Monday, December 15, 2008

More or Less Discovered in a Junkyard: The Not-So-Secret Illustrated History Of BBC Telefantasy (1937-2008)

The following article, dear blog reader, is a - somewhat massively - expanded and updated version of the introductory piece to the 'BBC Telefantasy' chapter of The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (both editions of which are now, tragically, long since out of print). Even clocking in, as it does, at over twelve thousand words this article remains something of a 'work in progress' as yer actual Keith Telly Topping remembers (or, more likely, has pointed out to him by others) various productions which he have been missed. Comments and additions are, obviously, very welcome. As ever, when it comes to defining what the term ‘Telefantasy’ means (or - as a genre - what it can encompass) that's, ultimately, something which is in the eye of the beholder. But, for what it's worth the author still stand by the definition which he wrote fifteen years ago as it appears in the book. And which I've left pretty much untouched in the opening paragraphs that follow. My sincere thanks go to my co-authors of The Guinness Book of Classic British TV all them years ago - Paul Cornell and Martin Day - and to Nick Cooper, Dr Martin Wiggins, Andrew Pixley and Magic Alex Briggs for their very significant contributions to both the original (1993) and the revised (1996) text.
'There is a theory which states that if ever for any reason anyone discovers what exactly the Universe is for and why it is here it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable,' noted the SF novelist and scriptwriter Douglas Adams in his book The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, before adding, helpfully: 'There is another theory which states that this has already happened.' Television is, arguably, the artistic medium which is most uniquely suited to expanding its consumers' imaginations beyond the expected norms of reality. To be honest, you really don't need a degree in theoretical McLuhanism to work that one out for yourself.

[Footnote 1: 'McLuhanism': The philosophy contained in the writings of Canadian media-guru Marshall McLuhan (1911-80), author of The Medium is the Message, which states that the way in which people communicate with each other is, actually, far more important than what they communicate. The word first appeared in print in the 6 May 1967 edition of the Saturday Review, in an article concerning the humourist Joel Lieber's book Humanizing the Image: 'On a superficial level Lieber's provocative novel bears out the basic precept of elementary McLuhanism: the medium is the message.']

After all, one has to make the physical decision to go to a cinema and watch a movie. One has to actually pick up a book as a conscious act of self-expression. Radio requires at least a degree of active listening. But, with television, it is often just there in the corner innocently whistling away to itself but simply waiting for an opportunity to suck the viewer into its world of magic lantern phantasmagoria. If that happens and the viewer can suspend their disbelief for just long enough to get vaguely interested in whatever is going on then, quite literally, the universe is at their fingertips without them having actually done anything. Miserable old misanthrope George Orwell (1903-50) found this concept of the TV screen as some kind-of surrogate nipple, or an opiate for the masses, to be rather sinister and repellent. He based much of Nineteen Eighty-Four's memorably nasty iconography around the idea of television as a vastly unwelcome intruder into the home. Others, persuasively, have argued quite the opposite - Lord John Reith (1889-1971) in particular. That television as a medium was - and remains to this day - ideally suited to the job for which it was created in the first place. To educate, to inform and to entertain those who invite television into their living room. And this, perhaps, helps to explain why, from almost the dawn of the television era producers and writers turned to a variety of closely-related styles of storytelling - horror, science fiction, science fantasy, futuristic speculation, the paranormal and the dreamlike worlds of surrealism, nightmares and the macabre - for inspiration.

[Footnote 2: The author Phil Tonge argues that Telefantasy is 'a term originally coined by French writers who wanted to avoid long-winded sub-categories for programmes such as say The Avengers. It's much handier to term it a "Telefantasy" show than forever listing it as "One Time Trenchcoat Gritty, Surreal, SF-tinged, Action-Adventure, Comedy, Secret Agent, Leather Sex-Cop Show." Basically, if a programme contains elements of SF, horror, the supernatural, mythology and/or surrealism, then it can be deemed to be "Telefantasy."' Alison Peirse in A Broken Tradition: British Telefantasy and Children's Television in the 1980s and 1990s (published in 2010) considers Telefantasy to be: 'A term that encompasses fantasy, science fiction and horror on television.' Both are more than decent descriptions of the genre itself and of the creative terms of reference which it contains. The actual word may well be of French origin though it appears to have first been used in a published work in Fantastic Television by Gerry Gerani and Paul M Schulman, which appeared in May 1977. In the book, incidentally, Doctor Who is described as a 'whimsical, although hopelessly lowbrow, series.' Pretty much. And, that's why we love it!]

The logic, here, is flawless when you think about it. If you're going to take people into another world, as television promised to do when it first appeared then, why not do it literally? The fledgling BBC's creation of what would eventually become known, four decades later, as 'the Telefantasy genre' was probably inevitable given that most of the definitive written works in many of the fields which Telefantasy covers were originally British: the gothic novelists of the 1820s, the Victorian penny dreadfuls, the ghost stories of MR James (1862-1936) and the 'scientific romances' of HG Wells (1866-1946), for example. As early as 11 January 1937 - a mere thirteen weeks after the world's first 'High Definition television service' had begun - the BBC presented a tale of mystery and imagination, Jerome K Jerome's The Soul of Nicholas Snyder starring Edward Stirling. The play - performed on a sound-stage at the Alexandra Palace - according to Radio Times concerned 'a man who is, roughly, a combination of Faust and Scrooge [and] who exchanges his soul for that of a sailor.' Eight days later, television also became recognised as a medium for drama in its own right. Initially, as with radio, the tendency had been for producers to avail themselves of material already written for the stage. But the first drama written specifically for BBC television was probably J Bissell Thomas's The Underground Murder Mystery, set in the tube station at Tottenham Court Road. This fifteen minute 'dramatic sketch' was broadcast on 19 January 1937. The same year also saw productions of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass (22 January 1937, for the Theatre Parade strand) and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (18 February 1937). On 20 December, just over a year after its launch, the BBC broadcast a forty minute live adaptation of Arnold Ridley's celebrated 1923 stage-play The Ghost Train, performed in front of Emitron cameras by John Counsell, Joan Lawson, Don Gemmell, Alex McCringle, Clifford Benn, Arthur Young, Daphne Riggs and Laura Smithson. In this famous play, a group of travellers are stranded overnight at a remote railway station which is, apparently, haunted by a ghost train. But is the phantom locomotive really as supernatural as it appears to be? Smithson had portrayed the spinster Miss Bourne in the West End stage production and, because the character spends so much of the play asleep, in the theatre she was allowed a mattress to lie on. However, under the glare of the television cameras this luxury was not allowed. The following year would see productions of other paranormal plays like The Maker of Dreams (13 April 1938, 'a fantasy by Oliphant Down', starring Dinah Sheridan), Thank You Mr Ghost (16 August 1938) and Tobias and the Angel (1 May 1938). The latter, in particular, was a very interesting work, James Bridie's caustic minimalist allegory in which a man, his dog and the Archangel Raphael encounter numerous difficulties during the course of a long journey. It featured Tyrone Guthrie, Morland Graham, Jean Cadell and Frederick Bennett in the title role. A year later, the BBC staged a second production of the same play, this time featuring Leslie French and Robert Eddison.

