will then be repopulated by an elite group who have been fooled into thinking that they are in a space ship going to a new world, but are in fact sealed in an underground bunker awaiting “the New Earth”. The Doctor defeats the conspirators, sending the leading scientist, Professor Whitaker, and the Government minister, Grover, into the distant past after the Doctor has, of course, reversed the polarity of the Timescoop.
Captain Yates from UNIT – who has thrown in his lot with the conspiracy – tells the Doctor: “They’re going to roll back time. The world used to be a cleaner, simpler place. It’s all become too complicated and corrupt..We shall find ourselves in a golden age”
The Doctor counters: “There never was a golden age. It’s all an illusion… Look, I understand your ideals. In many ways I sympathise with them. But this is not the way to go about it, you know? You’ve got no right to take away the existence of generations of people…Take the world that you’ve got and try and make something of it. It’s not too late.
Mac also includes a socialist slant on the environment crisis, giving the Doctor a speech at the end in which he says that at least Grover “realised the dangers this planet of yours is in, Brigadier. The danger of it becoming one vast garbage dump inhabited only by rats…It’s not the oil and the filth and the poisonous chemicals that are the real causes of the pollution…It’s simply greed”
You can read the broadcast script here.
Jon Pertwee left Doctor Who in 1974 to be replaced by the then unknown actor Tom Baker who went on to play the Doctor for seven years.
Philip Hinchcliffe took over from Barry Letts as producer, while Robert Holmes took over as script editor from Terrance Dicks. Together they built on the existing success of the show and took it to new heights of popularity, but in quite a different direction, basing many of the stories on clasic horror or gothic themes. Mac wasn’t asked to write for the show again.
In 1974 Mac won an award for his work on Doctor Who at the annual Writer’s Guild awards for the best Children’s Drama script along with Robert Holmes, Terry Nation and Rovert Sloman.
In a special issue of the Doctor Who poster magazine (1995) devoted to “The Sea Devils” it quoted Mac as follows:
“I think that in my stories the baddies aren’t really baddies because they are doing what they think is right. I find it hard to imagine anyone as totally bad or totally inimical. In fact there’s great deal of …well although I say it myself philosophy and politics in my science-fiction stories since science-fiction, and Doctor Who in particular, is a great opportunity to get across a point of view. And the point of view I have is that, let’s say a maggot that just about to eat someone alive is not neccessarily a bad maggot. That just the way he is. Maggoty.
I never really write my stories with heroes or villains. They’re just a selection of grey people doing grey things for grey reasons. I don’t like the concept of heroes. Is the Doctor one? Perhaps, but not always. (Doctor Who poster magazine (1995)
In many ways this sums up Mac’s approach to writing television drama.
Crossroads was a daily soap opera, set in a motel in the Midlands, which was broadcast by ATV (and later Central) between 1964 and 1988. It was very popular with the public, achieving ratings rivalling that of Coronation Street in the mid 1970s but was consistently derided by the critics for its production values (there were never any re-takes), cheap sets and improbable story lines.
Mac worked as a script editor on the programme on and off for a number of years and also wrote scenes in at a number episodes for the series between 1971 and 1974 (interestingly, the same time that he was writing for Doctor Who).
In his book Writing for Television he explained that in order to cope with the volume of output required, there is a storyliner and four writers who are assigned scenes.
The storyliner conceives the interweaving plots and breaks them down into scenes in synopsis form. These ‘weekly breakdowns’ are discussed at regular weekly or fortnightly script conferences. the script-writers then write the scenes, filling in the details of the plot…most television continuing-story shows are written this way… (Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p. 172)
Mac also included a comment from Crossroads producer, Reg Watson:
Over the years…we tackled subject like broken marriages, illegitimacy, divorce, malnutrition, mental health, alcoholism, kleptomania, fraud, murder, loneliness, gambling, cruelty, bankruptcy, childless couples, in-laws, big business, vandalism, abortion, anti-smoking, child-stealing, religion, education, bigamy, farming, the canals of the Midlands, cookery, travel, fashion, prisons, prostitution, illegal immigrants, teenagers, old age, death, local government, nursing, pollution, manslaughter, drunken driving, paraplegics, romance, respect, humour and happiness. I am grateful to Crossroads because it broadened my horizons and gave me an insight into many social problems I may otherwise have ignored. The fact that 12,000,000 viewers watch every episode four nights a week is a compliment to the many people who work so hard to make believable and entertaining. (Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), pp179-180)
Mac’s episodes were:
1495 – 14 May 1971
1674 -23rd March 1972
“Miss Tatum and Amy unite against Wilf over the old-time dancing contest. Meg questions Sandy’s job intentions. Vera’s brusqueness antagonises Sheila and salon trainee Jill. Timothy is financially embarrassed.” IMDB
1751 – 1972
Mac included the script for this in his book Writing for Television.
1754 – 10th August 1972
“News of Sandy’s paralysis after the car accident sweeps Kings Oak. Amy moves into Lake House to help look after Chris and Timothy. Ted seeks an investor. Liz goes to Coventry to explain her problem to a disappointed Meg.” IMDB
1756 – 15th August 1972
“Doctors begin to explain the lasting affects of Sandy’s injuries to a distraught Meg and Jill. Amy tries to sooth relations between Chris and his uncle. ” IMDB
1758 – 17th August 1972
“Embittered over his involvement in Sandy’s crash, Meg refuses to see Timothy (and learns about Coventry Boy). Miss Tatum offers Liz some advice before she leaves the village. Vince and his father argue, ruining Diane’s family meal. Tish makes Ted an offer.” IMDB
1759 18th August 1972
“Sandy learns the full consequences of the car crash. Alice asks Amy to return to the motel – and Tish announces her intention to leave it. A numbed Meg tries to find solace in Coventry Cathedral. ” IMDB
1805 – 1972
2230 – 27th November 1974
2247 – 31st December 1974
Spyder’s Web: January to April 1972
In 1972 Malcolm was script editor on a series called Spyder’s Web, produced by ATV, which starred Patricia Cutts and Anthony Ainley (later to play The Master in Doctor Who) and Veronica Carlson.
This featured a shadowy organisation , responsible to the government, who take on cases too hot for the police to handle. They masquerade as a documentary film unit, based in Soho. The writers included Roy Clarke, Marc Brandel and Robert Holmes, who wrote many scripts for Doctor Who. Spyder’s Web lasted just one series.
