“To my mind the basic problem is that writers are by the nature book-room-minded introverts and yet, in the publicity jungle, they find themselves pitted against an army of highly extroverted actors and actresses. I don’t blame promotion people at all for taking the easy path of boosting the performers, if the writers fail to sell themselves as potentially equally good copy. (The Stage 12th September 1963)
Malcolm Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television, the cinema 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. Malcolm was known by friends and family as Mac, so that’s what I will call him from now on in this post.
My interest in Mac was sparked by coming across a pamphlet he wrote for Unity Theatre in the collection of the Working Class Movement Library of which more later. 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. In December 2014 Five Leaves Press approached me, wishing to publish the post as a pamphlet, so I revised and expanded the article, and this was published in January 2015.
Whilst it was known that Mac had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) 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 30 years.
In September 2015 the Doctor Who Magazine published an article about Mac with a good deal of new information derived from his M15 file, which had been released into the National Archives in October 2014. This file included intercepted letters, reports from undercover agents and bugged telephone calls and thus I incorporated this information into the post and updated it and posted it here.
In April 2020 I started work on revised version of this post and was assisted by Sally Edworthy who very kindly sent me copies of a “Family Bulletin” written by Mac in the late 1930s when he was a teenager. I am very grateful for her generous help and to Andrew Cartmel and Katy Manning for their comments.
Mac was born on 21st November 1924 at Hampstead. His mother was Elsie Marian Hulke. Until he was 21 Mac believed that his father was the late Walter Hulke, this being what his mother had always told him. He revealed how he had found out that this was not the case and 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 in October 1973.
One day when I was 21 I decided to track down my father’s relatives to find out why my recently dead mother always told me never to go near them. This well-to-do couple I found in a vast St John’s Wood flat offered me afternoon tea. As she poured, the lady I thought was my aunt said, ‘Well, where do you think you fit into our family? I explained I was the son of her long-dead brother and mentioned when I was born. “That’s quite impossible”, she said, because my brother died two years before then. Do you take sugar? I never called again. It isn’t nice to go round shocking innocent house-holders. When you’re illegitimate you feel completely alone… You condition us us to hide it. We are the totally silent minority (The Observer, 14th October 1973)
Mac revealed a little more about this encounter a few years later when he was interviewed by the Women’s Page of the Daily Mirror for an article they called “Children of Love”. He told the newspaper after his mother’s death he went to call on Walter Hulke’s sister, Mrs Dora McFarlane, in St John’s Wood, who told him that he could not be her brother’s son as he had died in January 1923. “That’s how I found out. What hurt me most was the secrecy.” (Daily Mirror, 27th February 1979)
In 1963 he had taken part in a BBC Home Service radio documentary called Born Out of Wedlock, compiled and introduced by Tony Parker. Mac says of this:
…for the first time we learnt we number two millions in Britain alone. Irrational joy filled my heart that I was not alone. But listening to the other 50 voices I realised that most of my people suffer terribly. Being brought up rather oddly, with countless moves to avoid creditors and bailiffs, I had been well prepared to learn of my bastardy. These less fortunates had not. They suffered because they clung to ideas of respectability…
Why does it matter so much?…It matters because you frequently tell us it matters. Some illegitimates know their father’s nam , and some even bear it. But many do not. So it matters when you’re young and sensitive and have done well at school and the teacher gives you a form to apply for university or teachers’ training college – and the form demands the name and occupation of your father It. matters if you fancy a job with the BBC, or the police, or the Civil Service…
If you are illegitimate don’t lie about it, don’t be an Uncle Tom, don’t pretend it doesn’t matter. You know it matters…but don’t let it destroy you.
Whilst wary of the modern trait of analysing a writer’s work solely in terms of their personal experiences, I think it could be plausibly 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.”
Elsie Marian Ainsworth was born on 6th September 1882 in Chapel En Le Frith, near Buxton, Derbyshire. Her parents were William Ainsworth and Mary Ann Caroline Gallard. At the time of the 1891 census the Ainsworth family were living in at 112 High Street, St Peter at Gowts, Lincolnshire where her father was a Methodist minister. The entry lists her sisters and brothers – Percy Clough Ainsworth, Edith Raistrick Ainsworth, Sidney CarleyAinsworth, Arthur Ogden Ainsworth, and Wisley Douglas Ainsworth. Elise’s grandmother Mary Gallard lived with the family, as did a servant, Lucy Emma Grundy.
In the 1901 census, aged 18, she was listed as a pupil in a school at Henson Building on Kirby Road, Leicester, attended by a dozen or so other girls.
On 30th August 1909 Elsie, 26, who was living at the Limes, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, got married to George Sutton Gordon, 28, an Insurance Inspector whose address was given as 496 Eccleshall Road, Sheffield, Yorkshire. The witnesses were two of Elsie’s brothers – Arthur and Sidney – and her sister Mary. The ceremony took place in a Methodist Chapel on Wentworth Street in Peterborough.
Elsie and George had two sons: George Sutton Gordon, born in April 1910, and John Ainsworth Gordon, born in November 1912. The 1911 census records that the Gordon family were living at 33 Empire Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield.
The marriage did not last. On 16th November 1917 Elsie’s husband petitioned for divorce in the High Court on the grounds of her adultery with a John Dowse Smith. Gordon sought £100 in damages from Smith but was granted £25 by the jury. The notion of compensatory damages seems extraordinary to our modern sensibilities: it arose from the long established legal principle that a wife was the husband’s property, a notion that was gradually being broken down through changes in the law, but was far from dead. The potential for an aggrieved husband to claim damages from a co-respondent had been introduced in the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 and was not abolished until 1970.
George also sought custody of the children, which I assume was granted. Neither Elsie nor Smith appeared or defended the petition. So far as I can tell, Smith played no further role in Elsie’s life.
In the spring of 1922, using the surname Duff-Gordon, Elsie got married to Brigadier-General Walter Backhouse Hulke in Paddington, London.
Walter was born on 10th September 1872 in Deal, the son of a doctor. He was commissioned in November 1892 in The Lincolnshire Regiment, retired in February 1911 but after the outbreak of war was recalled from the Reserve of Officers to be adjutant of the 9th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment, on 6th November 1914 . On 9th July 1915, while still ranked as a captain, Walter was given command of the 14th Battalion (2nd Barnsley) of the York and Lancaster Regiment, and made a temporary lieutenant-colonel. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 1 January 1917 and brevetted major on 1st June 1917.
After being severely wounded Walter wasinvalided home in August 1918. He was granted the honorary rank of brigadier general on ceasing to be employed on 18th April 1919 in the Reserve of Officers. Walter was promoted to colonel on 1st March 1922
Walter had been previously married on 17th November 1904 to Ethel Gwendoline Lloyd, eldest daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Albert, Lloyd, late of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. It was marriage entirely in keeping with his class and profession. They had two daughters.
It seems that the marriage broke down during the war as many did under the strain of lengthy separation and the appalling nature of the fighting on the Western Front. On 28th May 1918 Ethel filed a claim for divorce in the High Court against Walter on the grounds that “he had refused to live, and still refuses to live and cohabit with your Petitioner and to render her conjugal rights.” After the divorce Ethel emigrated with her children to Canada where she died in 1966.
Back in civilian life, Walter’s career took a surprising turn when he began managing the Cinema Artists’ Club in Great Newport Street, London early in 1922. He and the Club were featured in the Daily Express in February 1922 which was somewhat bemused at his job:
As one honourably splashed with the mud of many staff-cars, I often ponder the civilian fate of our generals. Some, I fear (and in one case hope) have had to scratch vigorously for a livelihood. But I see that the new Cinema Artists’ Club—you will find an account of it on another page—has done itself proud by selecting Brigadier-General W. B. Hulke, D.S.O., to be its manager. General Hulke commanded the 14th service battalion of the York and Lancasters in Egypt and France, and later commanded the 115th Infantry Brigade of the 38th (Welsh) Division, in France. He was severely wounded and invalided home in August 1918.
Then, with the easy grace that always marks a brigadier in process of post-war transition, he accepted a staff appointment as a “walker-on” at Stoll’s Cricklewood film studio. I am told (and well believe) that he walked on with distinction. I never saw a brigadier stepping out of a Vauxhall or addressing the ranks on parade without feeling that there was a market somewhere for so much . . . yes, aplomb is the word;… And now the film artists have persuaded General Hulke to take command of their social H.Q. They are in luck’s way. The indents will be all right in the hands of a brigadier. Had it been a quartermaster-sergeant I knew once . . . but this is delicate ground.
British cinema artists have given a lead in organisation to their disorganised employers, the film magnates. They have formed a club with a membership of 500, rapidly growing, and strongly occupy a large building in Great Newport-street, complete with restaurant, billiard-room, smoking lounge, card-room, and bar.
The ladies have a floor to themselves, but they share in the restaurant. “Everything is found,” as they say in the property room. You can see all the stars in Great Newport-street. Incidentally, you can hear more “shop talk” than at any other rendezvous within the four-mile radius.
The most interesting item among the “objects” of the club is the following: “To promote the production of one motion picture annually, the whole proceeds of which shall be devoted to the welfare of the club.” That should be a film with an all-star cast.
It is a splendid thing that the pluckiest class of the community—the acting profession—which has faced the hardships of these lean days with a stouter heart than any other, should have this excellent club in which to meet. ( Daily Express, 15th February 1922 )
There was a further article in the Daily Express in November 1922 by which time Walter and Marian were married and running a coffee-shop together near Oxford Circus.
From commanding an infantry brigade in Flanders to running a coffee shop successfully in the vicinity of Oxford-circus is the proud record of Brigadier-General W. B. Hulke, D.S.O., who claims to be the only general, past or present, who can serve up sausage and mash or steak and onions with the same facility as bayonets.
“There was nothing left for me to do but to try my hand at catering” said General Hulke last night to a “Daily Express” representative. “I walked in here with my wife, and we took over the business without having done anything before in the catering line.