However, most commentators now agree that the real birth of Telefantasy - as a generally recognised and defined genre in and of itself - occurred on 11 February 1938 with a thirty five-minute performance, broadcast live from Alexandra Palace, of a translation of the Czech playwright Karel Čapek's R.U.R. This was the work which introduced the word 'robot' into the English language. First performed on stage in Prague in 1921, and then in London in 1923, the play presents a futuristic world which first exploits its new servile creations and is then, perhaps inevitably, enslaved by them. Unlike the modern usage of the term, these robots were actually closer to androids or clones than metal men, as they can be, and are, often mistaken for humans. Although Čapek's story was, effectively, a modern retelling of the ancient Jewish Golem legend, it began a whole line of science-fiction conceits which remain staples of the genre to this day. Though significantly compressed for the confines of the new medium, John Bussell's production was judged to be 'interesting throughout,' by The Times reviewer the following day. The cast included Harvey Braban, Cheryl Cotterrell, Annie Esmond, Judith Gick, Stephen Jack, Desmond Davis, Connaught Stanleigh, Derek Bond, Larry Silverstone and Evan John. The groundbreaking robot costumes were designed by Mary Allan. Bussell would subsequently re-stage a full ninety minute post-war version of the play (4 March 1948) with a cast that included Joy Adamson, Maurice Bannister, David Marsh, Patrick Troughton, Pamela Stirling and Derek Tansley. Another of Čapek's harshly allegorical modernist Kafkaesque nightmares, The Insect Play, was also produced by the BBC (on 13 May 1939, directed by Stephen Thomas). The birth of television horror followed soon afterwards, firstly with Michael Hogan's acclaimed adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart (4 January 1939, featuring Basil Cunard, Stuart Latham and Esme Percy). And then continued, with an ambitious adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's Victorian chiller Gas Light (19 March 1939) featuring Gwen Ffrangon-Davies, Milton Rosmer, Beatrice Rowe and Elizabeth Inglis. These were transmitted a scant few months before the outbreak of the second world war and six years of - very real - horror to come. Television, as if in sympathy, closed down for the entire duration.

[Footnote 3: With reference to Karel Čapek's 'invention' of the word robot. R.U.R was first published in 1920. Čapek himself wrote a letter in reference to the etymology of the word to the Oxford English Dictionary in which he suggested that his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, was its actual originator. In an article in the Czech journal Lidové Noviny in 1933, Čapek explained that he had originally wanted to call the machine creatures in R.U.R 'workers' using either the word 'laboři' (from the Latin 'labor') or 'dělňasi' (from the Czech word for workers, 'dělníci'). However, Čapek didn't believe either word fitted particularly, and sought advice from Josef, who suggested 'roboti.' The word 'robota' means literally 'corvée' or 'slave labour' and, more figuratively, 'drudgery' or 'hard work' in Czech and also 'work' generally in several of the Slavic languages. Tragically, neither of Čapek brothers lived to see their word become a standard element of science-fiction in the post war years. Karel died on Christmas Day 1938 from pneumonia whilst Josef perished in Belsen in 1945.]

The immediate post-war years brought a host of literary adaptations to the screens of a rapidly expanding television audience. The BBC, taking its Reithian mission-statement to the letter, sought to bring a touch of culture to the masses via productions of HG Wells' The Time Machine (25 January 1949, with Russell Napier) and JB Priestley's I Have Been Here Before (9 May 1949) and Summer Day's Dream (30 October 1949). Another of Priestley's plays, Time and the Conways (19 November 1950) along with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (14 November 1950) and Dickens' major entry into the genre, A Christmas Carol (25 December 1950 with Barnsby Williams as Scrooge) were also adapted during this period. Additionally, there was 1948's Dr Angelus, a supernatural drama starring Alistair Sim and Georle Cole and Saturday Night Stories (1948-49), a series of tales of mystery and suspense dramatically read to the audience by their author, Algernon Blackwood. Priestley was a regular contributor to the medium during those days, with a production of his acclaimed novel Jenny Villiers (18 March 1948), starring Leslie Banks and Daphne Arthur, being a notable contemporary critical and artistic success for the BBC.

[Footnote 4: Novellist, playwright, critic, broadcaster and social observer John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984) is a hugely important - and often, tragically, overlooked - contributor to the science fiction genre. His 'Time Plays' were a series of stage dramas written during the 1930s and 40s dealing with different concepts of the passage of time. In each play an alternative theory becomes the central metaphor or theatrical device of the play, the characters' lives being affected by how they react to the unusual temporal landscape that they encounter. Time and the Conways emerged out of Priestley's reading of JW Dunne's book An Experiment with Time in which Dunne posits that all of time is happening simultaneously; that the past, the present and the future are, in fact, one and that linear time is only the way in which human consciousness is able to perceive this. Priestley used the idea to show how humans experience emotions like loss, failure and the death of their dreams but also how, if they could experience reality in its transcendent nature, they might find a way out. The idea is not dissimilar to that presented by Eastern philosophy - that if humans could understand the inherently transcendent nature of their existence then the need for greed and conflict would end. I Have Been Here Before was inspired by PD Ouspensky's theory of 'eternal recurrence' from A New Model of the Universe. Summer Day's Dream, first performed on stage in 1949, was set thirty years into the future, in the aftermath of a Third World War, and was an ethical debate on the subject of belief, in all its forms. Although not strictly speaking part of the 'Time Plays' (it was actually published as a novel), Jenny Villers shares many similar ideas along with Priestley's omnipresent humane and idealised profundity and wit. A successful but dispirited playwright is supervising the rehearsals of his new play, The Glass Door, at an old theatre in the North of England. The actors are irritated by his cynical attitude, but when left alone in the darkened room the writer experiences visions of a Nineteenth Century tragedy which alter his outlook on both his professional and personal life.]

The Victorian body-swap morality play Vice Versa was adapted as a two-part adventure by the BBC in July 1953. In 1954, Wolf Mankowitz adapted Nicolai Gogol's classic ghost allegory The Bespoke Overcoat starring Alfie Bass and David Kossoff (17 February). Other curios from the period included Peter Blackmore's play Miranda, about a fisherman who catches a mermaid which was performed, live, on Christmas Day 1949 featuring Peggy Simpson in the title role, alongside Emrys Jones and David Tomlinson. However, critical attitudes towards material containing any hint of supernatural elements could be very polarised. For instance, it is interesting to compare and contrast reaction to a production of Wells' The Wonderful Visit (3 May 1952) which starred a young Kenneth Williams as the angel with that to a powerful adaptation of WW Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw almost exactly two years later (10 May 1954). The former, a complex and clever fantasy of human behaviour when confronted with a stranger, and an allegory on the theme of intolerance and bigotry, was deemed 'a brave failure,' Philip Hope-Wallace writing in The Listener that the production was 'the sort of thing which may delight us on paper, but seems laboured when it slowly takes shape before you, "realised" in flesh and blood, and a cardboard countryside. A distinguished cast toiled angelically.' By contrast, The Monkey's Paw - which had previously been presented by the BBC as 'a play in three acts' in April 1938 - had The Times gushing: 'Throughout the ancient fable of the three fatal wishes (as it occurs in the working class Fulham of 1903), the atmosphere is one of macabre suspense ... The sight of the eerie shrivelled paw itself, together with Henry Oscar's anxious portrait of the father distraughtly dropping it after he had wished, helped to suspend disbelief. Only the inherently farcical force of the sad news that the son is dead, uttered by a frock-coated gentleman out of Wilde, was not altogether avoided. But the final touch of the two tightly bolted doors when the same son (Terence Alexander) returns to life for the second wish and then dies again for the third was conveyed in all its full horror.'