You can find a detailed account of each episode of the series on the website Anorak Zone here.
We interrupt this programme…
After 1974 nothing written by Mac was broadcast on television. After some 16 years when he was very much in demand, this is a mystery to which I have no explanation at present. Was it a change in fashion and/or personnel in television as the series that he wrote for 1960s came to an end while Doctor Who changed direction under a new production team? I welcome suggestions
For the rest of his life Mac wrote books instead, both novels and non-fiction.
For the BBC
Child in Peril (with Eric Paice): 15th March 1961.
It was an adaptation of a novel by John Bonnet. “A little girl loves animals, but when a chimpanzee escapes from a circus her parents go through some anxious moments.” Radio Times, 9th March 1961.
The play was produced by William Glen-Doepel. The cast included Barbara Mitchell, Diana Olsson and Tom Watson
The Girl in the Market Square (with Eric Paice) : 6th January 1962
“A dead girl, a hit-and-run driver, and a high-placed official in a small community complicate life for a young man who finds himself caught in a crossfire of opposing loyalties. ” Radio Times, 4th January 1962.
The play was produced by R D Smith. The cast included Peter Claughton, Anthony Viccars and Frank Partington
The broadcast was repeated on 18th June 1962 and 9th February 1966.
The Man On The Island: 23rd February 1963
The play was produced by Betty Davies. The cast included Earle Grey, Malcolm Haves and John Badbeley.
You’re Not the Woman I Married: 13th March 1963
“George Ramage lives next door to a prison. His wife tells him that her brother and his friend are coming to stay with them-but when George hears that two prisoners have escaped and he finds two uniforms in the dustbin … I “ Radio Times, 7th March 1963.
The play was produced by Audrey Cameron. The cast included Timothy West, Ronald Baddiley and Ursula Howells.
You can listen to this play here.
Till Death Us Do Part (with Eric Paice): 4th September 1963
The play was produced by Betty Davies. The cast included June Tobin and Derek Blomfield.
The Pot of Gold, (with Eric Paice):13th April 1963
“Following a prison sentence in Dartmoor for armed robbery, Marty Rudd is free to retrieve his hidden loot. This operation, however, proves to be less easy than he expected” Radio Times, 11th April 1963.
The play was produced by David H Godrey. The cast included Norman Claridge, Frank Partington and Lewis Stringer.
The broadcast was repeated on 19th February 1964.
Beat Boy: 18th March 1964
The play was produced by Norman Wright. The cast included John Baddeley, Alan Haines and Irene Sutcliffe
The pop songs were composed by Mike Pratt and played by Arthur Greenslade and the Gee Men. The singers were John Baddeley and Alan Haines
Mac previously worked with Mike Pratt on a musical version of “The Big Client” as noted above.
Cops Can Be Human: 8th April 1964
The play was produced by Peter Bryant. The cast included Stephen Thorne, Frederick Treves and Margaret Wolfit.
Peter Bryant worked on Doctor Who in the 1960s as a script editor and producer.
It was repeated on 13th January 1979.
A Boy for Zelda: 24th February 1965
” If I get married, I’ve got to have a son. I’ve got to have a boy, so that one day he can go to his Barmitzvah … so that he can say the Kaddisch prayer when his father dies.“ Radio Times, 18th February 1965.
The play was produced by Betty Davies. The cast included Miriam Margolyes, Shirley Cooklin and Mary Wimbush
Lost Horizon (with Paul Tabori) : 5th March, 12th Masrch and 19th March 1966
This was a three-part adapatation of James Hilton’s 1933 novel in which a group of travellers find a Tibetan utopia, Shangri_La. The play was produced by Graham Gauld. The cast included Anna Burden, Eric Anderson and Wilfred Babbage.
It was repeated in May and June 1969.
The Break-Out: 13th April 1966
“A break-out from gaol leaves a man with no friends-just people he can buy. And a new kind of prison that doesn’t need a cell … ” Radio Times, 7th April 1966.
The play was produced by David A Turner. The cast included John Slater, Patricia Leventon and Brian Hewlett
A Question of Strength: 20th June 1966
The play was produced by David H. Godfrey. The cast included Dinsdale Landen, Elizabeth Proud and Jim Grant.
It was reviewed by Paul Ferris in The Guardian: “An old-fashioned earful of message was offered…with an unwieldy confrontation between two varieties of left-wing conscience. Fiona, born amongst rich socialists, is married to John, working-class radical, who sits on a jury and lets a man be sentenced to death, affronting all Fiona’s principles. His weakness and her bigotry unfold, and we leave them about to become, presumably, wiser, sadder and more compatible. But at least they all talked like recognisable inhabitants of Britain in way that characters rarely did in the average radio play, before television showed them how.” (The Guardian, 26th June 1966)
The Long Hop: 5th September 1966
This was broadcast in a series called “Escape”. “When a typhoon hits the island of Antola in the Indian Ocean, the pilot of an approaching plane has to choose between the lives of all his passengers and the life of one.” Radio Times, 1st September 1966.
The play was produced by Martyn C Webster. The cast included Simon Lack, David Spenser and Mary Wylie.
A Face in the Night: 27th May 1970
“All the boy had to do was to keep the engine running, while his brother and the others did the job. But the engine stopped … ” Radio Times, 21st May 1970
The play was produced by Graham Gauld. The cast included Brian Hewlett, Kerry Francis and John Rye.
It was repeated on 28th May 1970.
The Wind Cannot Read: 9th January 1971
This was an adapatation of a novel by Richard Mason, published in 1947, which had been filmed in 1958.
“A passionate love story set in India during the last war. Michael Quinn , an RAF officer, falls in love with his Japanese language instructress: but their brief happiness is interrupted when he is sent to the Japanese front and captured. He vescapes – but on his return finds only sadness and grief.” Radio Times, 28th June 1979
The play was directed by Martin Jenkins. The cast included Martin Jarvis, Tsai Chin and Anthony Valentine
It was repeated on 2nd July 1979.
For German radio stations
Treibjagd (The Hunt) (with Eric Paice): 8th October 1958.
