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Out of the Unknown, series 1, episode 12. The Midas Plague by Frederick Pohl, December 1965.

“The Midas Plague” was broadcast by the BBC on 20th December 1965.

Cast: Morrey Anderson – Graham Stark, Edwina – Anne Lawson, Fred – Sam Kydd, Sir John – John Barron, Wainwright – Victor Brooks, Judge  – A J Brown, Analyst- David Nettheim,  Henry- Anthony Dawes, Gideon – Graham Lines and Revolution leader – David Blake Kelly.

Script: Troy Kennedy Martin. Director: Peter Sasdy.  Producer and Story Editor: Irene Shubik

Special Sound: BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidental music: Max Harris.

This episode  is a comic  satire on the consumer society.  Based on a short story written by  Frederick Pohl in 1954,   it follows  in the vein of his most well-known novel The Space Merchants (1952), also  a satire on consumerism, which was set  in a  future in which advertising  relentlessly sells pointless products  to the public, including the idea of a colony on Venus.  

Pohl was clearly  extrapolating  from the post-war consumer society he saw developing in the USA, particularly  through the advertising on television of  the new consumer products pouring off the production lines and the creation of brand loyalty though the relentless repetition of  slogans and images.  (Vance Packard analysed this phenemenon in his influential book The Hidden Persuaders (1957).

The episode opens with shots of robots, very crudely made,  accompanied by jaunty, humorous music,  thus  setting the tone of the episode. Our hero Morrey,, a radio economist by trade,  has been summoned for a reprimand by his superior  Wainwright  after a report from the Ration Office. Morrey is Class 7  citizen and on his way up. “ It is your duty as a Class 7 consumer to consume the  rations of consumer goods allocated by the state as befits your status.” Morrey pleads that he is  doing his best and trying to consume everything he has been told to.

Wainwright  explains that society is  undergoing a severe   economic crisis and that  the public  needs to “let out their belts, take their shoulders  off the wheel,  they have to  eat more, drink more,  drive more cars, wear out  more clothes, and work less. This country is over producing,  our automatic factories, our  robots are making much too much of everything and  it has  to be consumed.” Morrey suggests that they  should cut down  production. “Then underprivileged  citizens like myself wouldn’t have to eat and drink so much and live in such big houses and drive big cars and wear themeslves out enjoying themselves.” 

Wainwright riposts:   “How do you cut down production without destroying the whole system?“By programming the robots to use up the good themselves,” counters Morrey, but Wainwrights is aghast: “This is heresy, the robots are made to work,  not to have a good time.” Morrey suggests that they build  the satisfaction circuits he is been working on into the robots, but this idea  is not well received At the end of the interview  he is told to work less and consume more and reminded:  “Robots are here to serve you.”

Morrey and his robots

We accompany  Morrey to his home  where  on arrival the robots do everything for him. The house  is packed  full of furniture with  more being delivered. “But we haven’t  worn out the other two yet,” he protests futilely. His  wife Edwina is fed up  and loses her her temper. Morrey admonishes her:  “Not in front of the robots.”  Things seem to be  frosty in the bedroom as Edwina pleads:  “Consume me, consume me little” but he says he does not have time.

 A row ensues and  Morrey escapes to the pub, complete with robot barman, gets drunk and burns his ration book. He is arrested by the robot police and appears in court  before a judge (human, for once)  who turns out to be his father-i-n law. He is reduced to class 10 which means working less and consuming more. Edwina leaves him with mountains of junk carted away in her cars,  while to remedy  his anti-social behaviour Morrey  is sent to an analyst. who  administers a truth drug. He  decides that the root of  Morrey problem is that he  got a robot intead a puppy when he was a child and that  subconsciously he hates robots.  “You should love robots, they are there to please you, they do what you tell them to do and yet you hate them.” Angrily Morrey  says that   all his  consumption is making  him “more a machine than they are” and marches out to  get drunk again

Fred, Morrey and Edwina

In a turning point in the story, when fleeing from the robot police after he tells the barman  to pour some  whiskey   down the drain, Morrey is helped to escape by Fred  who reveals himself to be be a member of  a  group of revolutionaries dedicated to overthrowing society.  They ask Morrey to assassinate the Pime Minister, Sir John,  tempting him with a vision of the future.  “Once he is dead we will come to power, you will have mnay privileges. You will never have to consume again. Except a lightly boiled egg for breakfast, a grilled sole for lunch with salad, a litlle roast beef   in the evening with half bottle of wine…And we let you work all week.” But he rejects their offer.