The same era saw the first experiments in episodic SF sagas. Stranger from Space was an eleven-episode fortnightly insert into the regular children's programme Whirligig (beginning 20 October 1951). Written by Hazel Adair and Ronald Marriott, the series concerned a Martian (Michael Newell) who crashes his 'space boat' on Earth and is found and helped by a young boy, Ian Spencer (played by Brian Smith). Future Telefantasy legend Peter Hawkins had a role in the piece, as did Valentine Dyall in 1952's second series of six episodes. Similar serials from the period include 1954's The Lost Planet (and its sequel Return To The Lost Planet) and 1956's Space School, all produced by Kevin Sheldon for the BBC's fledging children's department. But, it was an August 1952 production of Stanley Young's Mystery Story which saw the Telefantasy debut of the man who was, unquestionably, to shape the genre for most of the next two decades, the Manx scriptwriter Nigel Kneale (1922-2006).

[Footnote 5: Having trained at RADA, following the publication of a collection of his short stories, Tomato Cain and Other Stories in 1949, Kneale gave up acting to write full-time. He subsequently took small voice-over roles in some of his 1950s television productions (such as the voice heard on the factory loudspeaker in Quatermass II, for which he also narrated most of the recaps shown at the beginning of each episode). Kneale's publishers wanted him to concentrate on writing novels, but Kneale himself was more interested in scripting for television. A keen cinema-goer, he believed that the audience being able to see human faces was an important factor in storytelling. In 1951 he was recruited as one of the first staff writers to be employed by BBC Television. Kneale was initially a general purpose writer, working on adaptations of books and stage plays and even writing material for light entertainment and children's programmes. The following year, Michael Barry became the Head of Drama at BBC Television, and spent his entire first year's script budget of two hundred and fifty pounds to hire Kneale as a full-time writer for the drama department. Kneale's first credited role in adult television drama was providing 'additional dialogue' for the play Arrow to the Heart (20 July 1952). This was the first time that Kneale would work with the director Rudolph Cartier, who had also joined the staff of the BBC in 1952.]

Kneale was also involved in the acclaimed adaptation of Charles Irving's paranoid nuclear chiller Number Three (1 February 1953) which he co-wrote with George F Kerr. At a remote atomic research station, scientists working on a new form of nuclear power discover that their leader plans to create a weapon potentially even more devastating than the H-bomb. The Listener's contemporary reviewer noted: 'The theme - surely becoming a bore - of the play was love among the atom scientists; the start was uphill work, with love-sick researchers and high jinks in the canteen, but as the melodrama put on speed and we rushed toward the danger of an idealistic lady scientist sending the research station sky-high, the acting and dialogue began to seem adequate and even convincing.' The play was produced by Stephen Harrison, and featured Philip Guard, Jack Watling, Ursula Howells, Terence Alexander and Peter Cushing. But it was with his own serial, The Quatermass Experiment (also 1953), that Kneale - quite literally - changed the face of TV drama forever. Kneale gave the age-old man-turned-monster theme a new and sinister, post-nuclear edge, though he still chose to set the story within the comfortable confines of traditional drama with most of the serial becoming, essentially, a hunt for the infected astronaut, Victor Carroon (Duncan Lamont). This concluded with the titular scientist hero, Bernard Quatermass (Reginald Tate), confronting the growing monster in Westminster Abbey, appealing to the once-human part of the abomination to destroy itself and, thus, to save humanity. The monster in this final sequence was actually two pairs of rubber gloves covered with painted vegetation, 'played' by Kneale himself and his girlfriend Judith Kerr through holes in a cut-out model of the Abbey. When the story was - brilliantly - remade as a live performance by BBC4 over fifty years later (a production which featured David Tennant, Mark Gatiss and Jason Flemyng) it was noted in the contemporary press that the entire cost of the 1953 Quatermass (approximately three thousand two hundred pounds) would have, roughly, paid the tea bill in 2005. Kneale's development as something of an iconoclast, a keen - if occasionally misanthropic - observer of human frailty and a social commentator of the first order seen through two further Quatermass serials and ground-breaking productions of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954, starring Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Yvonne Mitchell and André Morrell) and his own play The Creature (1955, also featuring Cushing and Stanley Baker) would continue throughout the following two decades. In 'major event' TV plays like The Road (1963), The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), the extraordinary Bam! Pow! Zap! (1969, starring Clive Revell and Robert Powell), Wine of India (1970, with Brian Blessed and Annette Crosby) and The Stone Tape (1972) Kneale would pull Telefantasy away from its cosy little-England literary roots and into wild, experimental, almost nihilist areas never dreamed of in the austere, pipe and slippers post-war Britain of the 1950s.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, in particular, was a huge cause célèbre at the time. It scandalised polite society - notably the terrifying Room 101 sequences - and, not for the first time, politics threatened to interfere in areas of artistic concern in relation to a BBC production. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. On the Tuesday after the play's initial Sunday evening transmission, a motion was tabled in the House of Commons by five Conservative MPs deploring, 'the tendency, evident in recent BBC television programmes, notably on Sunday evenings, to pander to sexual and sadistic tastes.' An amendment, by five Labour members and one Tory (Beverley Baxter) deplored 'the tendency of honourable members to attack the courage and enterprise of the BBC in presenting plays capable of appreciation by adult minds.' A second amendment commended the original motion in crassly sycophantic style 'but is thankful that freedom of the individual still permits viewers to switch off and, due to the foresight of Her Majesty's Government, will soon permit a switch-over to be made to more appropriate programmes' (a clear reference to the impending launch of ITV eighteen months hence). By contrast, a second motion, tabled by six Conservatives, applauded, 'sincere attempts of the BBC to bring home to the British people the logical and soul-destroying consequences of the surrender of their freedom,' and calling attention to the fact that, 'many of the inhuman practices depicted in this play are already in common use under totalitarian regimes.' Orwell himself, dead over four years, must no doubt have been chuckling away in his grave that when somebody had finally got the point of his heartfelt attack on Stalinism, it was actually a bunch of right-wing MPs. The BBC received hundreds of telephone complaints after the initial broadcast and were under intense pressure to cancel a planned Thursday repeat performance. The furore subdued somewhat when Prince Philip spiritedly came to Nineteen Eighty-Four's defence in a speech at the Royal Society of Arts, stating that 'The Queen and I watched the play and thoroughly enjoyed it.' On Thursday, The Times weighed into the debate with a strongly worded editorial which defended the BBC's right to freedom of speech: 'The BBC alone should be responsible for its programmes. It is hoped that as a result of all the fuss in the newspapers and elsewhere there will be an even larger audience for tonight's repeat than might otherwise have been gathered. If anything had been needed to underline the tremendous possibilities of television, the reactions of the last few days have provided it ... Orwell's novel has been in circulation for five years. It has been widely read and made many thinking people uncomfortable. Yet until last Sunday's broadcast it could be said that the impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the British public had been only marginal. Despite their use hundreds of times in newspapers, such phrases as "totalitarianism," "brain-washing," "dangerous thoughts," and the Communist practice of making words stand on their heads have for millions of people taken on new meaning. The BBC is to be congratulated.' The repeat went ahead - live from Lime Grove - and was, thankfully, telerecorded for posterity. It remains, in 2008, what it was in 1954, a genuine television masterpiece.