“Next day I assumed active proprietorship. My wife cooks and superintends in the kitchen. I take the money and generally perform all the social functions of a host. If the men customers want a beer, I run and fetch it from the public house up the street. Curiously enough, the first chap who wanted beer was a one-time private in my own brigade
“Catering here is real good fun, and means honest, hard-earned money.” said the general. “I manage to rise to all occasions, even to throwing out an undesirable customer, if it becomes necessary.” (Daily Express, 22nd November 1922)
It is hard to think of a lifestyle more dissimilar to his previous life as an army officer with a conventional marriage. Perhaps that was its attraction for Walter. Did Elsie meet Walter at the Club? We shall never know. What we know is that the marriage was brief, lasting less than a year. Walter died on 9th January 1923: probate worth £716 was granted 10th May 1923 to Elsie, who was living at 1 Marlborough Court, Carnaby Street. London. Some 18 months later her third son Malcolm was born.
In the years that followed Elsie led an intinerant lifestyle, frequently changing address and even finding herself in the press – for the wrong reasons – along with her friend Winifred Nellie Boot, who was to play a major role in Mac’s life.
Winifred was born in December 1889 in Nottingham. In the 1911 census she is listed as a Music and Singing teacher, aged 22, sharing a flat in Church Street, Stoke Newington with another teacher, Louise Annette Derbyshire. Between 1918 and 1925 the two teachers shared a house on Maury Road in Hackney.
It appears that Elsie and Winifred met at the some point in the next two years: by 1927 they were sharing a house in Ashford, Surrey.
In 1928 the two women were taken to court in Deal in Kent for shoplifting at a drapers. It was alleged Winifred had hidden two cardigans down in her skirt while a shop assistant was attending to Elsie After their acquittal, somewhat foolishly, they sued the drapers for wrongful imprisonment at the Kent Assizes but lost, the jury finding that Winifred had stolen the goods. In court Else admitted two convictions for obtaining money with worthless cheques and for stealing a money order worth £15 and asked for a dozen other offences to be taken into consideration (Daily Herald, 28 February 1928)
A year later they were living in Kensington and were still there in 1936, albeit at different address. By 1938 they were living in Ruislip, and then moved to Deal by the end of the year.
.In August 1938 the teenage Mac started producing a Family Bulletin which he very enterprisingly typed up and circulated around his relatives. The Bulletins are largely made up of family news, the kind of news that todayis put on Facebook.
The first issue notes the birth of a baby named Judith on 8th July to Francis and Geoffrey Ainsworth, who already had a daughter called Susan. Joan Ainsworth had done well in classes at Retford Technical College and has also undertaken a course in First Aid in connection in ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Sydney Ainsworth was an apprentice at De Havilland in Edgeware. Ruth Gilbert (née Ainsworth) had written two books for children Elsie’s son Edmund Gordon had taken his pupils from Ballymoney High School on a holiday trip, beginning Dublin where they saw the Book Of Kells and then crossing to Holyhead, cycling across Anglesey, onto to Liverpool and finally ending up in Stratford Upon Avon! Mac., like most editors of such bulletins at school or work, appealed for contributions: Remember anything will do. Poems, stories, news, stories, or even hints to do with everyday life. in fact. There are a thousand-and-one ways of filling up the columns of the “Family Bulletin. M. Hulke”.
The fourth issue came out in December 1938 and had a photograph of “Hardicot” on the front which Mac proudly announced as the “new and charming home of Mrs. E M Hulke”. The family news included the fact Joan Ainsworth had won a prize for the Senior Commercial Course while page 2 had drawings on it made by Geraldine and Mark.
The 5th Bulletin (now priced at 2d) appeared in January 1939, and was of a more sombre nature. The front page announced “We regret to announce the death of Miss Edith Raistrick Ainsworth who passsed away at 1.30am on Wednesday, Dec 14th 1938, while staying with her sister, Mrs E M Hulke, in Kent.” It continued:
For many years Miss Ainsworth had wandered, from room to room, never having a home. She had very few friends, but had a habit of talking to such people as night-watchmen, and strangers in storm shelters. The suddenness of her death has been a great shock to us all. I have known her all my conscious life and I feel that I have lost someone of whom I am a part.
The room she occupied at “Hardicot” overlooked the sea. It was furnished to suit her own simple tastes, tastes which were carried out to the last. A rich purple carpet lay on a scarlet Indian carpet. Two trestles covered with purple palls picked out in gold and bearing the insciption “IHS” supported her. At her head were two high oak candlesticks in which were burning golden candles, which never went out. I felt as she carried down the steps through the garden of “Hardicot” she left her blessing there.
A simple service was held in the village church, and a saddened little group of two brothers, her sister and myself stood beside a grass-lined grave. As the last rites we performed we could hear the murmur of the Sea she lived so well.
I heard voices choking with emotion say “Goodbye Edith” and my Mother and Uncles turned sadly homewards.
This was a sensitive piece of writing for a teenager. His mother also penned a tribute to her sister for this issue:
I find it difficult to write about my sister. She lived in a world which was all her own. Only on rare occasions did she invite me into her kingdom. When she did, she gave me an insight into her REAL self. During such intimate times, I found in her a wealth of beauty, poetry and art. She talked to me as to no one else. She seemed to be searching continually for something elusive and indefinable. This, I think, accounted for her restlessness, always so obvious, but particularly in the last few weeks of our intimate intercourse. She often remarked upon on her happinees, and would single out particular days of enjoyment and contentment. Her dry humour was capivating and it wa sgreat thrill to her when it was appreciated. My sister was the most courteous woman I have known. The little courtesies of life, its culture and refinements, meant so much to her: she gave so freely of them to all.
Elsewhere in this issue Mac recorded that he was going to stay with Dr and Mrs Geoffrey Ainsworth, while his mother was going to visit Mr and Mrs S C Ainsworth.
The surviving Family Bulletins show that Elsie and her son were not alienated from her family or her sons, but were in regular contact with them. Mac grew up in a house of women where art and beauty and laughter were not strangers at the door.
Deal was bombed by Luftwaffe on 4th October 1940 resulting in the deaths of eight civilians including three children. There was further attack in August and October 1942. with more deaths. These events may explain why Elsie moved with Winifred and Mac to run another guesthouse Glen Helen, Braithwaite near Keswick where she died on 30th June 1943. Curiously to relate, probate of just £50 was not granted until 27th March 1961 to her son John Ainsworth Gordon.
It is alleged that when he was eligible at the age of 18 to be called up into the armed forces Mac applied to become a Conscientious Objector. However iI have been unable to find any records on this, although they may exist as there is no central register available. Counterintuitively there were more Conscientious Objectors in the Second World War than in the First World War, with 59,000 men and women applying to Tribunals of whom 46,000 were registered in different categories.
Mac served in the Royal Navy, as a trainee canteen manager. I have not been able to locate any records on his war service yet.
Mac and the Communist Party of Great Britain
Mac joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in June 1945, not, as he later wrote to a party officia, not because he was attracted to its Marxist philosophy, but because “…I had just met a lot of Russian Pow’s in Norway, beacuse the Societ Army had just then rolled back the Germans.”
Directed by Moscow, the CPGB had initially opposed the war because Stalin had done a deal with Hitler in August 1939 not to attack each other, but after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, the line changed and the British party faithfully swung fully behind the war, its members 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 in 1941, encircled and broke the 6th Army at Stalingrad in 1942-43 and then drove the German armies all the way back to Berlin which they took in April 1945 after a ferocious battle.
In the 1945 general election the CPGB polled over 100, 000 votes and had two members of parliament elected – Willie Gallacher (West Fife) and Phil Piratin (Mile End) – as well over 200 councillors in different parts of Britain. The climate soon swung against the party ,however, with the beginning of the Cold War between the East and the West. This is often dated to a speech that Winston Churchill made on 5th March 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, in which he said that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Whilst anti-Communism in Britain never reached the levels of hysteria and paranoia that it did in the United States during the McCarthyite witchunts of the late 1940s, it was never a popular or easy choice to be known as a Communist.
After the war Mac discovered not only that he was illegitimate (as noted above) but also that his birth had not been registered and therefore he had to apply for naturalisation as he was technically classified as an “alien”. His membership of the CPGB led MI5 to open a file on him from 1949 onwards. He was also investigated by the Metropolitan Police – who consulted with the the police in Cumberland – and concluded that “This individual is a poseur and professed agnostic with an exaggerated idea of his own importance. Little reliance can be placed on his statements regarding the circumstances of his birth and enquiry shows that he is known as a man with little regard for the truth.” It is hard to see what Mac could have done to merit this damning verdict. A later report added “I am of the opinion that Hulke is inclined to undergo subversive activities, as his whole outlook was in this direction.” Despite these reports the Registrar General finally agreed to issue Mac with a special certificate of citizenship at a cost of £10 in August 1949.
In the post-war years Mac lived in Gloucester Place in Marylebone, where he was active in the local branch and Young Communist League. In 1947 he wrote to the party’s headquaters in King Street, Covent Garden asking for a job , explaining that he was “very keen…to be employed in a politically useful occupation. ” He was taken by the party as a shortrhand typist but within a few days had drawn suspiciion onto himself by naively or foolishly phoning Scotland Yard from th e paryt’s office to enquire about his appication for nauralisation, and was sacked.
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 national 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 early 1951 Mac wrote to the District Secretary advising him that he intended to leave the party, citing as a reaso the CPGB’s hostility to the Yugoslavian Communist leader Tito (who had broken with Stalin in 1948), and also its line on the Korean War which put the blame on the South Koreans. It seems that, whilst believing in Communism as a political 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: 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 that the resignation was a trick: “…he should continue to receive every attention, as in my view he is a dangerous man and without scruples, so far as his Conmmunistic outlook is concerned”
In September 1951 Mac returned to London, living in Kensington, and almost immediately re-applied to join the party. His application was handled by Betty Reid (1915-2004), head of the Organisation Department. In his obituary of Betty in the Guardian, historian Kevin Morgan described her as “one of those responsible for maintaining “vigilance” against hostile or dissident elements .Reflecting the then atmosphere in eastern Europe, this was a time when the party rule book was toughened up, and Reid acquired a formidable reputation for deploying it.”
