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Category Archives: 1960s

Loving The Alien: Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison (1962)

memoirs-of-a-spacewomanIn 2017  I  will be trying to post  as much as possible about science fiction written  by women. So far all the books and television series  I have posted about since I started this blog  have been  written by men, which reflects  the nature of the genre for much of  the  first half of the twentieth century.  But things began to change slowly in the 1960s.

One example is  Memoirs of a Spaceman by Naomi Mitchison (1897 – 1999), published in 1962. At the age of  65 this was Naomi’s first venture into science fiction: prior to this  she was known for her many novels, travelogues and frank autobiography.

Let’s imagine for a minute that   you are a man in your early 30s who is a science fiction “afficianado” (not a “fan,” much too vulgar). You have read and enjoyed the  work of Wells, Wyndham and Hoyle, men   who  showed you the Earth threatened  by Martians, airships, Triffids, “Bathies”, not forgetting  an interstellar gas cloud.  On television you have watched and enjoyed 1984, the Quatermass serials, A for Andromeda and its sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough. 

Nothing you have read or seen has shaken your view of  society or marriage or  sex in the slightest. So you buy a copy of Memoirs of a Spaceman,  hoping perhaps  for a racy tale of ray-gun toting young women  in  spacesuits and  you sit down in your favourite armchair by the fire, with your favourite pipe and a glass of your favourite malt whisky, and you begin reading…  and after a while  your world  starts to slip sideways, like the Tardis caught in a tractor beam.

The novel begins reflectively:

I think about my friends and the fathers of my children. I think about my children, but I think less about my four dear normals than I think  about Viola. And I think about Ariel. And the other. I wonder sometimes  how old I would be if I counted the years of time blackout during exploration. It would be an alarming thought  if that kind of thought happened to alarm  me. Then I begin to wonder how many more voyages I should undertake, supposing of course that i don’t get killed.

Mary is a  communications expert whose role on her various voyages to other planets  is to establish communication with the alien species they encounter, sometime easily, sometimes traumatically.  The  space travel  involve “time blackouts,” so that many years pass before the space explorers  return to Terra (Earth), a phenemenon which at first created  problems as she recalls:

Naturally  we did not realise  at once that  time blackout was going to make difficulties. It took a few major scandals to clear that up, and after all the Terran  incest taboo has a quite sensible biological basis. Nowadays the parent-child relationship is rather strictly organised so we are not tempted to fall in love with our sons, however much they have grown up  during our time blackouts; sometimes, I feel, we are over-conditioned, so that we are not even normally attracted to them in an affectionate way. I should hate that to happen to me. but of course there are also one’s friends’ sons.

However, I know as well as the rest that one shouldn’t let oneself be attracted, and at least all my children’s fathers were in my age group or older. One ought to leave the young alone. How many times I’ve said that to myself! And usually, I will say, acted on it.

Her companions on her voyages include Martians –  not the death-dealing monstrosities of Well’s vivid imagination, but  highly intelligent,  sympathetic small  humanoids –  who communicate mostly through touch,  and  change gender depending on circumstances. Mary forms a close relationhip with Vly,  who rescues her after an explosion on  a planet they are visiting;

Dear Vly was communicating all over with his tongue, fingers, toes  and  sexual  organs.  I felt so grateful; it was so kind, so kind of him. More especially when one realises that on a mixed expedition the Martians never wish to communicate with the humans except for strictly technical and scientific purposes.  It was with this feeling of gratitude towards him, of tensions easing, that I came to waveringly. Or was it only gratitude?  Might it have been something more physiological, less ethereal? Difficult to ascertain.

Mary’s interaction  with Vly  leads to her ovaries being stimulated,  and she gives birth on the journey home to a girl she calls Viola. “This happy and delightful small entity, not entirely human, and yet mine – I remember so well the stab of tenderness towards her! And strangely, oddly, the same tenderness towards Vly.”

This  is not the only unorthodox child she has. Mary agrees  to a scientific experiment  involving grafting alien tissue onto her thigh,  which  grows  into a living organism she calls Ariel after the spirit in The Tempest. By now Ariel  was  over three feet long. It liked to be as close as possible over the median line reaching now to my mouth and inserting a pseudopodium delicately between my lips and elsewhere…its effect on me was somewhat disconcerting.  Eventually Ariel separates completely from Mary as though she had given birth.  The experiment seems to be a success,  but then Ariel  dies, and Mary feels grief for the dead organism.

Naomi Mitchison

Naomi Mitchison

In between her voyages Mary also has children with Terrans, choosing  the fathers sometimes for their intelliegence, sometimes  for sensuous reasons. She is attracted, for instance,  to T’o M’kasi because of his hair :“the delightful heather spring  of the different  hair tensions tingling against  one’s digital  nerves as no flaccid  blond hair  does.”

Mary  recounts her exploits on various planets and on Terra  in chatty and frank way,  as though you were having lunch together  in a Cheltenham teashop. Memoirs of a Spaceman is an intellectually dazzling  exploration of relationships (human and alien), sexuality (human and alien) and the joys and difficulties of communication (human and alien). Naomi Mitchison’s novel  bears almost  no  relationship to the kind of novels being produced by her male contemporaries: put simply, it’s  decades ahead of them and it’s unsurprising that it was reprinted in 1985 by The Women’s Press in their science fiction series. You can find a complete list of the novels in that  series here.

 

 

 

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Loving the Alien: Fifth Planet by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle (1963)

fifth-planetIn previous posts I have looked at the science  fiction writing  of Fred Hoyle in the television  dramas A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough,  as well as his novel, October the First is too Late Written with his son Geoffrey Hoyle,  Fifth Planet  echoes the plot  of  Fred’s earlier novel The Black Cloud (1957) in which  a sentient  gas cloud entered the solar system and caused glocal catastrophe before moving on. In  Fifth Planet a star named  Helios, accompanied by its planets,  enters the solar system in the late c20th.

The central character  in the novel is Hugh Conway, a scientist  who works at the Helios Centre in the UK which  is planning a Western  expedition to land on Helios’ fifth planet, Achilles.  The Soviet bloc  is also planning an expedition.  Conway  is married to  the beautiful Cathy,  but after ten years  they  share no common interests, and she  is serially unfaithful,  including with one of the astronauts, Mike Fawsett,  as Conway knows. Although set in the future, this is clearly the world of the early 1960s with Conway reading The Times over his breakfast.

There is a good deal of scientific detail about the difficulties of rendezvousing with a moving object like Achilles and the kind of massive rocket  that would be needed to make the journey there and back.  This becomes tedious after a while.  Finally, and as a reader you are quite relieved,  both expeditions set off towards Achilles.  By the way the Soviet expedition includes a woman, Tara Ilyana, which was prescient of the Hoyles. They wrote the novel  in August 1962: on 16 June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova spent three days orbiting the earth in a Soviet Vostock capsule.

The Soviet expedition arrives first but crashes on landing,  killing one crewman and injuring another. They are rescued by the Americans after they  have landed. The atmosphere on Achilles is breathable, but there is no sign of any life,  the landscape comprising lakes and grass;

grass-and-lake

Now they knew what the green stuff was. Nothing but grass.  Grass that stretched  away from them in all directions , over hill over dale. It came up to their calves  and it had a nice soft pile. They weren’t botanists so they couldn’t tell  whether it was different from the grass back home…Even so it looked  pretty much like a clover field.  There was a light  wind that produced a slight stirring of its surface. They walked a few hundred  yards away from the rocket. The sky, they noticed, was very blue, a little richer than on Earth. The wind and the grass were producing a very gentle whispering.