This version of ” This Day in Fear” was broadcast by Süddeutscher Rundfunk, which was the broadcaster for the northern part of Baden-Württemberg from 1949 to 1998. It was directed by Karl Ebert. Cynthia Pughe is included in the authorship.
Another version was broadcast on 23rd February 1950 by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, the public broadcaster for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Kreuzverhör (with Eric Paice): 4 June 1959
This play was broadcast by Süddeutscher Rundfunk and directed by Karl Ebert. It would appear to be an original script for the station.
The summary reads as follows: “John Grant is a social worker . He takes his job very seriously. Even after work, he still cares about the people who seek his help. He often has arguments with his wife. She feels neglected. They also separate in disagreement on an evening when Grant wants to meet an old woman who is badly treated by her relatives and is in despair. Grant waits in vain at the agreed meeting point. In order to find his peace again, he takes an extended walk after a reasonable wait. Returning from this, he no longer finds his wife in the apartment. The window in the living room is open. When he leans out, he sees his wife, shattered four floors below, in the courtyard. His nerves, overworked and overwhelmed by the past argument, make him believe that he murdered his wife. Grant decides to flee. When he faces the police days later, he experiences a surprise. But the suspicion has not been removed from him yet.”
It was broadcast again by Hessicher Rundfunk, the state broadcaster for the State of Hesse, on 10th February 1962, this time directed by Heinz-Otto Müller from a translation by Marianne de Barde.
It was broadcast again by Saarländischer Rundfunk, the public brodcaster for the state of Saarland in 1967, directed by Klasus Groth.
Der Goldtopf (The pot of gold) (with Eric Paice): 23rd July 1963.
This play was produced by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, directed by Otto Düben. The translation was by Ruth von Marcard.
The summary on the internet says: “After ten years in prison, Marty Rudd wants to take the booty from the hiding place under the floorboards of a house. But the house is rented to an old lady who never leaves her room. Rudd can’t take his chance to get around £ 3,000.”
It also seems to have been produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk on 3rd October 1963, directed by Otto Kurth, under the title Das goldene Wunderhorn.
Bis daß der Tod uns scheidet (Until Death Do Us Part) (with Eric Paice): 6th September 1964.
This was produced by Sender Freies Berlin (Radio Free Berlin) the ARD public radio and television service for West Berlin from 1 June 1954 until 1990. The director was Erich Köhler. The plot summary on the internet says; : “Philip and Mary Rhodes have long worked out a plan by which they hope to get rich. However, a person will have to die if the plan is carried out. But Mr. Rhodes doesn’t worry too much about that. It is much more important to him whether chance will soon play the right man into his hands.”
Gesicht in der Nacht (A Face in the Night): 6th September 1966
This play was produced by Süddeutscher Rundfunk and directed by Miklos Konkoly. The translation by Marianne de Barde
Dig a Hole for Helen: 16th November 1970
This play was broadcast by Süddeutscher Rundfunk and directed by Klaus Mehrländer.
Information on these radio plays on German radio comes from the ARD Hoerspieldatenbanh
Mac’s fiction and non-fiction books
The Making of Doctor Who (1972) (1976)
As we have seen from his pamphlet on Unity, Mac had a passion for explaining how drama was created.
In 1972 he and Terrance Dicks wrote The Making of Doctor Who, described by Gary Russell as “the most important piece of work in the entire history of Doctor Who publishing.” A second edition was published in 1976.
Doctor Who is almost certainly the most written about programme in the history of British television with many books and magazines as well as numerous websites devoted to documenting and analysing (sometimes excessively so) every minute detail of the programme. In 1972, however, this book was groundbreaking and was seized on by fans, eager to know more about their favourite television programme.
In the first Chapter “How It All began” the authors go back in time to the creation of Doctor Who by Sydney Newman and his staff at the BBC in 1963, and then explain the role of the Producer and Script Editor.
One of the things that makes show-business so exciting – and so nerve-wracking – can be expressed by the well used phrase – “you never can tell”. No one knows what makes a success. A work written by the most famous of writers, with popular stars in the leading roles, with millions spent on a spectacular production, can finish a very expensive flop. Luckily the reverse is also true. A modest show on a limited budget, without a single star name, will suddenly take off, and the astonished and delighted producer realises he has a hit on his hands. Doctor Who… was born in humble cicumstances. (Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke,The Making of Doctor Who (1976) pp. 7-8)
The following chapters look at the impact of the Dalek on the series, the actors who have played Doctor Who, the various monsters – Cybermen , Ice Warrors, Yeti, Atons etc, UNIT, the companions, the Adventures of Doctor Who (a summary of all of the serials up to publication), an explanation of how the programme is made in a televison studio and a detailed production diary of a serial. In the first edition it was “The Sea Devils,” in the second edition it was “Robot”.
The authors conclude:
…in the dangerous and disturbing world of today there is a real need for a show like Doctor Who. It provides an escape into fantastic alien worlds, where the monsters and horrors encountered are safely distanced by their settings. Today the appetite for fantasy and wonder, with the much needed release it offers, is greater than ever. Whatever happens to the Doctor on screen we can now be sure that many of his adventures will be preserved for posterity, though in rather different form. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who (1976) p. 124)
Target’s Doctor Who novels
The popularity of Doctor Who led to the publication of three novels based on the TV serials, beginning in 1964 with Doctor Who and The Daleks, written by David Whittaker and published by Frederick Mueller. This was followed in 1965 by Doctor Who and The Zarbi by Bill Struton and finally Doctor Who and the Crusades by David Whitaker.
In 1973 Target books began publishing a new series of Doctor Who novels, many of them written by the original scriptwriters. Mark Gatiss has written “Target gave us exciting versions of the stories we had seen – and glimpses into a strange and mysterious past where the Doctor had been someone else… In an age before video and DVD, the Target novelisations were a chance to relive the television adventures.”
Mac wrote seven novels for Target, six of which were based on his own work: Doctor Who and The Cave Monsters (published on 17th January 1974), Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon (published on 18th March 1974), Doctor Who and the Sea Devils (published on 17th October 1974), Doctor Who and the Space War (published on 23rd September 1976), Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion (published on 9th February 1976), and Doctor Who and The War Games (published on 25th September 1979).
The other novel he wrote was Doctor Who and The Green Death (published on 21st August 1975, whose television script ha dbeen written by Robert Sloman. The two remaining stories that he had written for Doctor Who, “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Faceless Ones”, were turned into novels by his good friend Terrance Dicks after Mac’s death.