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, was looked upon with deep suspicion by more puritanical elements of the party, including Betty, and to his application being rejected. However 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 doesn’t seem very tactfull. In the end the party reluctantly let him back in, although Betty was still suspicious.“I am not very happy about it. I don’t think he’s what yopu might call desirable character. On the other hand I think its difficult to keep him out.”
In 1953 Mac wrote to Sam Aaronovitch, then full-time Secretary of the party’s National 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. But he seems to have either left or lapsed from the party in the late 1960s, possibly when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia t in August 1968 crush the Prague Spring of “Socialism with a human face” instituted by the Communist government led by Alexander Dubczek. Mac’s MI5 file after 1963 has yet to be released, however.
Mac’s life stabilised in the late 1950s. He was now lodging at 45 Parliament Hill, Hampstead 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. Betty had married George Tate, who was a historian and journalist at the Daily Worker. However he 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 Winifred Boot moved to London and she and Mac bought a house round the corner from Betty Tate at 33 South Hill Park which they set up as a lodging house, with Mac acting as landlord and general handyman. Mac continued living at 45 Parliament Hill until his death.
In the 1950s and 1960s Malcolm was very involved with the socialist theatre company, Unity Theatre, founded in 1935. It was housed in a former chapel in Goldington Street, Somers Town, London.
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.
In 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 entitled Here Is Drama– behind the scenes at Unity theatre. In his introduction Mac wrote that the booklet was designed with three purposes in mind:
First, as a booklet to help new active-members speed up their integration into the life of Unity Theatre. Second, to answer the already active-member who, after working 18 months backstage, asked if anyone knew what a Production Organiser did. Third, to take at least some of Unity’s faithful audience and outside supporters behind the scenes.
Here is Drama is a very incomplete booklet. Ask any Unity Theatre active-member and he will you that his particular job is not described correctly; and the vehemence of his condemnation will be the measure of his interest in and enthusiasm for his chosen spare-time profession. It is, however, only an outline of the jobs to be done by people in a people’s theatre; it is not an encyclopaedia.
Mac finishes his introduction by stressing that almost all jobs at Unity “can be done, and are done, equally well and equally badly by women as well as men”. At the end of the booklet he writes
Unity is a theatre of ideals. But don’t you be too dreamy-eyed in your approach. Only the very mature, and the lonely, stand the test of time. Some people have even been known to use Unity as a jumping-board for West End theatre work, don’t forgot they may do a lot of good for Unity Theatre in the process. Never store up grievances : take them to the Management Committee. In the final analysis, however, there is only one person who will change and improve unity theatre. You.
Mac’s time at Unity, I suggest, would have given him invaluable practical experience in observing how a drama comes to life from the first draft of the script to the final curtain on the last night. He would also seen at first hand what worked on stage – and what did not. Finally Mac would have learned how to survive the stresses and strains of drama production (often more drama offstage than onstage) and coping with the temperaments of one’s colleagues.
Mac does not seem to have written for Unity himself, which is surprising in view of his later successful career as a writer. Eric Paice, with whom Malcolm worked in the 1950s and 1960s, was also involved with Unity, 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 .
One might assume that Mac and Eric Paice met through Unity. It’s puzzling therefore to read in an interview they gave to The Stage in 1959 that they claimed to have met at an advertising agency. Did they want to conceal their involvement with Unity? We will never know.
Mac’s television and film work in the 1950s and 1960s
Mac and Eric wrote for the new medium of television where there was an increasing demand for drama on the BBC and, after September 1955, on its rival ITV. Television was in its infancy. Many dramas were still being filmed live with actors hurrying between sets – sometimes getting there just in time for the camera shot! The introduction of videotape in 1958 allowed plays to be pre-recorded and edited for broadcast. However videotape was expensive which is why many plays and series were lost when the tapes were wiped to allow them to be used again. No-one imagined that in the future there would be a demand to see programmes again. Thus 97 episodes of Doctor Who are still missing.
Televison Playwright: “This Day in Fear”
Their first success was “This Day in Fear,” rejected by ITV but then taken up by the BBC, and broadcast on 1st July 1958 in the series Television Playwright. The play was produced by George Foa, and the cast included Billie Whitelaw and Patrick MGoohan, who in the mid 1960s played the lead role in the very popular Danger Man (1960-1968) and then created and starred in the cult TV classic The Prisoner (1967).
The main character is a former IRA member who, having turned his back on the movement, is on the run after betraying a comrade and who seeks safety with the police.
The Times described it as “the most arresting yet” in the series. “The development is most graceful: irony discloses in advance that the courteous and solicitious ‘police’ are in fact the killers but there is no preparation for the bombshell that the protagonist himself is the Republican hero whose death was to be avenged…the revelation of identity kaleidoscopically shakes the disconnected ends of the plot into order.” (The Times, 2nd July 1958.)
The Belfast Telegraph reviewer thought that it was “…well acted by a largely Irish cast, the end packed, even for Ulster viewers, two surprises.” (Belfast Telegraph, 2nd July 1958)
Harold Darton in The Stage was impressed : “Malcolm A Hulke and Eric Paice…took their first step into TV writing with this play, and a most successful debut it was. The setting was that of an almost conventional thriller plot – a man is about to be murdered, and he is given forewarning of his fate so that he can sweat it out suitably (and so that the playwrights can have an excuse to build up the suspense).
What lifted “This Day in Fear” out of the rut was the extras that go to make a play out of the thriller permutations. The extras here were an I.R.A. background, twists and double twists at the end (where the “police” turn out to be the assassins, and where the man destined to be shot turns out to be in fact, the man he is accused of betraying (if you see what 1 mean), and by clever little touches to the deliberate policy of suspense.
How would you feel if a threat to murder you appeared in the In Memoriam columns of the news paper, and then you found your papers had been cancelled and the milk order to your household cut by half a pint.” This Day in Fear” may not be a great play, but it was most entertaining and television could do with more like it. Messrs. Hulkc and Paice were lucky to have producer George Foa for their first piece. An overall smooth production was helped by some very effective filming. Patrick McGoohan in the main part was most convincing, though he sometimes swallowed his words. But one tends to feel with Patrick McGoohan that one has seen him playing the same part before. Billie Whitelaw as his wife look a step up the social ladder, from her usual parts of a tart or a Cockney, she progressed to an architect’s wife, and she did it with her usual efficiency. Allan McClelland as the would-be assassin was hardly a strong enough charactcr to be a bullying Irishman, and hardly a small enough character to be a sinister ferret-like type. Bad casting, perhaps.” (The Stage, 10th July 1958)
Mac and Eric wrote four plays for Armchair Theatre, a series launched in July 1956 by Howard Thomas, head of ABC, which had the franchise for weekend television in the Midlands and in the North unril 1974.
Thomas said that “television drama is not so far removed from television journalism, and the plays which will grip the audience are those that face up to the new issues of the day, as well as to the problems as old as civilisation.” For the first three years the plays were staged in ABC’s northern studios in Didsbury, housed in the former Capitol cinema. (Sadly the building was demolished in 1999)
Sydney Newman was approached by ABC to become the producer of Armchair Theatre and worked on the series between 1958 and 1962, often seen as its golden period. Newman came to England from Canada where he had made hundreds of documentaries and been head of drama at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. He had pioneered a new approach, commissioning drama which reflected social issues.
Newman produced 152 episodes of Armchair Theatre, which were shown on Sunday evenings. Many writers, later to find fame in the 60s, cut their teeth on the series. Newman said of England “At the time, I found this country to be somewhat class-ridden….The only legitimate theatre was of the ‘anyone for tennis’ variety, which, on the whole, presented a condescending view of working-class people. Television dramas were usually adaptations of stage plays, and invariably about upper classes. I said ‘Damn the upper-classes -they don’t even own televisions!’ My approach was to cater for the people who were buying low cost things like soap every day. The ordinary blokes the advertisers were aiming at.” The viewings figures for the dramas often reached 12 million.
Malcolm and Eric’s plays for Armchair Theatre were as follows:
The Criminals, 28th December 1958.
This was directed by James Ferman and starred Stanley Baker, Raymond Huntley, and Allan Cuthbertson. The plot centres on an escaped convict hiding in a Piccadily office having laid plans to break into the strong-room of the adjoining bank. He compels four businessmen to assist him in the raid.
The Times reviewer was taken with the play: “The irony compressed into the title…is prepared so cunningly that not until the end of the performance of the thriller last night on Independent Teleision were all its layers of meaning exhausted. The play is based on the idea that a criminal lurks inside every honest man, but the authors’ means of turbing this familar idea into action is anything but derivative. For th epurpos eof the plot honesty is made to equal hypocrisy and cowardice and the only possible hero is a self-confessed criminal….The criminal from the outset is the only sympathetic charcacter but by degrees he acquires a total moral ascendancy as the other figures reveal their shiftiness, self-interest, and readiness to take a share of the pickings if no danger is involved. The ironic climax comes with the accidental death of the convict leaving his four inadvertent accomplices with a murder on their hands and a room full of banknotes. By this time the atmosphere has taken on a biting motal invective: and in Mr James Ferman’s concentrated production the performances of Mr Raymond Huntley and Mr Stanley Baker ensured that none of it was lost. ” (The Times, 29th December 1958)
However the Birmingham Daily Post Post described it “… as a contrived crime thriller with a topical touch. The safe-blowing episode was incredible, but the characters were drawn in some detail. Stanley Baker played the principal criminal with great force”. (Birmingham Daily Post, 29th December 1958.)