Achilles seems to be an Eden, but turns out to have a serpent as  the members of the expedition start to suffer from hallucinations and other mental  disturbances. Fawsett thinks he  sees Cathy, for instance, and then has a breakdown,   while two men drive in circles, unable to escape. Another pair of  astronauts  come across a set of vertical translucent sheets on a hill:

Now that they had found something  both Larson  and Bakovsky began to think along the same lines. Theirs was the natural human reaction. What could they do to change things? They didn’t understand it, but perhaps if they could fiddle with something or other, something would happen, and  then they would begin to understand it. Fiddle with it first and think about it afterwards.  That was the thing to do…

The “fiddling” involves hurling   a hand grenade at the sheets, which turns out to be very bad idea indeed. Larson  dies on the spot “his whole personality, his very self, was lifted upwards and dissipated like puff of smoke”; Bakovsky runs for half a mile “his face strained with the utmost terror” until he reaches a lake and runs straight  in until he vanishes under the water.

Finally  the remnants of both expeditions blast off back to  Earth,  where the  Soviets and  the West are bemused and then increasingly  suspicious as to what really happened on Achilles.  Cathy is summoned to the bedside of  the traumatised Fawsett who dies in her presence.  Conway takes her home, already  aware that she is no longer his wife but someone else. “..in the first brief moment when she’d looked up at  him he’d known – he’d  known that it  was not Cathy.” An alien has travelled from Achilles  in the mind of Fawsett and then transferred to Cathy, who tells Conway she has come to find out about Earth, ” for the same reason  that you came to our planet.”nuclear-bomb

Cathy now   has  prodigious   mental  power to influence  the minds of humans which,  on returning to Britain,  she uses to create  a worldwide illusion that a nuclear war has started, though humanity eventually  divines  that it was an illusion;

Conway hadn’t realised how remarkably quick his own  recovery had been. It took the rest of the world more than  three hours to make the same  recovery. The people rose  up from the pavement, they came out of the fall-out  shelters, they came out of their graves, and they found that the sun was still shining and that their children were still alive. For the most part they broke down and wept as they had not done since they were young themselves. They didn’t know how it had happened  but they knew that in some way a hellish disaster had been avoided.

The governments of the world  realise that this illusion resembles the illusions experienced  on Achilles,  and  suspicion soon  falls on Cathy. In the final, and best  part of the novel,  with some genuine tension at long last,  Cathy and Conway go on the run,  hunted   by the army and police.  Whilst recovering from a bullet wound she tries to explain to him  how  their planet  works:

He was delighted when he realized that the nature of the animating force of life was an irregularity in a wave surface, like a flash of radiation.  As it travels in respect of time so our lives are propelled through the electrical circuits in our brain….the wave surface over a short period of time would appear like a standing wave in the four dimensional.

No,  I didn’t  understand that either.  At the  end of the novel Cathy uses her mental powers to get them  on a shuttle into space  and  the pair takes over a rocket that will get her back to Achilles. Conway is  now deeply in love with this new version of Cathy, who  has been  transformed from a housewife principally  interested in shopping and  sex  to a highly intelligent and powerful  woman,  and makes  a last minute  decision:

He looked far down the ship to where Cathy was standing, still watching him. He stood still for a moment and then with a muttered exclamation  he began to move towards her again. He stopped for a few seconds to put his arm around her waist and draw her to him, then he went over to the big control panel. Quickly he released the transit, and only then pressed the switches that started the big motors. A very faint trembling seemed to fill the ship, and at last he reached down and pressed the main control lever.  In an instant he could feel the drive   beginning, he could feel the pressure in his legs. The great rocket began to swing outwards from the Earth, it began the journey for which it had been made, the journey to the planet of the whispering grass.

In their prologue to the novel the Hoyles explain that they wrote the novel to explore some scientific ideas;

four-dimensionsfPhysics   regards the world as  four dimensional,  all moments  of time exist together.  The world can be thought  of as a map, not only spatially , but also with respect to time. The map stretches away  both into the past and into  the future. There is no such thing as  as “waiting” for the future. It is already there in the map.

I think the novel shows up Hoyle’s strengths and weaknesses as a science fiction writer. The ideas  about  space and time are intriguing,  but  the story  is often lacklustre and cliched.  The characters never really come to life off the page, except perhaps the alien  Cathy.  The idea of an alien  visitor showing humanity that nuclear war  would be disastrous seems to be a nod to the film The Day They Earth Stood Still (1951),  while the motion of an alien taking over the mind of a returning astronaut seems to be a nod to the   The  Quatermass Experiment  (1953).

Reviews

In Fifth Planet the astronomer and his son bring originality to three familiar themes: the interplanetary space race, the alien  world with disturbing novelties, and the symbiotic life-form inhabiting a human being. This last – the human being in question is the hero’s wife – achieves an uncommon pitch of conviction and even pathos. Interspersed are the attacks  on politicians as a group  and the technocratic bias which  one has come to expect from Hoyle pere. There are also references  to development  in sociology and psychology  which will have made these studies scientific, an unscientific notion, although I couldn’t quite make out whether  the Hoyles believe it or not.  They do seem to think that certain individuals are “basically”  interchangeable. This is unscientific. 

Kingsley Amis, The Observer,  8 December 1963, p.24

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel with a Twist: October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle (1966)

october-the-first-is-too-late

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle was a well-known scientist who appeared regularly on television  and  in the press  in the 1950s and 1960s. I have written in more detail about his career in a previous post about  the 1961  television series A for Andromeda.

October The First Is Too late is one of  a series of science fiction novels he  wrote in the 1960s,  which were popular at the time,   but largely forgotten nowadays. In his introduction to this novel Hoyle writes: “The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…”

Hoyle’s novels often have a scientist as the main protaganist,  but in this novel  it is a musician  and composer named Dick: accordingly each chapter is named after  a musical theme or style eg “Fugue” and “Coda”.  The novel begins in 1966 when he runs into an old university friend John Sinclair, now a scientist,  and on an impulse they set off  together on a trip to Scotland. Something very odd happens here. Sinclair  disappears   for half a day,  and on returning cannot explain or recall what has happened to him. Later,  when  swimming Dick  notices that a birthmark Sinclair previously  had on his back has vanished.

The trip is cut short when  Sinclair is recalled to the USA to assist in the investigation of a strange  solar phemonena.  Dick  accompanies him to California where he has a brief affair with a young actress. They  then journey on to Hawaii, where  Sinclair  and others establish that the Sun is somehow being used as a signalling device with an enormous amount of data being transmitted.  Barely have they absorbed this astonishing fact when  all contact is lost with the USA,  and it is feared that a nuclear war has begun.