Back in court again before his father-in-law Morrey is now reduced to Class 12, backdated one year,  and ordered to consume seven dozen cases of whisky in a fortnight.  Edwina  is deposited back home  with all her luggage while more goods pour in to their house.  Fred the revolutionary turns up again   and reveals that he  is a burglar, but a burglar with a difference, in this society  he breaks into people’s houses and leaves more goods.

The robots having a great time

Together they break into the Ministry building and steal the “satisfaction circuits” and  then implant them into Morrey’s robots. They  now display  very human characteristics ;  over-eating, getting drunk  and generally enjoying themselves smashing things up. Herded  into the basement they rapidly  consume or wear out all the goods allocated to Morrey in a comic filmed sequence.

Morrey is  now hailed  in the press for his outsranding consumer record.  Wainwright pays him  an unexpected visit  but they manage to hide  the robots in time. He  tells Morrey:  “You are going to be the biggest hero in the whole country. You are going to be given every honour. Sir John himself is very interested in you and I  want you to come back and work for my department.” Morrey says he will consider it when he is less busy.  As he leaves Wainwright offers him three days work if he returns.

 Robot George consumes so hard  that he  blows up and is mourned by the other robots. When Morrey and Fred try to fix him they  discover that is a special  Mark 4 roobt opereated from a central control room  in the Prime Minister’s office. They realise that Mark 4 robots  are spying on the population. 

Morrey is summoned to see the Prime Minister. who  tells him , “All the world knows Mr Anderson  that robots are our servants. They exist to serve us and  make our life easy. They exist so that men  do not have to work. This is the time of the Millenium. Man has only to consume and  what has been his wildest dreams has come true.  But a few men have  become dissatisfied with this state of affairs. Jealous intefering rebels  who have the cheek to say that man has become the slave  of automation.”

Sir John

Sir John has a truth gun trained on him and Morrey is forced confesss to having met the rebels and agreeing  with them.  Suddenly he twigs that  Sir John is a robot as well.  He burst through a secret door and, pursued by police robots,  he heads for the Master Switch (helpfully  marked “Master Switch in large  letters).  When he throws this all the robots freeze, including Sir John and Wainwright.  Edwina and her father  arrive and so Fred and the revolutionaries  having formed a provisional goverment  (Fred is the Minister for Justice). The leader  declares that Morrey is “the hero of the Revolution”  and will be in charge of seeing that everyone gets less in the future.  He also  declare a national holiday “so that everyone can go and work“. Finnaly he  declares  that all robots will be done away with. But then the implications of this  begin to sink in  and they decide they need to keep Morrey’s robot Henry, as well bar tenders, policemen, street cleaners and a growing list of others. “Here we go again, ” says Morrey  ruefully to camera.

With a good script, excellent cast and direction which supports the humour, this is a very enjoyable episode.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown, Series 1, episode 11: “Thirteen to Centaurus” by J G Ballard,

“Thirteen to Centarus” was broadcast on 13th December 1965

Cast: Dr Francis – Donald Houston, Abel Granger – James Hunter, Colonel Chalmers – John Abineri, General Short – Noel Johnson, Dr Kersh – Robert James, Zenna Peters – Carla Challoner.

Script: Stanley Miller

Director:  Peter Potter

Designer: Trevor Williams

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik, 

Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

J G  Ballard was one of the most influential  post-war British writers. His work includes novel such as The Drowned  World, The Crystal World, Crash, High Rise and Concrete Island.  Whether or not he was a science fiction writer in the classic sense is open to debate –  his  preoccupations are often inner space, rather than outer space –  coupled with dystopian tales  of modernity in Britain:   Ballard’s manor  is  the world of supermarkets, motorways and high rises.

“Thirteen  to Centaurus” is a short story  which was first published in Amazing Stories in  April 1962. This  adaptation follows the story closely with some  minor alterations.

The station crew

Set in a station whose purpose is yet to be revealed,  it begins with the  funeral of the captain with those present heartily singing “Onward Christian  Soldiers” as the coffin is dispatched into, well, where exactly?

In this community,  numbering just a dozen, Dr Francis wields  much authority,  constantly monitoring the behaviour and thoughts of the crew. He orders a young woman  Zenna to report for conditioning which he says is weakening in her: we  see the inhabitants working out in the gym to the accompaniment of a recorded voice, endlessly repeating:  “This is the world and the whole world. There is no other  world but this. There are no other  creatures but the chosen, and their children shall  the universe. This is the world and the whole world…”

But a young man called Abel  (who suffers from a recurring  dream of a burning disk) is asking pointed  questions of Francis.  Abel  is the Einstein of this tiny world. In his essay about the station he called  it “The Closed Community” and  worked out that  the station appeared to be revolving at about two  feet per second.   Francis  decides  is now  time to tell Abel the truth  and puts him  under the  conditioning to bring back his memories.