Margaret Cowan in The Stage was not overly impressed either: “‘The theme of the play seems to be that cupidity will get the better of all of us, given the right circumstances.
Four businessmen on New Year’s Eve are about to leave for Germany, At the office, they are having a last drink. Waiting for them is an escaped convict (Stanley Baker).
He is forceful, intelligent, and has worked out a daring robbery which he plans with the enforced help of the four executives, who are construction engineers. Their offices adjoin a bank.
He tricks them into believing that their wives are in danger. All night they help him tunnel a passage, and fail to take their opportunities to overpower him. In the end. he is trapped and killed by fallen masonry, but not before the others have shown that they are interested in taking large sums of money, provided thev are not found out.
The whole thing is incredible. The action, motivation and execution of the plot are all artificial. It fails to convince and fails to move. Stanley Baker gave a strong performance as a forceful leader, and the others did their best with their parts. But they fought a losing battle with an unconvincing script. It was directed as well as possible by James Ferman with good settings.”
The Big Client, 17th May 1959.
This was a satire set in the advertising industry, directed by Ted Kotcheff, and starred Ian Bannen. (Both Eric and Mac had worked in advertising). It was described as ”run of the mill” by Philip Purser in his obituary of Bannen in The Guardian.
The Times TV critic was not so taken with this as he had been with their previous play. “Last night…we were introduced to the bedlam competitions of the advertising agency, and incidentally to the brand of the ruthlessness that drives ambitious young men of to-day towards an even more unscrupulous future. Fred Curtis is a manager in a small and unambitious agency, intent on finding room at the top, and the play follows his curiously heartless and dishonest moves to secure an important American client, and to get the personal position with him that belongs by right to his directors. In the big client and ambitious youngster like meets like. and Fred secures his future witha final compact of degradation in which the boy’s own fiancée is sacrificed to the new and infuential boss.
Unfortunately the authors, after creating potentially an interesting study of egoism, drive and inferiority complex, lay on the unscrupulousness too thickly for credibility and not all Mr Ian Bannen’s vitaility and brash yet uncertain charm could save the play from disintegration and a slick artificiality.” (The Times, 18th May 1959).
Telecrit” in The Liverpool Daily Post was enthused : “Just when I was beginning to tire of A.B.C.’s Sunday night talent scouting for budding TV dramatists. along came Malcolm A. Hulke and Eric Paice last night with a work that made many of its “Armchair Theatre ” contemporaries appear as amateurish as Monty playing diplomats. The drama: “The Big Client”a story of a ruthless young rogue grasping his opportunities with both hands—and cheating his pals in the process.
With a plot twisting as skilfully as the twister it portrayed, “The Big Client” was sixty solid minutes’ tightly-compressed entertainment.
The authors didn’t waste a second spinning their yarn – they couldn’t afford to. In the telling of this tortuous tale. each line had to count And it did.
They gave us nothing profound. That wasn’t their target. Instead, they served-up, fast-moving drama with’ assured technique.
Like a galvanic minnow . darting among the big fish. lan Bannen gave the opportunist just the right blend of boyish charm and dangerous deceit. As the play closed with its last. effective twist, one saw he’d cheerfully murder his mother for a choc ice.
But for all Bannen’s magnetic performance. the real stars of the show were Messrs. Hulke and Paice—who also wrote “The Criminals.” that recent ITV drama of bank robbery with a difference. starring Stanley Baker. Here. on last night’s evidence is a combination to watch with the keenest interest. (Liverpool Daily Post, 18th May 1959.
According to The Stage the advertising trade press was full of letters protesting about the unscrupulous “hero” Fred Cooper. “It is not a malicious atack on advertising,” Mac responded, . “It is about a boy called Fred Cooper. That he should gravitate to the world of advertising is just the way it most likely would be. But there are Fred Coopers in every line of business.” (The Stage, 12th August 1961)
This play was later turned into a musical with music and lyrics written by Michael Pratt which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in November 1961. The cast included Harry H Corbett and Elizabeth Shepherd.
Peter Ford, reviewing the show for The Guardian, thought that, whilst the songs worked, “the cast had neither the voice nor the drive for singing music of this genre”.
The reviewer for The Stage said that the show “ought be as good a formula as most, for entertainment of this kind, but at the first showing the impact was less than one would have expected. The characters conform to type, and some of the laugh-lines generated by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice atre good quality, but there are not enough of them. The lyrics of Mike Pratt’s vocal number appear stronge than the music but judgemnet on this is complicated by the lack of vocal accomplishment among the players – at any rate for this kind of jazz-cum-blues music. If there is a hit tune in the score it is not given a chance to emerge in Val Marty’s production… (The Stage, 30th November 1961)
The Great Bullion Robbery, 25th December 1960.
This was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starred Donald Wolfit, Colin Blakely, James Booth and Douglas Wilmer. The play was based on the first notable British train robbery, which took place in 1856 on train from London to Folkestone. (Wilmer later played Sherlock Holmes in a BBC series in the mid 1960s, with Nigel Stock as Watson._
The Times reviewer described Macand Eric as “that accomplished and productive writing team”. “The television script…drew on a transcipt of the original Old Bailey trial, and though a fictional drama had been woven around the bald facts, the result, aided by a taut production by Mr John Moxey and some stylish mid-Victorian sets by Mr James Goddard, was stylistically. The mechanics of the robbery itself, were, as they usually are, fascinating, with clashes of temperament and crises of nerves as unforeseen complications were unravelled, but the suspense was cleverly kept up until the case against the successful perpetrators began to piece itself together… (The Times, 28th December 1960)
The Girl in the Market Square, 20th March 1961.
This was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starred Susan Denny and Michael Collins. The girl of the title is found dead as a result of a car hit and run accident. However both the town and the driver regard his importance above the girl’s to warrant any further attention from the police
This drama was later broadcast as a radio play, part of a series of plays broadcast by the BBC in 1961 in conjunction with the Writers’ Guild. apart from Mac and Eric, the other playwrights in the series included Bryan Forbes, Howard Clewes, Ted Willis, Alun Owen and Gale Pedrick.
Gert and Daisy: August and September 1959
Mac and Eric write three episodes for this ITV comedy series, created by Ted Willis and produced by Jack Hylton, which starred Elsie and Doris Waters. They were very well known as a comedy duo on the radio in Workers Playtime (1941-1964 and Flogitts (1956-1957) and also made a number of films during the war: Gert and Daisy’s Weekend (1942), Gert and Daisy Clean Up (1942) and It’s in the Bag (1944). (Incidentally their brother was Jack Warner).
Elsie and Doris played Gert and Daisy, two sisters who used to work in show business. Now they run a boarding house for theatrical visitors. Other cast members included Hugh Paddick and Patsy Rowlands. The series was poorly received and only ran for six episodes.
You can read more about Elise and Doris and the contribution they made to comedy here.
Tell it to the Marines: September 1959
Eric and Mac wrote the first episode for this comedy series, also created by Ted Willis, which starred Jack Allen, Ian Colin, and Ronald Himes. It wa sn aatempt by Jack Hylton to emulate the sucess of Granada’s The Army Game. The series is based on the rivalry at both officer and lower ranks level between the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines when the latter are billeted with the former. It ran for two series and was directed by Milo Lewis.
No Hiding Place, October 1959.
No Hiding Place was a police series – made by Associated Redifussion – which ran from 1959 to 1967 and was very popular . It was the sequel to the series Murder Bag (1957–1958) and Crime Sheet (1959), all starring Raymond Francis as Detective Superintendent Tom Lockhart at Scotland Yard. Mac and Eric wrote an episode in the first series called “The Stalag Story” (in which Patrick Troughton, later the Second Doctor, had a part as “Blakey”). In 1965 Mac wrote a further two episodes : “A Menace to the Public” (15th February 1965) and “A Moment of Freedom” ( 1st December 1965).
Spotlight on Scripts.
The duo were interviewed by The Stage in August 1959 for their regular feature “Spotlight on Scripts.”
Comedy scripts, more often than not, are a matter of team work; the reverse is true in the field of drama. And it rarer still to find such collaboration among tv dramatic writers. One that has proved eminently successul is the team of Malcolm A Hulke and Eric Paice. From their beginning their efforts had immediate success; “This Day in Fear”, “The Criminals”, “Life in Danger” and “The Big Client” are a few of their hour-length (or more) plays which have been repeated on the radio and tv in America, Australia and the Continent. From this wrote several half-hour scripts for tv film series, did scripts for feature films, and are now also scripting shows for live tv serials, this time for comedy.
These two writers have more work than they cope with, and, as will be seen, this has had some reaction on the scripting formulae.
Overwhelmingly success brings its own problems, but the remarkable fact remains that their success was immediate and continuous. To what wa sthis succsess due?
“We approach the matter in a coldly scientific manner”, they said. b”We analysed good tv scipts and then evolved a method of work that would make them as foolproof as possible.”
“Certain points emerged as axiomatic. Static drama does not come across on tv, it must be fast-moving.”
“We are primarily storytellers and go into the background of every character thoroughly, even though we emay not use this. That way we are both familar with the character.”
“We work out everything live on the tape, imitating the voices we want, editing and rejecting as we go along.”
“It is important to be completely detached – not to get ourselves involved with the characters. And it is importnat to work to deadline – and keep to it.”
Working together, suggesting and rejecting, and putting everything immediately on tape, these two writers attain speed, mutual generation of ideas, accuracy of facts and attitudes, and dialogue which is functional and economic.
The intersting thing about this partnership is that, with the constant increase in work, they have lately found that they do not always have the time to work together. Now they meet once a week to discuss their scripts instead of working in the same room every day. With their newest contact with ABC-TV (three plays a year for three years) the new pattern of collaboration emerges – they will, under the contract, do two plays a year together and one play will be written by either partner.