Dick and Sinclair manage  to get  places on a plane sent to investigate what has happened. Flying above Los Angeles there is no sign of  a war: the city is simply no longer there,  just woods and grassland in its place. Journeying on, they see the same across the continent:

Truth to tell I think everybody wanted to take a look  at New York. It was much the same story as we flew over the Applachians in the fading light. But there were far more signs of life here, far more primitive shacks. It all looked as America might have looked around the year 1800. Darkness came on. We saw little more, except twice there were flickering lights below us, fairly obvious camp fires. Then we were out over the Atlantic.

First world warCrossing the Atlantic they find to their relief  that the England of 1966  is still there. After landing they are taken  to meet the Prime Minister and  defence staff  to tell them of  what they have seen. They learn that Britain has lost touch with Europe:  planes sent to investigate did not come back.  Then boats from the Continent  begin to arrive at English ports,  and they discover that Europe has gone back to September 1917 and the First World War is raging.

John Sinclair tells Dick:

..like all of us in our daily lives, you’re stuck with a grotesque and absurd illusion…the idea of time as an ever-rolling stream. The thing which is supposed to bear all its sons away. There’s one thing quite certain  in this business: the idea of time as a steady progression from past to future. I know very well  that we feel this way about it subjectively. But we’re the victims of a confidence tick. If there’s one thing we can be sure in physics is that all times exist with equal reality. If you consider the motion of the Earth around the Sun, it is a spiral in four dimensional space-time. There’s absolutely no question of singling out a special point on the spiral and saying that particular point is the present position of the Earth. No so far  as physics is concerned.

Sinclair suggests that what has happened is that the people in the various time zones are in fact copies,  which explains  the signalling they detected:

It’s as if the present  world were built out of copies of bits of the old world. Do you remember the day on the moor below Mickle Fell?  Don’t you realise it was a copy that came back to the caravan that night. Not quite a perfect copy, the birthmark was missing….Different worlds remembered and then all put together to form a strange new world. We shall find out more as we go along. This isn’t the end of it. 

The British government makes contact with the armies fighting in Europe and bring about a ceasefire. Meanwhile Dick and  Sinclair  embark on a further flight to see what other time zones there might be.  Where Russia once  was, there  is now  a vast unbroken plain of molten glass,  while  the Aegean is in the time of  the Ancient Greeks;  they fly over an intact Parthenon. This  discovery leads Dick to join an expedition of scholars and others  which sails from England  to Athens. He takes his piano  with him.

Atnens

On arrival the Athenians welcome them and accept their story that they are from a far-off  northern land, although they soon take their ship from  them  when they realise how fast it will travel with engines. It is the year 425 BC and Athens is at war with Sparta. Dick’s skill with the piano, an instrument unknown  in this era, makes him a popular guest.

Dick  resumes composing,  and on a visit to a temple comes across a tall,  very attractive young woman, looking quite unlike the other women in Athens. He assumes that she is a priestess,  and their meeting finishes with an agreement to engage in a musical  contest which  ends in a draw. After spending the night with her,  Dick  wakes somewhere  completely different in a room with advanced technology.

Unexpectedly John Sinclair is also there. After searching the world he had  found  this time zone, which is 6,000 years in the future. The “priestess” Melea is in  fact from this time,  and they learn from  her and their other hosts that  after the  C20th the world had gone through a cycle of civilisation leading to war  and  then a new civilisation and then a war  many times until they made a conscious decision to stop the cycle.  The population of the world is just 5 million,  with only what used to be Mexico is inhabited: the rest of the world is grassland.

They tell the two men  that what has happened with  the different time-zones is an experiment by an unknown intelligence, and that only this future time will survive. An elder explains:

Your people exist only in a ghost world. For a little while your world may have a vivid reality, but very soon, now that we have made our decision, it will be gone. It will go in a brief flash, just as it arrived.

Melea  adds:

...the different  time zones of the Earth will change  back to what they were before. The Greece in which me met, the temple, will be gone. It will gone more completely  even more than the ruined remains of your own time. It will be gone almost without trace. It will be gone, except for the records in our libraries. Europe too will be gone, so will the great Plain of Glass. It will only be this zone here that will remain.

Sinclair attempts to explain to Dick  what has happened, that their lives have forked in two directions:

There’s no connexion between them. You’re either in the one or in the other. It’s the sequence all over again. Whichever one you’re in you never know of the other. In this sequence you can never know what happened when you returned to Los Angeles. In that other sequence you can never know even a single thing about this one. The two are utterly separated. In the other sequence neither you and I will know about the future…

Sinclair  decides to leave,  as does Dick, but then  changes his mind at the last minute and decides to stay in the future. Two years later he reflects:

The prognostications were correct. Within a few hours of the departure of John Sinclair, the world reverted to ‘normal’.  The England of 1966,  the Europe of 1917, the Greece of 425  BC, all vanished just as remarkably as they had appeared. I have not seen John again, nor do I think there is the smallest possibility I will ever do so…More and more the old life has become vague and remote, like the memories of distant  childhood. This gradual evaporation of a life which at one time was so intensely vibrant has come upon me with profound sadness…I have no doubt now that it was the real John Sinclair who was sent out from here – into oblivion. The irony and tragedy is that to the two of us it was the world of 1966 that was the real cul-de-sac.

This is first and foremost a  novel of ideas and possibilities.  Hoyle is not a great writer, his prose is often pedestrian,  and  we never feel particularly  engaged with the characters, in fact I found Richard rather smug and self-obsessed.  As a character  Melea is present mainly  for sex interest. The  central  conceit of a world of different time zones is what  holds your  interest  and keeps you reading, waiting for an explanation,  although in the end  we never get a definitive answer  to the mystery, we never learn who is behind this  experiment.  Also  Hoyle has a habit of bringing the narrative to a shuddering halt while his characters  engage in pages of philosophical  or scientific discussion: at times it does feel  rather like a lecture series disguised as a novel.

The War Games

One final point. In 1969 Malcolm Hulke and Terance  Dicks wrote in great haste  a ten part serial for Doctor Who called “The War Games”. In this serial 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.” But  then  they discover that other wars from history such the Roman invasion of Britain, the Mexican Revolution and the American Civil War are taking place in different zones.  They are not on Earth at all, but on another planet where the war games are being run by an alien race so that they can create an invincible army to conquer the galaxy, assisted by a renegade Time Lord, the War Chief.

There are some intriguing similarites between October the First is Too Late and “The War Games”; the idea of co-existing time zones, one of which is the First World War.  It may be  that either Hulke or Dicks had read the novel,  and  that some of Hoyle’s notions fed  into their pool of ideas for writing the Doctor Who serial.

You can read my post about  Malcolm Hulke here.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who and the Communist: The work and politics of Malcolm Hulke

Malcolm Hulke

Introduction

Malcolm Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television and the theatre from the 1950s to the late 1970s. For television his work included episodes for Armchair Theatre, The Avengers, and  Doctor Who, for which he is best remembered. My interest in Malcolm was sparked by coming across a pamphlet he wrote for Unity Theatre in the collection of the Working Class Movement Library. I already knew of him as a writer on Doctor Who and thought I would do some research on him, which  was published as a guest post  on the Lipstick Socialist blog in February 2013. I then forgot about it until Five Leaves Press approached me in December 2014,  wishing  to publish the post  as a pamphlet,  so I revised and expanded the article,   and this was published  in January 2015.