In an interview Mac explained how writing television scripts was different from writing novels:
Remember that in a story you have really have two stories going at once, the good guys and the bad guys. On television, especially in show for younger viewers, you don’t do very long scenes, people get bored. So therefore you cut from the good guys to the bad guys and from the bad guys to the good guys.
In a book this would be very annoying if you got a half-page chapter, and then another half-page chapter. In a book you start the next chapter with “Meanwhile….“ you can go back in time to what the other rpeople were doing… Also when you have a book to write you realise I could make this a bit better… r… You feel that you can, and therefore you should. You read through the old scripts and then you just start at the beginning… But you must expunge from your mind the possbility that they’ve seen it…you’ve got to describe things but also the role of people. You’ve got to try and get all this in early without boring.
Malcolm’s Doctor Who novels are much more than just a straight retelling of the story using the original script. He alters the plots, often adds in extra scenes or references or new characters, and awards even minor characters a backstory.
In The Cave Monsters he gives the Silurians names and begins with a prologue set in the distant past showing the Silurains bidding farewell to their world as they enter the shelters to avoid the approaching Moon:
Okdel stood watching as the last of the young reptile men and women took their turn to go down to safety in the lift. The gleaming metal doors of the lift were set in rock; the doors slid open and shut soundlessly, taking another group of Okdel’s people to safety below the ground. Across the valley the sun was already seting, and its last light made the green scales of the young people shine brilliantly. Okdel wondered when he would see the sun again…
“Our animals,” said K’to, “are they in the shelter?”
“They went down first,” said Okdel, “I made sure of that.” He paused. “A pity we are taking none of the little furry animals.”
“You are a strange man, ” said K’to. “The little furry animals are dirty. Insects live in their fur. In any case this event will rid our plant of the mammal vermin.”….
Okdel slowly walked towards where Morka and K’to were waiting. Just before stepping into the lift, he looked again across the valley to see the tip of the sun as it sank below the horizon. It was the last time he was to see the sun for a hundred million years. (Doctor Who and The Cave Monsters (1974), pp. 7-9)
In Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon he devotes several pages to the back story of Captain Dent who has been matched by computer to a wife (I suspect Mac had read The Organization Man by Wildred H White, published in 1956):
Over the next few days of leave he found that the IMC match-making computer had done a good job, and that the two of them were going to be happy together…As Dent sat there, touching the controls of the IMC spaceship, he felt happy and secure in the fact that he was an IMC man, with an IMC wife, IMC children, with a beautiful four room IMC home. His present and his future were as secure as IMC, and IMC would go on for ever. (Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon (1974), p. 61)
In the opening scene of Doctor Who and the Sea Devils (in which the ss Pevensey Castle is sunk with all hands) Mac introduces an unseen character who has already perished:
Mason could not believe the men were dead. Only two hours ago, before he turned in for the night, he had been drinking cocoa with the Jamaican. The Jamaican, who really came from Trinidad and had never been to Jamaica in his life, had shown Mason a letter from his mother who lived in a town called St. James. “It’s Carnival next month,” said the Jamaican, “and she wants her best-looking son back home for Carnival – and that’s me!” He had saved his air fare, and was booked on a flight from London Airport. three days after the ss Pevensey Castle got into the Port of London, where she was bound.. (Doctor Who and the Sea Devils (1974), p. 7)
In Doctor Who and the Space War Mac describes the Doctor’s journey to the Moon:
The Doctor saw neither Earth nor Moon on the short journey to the Earth’s satellite. The penal spaceship was windowless, a series of tiny cells. just large enough for a prisoner to sit down, knees touching the metal door. From the ship the prisoners were shuffled into a narrow corridor that led directly into the prison. The Doctor’s first sight of the Moon was when they were taken into a huge room with metallic walls, and here a big window looked out onto the bleak rocky moonscapre, the airless world where any escaping prisoner would die instantly though lack of oxygen. (Doctor Who and the Space War (1976), p. 70)
In Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion he gives a longer speech to the Doctor in his argument with Mike Yates:
“There’s no alternative, ” said the Captain.
“Yes there is,” replied the Doctor. “You can try to make something better of the world you’ve got. You humans can end the arms race, you can treat people with different coloured skins as equals, you can stop exploiting and cheating each other, and you can start using the Earth’s resources in a rational and sensible way.” (Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion (1976), p.124)
In the Doctor Who and The Green Death we see things from the point of view of one of the maggots which is just about to hatch:
And then, suddenly, the egg cracked. The maggot lay exhaused from its efforts. Then it sniffed sharply. It was experiencing a new source of energy – oxygen in the air around it. It wriggled its little body, and realised it was quite strong. It also realised that it was very hungry, and that it now had to find its own food.
It raised its head over the edge of the tray, and sniffed again. It could smell that somewhere in this room was food, somewhere low down. It heaved itself over the edge of the tray, and wriggled to the edge of the table. Below was an enormous drop, but the desire for food made it forget all danger. It rolled itself off the table, fell through space and finally hit the floor. (Doctor Who and The Green Death (1975) p.96)
Max says of Doctor Who and The War Games: “I was surprised that there was more in Part Ten than I’d imagined. There’s a whole sequence when the Doctor tries to escape from the Time Lords, not to be captured, which he almost gets way with. And then when he is captured, and put on trial, there’s an adjournment when he tries to escape again! (Gary Hopkins, recorded interviww with Malcolm Hulke: The Doctor Who Podcast, 17th April 2013). He added the following scene which was not in the television script:
They passed through several corridors, glanced into study rooms and kept seeing men dressed as officers from the armies of world history. They even saw two young women dressed in blue slacks and shirts with scarlet neckerchiefs and blue berets. “The Spanish Civil War”, the Doctor said quietly, “Women fought in the frontline there”. (Doctor Who and The War Games (1979) p.64)
Interviewed for On Target, a special feature on the DVD release of “The War Games”, the writer Gary Russell, said of Mac:
The best legacy he has left us, apart from a canon of fantastic Doctor Who stories, both on TV and in book form, is his inspiration. I know from talking to other authors of Doctor Who books that he is a huge inspiration on everybody’s style of writing. Everybody sees that thing in Malcolm Hulke’s books and goes, that’s why I want to be a writer.