Does this mean that a close collaboration between two writers cannot continue with excess of work? Anytime now Messrs. Hulke and Paice may be able to supply us with the answer. The Stage, 12th August 1959.
Mac and Eric were represented by Harvey Unna, a refugee from Nazi Germany. Harvey worked for the BBC on German broadcasts during the war, worked as a translator for Hartley Shawcross at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, and created one of Britain’s most successful literary agencies.
Target Luna and the Pathfinders series: 1960 and 1961
Sydney Newman commissioned Mac and Eric to write six episodes a children’s science fiction serial for ABC, Target Luna, which was broadcast in April and May 1960, directed by Adrian Brown.
Newman’s aim for the programme was to educate young people about science. The series centres on Professor Wedgewood, head of an experimental rocket centre which launches missions into space from Buchan Island, a remote Scottish isle. His children, Geoffrey, Valerie and Little Jimmy, 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 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.”
Target Luna was a success with the public and Newman commissioned three sequels: Pathfinders in Space (seven episodes), Pathfinders to Mars (six episodes) and Pathfinders to Venus (eight episodes, which aired between September 1960 and March 1961, directed by Guy Verney.
The cast was completely revamped with new actors playing both the main roles and the children, while there was greater emphasis on science in these sequels. “This is a more ambitious story,” announced Eric, with Mac adding, “We’re steeped in scienography.”
In these new adventures the adults, the children and Hamlet the Hamster travel to the Moon, Mars and Venus, encountering amongst other perils lost civilisations, an alien spaceship, sandstorms, dinosaurs and Venusians. In many ways the series, with its pedagogic intention and imaginative science fiction story lines, was a predecessor to Doctor Who. Unusually for this period the cast included had a woman scientist , Professor Mary Meadows, played by Pamela Barney.
Reviewing Pathfinders to Mars in The Stage, Dena Hamlin said that the first episode “rocketed off with a good start but soon fizzled out. In the opening minutes a fuel tank explodes, Professor Wedgwood (Peter Williams) is injured and we see science reporter Conway Henderson (Gerald Flood) take over as leader of this latest expedition from Buchan Island into space.
But, after this, and until shortly before the end of this episode, came a dreary introduction which lacked action, speed and excitement. I even felt that George Colouris, playing a mystery man who tricks his way into the expedition by misleading the Canadian professor (Bernard Horsfall), was not really sinister enough to excite the audience.
Hester Cameron, a 13 year-old making her TV debut as Henderson’s niece Margaret, was slightly precocious and did not seem suitable awed at the pospect of her jouney into space. Stewart Guidotti, again appearing as Prof Wedgewood’s son, managed to smuggle Hamlet – the guineapig who is already a seasoned luna explorer – aboard.
The last few minutes after take-off saved the episode from collapse as the mystery man radioed a “first part of the plan completed” message to his unseen accomplices. Perhaps the next five instalments will come up to the exciting standard of previous Pathfunder serials. (The Stage, 15th December 1960)
Mac told The Stage that pathfinders to Venus” …follows on from the Mars adventure. The crew are on their way back to earth when they get a radio mes sage to rescue an American who is orbiting around Venus. Needless to say, once he is picked up the Pathfinders find an opportunity to land on Venus and have a look around. No one actually knows what Venus looks like because it is covered by a white gas cloud,” . So we can use our imagination.” The Stage, 16th February 1961)
Perhaps Eric and Mac had taken criticism of Pathfinders to Mars to heart, for the anonymous reviewer in The Stage was considerably more enthusiatic about the first episode of the final serial. “ Unlike most serials, where the first episodes are devoted to introducing the characters and explaining the plot, this went staright into orbit. Hester Cameron and Stewart Guidotti as the two teenagers aboard the British ship gave good performances and reintroduced the hamsterswho is perhaps the most seasoned of the space travellers. Altogether, I am sure, children will be looking forward to future episodes.” (The Stage, 9th March 1961)
Before they wrote Pathfinders to Mars Eric and Mac sent out a three page questionaire to selected schools in London, Newcastle and Northern Ireland. The idea was to get schoolchildren to answer questions on the credibility of the recent series, to grade the personality appeal of the characters and assess the entertainment value of the show. (The Stage, 10th November 1960)
Malcolm’s connection with Sydney Newman continued when he wrote nine episodes for the cult TV series The Avengers, which Newman had 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 ran until 1969, evolving over the decade from a crime and mystery thriller to a stylish fantasy series, which combined English eccentricity with elements of “Swinging London”.
It was originally a vehicle for Ian Hendry, following from his appearance in the successful series Police Surgeon. The Avengers takes its title from the first episode “Hot Snow” in which Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry) investigates the murder of his fiancée Peggy (Catherine Woodville), shot in the street by a drug ring. He assisted by a shadowy stranger named John Steed (Patrick Macnee) who was also investigating the ring, and together they avenge her death. They then form a partmership to investigates crimes and mysteries.
Hendry left after the first series and Patrick Macnee became the lead character, while his female partners in the investigations were in order: Venus Smith, played by Julie Stevens (1962-1963), Cathy Gale (1962-1964), played by Honor Blackman, Emma Peel (1965-1967) played by Diana Rigg, and Tara King (1968-1969) played by Linda Thorson.
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 Crossroad, Terrance became assistant script editor on Doctor Who, and about ayear later, the chief script editor.
Malcolm’s episodes for The Avengers were as follows: (The episode summaries are from The Avengers Forever website)
“The Mauritius Penny“ 10th November 1962
“An extremely rare stamp turns up on a common catalog list, rather like a da Vinci appearing in a sale flier for K-Mart. The fellow who made this discovery is shot. Fortunately, Steed had the man’s phone tapped, and soon, with the aid of Cathy’s philately expertise, they are able to get their feet in the door of a fanatic political group preparing to simultaneously overthrow the British and several European governments”.
“Intercrime” (with Terrance Dicks), 7 January 1963.
“Two small-time robbers are shot in the midst of a heist. Thing is, their killer left the bag of jewels behind. When one of the robbers recovers, he is “holed up” in Steed’s apartment, where he is pumped for information about an international crime syndicate. Posing as Hilda Stern, a member of the German branch of Intercrime, Cathy infiltrates their head office. Only trouble is, the real Hilda also shows up”.
“The White Dwarf,” 17 February 1963
“Is the end of the world at hand? Only one man knows, an astronomer who has observed a white dwarf on a collision course with our solar system—and he’s been murdered! The bullets fly as Steed and Cathy close in on the truth behind a mystery that could lead to worldwide Armageddon.”
“The Undertakers”, 5 October 1963
“Undertakers arrive with a coffin to take away a businessman—before he is dead! When Steed goes looking for the man he was to escort to New York City, he finds him locked away, inaccessible, in an exclusive retirement home. When the man’s neighbor winds up in the same place under strange circumstances, Cathy shows up at the home as an employee to find impostors taking their places.”
“The Medicine Men”, 7 November 1963
“Artificial products (knock-offs of the real thing) are hitting the European market at faster rates, appearing only months after the bona-fide products are released. Steed and Cathy investigate one particularly hard-hit drug manufacturer and uncover a plot to kill thousands of people in an obscure oil-laden country with poisoned stomach powders in order to stir anti-British sentiments.”
“Trojan Horse”, 8 January 1964
“Seems a stable is handling more than just horses, and a betting syndicate is handling more than just numbers. Between them they run an assassination service wherein horse jockeys use special binoculars with built-in poison-dart guns to silently dispatch the desired target in public. Steed arrives from the foreign office to keep an eye on a dignitary’s prized horse, while Cathy becomes a bookie’s assistant.
“Concerto”, (with Terrance Dicks) 7 March 1964
“A visiting Russian piano player is not having the best of times. First, a young woman is found dead in his hotel room. Next, he is seen exiting a strip joint with a certain British secret agent. And then he is blackmailed into shooting a delegate at a recital. In order to straighten it all out, Steed must cooperate with the enemy”.
“The Gravediggers”, 7 October 1965
“The country’s early warning radar system is failing intermittently, and Steed and Emma are charged with the task of finding out why. The trail leads from a graveyard to a hospital run exclusively for the benefit of railway men where, unbeknownst to the eccentric financier, a plan is being hatched to disable Britain’s entire defense system with jamming devices hidden in coffins”.
“The Great Great Britain Crime” (with Terrance Dicks) 1967. This was never broadcast. “The story involves the theft of all the major art treasures of Britain, including the Crown Jewels, by Intercrime, an international crime organization, as the name clearly suggests. Staging a national emergency, they trigger the movement of all said treasures into a high-security vault for which they have obtained the security access codes” Bits of this episode were later recycled into Homicide and Old Lace.
“Homicide and Old Lace”, (with Terrance Dicks) 26 March 1969.
“Mother spends his birthday with two of his aunts, and entertains them with a tale of “The Great Great Britain Crime,” wherein the Intercrime organization prepares to rob all of Britain’s treasures in one fell swoop by staging a false alarm missile attack on London.” This is described by The Avengers Forever website as the worst ever episode
In October 1964 Mac was featured in a short piece in The Stage. “Malcolm Hulke is a busy man. He has just completed a draft for an episode of Gideon’s Way, he is in the process of completing an episodefor f No Hiding Place (called A Menace To the Public) and will then work on an episode of Danger Man and another for The Avengers. Without pausing to draw breath he will then complate a play for radio called A Boy For Zelda, work on the English version of a successful stage play from Holland, and perhaps turn his radio play Man on the Island into a novel. Having such much time on his hands (!) he is helping to organise the first assembly of the projected International Writers Guild, to be held in London November 19-21. “i’m a sort of glorified bedding officer, fixing acccommodation for delagates and so on” he told Television Today. (The Stage, 15th October 1964.
Winifred wrote to one of Mac’s brothers in December 1963: “Mac is well but very busy. He is writing a six part serial for television to be produced in early 1964, and has just completed a one hour episode for The Avengers series. Somehow he makes time to see me every day and last week took me to St Martin’s Theatre to see The Sound of Music. It was a lovely evening there 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.