Quatermass II, in 1955, featured aliens attempting to invade earth by possessing humans. The Quatermass character was the only link with the first serial (his stalled plans for a new moon rocket provided a comparatively realistic sub-plot), as the nature of the unearthly menace, and the feel of the programme itself, was very different from Kneale's first serial. Reginald Tate died weeks before filming began, and so John Robinson took on the role of the professor. Landing in meteors, the aliens build a replica of Quatermass' moonbase as a factory, where they manufacture their foodstuffs. A man is contaminated by the food, and dies of his burns. The location filming at Shellhaven refinery installation in Essex formed an impressively grim – and quasi-futuristic - backdrop to many of the ensuing events. Quatermass II set itself far more firmly in an obvious SF niche, which perhaps upset some of those looking for something more 'sophisticated', although it was, not surprisingly, a massive popular success just as its predecessor had been. Kneale still had points that he wanted to make. Forcefully. His was never a mindless science fiction, there was, clearly, a point to all this. 'There were references there to mysterious Government establishments like Porton Down, which were believed to kill you if you got too close. The base was filled with creatures from outer space but they were "explained away,"' Kneale noted years later. 'Really it was about semantics, about verbal cheating. The workforce were told that this was "a perfectly normal occurrence" and that "it was all to be expected." Finally they broke in and in what I suppose [was] the nearest I got to a political scene, they hesitated when they were met with soothing music, offers of conciliation and free meals.' Quatermass returned again three years later (this time with, perhaps, the definitive performance of the title role by André Morell) in the pinnacle of the series. A story which moved the emphasis from alien invasion to an SF explanation of archetypal and supernatural images and fears. Quatermass and the Pit (1958) begins with parts of London being rebuilt after the Blitz. At Hobbs Lane, a five million year-old skull is dug up, soon followed by an alien projectile. An goblin-like ghost is seen, and then the husks of three alien insect creatures are found. Quatermass begins to draw the various and increasingly haunting phenomena together: the Martians visited earth millions of years ago, and bequeathed to the ancestors of the human race various deep fears and images, including 'the Wild Hunt', when the Martian hives were purged. The serial ends with chaos breaking out as the people of London are driven to a new racial purge, to which even Quatermass is not immune.

Kneale was also one of the first TV writers to bring reasonably authentic working class voices to the 'received pronunciation' world of the BBC. We are never far from the chattering chorus of both wise and foolish opinions in the pub in a Kneale script – he makes a positive virtue of everyday mundanity and a general mistrust for authority (see, for example, many sequences in both Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit). This was also true of his regular collaborator, the émigré Austrian director Rudolph Cartier (1904-1994) whose keen eye for detail and scope matched Kneale's visions almost perfectly. Like all BBC drama of the time, the Quatermass serials were transmitted live and yet the scale of production was epic even by some modern TV standards, something which characterised the majority of Cartier's work. (Legend has it that upon seeing a new script his first exclamation would invariably be an extravagant 'I shall need one hundred extras!') Cartier never saw television as a medium which, necessarily, had to be 'smaller' than cinema, either in terms of subject matter or the complexity of its production. Throughout his television career Cartier worked only for the BBC, famously objecting to independent television with the dismissive comment 'I hate the idea of my creative work being constantly interrupted for commercial reasons. I am an artist, not a salesman!'

[Footnote 6: Like Dennis Potter, Rudolph Cartier died on 7 June 1994. Although of different generations, in the same day were lost television's greatest dramatist and the man who, in effect, created television serial drama as we know it. Characteristically modest, when interviewed in 1991 by BBC2's The Late Show, Cartier summed up his life's work thus: 'The public wants to be lifted out of their drab, dreary life, to look at this cold screen of glass, and look at another world. That is what the public expected of me.']

Compared to the genuinely revisionist work of the Kneale/Cartier stable, other contemporary teleplays which the BBC commissioned such as Charles Eric Maine's TimeSlip (25 November 1953) or The Offshore Island (an April 1959 post-nuclear tale) can seem rather dull, if extremely worthy, by comparison. TimeSlip had an intriguing premises: John Mallory (Jack Rodney) dies, but is brought back to life by an injection of adrenalin into his heart. Unfortunately, this results in his perception of time being four and a half seconds ahead of everyone else's, to the extent that he is able to answer questions before they are even asked. The novelty soon wears off and his life becomes a misery until his psychiatrist eventually 'cures' him by smothering him to death and then reviving him with a second, more carefully measured, dose of adrenalin. The cast also included Robert Ayres and Harold Jamieson. The Offshore Island, a condensed version (by Michael Voysey) of Marghanita Laski's 1954 play, was produced by Dennis Vance. Eight years after a nuclear war has reduced much of Europe to a wasteland, Rachel Verney (Ann Todd) and her two teenage children, James and Mary (Tim Seely and Diane Clare), live in isolated tranquility in a valley which - due to a freak topographical effect - has escaped the ravages of fallout and war. Their peace, however, is disturbed by the arrival of a group of American soldiers, who tell them that the war is still going on and that they have come to transport the family to a relocation camp in the United States, where they can work for the war effort and all their needs will be provided for. It turns out, of course, that the military's motives are nowhere near so benevolent. Considered 'Contaminated Persons,' the family will be sterilised to prevent them having mutated offspring, and their land will be destroyed. A Russian patrol also arrives and it transpires that although there is a truce between the two sides - so that they can join forces against China - this will not affect the fate of the Verneys, with James eventually being shot by the American Captain (Phil Brown) and Rachel and Mary electing to remain in their home, waiting for the bombs to arrive. Somewhat predictably given the subject matter, reactions to the play were split along party lines. The Times considered that: 'Miss Laski seems to have written it more in an excess of public-spirited zeal than out of any creative urgency. Like Mr JB Priestley in Doomsday For Dyson [a virulently anti-nuclear ITV play shown the year before], she comes to grind her axe about The Bomb. From [the arrival of the Russians] the play becomes a duologue between humanity and politics; and it is conducted with a dishonesty that identifies political man with the stock image of the tail-wagging jargon-ridden American.' On the other hand, Ivor Brown (writing in The Listener) noted: ‘Whether Miss Laski was being fair to American servicemen (with Pentagon politics behind them) I do not know. But surely there is a case for welcoming in television drama occasional approaches to the greatest problem in the world's history, about which nobody with any spark of failing can fail to be in some way tendentious. Complete objectivity in such a case is either impossible or, if possible, dull. The Offshore Island was not written for the industry of entertainment. Dennis Vance's production had an excellent urgency and vigour.' The era was also notable for another Vance production, George Kerr's alien-invasion classic The Voices (16 January 1955). Kerr's adaptation of Robert Crane's novel Hero's Walk, was set in 2021. The Inter Cos world government rules the Earth and is meeting to discuss the next stage of space exploration. An artificial planet - Platform One - already orbits the Earth, and there are plans to construct another - Beta - for Mars, which has already been colonised. The Inter Cos President, Werner (Walter Rilla), envisages further expansion, with the full backing of the Russian and Chinese delegates. Meanwhile, Professor Mark Harrison (Willoughby Goddard), who is dying from radiation poisoning, by some unexplained mental communication, is in contact with an avenging alien force bent on punishing mankind for having over-reached itself in its expansion away from its native planet. Werner is replaced by Sir Alton Berkeley (Terence Alexander), and the threat recedes. Other notable cast members included Kevin Stoney and Barry Letts, who went on to produce Doctor Who in the 1970s. According to The Times, ‘Technicians, the designer, and the producer took pains to make the all-important mechanism of space taxis and vision telephones elaborately efficient. In 2021 jackets will apparently be worn without lapels, and cigarettes smoked as now.' The Listener was, if anything, even less complimentary: 'Dennis Vance, producing, whipped the pace to a point where one not merely did not, but could not, dwell on the feebleness of the dialogue or stop to ponder the "scientific" mumbo-jumbo, yet in an hour and a half the piece induced a feeling of real contempt. If the war of the worlds is really to be like this, we shall have died of yawning before the first death rays sting us.' The 'absurd television telephones' were condemned, and The Voices themselves, 'sounded merely flatulent, at worst like a long-playing gramophone record carelessly put on at the wrong speed.'