Ben Aaronovitch, whose parents were both in the party, wrote in his introduction to his novel of his own Doctor Who serial “Remembrance of the Daleks“ that he was given a copy of Mac’s novel Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon by his mother.
She approved of Hulke because she knew him through the Party…which outweighed the fact that it was science fiction – a genre she despised. Hulke, too had imbued his characters with backstory (particularly the evil commander and beefed up the special effects while retaining both the form and spirit of his story. With his example in mind, I plunged into my first serious venture into prose. (Ben Aaronovitch, Remembrance of the Daleks (2013), p. vi)
Writing for Television (1974)
In this book he drew on his years of writing experience to explain the craft involved. He began:
Television comes flooding into our homes day and night. Everything about it seems to be totally exposed. In some of the chat shows, not even the cameras are concealed. so, if we aspire to any kind of writing at all, this friendly, chummy medium is obviously the one for us. No doubt there are a few bits of technical know-how that are neccessary. Bur basically, all we have to do is write a story, send it to someone, and the television people will make right to go into a couple of million homes by the end of the week.
Writing for television isn’t like that at all. It is a craft in its own right. just as the poet automatically thinks in terms of metre, so does the television writer of how many characters he may use and how many sets. Of course, he thinks creatively, but it’s a creativity firmly set within the size of a prescribed canvas. Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p.9.
Mac goe on how to explain how a play is produced in the studio; how outside filming works; the art of writing with plot, characterisation and dialogue; what to write about; how to break into televison; “the ideas market”; and finally, the pitfalls of censorship and libel. Naturally he urges writers to join the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
The book includes a number of examples of scripts and comments from the writers. He includes an extract from the Doctor Who serial “Carnival of Monsters,” written by Robert Holmes, with a comment from Holmes in which he said:
Over its many years Doctor Who has acquired a very devoted and loyal audience. It has also acquired a number of equally devoted writers who will tell you frankly it is their favourite assignmnet – technically difficult though it usually is.
The reason why a “children’s show” should inspire such a reaction among blasé professional writers may seem hard to fathom. I know, in my own case, when I am commissioned to write for the programme, the cover comes off my typewriter with little delay. …
I believe the truth is that Doctor Who releases a writer from his normal mental straightjacket. He can, for once, leave the padded cell of reality and fantasise through eternal time and space. It is an enjoyable and refreshing exercise. Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1974), p.187)
Andrew Cartmel (script editor on Doctor Who 1987-1989) says of this work:
I still remember Malcom Hulke’s book about writing for television — a glossy black hardcover with a red typewriter on the cover. It was packed with good advice (keep your submission letter — these days it would be a submission email — very short and too the point) and also schooled me in the arcane script formatting that was de rigeur in those days… you kept a vertical slab of half the page blank, theoretically so that camera directions could be written in. It was a practical guide and also an inspiration. It was my bible. And thanks in no small measure to it, and to Hulke’s common sense guidance, it was only a few years before I found myself working as the script editor on Doctor Who — where I discovered that the same Malcolm Hulke had been one of the mainstays of the writing team during the golden age of the show. (personal communication from Andrew)
This book inspired Linda Thornber to take up writing. Interviewed by Irene Macmanus for The Guardian in January 1981, Linda, – who described herself as “a Bolton housewife, married to a businessman, mother of two“ – recounted that as she approached her 40th birthday she asked herself: Is that all there is? She got a divorce and borrowed Writing for Television from the library and set about learning the craft. Six months later she had completed a series of comedies for Granada Television, The Ballyskillen Opera House. At the time of the interview she had still not returned the book. (The Guardian, 6th January 1981). Linda went on to write many novels under the name of “Ruth Hamilton”. (Bolton News, 23rd April 2016)
Mac wrote four Crossroads novels, published by Everest Books. These were: A New Beginning (1974), A Warm Breeze (1975), Something Old, Something New (1976) and A Time for Living (1976).
In the preface to A Warm Breeze he wrote:
This novel is based on some stories from the second two years of the enormously successful television serial Crossroads, produced by ATV in Birmingham.
Viewers who have never missed an episode may recognise some of the stories and notice changes as they are presented in this book. These changes result from the different structural demands of a novel compared with the shape of a daily television serial.
An adapator has to take some liberties, and I make no apology. But I have tried, within my capabilities, to be faithful to the underlying spirit of Crossroads, which has brought joy and entertainment to so many millions of people for such a long time.
Cassells Parliamentary Handbook (1975)
Mac edited the 1975 guide to Members of Parliament, . listing their interests, affiliations and business connections. In her review of the book in The Guardian Nesta Wynn Ellis noted that Mac called it “The Bribers’ Handbook.” (The Guardian, 26th September 1975)
Bring your Own Towel (1977)
This was a guide to nearly 300 of the cheaper residential conference venues in Britain no doubt drawing on Mac’s many years of organising meetings and conferences. He wrote: “Britain is surely the most civilised country in the world. If two people share an interest they form a national association. If three, they go away for a conference. Scores of residential centres, religious retreats and guest houses exist to serve this need.” It was published by the National Council for Socail Services. (Ross Davies, “Fighting the battle of the conference hall, The Times, 13th September 1977)
Roger Moore and the Crimefighters; The Siege (1977)
Mac wrote the first novel in this curious series, aimed at young people.
Roger Moore and the Crimefighters was a series of six slim paperbacks, published by Alpine/Everest in the UK through 1977. A clear attempt to try and cash in on The Three Investigator market, Roger Moore is the Alfred Hitchcock equivalent here, his name a prominent part of the cover whilst he has only has a cameo (as himself) at the end, when the Crimefighters explain their latest adventure to him.
The Crimefighters – “three young friends of Roger Moore who can’t keep out of trouble” – are Billy Compton (“rich and clever and wishes people would remember to call him Will”), Bonnie Fletcher (“a blonde girl in jeans, who plays football and hates dolls”) and Darren Fletcher (“Bonnie’s little brother, with hair like a pop star and an ugly dog”). The dog was called Dalek and helped out in much the same way as Timmy assisted the Famous Five. Mark West blog.
Mac’s Other Activities
TV Writers School of Great Britain – 1969 to 1972
Mac seems to have been the driving force behind a writers’ school run through correspondence. The school was promoted through adverts in The Stage, The Guardian and other newsapers.