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 Eve 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
The 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.
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 Ones”
It was in this new era that Mac’s first serial for Doctor Who was broadcast in April 1967 called “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. Although The Stage mentioned that they intended to collaborate on future projects and were working a six-part thriller for adults, this was their only work that made it to the screen.
“The War Games”
Malcolm next contribution to Doctor Who was “The War Games” which he wrote with Terrance Dicks. It was 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 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.
In the 1960s Malcolm wrote episodes of The Protectors, No Hiding Place, Gideon’s Way, The Flying Swan amongst other series. He and Eric wrote Das große Geschäft (The Big Deal) for Austrian television, which was broadcast on 25 September 1966.
It’s very surprising that Malcolm did not write any plays for the BBC series The Wednesday Play (later Play for Today). This was started by Sydney Newman in 1964 with very much the same aims as Armchair Theatre ie to dramatise social issues of the day. On occasions the dramas shown created a good deal of public controversy. The War Game, for example, made in 1965 by Peter Watkins, vividly depicted the horrific aftermath of a fictional nuclear attack on Britain, and was banned by the BBC after pressure from the government from being broadcast.
Cathy Come Home, broadcast in 1966, showed the problems of homelessness in a vivid and compelling drama-documentary style, and led to the creation of the charity Shelter. Many of the young writers on the series were on the left, such as Jim Allen, Nell Dunn, David Mercer, Dennis Potter and Jeremy Sandford, as were a number of the directors and producers , including Kenith Trodd, Tony Garnett and Ken Loach. In many ways the Wednesday play would have seemed the natural home for Malcolm. Perhaps he preferred the less naturalistic drama offered by The Avengers and Doctor Who. Perhaps he was snever asked
In the spring of 1968 Mac spent three and a half months in Australia, creating and script-editing a series called Woobinda, about a vet in the outback, made by NLT productions. “Woobinda” is an Aboriginal word meaning “healer of animals”. An earlier Australian series about a kangaroo, Skippy, had enjoyed worldwide success and it was hoped to emulate this. The producer on the series was Roger Mirams. In the end 39 episodes were made, filmed in colour. Don Pascoe played the vet, John Stevens, while Sonia Hofmann played his daughter, Tiggie, and Bindi Williams played his adopted son, Kevin, an aborigine. As well as the human cast there were, of course, numerous animals; not just dogs, cats, sheep and cattle, but also kangaroos, emus and a platypus.
Mac also wrote two episodes: “Where Dead Men Lie” (co-written with Suzanne Baker) in which Kevin, Tiggie and Peter are stranded in the desert after their plane is stolen; and “Silent Witness” in which a man claims to be haunted by a dog.
Whilst in Australia Mac sent back a report on their television which was printed in Allan Prior’s column in the Stage;
The days of pauperdom for Australian television writers are over. Last year’s new ruling requiring all stations to show at least 30 minutes per week of Australian drama forced an airing for local talent. And surprise, surprise, the audiences liked it! Thus Australian television’s money-men discovered that their biggest potential rating-puller was something previously ignored: Austra!ia\ The canned shows from Britain and America still take most of the screen time. But it’s McGooley (situation comedy). Mavis Bramston (satire) and Homicide (Z Cars la Melbourne) that people go home to watch .
In Britain it is accepted that filmed series are only possible if they get a North American sale. Here, even live television is stretching the purse strings. Yet almost every major city now has four television channels. The Australian Broadcasting Commission runs a national net work of television and radio, and get from the Government a pro portion of the licence fees. The “commercial” networks have no restraint on the number of “messages'”which can interrupt every programme. How quaint that the news showing ‘Digger’ soldiers battling the Communists in Vietnam can be interrupted twice in ten minutes to urge viewers to Sydney’s Wentworth Park to see the Moscow State Circus now on tour here.
There’s always been a fifty per cent quota on foreign-bought shows, but the home grown half can include the News, weather, sport, knitting-lessons. toddlers story-time and so on. Or, if the station owner is powerful enough, the quota can just be ignored. What controlling authority or politician dare fall foul of the Press in a country where every boot-black believes in free enterprise?
Owing to a total lack of communication between Sydney’s four transmitters, on Sundays at 8.30 p.m. you’ll probably find a 20-year-old movie showing on every click-point of your dial. In this respect at least, the English viewer would feel very much at home. In 1967, ABC produced 13 half-hour plays (Australian Play house), plus 12 one-hour plays (but many of these were from British scripts). Thus far into 1968, the record has not been so good. It is widely rumoured that ABC has run out of cash for the time being. Even so, with four television film drama series in production or preparation (mainly independent television-film companies), six live series in production and three in preparation, it is suddenly a bonanza for the Australian script-writer. It’s the script-editors and producers who’ve got problems now – how to get the scripts in!
With all this explosion of production, will anything exciting come out of it? The whole shoot looks very much to me like imitations of Britain and America, and of varying quality. But that is Australia. You’re either frightfully, frightfully English, and claim your forefathers arrived with the first fleet (in chains or otherwise), or you come from Irish slock and you are now alarmingly Americanised. Which must be frantically confusing for evety Italian, Yugoslav, or Greek migrant, who only wants to know how to become a dinkum Aussie. It would be good to think that our medium of television might one day solve the riddle, and break through with just what Australia really is and means. The sheer size baffles. Sydney to Perth, for example, is over 2.000 miles! If ever a country needed a cohesive soul, it’s this one. Perhaps television could be its Joan of Arc!” (The Stage, 18 April 1968)
Back home in Britain, Mac contributed some more unvarnished opinions on the state of Australian television in an article in The Stage in May 1969:
I was in Australia three and a half months without seeing one Australian television play. Yet I saw so many hundreds of commercials that I almost gave up watching television.
In the three and a half months in Sydney, spent very much in television circles, I rarely heard anybody talk about quality. People talked about making money but quality was unmentioned .I saw Australian television celebrities interviewed – none celebrities of drama; only quiz show and spectaculars – and all they talked about was how much loot they were making. Perhaps the English way of not talking about money is a manifestation of our world-renowned hypocrisy, but the truth is that we start off thinking in terms of quality: and then, quite possibly, we do make money. The Forsyte Saga, currently showing in Australia, is not a bad example. I really cannot imagine that the BBC executive-producer at the first planning meeting opened by saying “Look, sports, we’re going to make a few quick bucks by doing this Forsyte Saga thing.” I am sure they sat down and talked very seriously about doing some good television. The result was first-class television that is selling all over the world. Australia could be doing just the same thing.
Unfortunately Australia tends to be a dumping ground for used goods from Britain and the United States. It is argued that there is insufficient native talent to pro duce locally. I question that. I worked with Australian writers, and know their calibre. Just re cently the Australian Writers Guild held its Awards Dinner, and one of the winners was a New South Wales writer. Gregory Martin, who won an award for h’s play Silo Fifteen which has not been seen in Australia and probably never will be. He had to sell it abroad, in Europe. Why?
One of Australia’s major problems is that television there has grown too fast. In the United Kingdom wc started the world’s first regular television service back in 1936. With the interruption of war-years, it has been continuing ever since. Yet today, with a population nearing sixty millions, we have only three channels. So we have built up gradually. In Sydney, where telev:sion is on a far more local basis than Britain’s, there are four channels for two and a half million people. This is mad, uncontrolled expansion to the point where the latest Australian commercial station can only just make ends meet.
Australia is not only a dumping ground for foreign shows it is also a dumping ground for foreign people, those who dump themselves on Australia in show business. There is this peculiarity of the Australian character which firmly believes that everything and everybody from overseas must be bonza. This attitude means that some people who have not made the grade in Britain or the States can come to Australia and talk big and they will get big jobs. True, there are many talented people from overseas working in Australian showbusiness. But there are phonies, too. When any migrant American producer talked about his work on the Warner lot, I asked him what the Hollywood zip-code was. Half of them had never been near the place. And some of these fakes are top-rated in Australian television.
There is another basic prob lem the lack of strong trade unions. Trade unionism can be restrictive, but it can also ensure that the only people who can be employed are craftsmen. I was helping a technician to peg down a tent on location in that dust-bowl wilderness west of Broken Hill, and as a joke I said: “In Britain, if helped yon set this prop, you’d go on strike.” He turned to me and said: “Mate, that’s why you’ve got an industry and we haven’t.” I have thought about that, and I think there is a lot of truth in what he meant.
There is so much power in so few hands in Australia. I have heard of one well-known actor who has been totally black-listed from television in Australia because he asked for a rise. A critic Veritas, was banned from one Channel’s previews. Why? Presumably because as a critic he had criticised something. I have had it put to me by a television tycoon in Sydney that “Agreements here mean nothing.” He added: “We can crush anyone we like writers or actors because we’ve got the power.”
There is an old saying that a people gets the government it deserves. That can apply to television. Put another way, if Australians don’t like the way television is, they should do some thing about it. They should get the Government to force the television bucaneers to spend some of their dollars on training and on promoting Australian productions. particularly in drama. They should get the Government to grant to its own Australian Broadcasting Commission at least enough money to put on some Australian plays. They should get the government to change its quota system which allows 50 per cent of foreign shows, and allows the 50 per cent of home-grown shows to consist of knitting lessons, commercials and weather forecasts. I had never been to the United States but I never realised until I saw them in Australia how appallingly bad are some American television shows. In Britain, with a 14 per cent quota, we get the cream of the American product. Australians must surely be taking everything dumped on them.
After returning from Australia Mac spent some time later in 1968 in Cologne, writing for the German television crime series Gestern Gelesen (Read Yesterday)
Woobinda was screened in Britain by some ITV companies in 1969 and 1970
More information about the series is available here.