“When  you wake up you you will know  the truth:  that this station is in fact a spaceship. We are travelling from our home planet  Earth to another planet million of miles away. Our grandfathers  always lived on Earth. We are the first people to  attempt  such a journey. We were chosen from all people.  You can be proud of that Abel.. You were chosen before  you were born.  Your grandfather was a great man,  he volunteered to come – and so  you are here too. Never forget …The station must be kept running properly…this is a multi-generation space vehicle. Only your children will land  and they will be old when they do.”

Dr Francis and Abel

He explains to Abel that the ship set out 50 years ago and is heading for a planet that revolves around  the Alpha  Centauri.“The social  engineering that went into the building of this ship was more intricate than  the mechanical side….One day the project will be you responsibility.”

So now we and Abel  know the truth. Except we don’t know.  For on one of  Francis’s screens showing the starfields a shadow of a man  appears,  prompting  him to go through a hatch  to find himself…not in outer space,  but  firmly on the ground on Earth.

The station is in fact a  scientific project to test the ability of humans to endure centuries of travel to the stars. They have been conditioned not to question why Dr Francis is not an old man.  But the mood of the government and  public has changed since the project began  50 years before.  One of his colleagues tells Francis. “Even the public is beginning to feel that there is something obscene about this human zoo.  What began as a grand adventure has dwindled into a grisly joke.”

The new commander General Short  tells  Francis that a decision  has been taken to shut down the project.  “What we propose is a phased withdrawal, a gradual re-adjustment  of the world around the crew, that will bring them down to Earth as gently as a parachute. Some of you may have other suggestions. But however we do  it, Project Alpha Centari will be discontinued…The returned   crew will have to be given every freedom and every tv station and  newspaper network in the world  will want to interview  each of them a hundred times.”

General Short

Francis  vehemently objects; “It’s crazy. They will be bound to find out the truth… I don’t think you know what you are  saying General.  Bring them back? How can you bring back the dead?  How can you restore  the lost hundred years?… The task of the original project was to get them to Alpha Centauri. Nothing was said about bringing them back. ..I/m thinking about the crew. If it takes 50 years to get them there, it should take the same time  to bring them back. ..What I don’t know is how each individual is going to react. The people inside that dome hav veen taught to believe since they were children that they are living in a world of their own..and that they would never meet anyone else in the whole of their lives. …The people inside that dome do not want to come out. “

Francis suggest  a chilling  alternative solution:  that the project continues but with  no further children being born until the crew  are all dead as the life span within the dome is only 40 years on average.

Back inside the station the balance of power  begins to shift from Francis to Abel who has started an experiment, conditioning  Francis every day for hours on end and unsettling him  by changing the meal times.   Francis stops leaving the station, which worries the controllers of the project.  They prepare to send in a recovery crew,  but Francis threatens to reveal the nature of the project to the station  crew and the raid is called off. Finally he cuts  off all communication  with the outside world  with the words, “I’m going to Alpha Centauri.” Short wonders, “Whose really in control?

We discover that Abel in fact   knows  there are people outside the station, something he seems to have known for some time.  When Francis discovers he tells him he should leave and  be free Abel responds, “Free?  What does that mean? Neither of us is free. This is our whole world and these are our people. The burning disk is the eye of God and Abel is his servant,chosen of the Lord.”

Abel  continues his experiment on Francis,   conditioning him to lose  his memories of the outside world. and to make him believe that he  is flying to Alpha Centauri but will never live to get there.  At the end of the episode  Abel plays  a recording he has made himself: “This is the voice of the chosen of the Lord. This is a spaceship.  We are the first people to undertake such a journey Doctor Francis.  This life is your only life. This ship is your only world. You will never see another. You are flying to Alpha Centauri. You can be proud of that, Doctor Francis.”

In  his epic poem Paradise  Lost Milton gave a now famous line to Satan: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Is that the choice that Abel has made?

This is a successful  production, creating  a  distinct claustrophic intensity and makes good use of  the array of   solid acting talent eg Noel Johnson and Robert James  available to the director. James Hunter is particularly  good as Abel, moving convincingly  from gaucheness to  authority in the course of the episode.

 

Where Have I Seen Them Before?

John Abineri appeared in Doctor Who in  “Fury from the Deep” (1968)  as Van Lutynes, in “The Ambassadors of Death” (1970) as General Carrington, in “Death to the Daleks” (1974)  as Richard Railton and in   “”The Power of Kroll” (1979)  as Ranquin

Robert James appeared in Doctor Who in “The Power of the Daleks” (1966)  as Lesterson  and in “The Mask of Mandragora”  (1976) as the High Priest.