Malcolm was generally  known by friends and family as Mac, so that’s what I will call him from now on in this post. Whilst it was known that Mac was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) for some time, 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 and puzzled me as the CPGB has been  heavily researched and written about over the last 20 years or so.

In  September 2015  Doctor Who Magazine  published an  excellent article about Mac written  by John Williams,   who had  managed to find out a good deal about Mac’s time in the party by examining his M15 file,  which had been released into the National Archives in October 2014.  John’s work has been invaluable in adding to what is known about Mac,  and I would like to acknowledge my debt to him in preparing this revised and updated  article.

Early Life 

Mac was born on 21 November 1924. When he became known as a writer,  he gave away very little about his personal life, except that he revealed that he was “illegitimate” (as it used to be called) in an article he wrote entitled “The stigma you can never escape” which appeared in The Observer on 14 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…We are the totally silent minority.

In 1964 he took part in a radio documentary on this issue called Born Out of Wedlock, made by Tony Parker. Mac says of this:

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.

Whilst  wary of  the modern trait of psycho-analysing a writer’s work solely in terms of their personal experiences,  I think it could be argued  that  one of the themes of Mac’s work is secrecy, deception  and illusion. As the Doctor says in “The Faceless Ones,” :”You don’t want to believe everything you see, Jamie.”

Le drapeau de la victoireWhen the Second World War broke out he was living in the lakes with his mother, Marian, and her companion, Winifred Boot.   Marian died in 1943,  and Mac was conscripted into the Royal  Navy after failing in an attempt to be registered as a Conscientious Objector.  He joined the CPGB in June  1945,  not, as he later wrote, because he knew anything about Marxism, but because he had “just met lot of Russian POWs in Norway, because the Soviet army had just then rolled back the Germans.”

Directed by Moscow, the CPGB had opposed the war because Stalin  had done a deal with Hitler in August  1939 not to attack each other, but after Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the party swung fully behind the war, its members setting up Anglo-Soviet Friendship Societies  and playing a leading role in committees to increase productivity in factories. The party gained a great deal of prestige when the Red Army held Hitler’s armies at  Moscow  and then  drove them all the way back to Berlin.

Mac and the Communist party

British road to socialismAfter the war Mac  not only discovered that he was illegitimate (as noted above) but also that he did not have a birth certificate and therefore had to apply for naturalisation.  His membership of the CPGB led M15 to open a file on him from 1949 owards. By now he was living in Marylebone, London,  and for a time worked as a typist  at the CPGB’s headquarters in King Street, Covent Garden, but was sacked after the party discovered  he had phoned  the Home Office from King Street to enquire about his application for naturalisation.

Mac moved back to the Lake District for several years,  but remained a member of the party,  although doubts had set in. In letter to Emile Burns,  who was head of the party’s  Cultural Committee set up in 1947 , Mac wrote:

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 be to realise that most people regard politics as not much more important than football pools or going to the pictures.

In 1951 he wrote to the District Secretary to announce that  he intended to leave the party,  citing as a reason  the CPGB’s  hostility to the Yougoslavian Communist leader  Tito (who had broken with Stalin in 1948),  and also its line on the Korean War. It seems that,  whilst believing in  Communism as an idea, he was less enamoured of  actual Communists. He wrote:

Once a man starts wanting to believe in a thing, it’s just about time he really set about some deep thinking…Could it be that Communism is a wonderful idea but that its philosophy is inherited with some not easily definable something that, at least, in present, day society, , tends rather to gather to itself mentalities of a not wholly desirable type?…And if that is the case, and if Communism, managed to gain control in this country, just what sort of people would we expect to find governing us?

M15’s monitoring of the party was  very efficient,  for just a day after Mac had  resigned a letter was sent by Sir Percy Sillitoe, Director-General of M15, to the police in Cumberland  advising them of Mac’s decision. Superintendent Baum responded that he suspected the resignation was a trick: “he should continue to receive every attention, as in my view he is a dangerous man and without scruples.

In September 1951 Mac returned to London,  and almost immediately re-applied to join the party. His application was handled by Betty Reid, head of the organisation department. Mac wrote to her  explaining that he had  found it “impossible to think other than  as a Communist “ and that his future aspiration ”was to hold a party card and …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 seems an  odd thing to write if you are seriously  hoping to be  re-admitted.

Mac’s involvement with the Notting Hill Progressive and Cultural Club,   an arts venue run by local party members,  but looked upon with deep suspicion by more puritanical elements of the party, including Betty, led to  his application being rejected. He carried on badgering the party to let him back,  citing his involvement in “squatting, the Savoy picketing, the British-Soviet Society, the 1950 General Election” and telling Betty” I cannot accept your attitude as correct, justified, fair or constructive” which again  doesn’t seem very tactful. In the end the party reluctantly let him back in,  but he was still being closely monitored by both the police and M15 as he moved from flat to flat around London and ended up lodging at the Notting Hill Progressive  and Cultural Club.

Betty Reid retained her suspicions of Mac. In 1953 he wrote to Sam Aaronovitch, then full-time Secretary of the party’s Cultural Committee asking for extra work for the party.  M15 recorded Reid asking Aaronovitch to “help put Hulke off.” Mac remained in the party after 1956 when something like a quarter of its members  left after the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising by Soviet tanks. He seems to have  either left or lapsed from the party in the late 1960s, perhaps when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.  His M15 file after 1962 has yet to be released.

Unity Theatre

unity-2In the 1950s and 1960s Malcolm was very involved with the socialist theatre company, Unity Theatre. Colin Chambers, who has written the history of Unity, says:

The theatre 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. Yes, 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.

Here Is DramaIn 1954 Malcolm was listed in the annual Unity report as the production manager. In 1961, to mark the 25th anniversary of the company, he devised, edited and produced a booklet here is drama- behind the scenes at Unity theatre. He stresses that almost all jobs at Unity “can be done, and are done, equally well and equally badly by women as well as men” and ends the pamphlet thus:

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.

He 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,  and did write a number of plays for the company such as The Rosenbergs (1953), Turn It Up (1953) and World On Edge (1956). In 1962 Mac became Treasurer of the  Unity Theatre Trust

Mac’s early work on television

Mac began working with Eric Paice, writing for the new medium of television where there was an increasing demand for drama, both on the BBC and, after 1955, on its rival, ITV. Their first success was  “This Day in Fear”, rejected by ITV but then taken up by the BBC, and broadcast on 1 July 1958 in the series Television Playwright. 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.”

Armchair TheatreThey wrote four plays for Armchair Theatre,  a series was launched in 1956 by Howard Thomas, head of ABC, which had the franchise for the weekend for the Midlands and the North until 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.”

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 had  been Head of Drama at the Canadian Broadcasting Company

Newman produced 152 episodes of Armchair Theatre.  Many writers cut their teeth on the series. The programme went out on Sunday evenings: the viewings figures  often reached 12 million. Mac and Eric’s plays for Armchair Theatre were “The Criminals”, “The Big Client”, “The Great Bullion Robbery”, and  “The Girl in the Market Square.” Their other work at this time included three episodes for  Gert and Daisy, a comedy series starring Elsie and Doris Waters;  an episode for a series called Tell It to the Marines; and an episode for the police series No Hiding Place.