The advert in The Guardian in August 1969 proclaimed:
WRITE FOR TV AND EARN TOP MONEY. Home study course for beginners by top BBC and ITV script writers can help YOU to write for many of the current programmes. Our ten lessons have been prepared exclusively for this school by MALCOLM HULKE (one of Britain’s most prolific TV playwrights), PHILIP MACKIE (Managing Director. Granada Feature Films and Programme Consultant and Executive Producer for Granada Television), ROSEMARY HILL (BBC Script Editor for “Play Of The Month”), SHAUN SUTTON (Head of Serials, Drama, BBC TV), and MICHAEL REDINGTON (Head of Features for ABC TV). Write for free literature to: TV WRITERS’ SCHOOL OF GREAT BRITAIN Telescript House, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4. (01-353 7159. 24 hrs.) WORLD’S LEADING TV TRAINING SCHOOL (The Guardian, 28th August 1969.
Another advert in 1970 claimed that successful writers might earn £300 upwards for their first script . “FREE LUXURY HOLIDAYS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SUN and COLOUR TV SETS are among the exciting prizes being awarded by the School for the best TV plays submitted. Judges will be DIANA MORGAN, ALAN PLATER, MALCOLM HULKE and PETER COTES. The Guardian, 11th January 1970)
In May 1970 the advert in the Guardian read:
A Home Study Course in television writing has been prepared exclusibvely for the Writers School of Great Britijn by
SHAUN SUTTON (Head of BBC Drama)
MALCOLM HULKE (one of Brirain’s most prolific and successful scriptwriters)
PHILIP MACKIE (Mnaging Director of Granada Feature Films)
ALAN TARRANT (Top comedy direcor-producer for iTV)
PETER COTES (former Head of Drama Associated-Redifussion…)
ROSEMARY HILL (BBC Script Editor for “Play of the Month”)
DIANA MORGAN (top TV scriptwriter, Hollwood scenarist, West and Brodwat playwright)
MICHAEL VOYSEY (winner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award for 1969 for his adptation of Arnold Bennett’s “Imperial Palace”
OFFSET THE INCREASED COST OF LIVING BY A SECOND INCOME AT HOME
£350 to £750 is now being paid for scripts.
TV Writers’ School of Britain, Vision House, Fleet Street, London EC 4.
(The Guardian, 10th May 1970)
In May 1971 a further advert announced:
CONGRATULATIONS We wish to thank the BBC for their television announcement of the winners in our “Holidays In The Sun Writing Competition.” They are I. S. Bryan for his script One Voice”, N W. Marshall (“As Flies Two Wanton Boys”), Lt. Commander C. R. G. Wheeler, R.N. (“For Ever And A Day”) and Sybil Briscoe for her short story “Season For Love”. The judges were BASIL DAWSON (scriptwriter for THE SAINT, CROSSROADS .etc.). WILLIAM EMMS (scriptwriter for CALLAN, PAUL TEMPLE, etc.), MALCOLM HULKE (scriptwriter for DOCTOR WHO, THE AVENGERS, etc.) and DIANA MORGAN (West End and Broadway playwright and Hollywood scenarist. (The Stage, 13th May 1971)
The advert in February 1972 told readers:
You can learn to write at home, in your spare time with Malcolm Hulke of “Crossroads” and “Doctor Who”. Then sell worldwide. The school is linked to the International Script Agency with agents in New York, Rome, Paris, Buenos Aires, and many other leading cities. (The Guardian, 27 February 1972)
A small advert in 1975 seemed to indicate a change of emphasis away from writing for television:
LET THE EXPERTS TEACH YOU WRITING Brand new courses on all aspects of writing are now offered by the Writing School. Our Principal Malcolm Hulke is a working writer and all the lessons are by experienced writers. l (The Guardian 18th May 1975)
I have not been able to locate any further adverts after 1975.
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
The Television and Screen Writers’ Guild is a trade union which was formed on 13th May 1959 by the amalgamation of the British Screen and Television Writers’ Association (formed in 1937) and the Radio and Television Writers’ Association. It was renamed the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) in 1964. The offices in the 1960s were at 7 Harley Street, London, in the basement of a doctor’s surgery.
In its early years it adopted the Rostetta Stone as its emblem with the inscription “Ante Omia Verbum” (In the Beginning was the Word) but the union seems to have stopped using this, judging by its current website.
Ted Willis, a successful writer for stage, televison and film, was elected chair of the new body, Bryan Forbes was Treasurer while S E “Kim” Honess was the first full-time secretary. At this stage it had just a few hundred paying members. As noted above, In his youth Ted Willis had been active in Young Communist League. In The Write Stuff, his history of the Guild, Nick Yapp says; “Compared with the Siege of Leningrad, saving the Guild may appear child’s play, but Willis, then in his prime of life, gave the struggle all he’d got, at a time when the Guild needed all it could get.” Zita Dundas, a key figure in the formation of the new trade union, said it floated along on “half a shoestring”. Finances were so tight to begin with that Kim Honess was not paid for six months, while every day expenses were covered by Council members and the occasional donation eg a £100 from Sidney Bernstein, head of Granada. (Nick Yapp, The Write Stuff (2009), p. 19)
Mac was a very active member. In 1960, for instance, he and Peter Yeldham edited the first three issues of the union’s new quarterly newsletter Guild News.