Ther eis mNNLT was joined in the venture by Ajax Films and Fremantle International, and German television also had a financial interest in the project.LT was joined in the venture by Ajax Films and Fremantle Intetional, and German television also had a financial interest in the project.
Letters to The Stage
Mac wrote letters to The Stage from time to time.
In April 1964 he responded to a comment in the press by Allan Prior as follows
“The plain fact” says Allan Prior “is that no-one can write with hangover” (see Television Today, 16 April).
Many thanks, Allan. I have sent a copy of the entire article post haste to my car insurers who remain the most steadfast believers in the envious dream that everyone in television spends their lives groping through swirling mists of marijuana smoke from one drunken orgy to the next, occasionally pausing – as the delirium tremens catch up with them – to fall flat on their faces outside police stations and emergency wards which they believe in their stupor to be televison studios. The Divorce Court, the whisky bottle, the drunk-in-charge, as seen by the beedy eyes of insurance men who put up thier premiums accordingly, and profitable.
But what an unfair picture. Certainly we writers in NW3 haven’t had a really good orgy since the last Saturnalia on Hampstead Heath and even then it rained (great fare for the raincoat specialists but rotten for the boys in drag). As to affordable post-Budget whisky, most of us are forced back onto the meths bottle again – or, in such emergencies as dawning sobriety, high octane petrol direct from the twin carburetters of our Aston-Martins.
yours faithfully, Michael Hulke
In June 1964 the actress June Monkhouse was quoted in The Stage as complaining, “There just aren’t any good parts for women in British films. If you’re teen and twenty you just may get into a comedy picture playing sexy blondes for laughs. Hardly me. I’m off to France. They know how to write for women there. (The Stage, 25th June 1964). (It seems that the quote was actually from Television Today)
What a peculiar parting shot from June Monkhouse….Does Miss Monkhouse imagine that it is the writers who decide that all women who appear in British films should be “sexy blondres for laughs”. It is the producers and distributors vwho decide what sort of films should be made if any. And to be fair to them, it is the public who express their need for sexual blonde laughter by way of the box office.“ (The Stage, 2nd July 1964.)
June riposted a few week later, setting things straight (and with her tongue firmly in her cheek) “I have just returned from a holiday in France and was slightly dismayed when my agent confronted me with a copy of Television Today…I have also read the correspondence on July 2 and July 9 in your columns. I am delighted and grateful indeed for the interest the press takes in my career from time, but I would like the opportunity to correct the impression your paragraphy has given, as several members of the profession (and who knows, possibly directors) seem to think I am now pursuing a career in French films! I am an ardent Francoophile, have worked in France and would like to do so again, but at the moment I am firmly rooted in London and working here! Like most actresses in England i bemoan the dearth of good women parts in British films and television, and especially for women of my age group, and I still believe that Fraech and Italian films provide much more scope. However, since my sojourn in the beautiful Mediterranean sun my agent tells me I now look so bronzed and lovely (??) that he might well suggest me for the “sexy blonde” roles to which I referred.
Mac’s Work in the 1970s
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. Of course, many viewers still watched on black and white sets as colour televisions were much more expensive. In March 1969, there were only 100,000 colour TV sets in use; by the end of 1969 this had doubled to 200,000; and by 1972 there were 1.6 million. Colour TV sets did not outnumber black-and-white sets until 1976.
Mac contributed six serials in this era, serials which often had a political dimension. Terrance Dicks 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
UNIT is called in to investigate why an underground atomic research centre – seeking to provide cheap, unlimited power – is suffering problems with their energy supply and experiencing mysterious attacks. 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.
Marjorie Bilbow praised this serial in The Stage under the heading “A Fine Display of Craftmanship.”
This could have been a bore. It wasn’t. Personality clashes were hinted at in tightly written dialogue leavened with humour arising out of Dr Who’s pen chant for pricking the bubble of official pomposity with the direct question that served the double purpose of clarifying detail for the lay viewer. With an elaborate multiple set, adequately dressed with extras busying themselves with highly complicated machinery to provide a background of convincing activity, Dr Who and the Silurians promises to put many a million-dollar filmed fantasy to shame. It was not an enviable task for Jon Pertwee to take over the title role. Already he has created a brand new Superbrain with all the eccentric charm of his predecessors but with a humour and forcefulness all his own. The decision to turn the series into lightweight entertain ment for adults instead of children has freed Caroline John from the need to act the well- meaning but irresponsible teen ager and she makes Liz Shaw a worthy as well as an attractive assistant to the Doctor. Nicholas Courtney suggests hidden depths to the otherwise routine military figure of Brigadier Stewart by investing his dia logue with the sardonic humour of a man of action manifestly unawed by the wrangling boffins… And you know what? I bet that now Dr Who is being written especially for adults the kids will be flocking back in their thousands. A joke that will no doubt be savoured to the full by writer Malcolm Hulke, director Timothy Combe, Script editor Terence Dicks, and producer Barry Letts. Jon Pertwee, the new Dr Who (The Stage, 5th February 1970)
“The Ambassadors of Death”, broadcast March– May 1970
This 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
In 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., but 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
The 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
Mac’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.
In 1974 Mac won an award for his work on Doctor Who at the annual Writer’s Guild awards for the best Children’s Drama script along with Robert Holmes, Terry Nation and Rovert Sloman.
In a special issue of the Doctor Who poster magazine (1995) devoted to the Sea Devils it quoted Mac as follows: “I think that in my stories the baddies aen’t really baddies because they are doing what they think is right. I find it hard to imagine anyone as totally bad or totally inimical. In fact there’s great deal of …well although I say it myself philospy and polotics in my science-fiction stories since science-fiction, and Doctor Who in particular, is a great opportunity to get across a point of view. And the point of view I have is that, lets say a maggot that just about to eat someone alive is not neccessarily a bad maggot. That just the way he is. Maggoty.
I never really write my stories with heroes or villains. They’re just a selevtion of grey people doing grey things for grey reasons. I don’t lik ethe concept of heroes. Is the Doctor one? Perhaps, but not always.
Crossroads was a daily soap opera, set in a motel in the Midlands, which was broadcast by ATV (and later Central) between 1964 and 1988. It was very popular with the public, achieving ratings rivalling that of Coronation Street in the mid 1970s but consistently derided by the critics for its production values (there were never any re-takes), cheap sets and improbable story lines. Mac worked as script editor on the progarmme for four years and also wrote six episodes for the series between 1972 and 1974 (interestingly, the same time that he was writing for Doctor Who).
In his book Writing for Television he explained 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, ant-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.
Mac also wrote four Crossroads novels: A New Beginning, A Warm Breeze, A Time for Living and Something Old, Something New.
Ronald Allen, who appeared in the Doctor Who serials “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Dominators”, was a regular character in Crossroads.
In 1972 Malcolm was 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. It lasted just one series.
Malcolm wrote regularly for radio from 1963 to 1979. I have traced 10 plays as follows;
The Man On The Island, 23 February 1963
You’re Not the Woman I Married, broadcast 13 March 1963
Till Death Us Do Part (with Eric Paice), broadcast 4 September 1963
The Pot of Gold, (with Eric Paice), broadcast 19 February 1964.
Beat Boy, broadcast 18 March 1964
A Boy for Zelda, broadcast 24 February 1965
The Girl in the Market Square (with Eric Paice), broadcast 9 February 1966
The Break-Out , broadcast 13th April 1966
A Question of Strength, broadcast 20th June 1966
This was reviewed by Paul Ferris in The Guardian. “Fiona, born amongst rich socialism, is married to John, working-class radical, who sits on a jury and lets a man be sentenced to death, affronting Fiona’s principles. His weakness and her bigotry unfold, and we leave them about to become, presumably, wiser, sadder and more compatible. But at least they all talked like recognisable inhabitants of Britain in way that characters rarely did in the average radio play, before television showed them how”.
A Face in the Night, broadcast 27 May 1970
Cops Can Be Human, broadcast 13 January 1979.
Mac’s written work
The Making of Doctor Who
As 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.
Target’s Doctor Who novels
The popularity of Doctor Who led to the publication of three novels based on the TV serials, beginning in 1964 with Doctor Who and The Daleks, written by David Whittaker and published by Frederick Mueller. This was followed in 1965 by Doctor Who and The Zarbi by Bill Struton and finally Doctor Who and the Crusades by David Whitaker.
In 1973 Target books began publishing a new series of Doctor Who novels, many of them written by the original scriptwriters. Mark Gatiss has written “Target gave us exciting versions of the stories we had seen – and glimpses into a strange and mysterious past where the Doctor had been someone else… In an age before video and DVD, the Target novelisations were a chance to relive the television adventures.”
Mac wrote seven novels for Target, six of which were based on his own work, the other one was The Green Death, whose televison script was written by Robert Sloman. The two remaining stories that he had written for the series, “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Faceless Ones”, were later turned into novels by his good friend Terrance Dicks after Mac’s death.
In an interview Mac explained how writing television scripts was different from writing novels:
Remember that in a story you have really have two stories going at once, the good guys and the bad guys. On television 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:
The best legacy he has left us, apart from a canon of fantastic Doctor Who stories, both on TV and in book form, is his inspiration. I know from talking to other authors of Doctor Who books that he is a huge inspiration on everybody’s style of writing. Everybody sees that thing in Malcolm Hulke’s books and goes, that’s why I want to be a writer.
Ben Aaronovitch, whose parents were both in the party, 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 mother. 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.”
His other writings
TV Writers School of Great Britain – 1969 to 1971
Mac was one of the people involved in a writers’ school run through correspondence.