Malcolm and Eric also wrote the scripts for two films:  Life in Danger, released in 1959 by Butchers Films (who made many “B movies” in the 1950s and 1960s), and  The Man in the Back Seat,  released in June 1961 by Independent Artists Studio.

Pathfinders in Space
Sydney Newman commissioned Mac and Eric to write a children’s science fiction serial for ABC, Target Luna, which was broadcast in April and May 1960. 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,  who have  come to spend the holidays with him become involved in the project with  Little Jimmy being launched  into space to replace a sick astronaut. Geoffrey, incidentally, was played by Michael Craze who in 1966 joined the cast of Doctor Who in the serial “The War Machines”,  playing the companion Ben Jackson, a sailor.

Hulke 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.”

PathfindersThis was a success with the public and Newman commissioned three sequels: Pathfinders in Space, Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus, which aired between September 1960 and March 1961. The cast was completely revamped with new actors playing both the main roles and the children. 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 story lines,  was a predecessor to Doctor Who.

 

The Avengers
Patrick Macnee and Honor BlackmanMalcolm’s connection with Sydney Newman continued when he wrote nine episodes for the cult TV series The Avengers, which Sydney created for ABC in 1961. Howard Thomas, head of ABC,  suggested to Newman  that as the percentage of  realistic  and gloomy drama  increased, their schedules  needed balancing with something more lighthearted and sophisticated, something like The Thin Man films of the 1930s, for instance.   The Avengers originally starred Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel and  Patrick MacNee as John Steed, a shadowy character linked to the security services.   It ran until 1969 and  evolved over the decade from a crime and spy thriller to a stylish fantasy series, which combined English eccentricity with elements of Swinging London. After Hendry left at the end  of the first season, Patrick  MacNee took the lead,  whilst his partners in the nefarious  investigations were in order of appearance;  Julie Stevens playing Venus Smith; Honor Blackman playing Cathy Gale: Diana Rigg playing  Emma Peel; and Linda Thorson  playing  Tara King.

Of these nine episodes Mac co-wrote four episodes with Terrance Dicks, whom he got to know when Terrance rented a room in his house and whom Mac asked for help with writing the scripts when he learnt  that Terrance, an advertising copywriter, was very keen to write for television. In many interviews Terrance has acknowledged the influence of Malcolm  on his career, describing him as his mentor. In 1968, after a spell on Crossroads, Terrance  became assistant script editor on Doctor Who and about year later, the chief script editor.

Mac’s life had stabilised. He was now  lodging in the house of Betty Tate, a widow and fellow CPGB member who had three daughters. She had read history at Oxford in the early 1930s and joined the party. She married George Tate, who was a historian and journalist at the Daily Worker. George died in 1956,  which is why I imagine Betty started taking in lodgers. Mac helped out with her party activities, writing pamphlets for the Socialist Sunday School, selling the Daily Worker, and running fundraising bazaars. Then his mother’s friend Winifred Boot moved to London and she and Mac bought a house round the corner from Betty Tate which they set up as  a lodging house,  with Mac acted as landlord and general handyman. This is where Terrance Dicks lodged,  as mentioned above.

His career was taking off. 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 back in his lovely car, with the heater on. I wish your mother had lived to see his success.

The six  part serial was for a new Saturday early evening show called Doctor Who.

The origins of Doctor Who
Sydney Newman’s  success on ITV led him to being poached by the BBC, who offered a job as Head of Drama: he  started work in January 1963. Looking back 20 years later, when interviewed for a BBC oral history project, he described what he found at the BBC.

The material didn’t really cater to what I assumed to be the mass British audience. It was still the attitude that BBC drama was still catering to the highly educated, cultured class rather than the mass audience which was not aware of culture as such . But above all I felt that the dramas really weren’t speaking about common everyday things…” 

They needed to come up with a new series for was the late afternoon slot at 5:15 between the end of the afternoon sports programme Grandstand and the start of  Juke Box Jury. 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 EveThe_Cast_and_Verity Massacre of 1572  (an extraordinary subject for a tea-time children’s serial, although no actual killings were shown).

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 being offered, often as an army sergeant. Verity had been  impressed by his part in a recent British film This Sporting Life.

 

The First Doctor 1963 – 1966

Unearthly childThe first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on 23 November 1963, “An Unearthly Child” which set the scene, introducing the mysterous 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 ignorance on others. They follow her a to junkyard at 76 Totters Lane and burst into what seems to  be a police-box,  but  is in  fact a space and time machine, the Tardis, as Susan has called it.  The Doctor sets the machine in motion.

In December 1963 Malcolm was commissioned to write a six part serial called “The Hidden Planet” and produced a number of scripts, but in the end, despite several rewrites, it was not proceeded with.

Mac later recalled:

“The Hidden Planet” 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. 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.

In an interview  Mac said that the success of the Daleks changed the nature of the show,  and it was felt that his serial would not  now fit in.

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.

“The Tenth Planet” was William Hartnell’s last serial.  He had been suffering from ill-health and in those days Doctor Who was produced  for 40 weeks a year,  so it was a relentless work schedule. Rather than lose the programme,  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, Pat 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.

The Second Doctor 1966 – 1969

The Faceless OnesIt was in this new era that Mac’s first serial for Doctor Who was broadcast in April 1967. this was   “The Faceless Ones”, written with David Ellis, whom he had started working with after meeting him at a party. The Doctor and his companions – Ben, Polly and Jamie – land at Gatwick airport and discover 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. They masquerade as an airline called “Chameleon Tours” whose  aircraft go into space to rendezvous with the alien’s satellite. The Doctor defeats them in the end, of course. Sadly only two episodes have survived of the serial. In tone this  serial  feels similar to an episode of The Avengers.

Malcolm next contribution to Doctor Who was “The War Games”, written with Terrance Dicks, and broadcast between April and June 1969, lasting an epic ten episodes, one of the longest  Doctor  Who serials ever made. It was written at haste, because, as Terrance admits in interviews, they had run out of scripts and needed something very urgently. He brought in his old 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,  and so Terrance and Mac  had to find a way of changing the Doctor,  but leaving  it in the air as to who the next Doctor was to be as Jon Pertwee had not been cast yet.

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.” But  then  they discover that other wars from history such the Roman invasion of Britain, the Mexican Revolution and the American Civil War are taking place in different zones.  They are not on Earth at all, but on another planet where the war games are being run by an alien race so that they can create an invincible army to conquer The War Gamesthe galaxy, assisted by a renegade Time Lord, the War Chief.

The Doctor, his companions and a motley army of  rebels from different zones defeat the aliens,  but the Doctor  then has to summon the Time Lords, an idea that Terrance and Mac came up with. They put him on trial for interfering on his travels and not standing aloof. The Doctor defends himself :”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!” The Time Lords accept his plea,  but exile him to Earth with a new identity.

In this story Mac and Terrance show war as violent, brutal  and pointless, controlled by ruthless leaders who place no value on human life whatsoever 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 serial seems to draw on Peter Watkins’ drama documentary about a nuclear attack on Britain The War Game and also Joan Littlewood’s theatre show Oh What A Lovely War. 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 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. Its my personal favourite of Mac’s serials for Doctor Who.

The Third Doctor 1970-1974
Doctor Who was re-born 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 producers of the series 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, who had first appeared as a regular army officer in “The Web of Fear”.