This was also the era of Evelyn Fraser's cryogenic murder mystery The Critical Point (5 December 1957), a production which left JC Trewin (writing in The Listener), 'afraid to approach a refrigerator.' Doctors Philip Gage (Eric Lander) and Andrew Mortimer (Leo McKern) have been experimenting with 'hibernation anaesthesia,' first with chimpanzees, but now having reached a stage where freezing a human can be attempted. When Gage kills his wife, Margot (Nicolette Bernard), he quickly volunteers for the treatment. Detective Inspector Snaith (Tom Chatto), is bent on nicking the good doctor for his nefarious skulduggery, only to be told: 'Doctor Gage is at present enclosed in a tank full of solidified gas at a temperature of minus eighty degrees centigrade.' 'That sounds pretty cold to me,' murmurs the Inspector. In the end McKern's character arranges a 'mercy-killing' to spare his colleague the indignity of a murder trial and execution. The play was judged a success given that, 'if its treatment had been less determined, it could have been the frozen limit, but Miss Frazer had written it ably, and Leo McKern, Eric Lander, and the others acted with so much absorption that it would have been ungenerous not to join the fun.' Producer George R Foa remounted the play three years later with a new cast. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Hands Across the Sky was a February 1960 comic opera concerning aliens and featuring the memorable libretto 'I chased him through the uranium deposit/Now he's locked himself in the heavy water closet!' 'Vocal monotony was a stumbling block to enjoyment' noted the Daily Telegraph reviewer, dryly. It was productions like Troy Kennedy Martin's 1961 Storyboard adaptation of John Wyndham's enigmatic short story The Long Spoon, however, which pointed the way towards a new era in which science fiction ideas would play a major part.

[Footnote 7: John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born in 1903 in Edgbaston. He started writing for American pulp-fiction houses whilst working for the Civil Service in the 1930s. After the second world war, he concentrated on science-fiction. Yet his novels seldom dealt with other planets, but rather on the issues which unusual and otherwordly situations affected his, very human, characters. A writer of superb urbane and sophisticated dramas, his use of first-person narrative helped give his stories a strong sense of reality. His first SF novel, The Day of the Triffids is, of course, a genuine masterpiece. Published in 1951 it was quickly picked up for a film adaptation, as was his fourth novel The Midwich Cuckoos, published in 1957 (and filmed in 1960 as The Village of the Damned). Now regarded, as the father of modern British SF, Wyndham's other novels include The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalides and Trouble with Lichen. His finest work, the alternate-universe short story Random Quest from the Consider Her Ways collection, has also been filmed (as Quest for Love). Wyndham died in 1969.]

The cause of 'serious' Science Fiction on TV received a tremendous boost in 1961 with the debut of A for Andromeda. Written by John Elliot, from a story by the controversial astronomer Fred Hoyle, this starred Esmond Knight, Mary Morris, Peter Halliday and Julie Christie as the eponymous alien heroine. It concerned a group of scientists who detect a radio signal from a distant galaxy which contains instructions for the design of an advanced computer. When the computer is built it gives the scientists instructions for the creation of a living organism from which Andromeda is 'born.' However, one of Andromeda's creators, John Fleming (Halliday), fears that her - unwitting - purpose is to subjugate humanity. Location filming took place in July 1961 around London, including at IBM's offices on Wigmore Street, and in Tenby in Pembrokeshire where the Manorbier Army Base stood in for the Thorness research centre. The army assisted the production by providing a helicopter for scenes of personnel arriving at Thorness and for aerial shots of the base and environs. A combination of boardroom internal politics (a predecessor of Elliot's subsequent popular drama series The Troubleshooters) and cutting-edge SF speculation, A for Andromeda was highly popular and achieved a fair smattering of critical acclaim: The Times noted that: 'Although it is encouraging to have the authority of Professor Fred Hoyle for the scientific credibility ... it is the skill of Mr Hoyle the novelist that will mainly be called upon to hold our attention.' The Evening News, declared the serial to be 'a jolly good successor to Quatermass.' Not everyone was quite so impressed, however. L Marsland Gander in the Daily Telegraph wrote: 'As a devotee of Prof. Hoyle and a keen student of disembodied intelligence I felt impatient. I am too well acquainted with [his] work to be disappointed, but the temptation is great.' And, Philip Phillips of the Daily Herald sniffily added, 'The next six episodes might be brilliant. But I won't be watching them.' Various letter writers to the Radio Times discussed the scientific accuracy of the serial in some detail including one correspondent, CW Bartlett of Watford, who informed readers that the references to DNA (identified by Watson and Crick just a few years earlier) was not a fictional substance but really existed. This was expounded upon by the Daily Mail which drew comparisons with the creation of Andromeda and announcements from both Italy and Russia that scientists had successfully fertilised a human egg outside of the womb: 'These are tough times for the science fiction writer,' the newspaper's reviewer wrote. 'Jules Verne and HG Wells have long been left in the wake of the rocket, the H-bomb and the atomic submarine. Now our own Fred Hoyle is desperately trying to keep a jump ahead of his fellow scientists in the laboratory.' A for Andromeda led to a direct sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, the following year, in which Susan Hampshire took over the title role. The BBC, sensing an emerging trend, tried to repeat the Andromeda formula with, firstly, the intelligent serial The Escape of RD7 (1961, featuring Patrick Cargill and Derek Waring). And then, with high-value production plays like The Test (also 1961) and the six-part astronaut thriller The Big Pull (1962). 1964's series R3 starring Jon Robinson (and, in its second series, a young Oliver Reed) also falls into this category.