The advert in the press in 1969 proclaimed “WRITE FOR TV AND EARN TOP MONEY. Home study course for beginners by top BBC and ITV script writers can help YOU to write for many of the current programmes. Our ten lessons have been prepared exclusively for this school by MALCOLM HULKE (one of Britain’s most prolific TV playwrights), PHILIP MACKIE (Managing Director. Granada Feature Films and Programme Consultant and Executive Producer for Granada Television), ROSEMARY HILL (BBC Script Editor for “Play Of The Month”), SHAUN SUTTON (Head of Serials, Drama, BBC TV), and MICHAEL REDINGTON (Head of Features for ABC TV). Write for free literature to: TV WRITERS’ SCHOOL OF GREAT BRITAIN Telescript House, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4. (01-353 7159. 24 hrs.) WORLD’S LEADING TV TRAINING SCHOOL ”
Another advert in December 1969 claimed that successful writers might earn £300 upwards for their first script . “FREE LUXURY HOLIDAYS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SUN and COLOUR TV SETS are among the exciting prizes being awarded by the School for the best TV plays submitted.”
Another advert in May 1971 announced: “CONGRATULATIONS We wish to thank the BBC for their television announce ment of the winners in our Holidays In The Sun Writing Competition.” They are I. S. Bryan for his script One Voice”, N W. Marshall (“As Flies Two Wanton Boys”), Lt. Commander C. R. G. Wheeler, R.N. (“For Ever And A Day”) and Sybil Briscoe for her short story “Season For Love”. The judges were BASIL DAWSON (scriptwriter for THE SAINT, CROSSROADS .etc.). WILLIAM EMMS (scriptwriter for CALLAN, PAUL TEMPLE, etc.), MALCOLM HULKE (scriptwriter for DOCTOR WHO, THE AVENGERS, etc.) and DIANA MORGAN (West End and Broadway playwright and Hollywood scenarist.”
Writing for Television (1974)
In this book he drew on his years of writing experience to explain the craft involved and also gave practical advice on the industry such as the need to get an agent. Naturally he 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.
Andrew Cartmel (producer Doctor Who 1987-1989) says of this book.
“I still remember Malcom Hulke’s book about writing for television — a glossy black hardcover with a red typewriter on the cover. It was packed with good advice (keep your submission letter — these days it would be a submission email — very short and too the point) and also schooled me in the arcane script formatting that was de rigeur in those days… you kept a vertical slab of half the page blank, theoretically so that camera directions could be written in. It was a practical guide and also an inspiration. It was my bible. And thanks in no small measure to it, and to Hulke’s common sense guidance, it was only a few years before I found myself working as the script editor on Doctor Who — where I discovered that the same Malcolm Hulke had been one of the mainstays of the writing team during the golden age of the show.
This book inspired Linda Thornber to take up writing. Interviewed by Irene Macmanus for The Guardian in January 1981, Linda, described as a “Bolton housewife, married to a businessman, mother of two“ recounted that as she approached her 40th birthday she asked herself Is that all there is? . She got a divorce and borrowed Writing for Television from the library and set about learning the craft. Six months later she had completed a series of comedies for Granada Television, The Ballyskillen Opera House. At the time of the interview she had still not returned the book. Linda went on to write many novels under the name of “Ruth Hamilton”.
The Writers Guild of Great Britain
The Television and Screen Writers’ Guild is a trade union was formed on 13th May 1959 by the amalgamation of the British Screen and Television Writers’ Association (BSTWA; originally formed as the British Screenwriters’ Association, commonly known as the Screenwriters’ Association, and renamed in 1955) and the Radio and Television Writers’ Association (RTWA). It was renamed the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) in 1964. The offices in the 1960s were at 7 Harley Street, London.
Mac was an active member. In 1960, for instance, he and Peter Yeldham edited the first three issues of the union’s new quarterly newsletter Guild News.
On 25th may 1960 he and Eric Paice took part in meeting at the Art Theatre Club organised by the Guild’s Associate Members Committee who imvited soem leading writers to come along and be questioned by any of the Associate Members who cared to attend. Some 70 members attended. The other writers who attended were Zita Dundas, Denis Norden. Larry Forrester, J. B. Wil liams, Michael Pertwee, Dick Sharpies and Gerald Kelsey, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.” After a short introduction by John Boland the meeting took on the form of an enormous get-together (with out refreshment unfor tunately) and members mixed and talked freely with each other during the next two and half hours. There is little doubt that the experiment proved to be a great success and may well prove to be the forerunner of many such evenings.”(The Stage, 2nd June 1960)
On 22nd March 1968 he represented the Guild at the first awards ceremony held by the Australian Writers’ Guild in Sydney. Mac proposed a toast to Austraian writers and said since going to Australia to script edit a film series he had repeatedly heard the question, “Can Sydney became a Little Hollyood? ” Why little?” he asked. “Did Australia think small when the Sydney Opera House was built or the famous Coathanger harbour bridge went up? Dis Australia pioneers think small?” He added that, although Australians regarded state aid as state interference (“wasn’t it free milk in schools which had broght Britain to its knees”), perhaps this was the moment when government leadership, and even financial backing, might ensure that Australia’s mass communication industries could reach their full vigour, so that both the image and the dream of modern Australia could be spread to the rest of the world. (The Stage, 4th April 1968)
In 1969 Mac edited the Writers Guide produced by the Guild for aspiring writers. which quickly sold out. It included sections on copywright, income tax and censorship as well as a section called “Craftsmanship” in which writers explained their work in poetry, journalism, adaptations, film-writing, novels, television, radio and writing for the stage.
He told The Stage, “We have had many letters of congratulations from professional writers, and of thanks from people who want to learn to write.” (The Stage, 10th April 1969).
Mac edited a second edition which appeared in 1970: the contributors included Sean Sutton, Head of Drama at the BBC.
The Writers’ Luncheon Club
Mac was the secretary of this Club, founded in 1977. According to The Stage guests at the Club “met a number of distinguished people in television, the arts and politics.” ( (The Stage, 12th July 1979) The chair was Ted Willis. The venue was the London Zoo Restaurant on Regents Park. The speakers included Michael Foot (Labour MP), Sir Robert Mark (Chief Constable of the Metropolitican Police) Brian Young (Director General of the IBA). “Things have appeared on television in this country which could never have appeared anywhere else in the world” Young told the 80 strong audience at the lunch in November 1977. He defended the amount of foreign programmes and films shown on ITV and also said that audiences were not as interested in the single play as the writers of them were. “Not everything we do can be trail blazing and the single play must experiment. And that means there must a place where something new can happen. A reason for giving the fourth channel to IBA.” ( The Stage, 17th November 1977)
Bognor Writers weekend, September, 178
This weekend away for writers seems to have been an extension of the Luncheon Club being organised by Mac and Ted Willis. John Hawkesworth’s contribution was reported in The Stage:
Series writing isn’t really a second-class affair “IF you don’t have time, you can’t take risks”, said John Hawkesworth, writer and producer of five series of Upstairs Downstairs, when he spoke last weekend to a gathering of almost 200 writers at Bognor.
He was justifying a reasonable contention tha, t although producers of television series do not exclude new writers, the conditions under which series and serials are pro duced make it expedient and perfectly natural for the producer to prefer the established writer on whom he knows already he can depend.
At the same time he admitted that it is, as he put it, “an absolute duty of the producer to give new writers a chance”: the problem was to discover not merely the writers but, more importantly, what they could do. Merely to see an example of a writer’s work on the screen was not necessarily the answer. “What is seen on the screen,” he said, “is not always a true indication of a writer’s ability.”
While hotly contending that, without a shadow of doubt, the script is the most important ingredient in a series, he holds no brief for the producer who tells a writer with a promising idea. “Go away and put it on paper– see how it goes.” That way, he suggests, is “the slippery slope.”
The writer,” he says, “must not put pen to paper until he is absolutely sure of what it is the producer wants him to write. So the relationship of the producer– and the script editor– to the writer is the most important one in television.”
Television series cannot be made today without a script editor. The script editor is the liaison between the writer and the producer who, nowadays, has not the time to deal with each individual point of style or plot. This is particularly important when filming, for then the writer must leave the script editor to fight his battles for him and preserve the integrity of the script.
“I also believe that the script editor should be one of the major writers on the series.”
He was quick to agree that the word that hurts a writer more than any other is “arbitrary”: having alterations made to a script without being told.
“Series episodes aren’t Hamlet or Tennessee William,.” he said, “and when a writer is consulted and the necessity explained to him he is usually prepared to do what is needed.”
“Television series writing isn’t second-class”, he concluded. “It is very demanding and it can be very exciting. But don’t do it unless you understand that you have to give up some of your own independence”. (The Stage, 21st September 1978)
Other speakers included Richard Imison, script editor and currently assistant head of radio drama, who gave a survey of radio drama from 1923; and John D Vincent who led a seminar on radio drama and a practical course of television writing and production; and Fay Weldon, who gave her thoughts on the business of writing.
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 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.
In 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.
In 1976 Mac wrote a statement for the Friends Anonymous Servicef or a programme called “Anything! Anytime! Any problem is no problem” broadcast on 13th March, in the BBC’s Open Door series which offered a slot to community groups. The Friends Anonymous Service was a round-the-clock voluntary agency based at Friendship House In Hackney.
MMac died on 6 July 1979 in Cambridge which is curious as he was living at 45 Parliament Hill in Hamptead. he was cremated. Terrance Dicks recalls that, as a convinced atheist, Mac had left orders that there was to be no priest, no hymns or any other ceremony at his funeral and that therefore his friends sat by the coffin not knowing what to do. “Finally Eric Paice stood up, slapped the coffin and said ‘well cheerio, Mac’ and wandered out. We all followed him.”
The Stage carried an obituary which noted his work with Eric Paice in the late 1950s and then branching out on his own in the 1960s. It also recorded that he was “a passionate crusader for the rights of the writer and a man, as Eric Paice confirms, of restless creative energy…. Last autumn he organised a highly successful week-end course for writers in Bognor, attended by a number of television and radio producers and had been hoping to repeat the event this year.”
According to The Stage he had just completed an novel called Airship. What became of this I have no idea.
The final word must surely go to Terrance Dicks . Mac was “a very kind and generous man”.
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