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. (You can still hear him on Radio Four Extra in 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 new series was filmed in colour which allowed a whole new look, although it was not without problems when the screen showed less than convincing monsters.

Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks

Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks

Mac contributed six serials in this era, serials which often had a political dimension. Terrance Dicks says:”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.” Barry Letts concurs: “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.”

Mac himself said of Doctor Who: “It’s a very political show. Remember what politics refers to, it refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right…so all Doctor Who’s are political, even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people.”

“The Silurians”, broadcast January-March 1970
the SiluriansUNIT 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. The Doctor discovers that 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 woken up. 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 within.

Mac says he was asked to do something in caves and that in science fiction there are only two stories. ”They came to us or we go to them and I thought, they come to us but they’ve always been here”.He  explores a number of themes in this serial, including the threat posed by unfettered scientific research, relationships between races and the military mind-set which believes that violence can solve all problems. 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  it“what do you people want, how can we help you, unless you tell me what you want the humans will destroy you.

In the end his efforts end in failure when the Brigadier orders the destruction of the Silurians’ base. The Doctor says : “…that’s murder. They were intelligent alien beings. A whole race of them. And he’s just wiped them out”.  Mac gives the Doctor’s companion, Dr Liz Shaw (Caroline John) some  good lines. 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 beginning to make its voice heard.

“The Ambassadors of Death”, broadcast March– May 1970
The Ambassadors of DeathThis was originally written for Patrick Troughton by David Whitaker and then had to be rewritten for Jon Pertwee. Mac inherited the script after David Whitaker had given up on it. The serial very much harks back to the first Quatermass serial of 1953 with its storyline of  astronauts from a British space expedition to Mars who vanish as they return home. Instead three alien ambassadors land on Earth and are kidnapped by a cabal of politicians and military men, who force them to carry out a series of robberies. The Doctor and Dr Liz Shaw eventually defeat Carrington. the leader of the conspiracy,  rescue the aliens and avert a war. This theme  of an establishment conspiracy occurs in a number of Malcolm’s serials. Another theme in “Ambassadors” is paranioa about aliens, fear of the Other.

It’s probably my least favourite of Mac’s work and I don’t think it  overcomes the problems of the storyline,  although it is enlivened by some of the set piece action sequences with the stunt company Havoc,  and also a 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.

“Colony in Space”, broadcast April-May 1971
Colony in SpaceIn this serial The Master steals information about a Doomsday weapon which could destroy the universe. The Time Lords pluck the Doctor out of exile on Earth and send him into space to stop him. He and his companion, Jo Grant, arrive 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, 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 leader of the mining expedition, Dent,  states that “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.” The Doctor responds, ” 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.” 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.

The Sea Devils”, broadcast February-April 1972.

This serial brought back the Silurians, this time under the ocean  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 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. Finally, the Doctor defeats the Master while  the Sea Devils’ base is destroyed.

The storyline echoes the first Silurian story with attempts by the Doctor  to reconcile the two races

 

ultimately failing and ending in violence.  A key scene occurs in the Sea Devils base when the Doctor  argues for peace, a typical piece of writing by Mac.

DOCTOR: Your people went into hibernation and abandoned Earth to its fate.
SEA DEVIL: Our astronomers predicted that a great catastrophe would end all life on the face of the Earth.
DOCTOR: Yes, but the catastrophe that you predicted never happened. And the apes that you left behind on the surface to die became man.
SEA DEVIL: You know our history?
DOCTOR: Yes. Yes, I’ve encountered your people before. That is why I want to prevent a conflict that can only end in your destruction.
SEA DEVIL: We shall destroy man and reclaim the planet. Already we have begun to sink his ships.
DOCTOR: Yes, and already more ships are being sent to hunt you down.
SEA DEVIL: The submarine? We have captured it.
DOCTOR: You may win a few victories to begin with but eventually you’re bound to lose.
SEA DEVIL: There are many thousands of our people in hibernation in this base. We have other colonies hidden all round the world. We shall be the victors in the war against mankind.
DOCTOR: But there’s no need for a war. Why can’t you share the planet?
SEA DEVIL: That would be impossible.
DOCTOR: The depths of the sea and those areas on Earth where man cannot live can be yours.
SEA DEVIL: And man would agree to that?
DOCTOR: There’s a chance. Wouldn’t it be better to try for a peace, than to launch yourself into a war that you cannot possibly win?
SEA DEVIL: I will consider what you have said.
DOCTOR: Let me return to the humans, and I will endeavour to make a peace for you.
SEA DEVIL: Perhaps it would be possible.

 

“Frontier in Space”, broadcast February – March 1973
Frontier in SpaceThe Doctor and Jo land in the C26th where the Earth and the Draconian Empire are on the verge of war after a series of attacks 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 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.

This storyline is surely shaped by the Cold War when the United States and its allies confronted the Soviet Union and its allies. Both sides possessed vast arsenals of weapons, including nuclear weapons, and,  on a number of occasions,  came very near to war. The Doctor tells the Draconian Emperor:”..fear breeds hatred, your Majesty. Fear is the greatest enemy of them all, for fear leads us to war.” Mac shows how mutual suspicions can be manipulated, but also that they can be overcome.

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 spacewalk at one point.

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 held in the Lunar Penal Colony. Finally I love  the line that  Mac gives to one of the Draconians: “The ways of the Earthmen are devious. They’re an inscrutable species.

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, broadcast January-February 1974

Invasion of the DinosaursMac’s brief was to come up with a story showing dinosaurs wandering around  London.

The Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Lis Sladen), land in a deserted London placed under martial law and learn  that dinosaurs have re-appeared, forcing the evacuation of the population. 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 are 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.

This was perhaps Malcolm’s most openly political storyline, which can be seen as a critique of some elements of the environmental movement of the 1970s, who believed that industrial society was killing the planet,  and that only a revolutionary change in society and its forms of production would suffice.

Captain Yates 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.” The Doctor counters by saying, “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…Its not the oil and the filth and the poisonous chemicals that are the real causes of the pollution…Its simply greed

Mac says of this serial: “Sometimes people with very good, altruistic ideas can overlook the main issue, that’s really want the message was.” You could perhaps  also interpret this as a critique of the Communist  Party sealing itself  off  against reality.

Jon Pertwee left in 1974 to be  replaced by the then unknown actor Tom Baker who went on to play the Doctor  for seven  years. Philip Hinchliffe 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.   Mac wasn’t asked to write for the show again.

The Making of Doctor Who,  Target’s Doctor Who novels and other books
Making of Doctor WhoAs we have seen from his pamphlet on Unity, Mac had a strong interest in explaining how drama was produced. 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.”

The book looks back to how Doctor Who was  started and developed, as well providing a précis of all the episodes up that point. It also explains in a straightforward way how the show is produced and filmed. Nowadays this kind of information is instantly available on the internet, whilst “Making of” programmes, such the sadly missed Doctor Who Confidential, lay bare the production techniques. In the predigital age, however, the book was groundbreaking and was seized on  by fans,  keen to know more about their favourite television programme.