Noel Johnson played the effortlessly  suave civil servant  J M  Osborne in A for Andromeda  (1961) and The Andromeda Breakthrough  (1962)

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 something 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 was  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good. You can watch the series on Youtube here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achieved 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)

Storms 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 serial.”  However,  after Elliot came up with a new storyline,  and  convinced by the high ratings of the first series,  in January 1962 Wilson gave the green light to a  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  had thought,   been drowned,  but had been sucked underwater into another pool in the cave complex,  and is still alive, though badly injured  in her hands .   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 is distant and remembers nothing of the computer. Fleming secretly meets  Madeleine Dawnay at an airport  and gets the healing enzyme from her  to cure Andre’s burnt hands

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. Salim  is in touch with Intel through Kaufman and knows anbout the Thorness computer. At the Embassy Dawnay  is drugged and reveals  Fleming and Andre’s  location. Salim informs Kaufman  who 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 identical  computer in Azaran  – using the plans stolen by Bridger –   but it is not working.  Fleming is appalled,   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 to John  that  she has seen the message: “Now I  have  seen the message I understand...It’s  giving us  an answer,  a power… If we are to survive, if you are, all this is trivial. What is happening here in this country is only a symptom of what  is happening in the world.   It’s not important. We can take it all out of their hands and use it  as we want…I have something else  to do before I die and I can’t do it alone,  I need you, but you must trust me.”

Seated in front of the computer Andre explains  the core of the message: “It knows what must happen,  what has happened in  other worlds where  intelligence has  only been developed as far as yours…You go  on endlessly repeating a pattern until you wipe yourselves out….It’s  the top or nearly the top of a circle. The life of a biological creature, even of man, begins very simply and his emotions and senses are crudely  developed.  But after a few thousand years it all become so complicated, so vast by its own standards that the human animal can no longer cope…it only needs one crack, one war perhaps, and the whole order you have made comes crashing down…It’s  all predictable.”

Andre tells John   that  in about a  150 years time there will be a  war in which the whole of human civilisation will be destroyed. The recovery will take a thousand years  before the cycle repeats itself. “Very rarely does something better happen.”  Fleming responds “ Let’s learn from it. Let’s discover what we can and then tell people so that they can do what they think best… We can only live as we are, within the limits of what we understand …I fought it  at Thorness and I fought you, because.the world must be free to make its own mistakes, or save itself…We still have freedom to choose which way you’re going. We have freedom.”   Andre replies, “It is too late. 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 to protect the computer and its message, recruiting  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,  creating worldwide storms and in time  dooming  humanity;  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.

Dawnay goes to see Gamboule  and in a bleak exchangetells her  what is happeniong to the world’s atmosphere and how people will die; “It will be like the top of Everest. As the pressure falls it will be increasingly more difficult to absorb oxygen into our blood. we become sluggish. We breathe more and more shallowly and in the end pas out. 

 

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 human “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 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 Andromeda),  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 on television.

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 Bridger and a young woman,  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 Intel,  a shadowy international  cartel. On completion  the computer is switched on and prints out  information on how to create living cells.  A biologist Madeleine Dawnay is  brought in who  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.

Christine (Julie Christie)

Bridger’s espionage  activities are discovered  and he is killed 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,  is the double of Christine, except  her hair is blonde. She can communicate directly with the computer:  the team name her  Andromeda, Andre for short.

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 the formula   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.”

Andre (Julie Christie) and Fleming (Peter Halliday)

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.

 

In the final episode Andre is freed from the control of the computer after Fleming  manages to  get into the control room  and smash 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  in which are  Judy, Quadring  and  his soldiers.

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  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.”

Judy Adamson (Patricia Kneale) and John Fleming

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 anumber of serials  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.

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 characterisation,  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.”

The ending is  different to the broadcast ending, and  bleaker. Judy does not arrive with the soldiers. Instead Fleming is on his own after  Andre  vanishes in the caves:

He never found anything more. They had taught her so much, he thought grimly, but they had never taught her to swim. He was stricken by a great pang of sorrow and remorse; he spent the next hour in a morbid and hopeless examination of the cave, and then went wearily back to the beach where he propped himself between two rocks until dawn. He had no fear of sleeping; he had a greater, half-delirious fear of something unspeakable coming out of the tunnel mouth – something unquenchable from a thousand million miles away – something that had spoken to him first on a dark night such as this.

Nothing came, and after the first hour or so of daylight a naval launch swept in from seaward. He made no attempt to move, even after the launch reached the island, and the crew found him staring out over the ever-changing pattern of the sea.

In 1971 the Italian television company RAI made their own  version, A Come Andromeda, which  followed  the original version very closely, even to the extent  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,  which lasted  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 and wasted opportunity.

More positively in 2006,  the BBC released  a DVD   comprising  A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough. This  included 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.