On 25th May 1960 he and Eric Paice took part in meeting at the Art Theatre Club organised by the Guild’s Associate Members Committee who invited some leading writers to come along and be questioned by any of the Associate Members who cared to attend. Some 70 members attended. The other writers who attended were Zita Dundas, Denis Norden. Larry Forrester, J. B. Williams, Michael Pertwee, Dick Sharples, Gerald Kelsey, and Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. “After a short introduction by John Boland the meeting took on the form of an enormous get-together (without refreshment unfortunately) and members mixed and talked freely with each other during the next two and half hours. There is little doubt that the experiment proved to be a great success and may well prove to be the forerunner of many such evenings.” (The Stage, 2nd June 1960)
Eric was chair of the Guild 1964-65 (succeeded by Denis Norden, incidentally). In his speech on leaving office he said it had been a tough year, with tremendous opposition to the Guild’s struggle to win back the author’s right to retain copyright in their own work. “But one major victory had been won. On April 1 the Television Film Agreement with the ITC had been signed. Un ortunately other negotiations with independent television companies on overseas rights were at a stalemate. What had struck home to him most forcibly during the past yeay was the mounting evidence that only the writers are prepared to fight for higher standards of television programmes. Others may pay lip service to better programming, but they finally do as they are told. Consequently the Guild welcomed the additional strength and fighting power of its three new sections: the Radio Writers, the Advertising Writers, and the Script Editors. ” (The Stage, 28th October 1965)
In 1966 Mac compiled a report for the Guild on writers for radio. This was featured by Allan Prior in his Guild column in The Stage, who considered that one thing clearly emerged from the report “Writers may be paid less in radio but they have a nicer time. The pressures are not on, the note of frenzy is absent. And yet the work retains a very high standard. Which leads one to a question and a conclusion. Are television’s relentless pressures on the writer really necessary? Not really.” (The Stage, 21st April 1966)
After some members complained that the 1967 AGM has been dull, Mac robustly defended the union in a letter to Guild News:
“The truth is that the Guild is no longer a novelty. It is a firmly established trade union, digging its own roots into the corporate labour movement. When guest speaker, George Elvin, general secretary of ACTT, reminded us that we are workers, not one of gentlemen-of-letters walked out. We are beginning to understand what it’s all about. We showed that we could debate without hysterics and our chairman (David Whitaker) showed that he had read his Walter Citrine…What emerged was that this Guild of mainly freelance writers, who professionally are often in competition with one another, has now became a mature and well-organised trade union, and a credit to the trade union movement. This is a remarkable and extraordinary feat… Militancy is not only achived by passionate declarations, and worker solidarity is not only achieved by slanging matches between platform and floor. The strength of a trade union is finally measured by the unity within its own ranks. We witnessed that unity in good measure at our AGM. (Yapp, The Write Stuff (p.52). (Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the TUC from 1926 to 1946, was the author of the ABC of chairmanship (1939))
On 22nd March 1968 he represented the Guild at the first awards ceremony held by the Australian Writers’ Guild in Sydney. Proposing a toast to Austraian writers Mac said since going to Australia to script edit a film series he had repeatedly heard the question, “Can Sydney became a Little Hollywood? ” Why little?” he asked. “Did Australia think small when the Sydney Opera House was built or the famous Coathanger harbour bridge went up? Did Australia pioneers think small?” He added that, although Australians regarded state aid as state interference (“wasn’t it free milk in schools which had brought Britain to its knees”), perhaps this was the moment when government leadership, and even financial backing, might ensure that Australia’s mass communication industries could reach their full vigour, so that both the image and the dream of modern Australia could be spread to the rest of the world. (The Stage, 4th April 1968)
In 1969 Mac edited the Writers Guide produced by the Guild for aspiring writers which quickly sold out. The idea came from David Whitaker, then Chair of the Guild. Mac cited three reasons for publishing this manual: to set down details of the network of agreements negotiated by the Guild: to provide an “opportunity for some of our leading and most talented members to say something about their work” and to provide members with expert advice on taxation, copyright, censorshop etc.
In the section called “Craftsmanship” writers explained their work, including Robert Armstrong on poetry, Howard Clewes on screenwriting, Sheila Hodgson on writing for radio, Sid Colln on writing comedy, Diana Morgan on writing for theatre., Eric Paice on writing for televison and Joan Ling on writing novels. In “The Hyphenated Man” Lewis Greifer laid bare his feelings about script editors, while Mac contributed a short article on the history of the Guild. None of the contributors got paid. (Yapp, The Write Stuff, p. 53) According to Mac the Writers’ Guide was well received: “We have had many letters of congratulations from professional writers, and of thanks from people who want to learn to write.” (The Stage, 10th April 1969).
Mac also edited a second edition which appeared in 1970 and included the following upbeat assessment: “The Guild is strong, it needs to be stronger. It is essential that anyone who works in films, television or radio joins immediately because individually we are nothing, collectively we can win for ourselves proper recompense commensurate with the inestimable contribution we make to our society.” (Yapp, The Write Stuff, p. 170).
In this edition the contributors included Harold Harris on the novel, John Boland on the short story, John Gould on film scripts, Gerald Savory on television drama and Shaun Sutton on serials. Allan Prior in his column in The Stage wrote that “...this year’s edition (most ably edited by Malcolm Hulke) is devoted to markets and the big markets now are television and television and television. Filmed, live, comedy, drama, documentary it remains the big consumer of the word that somebody has, first of all, to write down on paper.” (The Stage, 26th March 1970).
The union attracted the attention of M15, who labelled it erroneously as a “communist controlled organisation” in report compiled in August 1962. It listed the current officers: Chairman: Ted Willis, Vice Chairman: Leigh Vance, Treasurer: Bryan Forbes, International Secretary: Paul Tabori, and General Secretary: J G Johnson and also the members of the Executive Committee. In addition to Mac they were Hazel Adair, Howard Clewes, Zita Dundas, Larry Forrester, Gerard Kelsey, John Lamont, Peter Ling, Philip Mackie, Alex McKendrick, Edward J Mason, Denis Norden, Alun Owen, Eric Paice, Jimmy Sangster, Dick Sharples, Alan Simpson, Carl Tunberg, Gordon Wellesley and Peter Yeldham. It appears that M15 opened files on anyone active in the Guild who was not already on their radar. (National Archives, KV2/3969. MI5 report on Televison and Screenwriters’ Guild, 3rd August 1962)
The Writers’ Luncheon Club
Mac was the secretary of this Club, founded in 1977, while the chair was Ted Willis. According to The Stage guests at the Club “met a number of distinguished people in television, the arts and politics.” ( (The Stage, 12th July 1979) The venue was the London Zoo Restaurant on Regents Park. The speakers included Michael Foot (Labour MP), Sir Robert Mark (Chief Constable of the Metropolitican Police) Brian Young (Director General of the IBA).