The popularity of Doctor Who led to the publication of novels based on the TV serials, beginning with Doctor Who and The Daleks, written by David Whittaker, which appeared in 1964, published by Frederick Mueller. In  1973 Target books began publishinga new series of   Doctor Who novels, many of them written by the original scriptwriters. Mac wrote seven novels for Target, six of which were based on his own work, the other one was The Green Death,  written by Robert Sloman. The two remaining stories he  had written for the series,   “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Faceless Ones”,  were turned into novels by 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 you don’t do very long scenes, especially in show for younger viewers, 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… so you start each chapter with “Meanwhile…. “ Also when you have a book to write you suddenly realise you think can make this better…

Malcolm’s Doctor Who novels are more than just a straight retelling of the story using the original script. He often adds in extra scenes or references, sometimes alters the plot, and awards even minor characters a backstory and character. In The Cave Monsters, for instance, he gives the Silurians personal names eg  Okdel and begins with a prologue showing the intelligent reptiles bidding farewell to their world as they enter the shelters. In The War Games he adds the following scene:

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”.

Interviewed for On Target , a special feature on the DVD release of “The War Games”, writer Gary Russell, says of Mac:

Doctor-Who-The-Doomsday-Weapon-hardback-bookThe 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, writes 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 (which was based on “Colony in Space”) by his mum. He says,  “She approved of Hulke because she knew him through the party…which outweighed the fact that it was  science fiction – a genre she despised.”

Mac wrote another book Writing for Televison, published in 1974. In this he drew on twenty years of writing experience to explain the craft involved and also gives practical advice on the industry such as the need to get an agent. He naturally encouraged young writers to join the union, the Writers Guild of Great Britain. The book includes a number of examples of scripts, including an extract from the Doctor Who serial “Carnival of Monsters”, written by Robert Holmes, with a comment from Robert in which he says:

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.

Mac’s other work

In 1972 Mac  was the  script supervisor on a series called Spyder’s Web, produced by ATV, which starred Anthony Ainley (later to play The Master in Doctor Who), Veronica Carlson and Patricia Cutts. 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 Robert Holmes, incidentally, who wrote many scripts for Doctor Who.

Mac wrote six episodes for Crossroads between 1972 and 1974. This 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 increasingly improbable story lines.

CrossroadsIn Writing for Television Mac  explains that to cope with the volume of output required, there is a storyliner and four writers who are assigned scenes. He quotes 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.

Ronald Allen, who appeared in “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Dominators”, was a regular  actor in Crossroads. Mac write several Crossroads novels, by the way.
Remembering Mac…
Malcolm died on 6 July 1979. Terrance Dicks recalls that, as a convinced atheist, he 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 final word must surely go to Terrance.  he 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, fopsfblog@gmail.

 

 

 

 

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

Triffids front cover

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” This is the arresting first sentence  of  The Day of the Triffids, the novel  which made John Wyndham’s name as a science fiction writer and  which has remained in print  ever since its  first publication in 1951.

Wyndham was born in 1903: his full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris!  He had a public school education, including  a period  spent at the liberal school,  Bedales. He tried his hand at a number of professions before turning (like many a down at heel young person)  to writing.  By the early  1930s he was making a living selling science fiction stories to American  magazines such as Amazing Stories, under the pen names of John Beynon,  John Lucas Harris and Lucas Parkes. In 1933  his short story “The Puff-Ball Menace” was published in Wonder Stories,  in which  an enemy  country plants a fungus in Britain which breeds rapidly  and is fatal. He also wrote a  novel Planet Plane which was set on Mars. Its fair to say that none of his work was noticed by the general public.

After serving in the army during the Second  World War he went back to writing, now using a new  pen name  “John Wyndham”  and had his first success with The Day of the Triffids.

John Duttine as Bill Masen

Bill Masen (John Duttine) in 1981 TV adapatation

The narrator is Bill Masen  whom we find at the start of the novel in hospital,   having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages.  He calls repeatedly,  but nobody comes.  Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. He rescues a young woman, Josella Playton, and they  meet up with a group of other survivors, led by Michael Beadley, who  plan to leave London and set up in the countryside. Before they can do do so Bill and Josella are separated, captured by another group of survivors, led by a man called Coker.  Bill is forced  to lead a group of blinded people, finding food for them,  until he frees  himself when they die from a form of  plague. Bill teams up with Coker for a time, seeking Josella,  but they part when  Bill  heads off to Surrey looking for a farm house mentioned by her. On the way he rescues a young sighted girl, Susan, and eventually  they find Josella and her friends, who are blind. They survive by farming,  but are menaced by the triffids, a  plant which  mysteriously appeared around the planet some decades  before. It  was bred for its oil,  but can walk on three stalks and kill with a poisoned lash.

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

After six years the small group is found by a helicopter from the Isle of Wight,  where Coker and  Beadley have established a colony. They plan to go there,  but are  then found by another group, a para-military outfit from Brighton, who plan to turn the farm into a feudal-type seigneury. Bill, Josella  and the others get them drunk and successfully make their escape as the triffids pour into the farm.  The book ends with Bill completing his memoir:

” We think now we can see  the way, but there is still a lot of work  and research to be done before the day that we, or our children, or their children, will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back  and back with ceaseless destruction until we have wiped the last one of them from the face of the land that they have usurped.”

The novel’s  opening grips the reader with its vivid scenes of a London where most people have gone blind, and which quickly descends into  violence  and chaos.  This  is not a sentimental read:  a number cannot face a future without sight and kill  themselves,  while others try and capture a sighted person to act as the guide. This is what has happened to Josella until Bill frees her.  Some can cope. I  like the little vignette  of Bill encountering a blind man who, when he learns what has happened , gives a short, bitter laugh and says “They’ll be be needing all their damned patronage for themselves now,”  and sets off again “with an exaggerated air of independence.

Having set out  the  opening scenes Wyndham goes back  into past to explain the presence of the triffids which, he suggests,  were developed behind  the Iron Curtain for their oil,  but then scattered around the world when a plane was shot down in which a man  was trying to smuggle the seeds  to a company in the West. As a young boy  Bill was nearly killed by one that grew in his garden, but then went on to work with them, which is why he is wary of them from the beginning of the novel unlike others.  He is proved right when the triffids escape from the farms and began  killing the now defenceless humans.

In  Wyndham’s  novels   his male leads, whilst  decent and  resourceful in the face of crisis,  are never   the smartest people in the room.  Josella is  sharper  on the uptake than  Bill;  Walter – his   work colleague at the triffid farm – theorises that  that the plants are using their rattling stalks to communicate (something Bill has never  noticed) telling him, “there’s certainly intelligence there,  of a kind.”;  Michael Beadley points that the world they knew has gone and will never return; Susan,  when grown up at the farm in Surrey, points out that the triffids respond to noise and can act in concert by massing together. Bill is given one  insight  when, towards the end of the novel,  he suggest that the blindness was not a natural phenomenenon,  but  caused by a satellite  weapon which had been accidentally triggered.  Wyndham did not invent the idea of satellites orbiting the earth,  but he was one of the first writers  to suggest their potential as weapons.