In The Test, John Armstrong (Nicholas Selby), is engaged on defence work involving forces of appalling power, and grave fears of a miscalculation - with terrifying consequences - are added to the strain he is under over his turbulent private life. His wife, Mary (Sheila Ballantine), is having an affair with a colleague. The Times thought Alan Bromly's production, 'though never failing to interest us, did not hold us spellbound or make us feel that human emotions were under any greater strain than usual as a result of the dangerous forces involved.' Whilst in earlier productions with a similar theme – notably Number Three - the subject of the scientist's researches was the raison d'être of the play, The Test was, essentially, a study of one man's mental breakdown, with the science-fiction elements reduced to something of a cipher. The five-part The Escape of RD7, adapted by Tom Clarke from an idea by James Parish. Dr Anna Hastings (Barbara Murray) has developed a virus which is hoped can be used against rats. But, when a laboratory cleaner is infected, Hastings is ordered to stop her experiments. Somewhat irresponsibly, she drugs her assistant and hides away with him in a remote part of Essex to carry on her experiments, firstly by injecting herself with the potentially deadly RD7. Produced by Thomas Ormerod, the serial was reasonably well-received, with the script and characterisation being particularly praised, although The Times suggested that, 'all of Mr Clarke's women characters are so unpleasant one might suspect him of misogyny.' The plot of The Big Pull started like a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, with an American astronaut Mike Sklorski (Frank Fenter) returning to Earth from orbit, only to drop dead from unknown causes the moment the capsule is opened. The first man to enter the space craft is its designer, Weatherfield (Felix Deebark), who then appears to absorb all of Sklorski's memories before later disappearing. The potential menace becomes apparent when there are a further series of similar 'fusions', when of two men attacked, one dies and the other vanishes. This was an early association with Telefantasy for the producer, Terence Dudley, later to work on Doomwatch and Survivors. It could be said that R3 was a kind-of forerunner of Doomwatch in so much as it was concerned, primarily, with the staff of Research Centre Number Three. Which, Radio Times described as 'a fictional establishment, true, yet only as far removed from reality as the Ministry of Research to which it supposedly belongs is removed from the real Ministry of Science - which is not very far.' The scientific content was claimed to be 'as accurate as it is possible to make it.'

On 19 June 1960 the BBC staged an updated version of Karel and Josef Čapek's The Insect Play which, as noted, they had previously adapted in 1939. The production had a very distinguished cast, including John Bennett, Joby Blanshard, Anna Cropper, Richard Wordsworth, Angela Crow, Gretchen Franklin, Patrick McAlinney, Jack Smethurst, Patrick Troughton and Ronnie Stevens. Writing in The Listener, Irving Wardle noted that the play has 'repeatedly proved itself a natural radio work' and went on to suggest how it might be made to work in visual terms. 'I remember a school production, for instance, that succeeded by brilliant stylization, the insects appearing in modern dress roughly equivalent to their characteristics (black mackintoshes for the beetles, golfing suits for the crickets) each species adhering to a strictly choreographed range of movement.' Wardle, however, was underwhelmed by producer Hal Burton's approach: 'Insects are effective subjects for allegory because their natures are sharply defined. Mr Burton dressed them up in ugly, masked costumes which made them all look alike and left them unprovided with any resource of disciplined movement representative of their species. The cast, perfunctorily waving their flippers from time to time never departed far enough from humanity to be in a position to comment on it. It would be nice to think that this elaborate production was a determined effort to present an expressionistic work naturalistically; but carelessness seems the likelier cause of its inadequacy.' According to a contemporary Radio Times article, the production was so large it had to be split over two studios at Lime Grove: 'Of which one will be entirely occupied by the elaborate flying apparatus which has been installed to cope with the butterfly sequence.' This was considered a major undertaking, and striking use was made of live video superimposition to create different scales for the figures in a significant number of shots. Similarly notable was the underscoring almost throughout with a modernist soundtrack created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The Daily Mail's Peter Black wrote: 'We saw the chrysalis, which the tramp had been encouraging throughout the play, finally break out as a beautiful moth. She danced around in joy and in a few moments died. The tramp wonderingly picked up the body and laid it in the palm of his hand. What other medium could produce this moment so tellingly? The cinema, I suppose. But the cinema would not do The Insect Play.' Somewhat bizarrely, the story of the four-part 1963 serial The Monsters was - according to legend - worked out over lunch in the BBC Canteen the day after watching a Panorama report on the possible existence of the Loch Ness Monster. It reunited Evelyn Frazer and George R Foa, who had worked together on The Critical Point, with Vincent Tilsley sharing the writing chores. On honeymoon on the banks of Lake Kingswater, Professor John and Felicity Brent (William Greene and Elizabeth Weaver) encounter strange goings on at the long-fabled haunt of mysterious creatures. Why does Professor Cato (Robert Harris) have a miniature submarine? Why has he been using it to make people believe there are monsters in the Lake? Do the monsters exist at all? Brent discovers that they do, and the fate of mankind resist on their survival. The serial was directed by Mervyn Pinfield. Special effects for the series came courtesy of Bernard Wilkie and Stewart Marshall.
But it was with an eye to the success of the ABC Pathfinder family science fiction serials of the era that the BBC fully confirmed its commitment to the Telefantasy genre in 1963 with their Head of Drama, Sydney Newman's, creation of – what remains to this day - British Telefantasy's flagship and standard bearer, Doctor Who. Conceived, during the spring and summer of 1963, as a sort of vaguely educational family programme which would use the conventions of science fiction to explore Earth's history and various potential Orwellian futures (but, mainly to fill a problematic twenty five-minute Saturday tea-time slot between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury), had it been produced by Don Taylor and written by Dennis Potter (as it could easily have been) – and had it remained faithful to Newman's initial vision – then it would doubtless still be a well-remembered curio of the age. It is, however, extremely unlikely it would lasted getting on for half-a-century, almost eight hundred episodes, ten changes of lead actor and to have shaped the popular psyche of three or four generations of young Britons in quite the way that it has. Developed, from Newman's initial concept by producer Verity Lambert, script editor David Whittaker and various others within the BBC drama department, the story of Doctor Who thereafter is simply that of one successful evolution after another, constantly synthesizing new ideas as each successive production team took charge. Of course, being science fiction, noble educational sentiments didn't last all that long. It began as it meant to go on, with that astonishing title sequence, and Delia Derbyshire's genuinely ground-breaking and influential adaptation of Ron Grainer's theme tune. After a superbly mysterious opening episode, An Unearthly Child (transmitted the day after President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963) and a subsequent three-part adventure set at the dawn of history, the second (seven-episode) serial, written by one of Tony Hancock's gag-writers Terry Nation, took the Doctor and his friends to the planet Skaro to meet the Daleks. Things were never, quite, the same again after that. For anyone. (The Daleks has overshadowed An Unearthly Child to such an extent that many people outside the chalk circle of TV fandom still believe that Nation created not only the pepperpots but also Doctor Who itself.)
[Footnote 8: To lay another popular myth to rest, Doctor Who is not, and has never been - at least in production terms - 'a children's show,' albeit the age-group remain a vital part of the show's audience. In so much as it was made by the BBC's drama department until 1989 and was devised as a programme which would attract a wide, family-based, audience. Which, of course, it did (and, thankfully, still does). The first public reference of the series was in an article in The Times in September 1963 highlighting forthcoming BBC productions. Doctor Who is described there as: 'A new family series [which] borders on science fiction.' Almost fifty years later and that's still a pretty decent summation of the format.]
The world, clearly, was changing - but some of the old guard were if not exactly happy about this then, at least, talented enough to change with it. Rapidly. The Road, produced in September 1963, is one of Nigel Kneale's most overlooked works, but it deserves so much more. 'Do ghost and science belong together in the same play?' asked Kneale in a Radio Times article accompanying the drama, directed by Christopher Morahan, produced by John Elliot and screened as part of the BBC First Night strand. In 1770, Squire Hassell (James Maxwell) dabbles in 'natural philosophy' whilst his wife, Lavinia (Ann Bell) flirts with Gideon Cobb (John Phillips), the sub-Johnsonian iconoclast of the London coffee-houses. Hassell is fascinated by the spirit of the age and the search by men like himself for 'new knowledge,' but he is a clear prisoner of the times in which he lives as much as he is a master of them. Cobb, meanwhile, has a great and glittering vision, of how the world will be, when, 'machines will do all.' Meanwhile, each Michaelmas Eve a local copse witnesses a visitation of screaming disembodied voices, which two years ago sent Sam Towler (Rodney Bewes) mad. It was 'as if all the dead people was risin' out o' Hell an' coverin' the land!' Hassell believes the copse is haunted by the ghosts of some terrible past event - the retreat of Queen Boadicea and her army with the Romans at the heels, for example. But, the shocking conclusion shows it to actually be a pre-echo from a future two hundred years hence, when a road has been built over the landscape upon which thousands of terrified people will flee from an impending nuclear attack. Coming just months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Road maintained Kneale's uncanny habit of being able to reflect areas of huge current public concern often before the public, themselves, even knew they were concerned about it.