“Things have appeared on television in this country which could never have appeared anywhere else in the world” Young told the 80 strong audience at the lunch in November 1977. He defended the amount of foreign programmes and films shown on ITV and also said that audiences were not as interested in the single play as the writers of them were. “Not everything we do can be trail blazing and the single play must experiment. And that means there must a place where something new can happen. A reason for giving the fourth channel to IBA.” (The Stage, 17th November 1977)
Bognor Writers weekend: September, 1978
This weekend away for writers seems to have been an extension of the Luncheon Club organised by Mac and Ted Willis. John Hawkesworth’s contribution was reported in The Stage:
Series writing isn’t really a second-class affair “IF you don’t have time, you can’t take risks”, said John Hawkesworth, writer and producer of five series of Upstairs Downstairs, when he spoke last weekend to a gathering of almost 200 writers at Bognor.
He was justifying a reasonable contention that, although producers of television series do not exclude new writers, the conditions under which series and serials are produced make it expedient and perfectly natural for the producer to prefer the established writer on whom he knows already he can depend.
At the same time he admitted that it is, as he put it, “an absolute duty of the producer to give new writers a chance”: the problem was to discover not merely the writers but, more importantly, what they could do. Merely to see an example of a writer’s work on the screen was not necessarily the answer. “What is seen on the screen,” he said, “is not always a true indication of a writer’s ability.”
While hotly contending that, without a shadow of doubt, the script is the most important ingredient in a series, he holds no brief for the producer who tells a writer with a promising idea. “Go away and put it on paper– see how it goes.” That way, he suggests, is “the slippery slope.”
The writer,” he says, “must not put pen to paper until he is absolutely sure of what it is the producer wants him to write. So the relationship of the producer– and the script editor– to the writer is the most important one in television.”
Television series cannot be made today without a script editor. The script editor is the liaison between the writer and the producer who, nowadays, has not the time to deal with each individual point of style or plot. This is particularly important when filming, for then the writer must leave the script editor to fight his battles for him and preserve the integrity of the script.
“I also believe that the script editor should be one of the major writers on the series.”
He was quick to agree that the word that hurts a writer more than any other is “arbitrary”: having alterations made to a script without being told.
“Series episodes aren’t Hamlet or Tennessee William,.” he said, “and when a writer is consulted and the necessity explained to him he is usually prepared to do what is needed.”
“Television series writing isn’t second-class”, he concluded. “It is very demanding and it can be very exciting. But don’t do it unless you understand that you have to give up some of your own independence”. (The Stage, 21st September 1978)
Other speakers included Richard Imison, script editor and currently assistant head of radio drama, who gave a survey of radio drama from 1923; John D Vincent who led a seminar on radio drama and a practical course of television writing and production; and Fay Weldon, who gave her thoughts on the business of writing.
Open Door 1976
Mac wrote a statement for the Friends Anonymous Service or a programme called “Anything! Anytime! Any problem is no problem” broadcast on 13th March 1976, in the BBC’s Open Door series which offered a slot to community groups. The Friends Anonymous Service was a round-the-clock voluntary agency based at Friendship House In Hackney.
Mac died on 6 July 1979 in Cambridge, which is curious as he was still living at 45 Parliament Hill in Hamptead. The notice in the press asked for donations to be made to the Royal Free Hospital Body Scanner Appeal.
The funeral service took place in a crematorium. Terrance Dicks recalled that, as a convinced atheist, Mac had left orders that there was to be no priest, no hymns or any other ceremony at his funeral and that therefore his friends sat by the coffin not knowing what to do. “Finally Eric Paice stood up, slapped the coffin and said ‘well cheerio, Mac’ and wandered out. We all followed him.”
The Stage carried an obituary which noted his work with Eric Paice in the late 1950s and then his branching out on his own in the 1960s. It also recorded that he was “a passionate crusader for the rights of the writer and a man, as Eric Paice confirms, of restless creative energy…. Last autumn he organised a highly successful week-end course for writers in Bognor, attended by a number of television and radio producers and had been hoping to repeat the event this year.”
According to The Stage he had just completed an novel called Airship. What became of this and his papers I have no idea.
Some final thoughts
A common theme in a good deal of Mac’s work was illusion and deception : the police in “This Day in Fear” are not the police ; the stamp collectors in “The Mauritius Penny” are not harrmless philatelists ; the aircrew in “The Faceless Ones” are human in looks only ; the generals in “The War Games” are aliens, and so on
His message to the audience? Question what you think you see or what you are being told by the powerful. Ask yourself what is really going on. As the Doctor says in “the Faceless Ones” : Things are not always what they seem.”
I would also suggest in that his non-fiction writings; Here is Drama, The Making of Doctor Who, The Writers Guide and Writing for Television he seeks to demystify, to hack through the technical jargon and accretions of tradition, and help the reader understand what are admittedly complex topics. As he wrote in the first chapter of Writing for Television which he called “What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know”:
“The more we learn about a complex subject, the more we realise there is to learn. And we can only start when we acknowledge there is something to learn.”
Mac believed that writing was craft , and should be respected (and paid properly ) but that it was a craft that with imagination and hard work could be learnt and that there was an onus on those who had been successful to help others onto the first rung of the ladder.
The final word must surely go to Terrance Dicks. Mac was “a very kind and generous man”.
If you would like to comment on this post, you can either comment via the blog or email me, email@example.com
Newspapers, magazines and journals
Birmingham Daily Post
Doctor Who Magazine
The Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian)
Nothing at the End of the Lane
Books, pamphlets and articles
William Ash, “obituary of Eric Paice,” The Guardian, 12th July 1989
Richard Bignell, “Journey Into Time,” Nothing at the End of the Lane, 3, 2012
Gordon Blows, “The Malcolm Hulke Interview,” Tardis, 2, 1975
Colin Chambers, The Story of Unity Theatre (1989)
Keith Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta, M15, The Cold War and the Rule of Law (2020)
works by Malcolm Hulke
HERE IS DRAMA – behind the scenes at Unity Theatre (1961).
Writing for Television (1974)
Doctor Who and The Cave Monsters (1974),
Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon (1974)
Doctor Who and the Sea Devils (1974)
Doctor Who and The Green Death (1975)
Doctor Who and the Space War (1976),
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion (1976)
Doctor Who and The War Games (1979).
“On Target”: a special feature on Doctor Who “The War Games” DVD (2008)
Richard Marson , “The Incredible Malcolm Hulke,” Doctor Who Magazine, 91, August 1984
Richard Marson, “The Making of the Silurians,” Doctor Who Magazine, 91, August 1984
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