Whilst the 1950s has come to be viewed as era of   peace and stability,  this is far  from the truth.  The Second World War had devastated  much of Europe as cities were bombed and burned,  whilst millions died in extermination camps. This was followed by the Cold War  in which both sides stockpiled nuclear weapons: the threat of another, even more destructive war, seemed very real.  Wyndham gives a key speech to Michael Beadley,  near  the beginning of the book,  which sums this up: “From 6 August 1945, the margin of survival has narrowed appallingly. Indeed, two days ago, it was narrower than it is at the moment. If you need to dramatize, you could well take for your material the years succeeding 1945 when the path of safety started to shrink to a tight-rope along which we had to walk with our eyes deliberately closed to the depths beneath us.”  Society, Wyndham suggests, is  so fragile it  could vanish  overnight.  Bill suggests to Josella later in the novel: “You remember  what Michael Beadley said about the tightrope we’ve been walking on for years….Well,  I think what happened was that we came off it – and that a few of us just managed to survive the crash.”

still from 2009 TV version

a still from 2009 TV version

Amidst his vivid depiction of the end  of the world,  Wyndham finds time for some social satire. At  the meeting chaired by Michael Beadley at the University, a Dr Vorless, a Professor of Sociology, shocks some of  the audience when he tells them  that conventional social morality is dead and that in order to survive, “The men must work and the women have babies…In our new world, then, babies become very much more important than husbands.” He suggests men should have three partners, one sighted, two blind. Bill is  taken  aback,  but Josella  reassures him, “You won’t need to worry at, all, my dear,  I shall choose two nice, sensible girls.”Oh“,  says Bill.

Wyndham gives a misogynist speech  to  Coker  who,  after  he and Bill have  made  their way a manor house  being used  as a refuge by survivors,   discovers that they are using candles. He  gets a plant going to provide electricity, but then  rails against a young woman: “You know perfectly well that women  can and do  – or rather did – handle the most complicated and delicate machines when  they took the trouble to understand them. What generally happens is that they’re too busy to take the trouble unless they have to. Why should they bother when the tradition of appealing helplessness can be rationalized as a womanly virtue – and the job just shoved off on to somebody else? …Men  have played up to it by stoutly repairing the poor darling’s vacuum cleaner, and capably replacing  the blown fuse. The whole charade has been accepatable to both parties.” This  feels like somehing said by a travelling commercial agent after several gins in the saloon bar of a Tudorbethan pub in Surrey. Did Wyndham personally  believe this  or did he wish to define Coker’s character more strongly?

John Wyndham

John Wyndham

Wyndham was interviewed on the Tonight programme on 6  September 1961. He said, “what one starts with is the theme, and then you work it out to the logical conclusion as far as possible…The upper limit of sheer invention is what is acceptable to the public whom you are hoping to please, whose attention you are hoping to keep.  Somebody once said that  the heart of fantasy is the willing suspension of disbelief. But you must not go beyond a certain barrier,   if you can find it, in which that willing suspension is shattered.” He explained  that the idea for the triffids came one night when he was walking along a dark lane in the country: “the hedges were only just distinguishable against the sky and the higher things sticking up from the hedges became rather menacing, one felt that they  might come over  and strike down or sting at you. The whole thing eventually grew out of that.” You can watch the  whole interview  here.

Overall The Day of the Triffids certainly stands the test of time as a well-plotted and  imaginative read. It sold very well and was followed by a number of other successful novels that I will be looking at in future posts.

Barbara Shelley

                     Barbara Shelley

The book was adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service  in July 1953. In 1960 the  BBC  broadcast  another adaptation, written  by  Giles Cooper,   with Patrick Barr as Bill and Monica Gray  as Josella.  Another version was broadcast  in 1968, also written by Giles Cooper, with Gary Watson as Bill and Barbara  Shelley as Josella. You can listen to both versions here . The 1968 version has music created  by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidentally, Barbara Shelley appeared in a number of films,  including  The Village of the Damned (1960) (an  adapation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos) , the film version of  Quatermass and the Pit (1968),  and also on television in  The Avengers‘ episode “From Venus with Love” (1967) (in which Jon Pertwee also  appeared).

An adaptation by Lance Dann in two 45-minute episodes for the BBC World Service was first broadcast on 8 and 22 September 2001. It was directed by Rosalind Ward , and the cast included Jamie Glover as Bill and Tracy Ann Oberman as Josella.

You also can listen  to the book being read by Roger May   in 17 episodes  here

In 1962 The Day of the Triffids was filmed with Howard  Keel and Jannete Scott  in the main roles,  while Carole Ann Ford had a small part( later to play Susan in Doctor Who in 1963). It’s not very good,  but if you feel you must,  you can watch it here.  In 1974 a triffid, presumably left over from the film, was amongst the props offered for sale in a huge clear-out at Shepperton Studios.

In 1981 the BBC broadcast a six part  adaptation,   written by Douglas Livingstone,  produced by David Maloney and directed by Ken Hannam. It starred  John Duttine as Bill and  Emma Relph as Josella. It been  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good, but you can judge for yourselves  by  watching  it on Daily Motion, beginning here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achived a measure of fame.

Finally there is whole website devoted to the book:  The Readers Guide to Day of the Triffids.

Review

“John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids writes a Wellsian fantasy and raises up a truly sinister vegetable for the chastisement  of mankind. He has imagination and wit, but to the averagely bedevilled awareness, his use of them here may seem mal a propos”. Paul Bloomfield,  The Guardian,  24 August 1951, p. 4.

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

In my next post I will be looking at The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1910)

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

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

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

Producer: John Elliot   Directors:  John Elliot and John Knight

Andromeda Breakthrough

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

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

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

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

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

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

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

Mlle Gamboule

Mlle Gamboule (Claude Farell)

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

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

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

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

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

Dawnay and Fleming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

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

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

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

This series is available on Daily Motion.

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

Reviews in the press

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

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

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

Where else have I seen them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Front RT A for Andromefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine (Julie Christie)

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

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

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

Judy Adamson and John Fleming

Judy Adamson and John Fleming

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

Andre (Julie Christie) and Fleming (Peter Halliday)

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

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

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

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

In terms of the history of science fiction on television A for Andromeda  clearly follows on from the three  Quatermass series of the 1950s and points the way towards Out of the Unknown, four series of science  fiction stories   broadcast by the BBC  between 1965 and 1971, and also  series such as R3  (1964) and   Undermind (1965).

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

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

A for Andromeda novel

John Elliot wrote a novel of A for Andromeda,  based on his scripts, which was published by Souvenir Press in February 1962 and sold well. It has been republished several times since. Elliot did much more than reproduce the script:  he added charcertisation,  incident and detail and it stands up extremely  well as a novel in its own right. This is an extract from when Andromeda first communicates with the computer:

She went reluctantly, her face strained and set. When she reache the panel, she stood there,  a terminal a few inches from each side of her head., and the lights began flashing faster. The room was full of the hum of the computer’s equipment. Slowly, without being told , she put her hands up towards. the plates… As the girl’s hands touched the metal plates, she shivered. She stood with her face blank, as if entranced, and then she let go and swayed unsteadily….”It speaks to me,” said the girl. “It knows about me.”

In 1971 the Italian television company RAI made their own  version, A Come Andromeda, which  followed  the original version very closely, even keeping the English names of the characters.  If you have good Italian (there are no subtitles), you can watch it here.

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

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

You can watch episode 6 of A for Andromeda  on Daily Motion.

Reviews in the press

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

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

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

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

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

Where else have I seen them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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