During the winter of 1962-63 the BBC's provincial anthology series Suspense began – with its eerie title sequence of a spinning gyroscope, the eyes of a terrified woman and a crack appearing through the title plate. Over the following two years this featured several plays with various degrees of at least borderline Telefantasy content. These included the sinister psychodrama Man on a Bicycle (starring a Pre-Doctor Who Carole Ann Ford), Project Survival, The Patch Card, Fantasy and Fugue, the eerie The Tourelle Skull and the space-mission drama The Edge of Discovery. The series also included Evelyn Fraseris Virus X which saw a super-strain of a 'flu-like virus spreading across the country. The only man who can help is the embittered Doctor Bennett (George Colouris), whose wartime research might hold an answer to curing the disease. Unfortunately, Bennett has disappeared, and the entire stock of the wonder drug which he developed in the 1940s is, on that very day, on its way to be destroyed. The Caves of Steel, from BBC2's Story Parade strand (5 June 1964) starred Peter Cushing as Elijah Baley and John Carson as Daneel Olivaw. It was the brainchild of Story Parade's script editor Irene Shubik – one of the most vocal enthusiasts for science fiction within the BBC and a fan of Isaac Asimov in particular. She once referred to the author as 'one of the most interesting and amusing men I have ever met.' The adaptation of Asimov's novel was handled by Terry Nation and was, generally, faithful to the plot of the novel. It also garnered some terrific reviews, the Daily Telegraph said the production had 'proved again that science fiction can be exciting, carry a message and be intellectually stimulating' The success of such experiments, as well as the popularity of ATV's Out Of This World (on which Shubik had worked before joining the BBC), encouraged the corporation to allocate resources on their new minority channel and to attempt a proper science fiction anthology series of their own. Out Of The Unknown began in 1965; during its first two seasons it largely concentrated on adapting classic SF stories, dramatised by scriptwriters like Nation, Leon Griffiths, Ian Curties, Troy Kennedy Martin and Bruce Stewart. The plays starred actors of the quality of Mike Pratt, David Hemmings, Milo O'Shea, Hannah Gordon, Fulton Mackey, Peter Bowles, Nigel Stock, Michele Dotrice and Warren Mitchell among many others and were produced by Shubik. The series was also made on 625-line videotape (a genuine technological marvel in 1965), featuring then state-of-the-art visual effects. Plays like The Dead Past, Time In Advance, The Counterfeit Man, No Place Like Earth, The Midas Plague, Level Seven, Satisfaction Guaranteed and Walk's End won critical praise whilst the opening story of the second season, an adaptation of EM Forster's The Machine Stops starring Michael Gothard and Yvonne Mitchell, is one of the most particularly well-remembered pieces of BBC drama of the era.

Out of the Unknown returned for a third run, in colour, in 1969 produced by Alan Bromly. By now the plays were often original stories by writers like Donald Bull and Brian Hayles. The two most successful episodes, however, were adaptations; of John Wyndham's alternate-dimension love story Random Quest (starring Keith Barron and Tracy Reed) and David Climie's extremely weird version of Peter Phillips' Get Off My Cloud (in which a hospitalised science fiction author becomes trapped in his own imaginary world). This latter drama, which starred Peter Barkworth and Peter Jeffrey, also featured cameo appearances by both the Daleks and the TARDIS, by now accepted icons of the genre in the public mind. Other plays from this period included The Last Lonely Man, Deathday, Target Generation, Something In The Cellar, To Lay A Ghost, The Naked Sun and The Shattered Eye. A fourth season in 1971 had the emphasis more on outright horror, most notably in another cracking Nigel Kneale's script The Chopper, in which a mechanic, played by Patrick Troughton, is haunted by the ghost of a dead motorcyclist.

The 1960s also saw a number of telefantasy dramas in the BBC's coveted (and, as a consequence, deadly 'serious') Wednesday Play slot, including March 1965's psychological space drama Campaign for One (starring Barry Foster and Jeremy Kemp). A tensely topical play, written by Marielaine Douglas and Anthony Church, this followed - with a compelling and almost documentary-style attention to detail - the space flight of Squadron-Leader Philip Osborne, a British astronaut sent into orbit for ten days by the Allied Space Commission. His mission and the tasks he has to perform appear to be routine and identical with those undertaken on a successful earlier trip. But this time there is a vital human factor which the scientists have left out of their calculations. There was also The Girl Who Loved Robots (a highly regarded futuristic murder mystery, written by Peter Everett, broadcast in October 1965 and featuring Isobel Black, Norman Rodway and Dudley Foster) and the former Z Cars script editor John Hopkins' controversial and torrid stumble into Harold Pinter territory Horror of Darkness (March 1965) with Glenda Jackson, Nicol Williamson and Alfred Lynch. As Bob Millington of the Museum of Broadcast Communications noted: 'Hopkins vision of human loneliness and alienation may be an uncompromisingly bleak and pessimistic one, but it is made compelling through his artistic manipulation of the television medium.'

Other BBC fantasy-tinged plays of the mid-sixties era included Dennis Potter's daydream-like Alice (October 1965, starring George Baker and Deborah Watling) and Where The Buffalo Roam (November 1966, with Hwyel Bennett) and David Mercer's genuinely psychedelic and ground-breaking BF Skinner-influenced In Two Minds (March 1967, directed by Ken Loach and starring Anna Cropper). The 1965 Gaslight Theatre version of Sweeney Todd and Ken Taylor's 1966 Play of the Month adaptation of Wells' Days to Come (starring Judi Dench, Dinsdale Landen, Bernard Archard and Michael Gough) are also worthy of note from this period. As are both John McGrath's chilling 1965 production for BBC2's anthology Six, The Day of Ragnorok (in which a number of young woman from all over London congregate in Hype Park as nuclear war looms) and another pointed John Hopkins allegory, Fable (also 1965). There was also Giles Cooper's public school fantasy Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1965 for Theatre 625) starring Peter Blythe, John Sharp, Ann Way, Noel Davis and Peter Howell. The 1966 Play Of The Month, The Devil’s Eggshell (featuring Keith Barron, Leonard Rossiter and Michael Culver) was a satirical melodrama concerning a scientific alien invasion hoax which goes disastrously wrong. Fable, in particular, deserves a far larger reputation than it currently has. It was a savage allegorical assessment of Apartheid but relocated to a modern day Britain governed by a black majority where whites are excluded to townships in Scotland to provide a labour force and to alleviate the population swell in the South. Stark, explosive, and contemporary, like all of Hopkins' best work, ironically Fable's transmission had to be held back for a week by the death of Sir Winston Churchill. There was also John Finch's adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Ape And Essence (1966, with Alec McCowen and Petra Markham) and, from the same year, Peter Ustinov's time-in-reverse conceit Photo Finish (with Paul Roberts, Robert Brown and James Maxwell).

1966 was also the year in which, as the critic Kim Newman once brilliantly noted, 'period quaintness and modernist absurdity were combined in Adam Adamant Lives!, which featured a defrosted Edwardian detective (Gerald Harper) and his mini-skirted, dolly-bird sidekick (Juliet Harmer), a teaming obviously intended to echo those of Patrick McNee and his karate-kicking girlfriends in The Avengers.' Trapped in a block of ice to 'die forever' by his arch foe - The Face - in 1902 ('a vintage year for scoundrels'), Adam Llewelyn de Vere Adamant ('so clever, but oh so vulnerable!') thawed out to find himself in swinging Piccadilly Circus sixty four years later in this witty, amiable and well-remembered series. It was created by Richard Harris, Sydney Newman and Donald Tosh, produced by Verity Lambert and script-edited by Tony Williamson. The show also starred Jack May as Adam's butler and featured stories by Robert Banks Stewart, Brian Clemens, Vince Powell and Harry Driver. It is fondly remembered for episodes like Allah Is Not Always With You, The Doomsday Plan, The League Of Uncharitable Ladies, Beauty Is An Ugly Word and the downright bizarre Carnaby Street shenanigans of To Set A Deadly Fashion and for its kitsch swinging-London visuals and outré mod trappings. (If you've never seen it, think Help! on a smaller budget ... and with Gerald Harper instead of The Beatles, obviously.) However, sadly a second season early in 1967 was - largely - a vast disappointment, with much of the show's noted razor-sharp wit replaced by slapstick comedy sequences and sitcom-like absurdities. (The two surviving season two episodes - Black Echo and A Sinister Sort Of Service - are, actually, very good but they're claimed to be not very representative of the season as a whole.) Nevertheless Adam Adamant Lives! (along with Z Cars and some Hovis commercials) provided a useful stepping stone to Hollywood for Ridley Scott, who directed three episodes. Kathy Kirby's memorably over-the-top theme song (‘Bold!/As a knight in white ah-har-mour!’) was released as a single in 1966 and was minor hit for about a week. Even more escapist fantasy came to the BBC in 1966 - to fill the Doctor Who slot during its summer break - in the kooky form of yet another quasi-Avengers knock-off, the teenage detective drama Quick, Before They Catch Us, starring Pamela Franklin. Only, this one had a theme tune by (the not even remotely famous) Paddy, Klaus and Gibson. A necessary difference, one feels.

Between 1965 and 1973 BBC2's major outlet for new and developing scriptwriting talent was the Thirty Minute Theatre strand. Thirty-Minute Theatre was instigated by the BBC to return shorter plays, transmitted live, to the television schedules. It began in October 1965 with an adaptation of Roald Dahl's Parson's Pleasure, and ultimately produced over two hundred and fifty dramas across the next seven years, although by the end of 1968 the live element had been more or less entirely dropped. Here, writers - often new to television - as diverse as Dawn Pavitt and Terry Wale (The Isle is Full of Noise), Anthony Bloomfield (Turn Off! I Know the Ending with Peter Barkworth and Janet Munro), Tom Stoppard (the lyrical Another Moon Called Earth starring John Bennett and Diane Cilento), John Wiles (Come Death), Stewart Love (The Sugar Cubes), Charlotte and Denis Plimmer (Standing In For Santa Claus, Cause of Death, The Chequers Manoeuvre) and Derrick Sherwin (The Metal Martyr, The Time Keepers) created minimalist, edgy neo-Telefantasy scenarios, usually on tiny budgets to, often, great effect. Other memorable quasi-fantasy plays from this - now, sadly, rather forgotten - anthology series include the recently recovered The Flip Side (1966, a Gareth Davies script in which a broadcaster, played by Bob Monkhouse, descends into paranoia and madness whilst live on-air) and Henry Living's Brainscrew (also 1966), featuring Jill Bennett, John Osborne and Robert Robinson, directed by Rudolph Cartier (a regular contributor to the strand). Desmond Lowden's The News Benders, also directed by Cartier, was a cunning - and genuinely rather chilling - newsroom satire not unlike a proto-Drop the Dead Donkey featuring Donald Pleasance, set five year into the future. Then there was The Tape Recorder (a tense psychological study starring Suzanne Neve and Guy Doleman which is believed to have been the first colour drama production ever broadcast on British television in the autumn of 1967), Lida Winiewicz's downright peculiar The Year of the Crow (1970, starring Nigel Davenport, Marius Goring and Colin Jeavons and yet again directed by Cartier) and Susan Pleat's tense and torrid I Wouldn't Tell On You Miss (1972, with Leslie Sands and Brenda Bruce). Barry Bermange's Invasion (1969) was a situationalist black comedy straight from the Dennis Potter school (Potter, himself, had actually written an early Thirty Minute Theatre, the angry agitprop realipolitik of Emergency Ward Nine). Invasion focused on group of middle-class characters (played by Tony Bilbow, Michael Coles, Libby Morris, Polly Elwys, Denys Hawthorne) enjoying a, rather stereotypical, dinner party as the TV in the corner reports on events in the Vietnam War. The trivial chatter, one by one, bores the people at the table, who turn their attention to the TV and become encapsulated by the horror of what they are seeing. Nevertheless, the party continues despite, one-by-one, each diner becoming overwhelmed by the war scenes they witness and then dying in their seats in the manner of the deaths they are witnessing on television.

Another staple of British TV, classic adaptations also continued to appear, often star-studded affairs such as Jonathan Miller's controversial Christmas Day version of Alice in Wonderland (1966). However, it was Miller's 1968 contribution to the arts show Omnibus, a heartstoppingly scary adaptation of MR James' Whistle And I'll Come To You (with Michael Horden) that was to be the beginning a long BBC fascination with the traditional English ghost story. The trend of anthology horror also continued in 1968 with the colour series Late Night Horror, produced by Harry Moore, which contained adaptations of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Roald Dahl among others.

Perhaps the strangest Telefantasy moment of the entire decade came on Boxing Day 1967 when The Beatles' semi-incoherent home movie, The Magical Mystery Tour, was first shown on BBC1. Although made in colour, the first broadcast was in monochrome which somewhat spoiled the party. A mixture of production numbers and rampant psychedelia with just the merest hint of a plot thrown in it concerned 'four - or five - magicians' and the effects they have on a bus trip taken by The Beatles and an weird assorted of circus performers, oddballs and freaks. The press hated it and most of the kids on council estates up and down the country who thought LSD was what the government called money simply didn't understand it. Although they did think the dream sequence with Auntie Jessie and all the spaghetti was quite funny. The Magical Mystery Tour remains, ultimately, what it was in 1967, an - admittedly occasionally amusing - ham-fisted amateurish mess, albeit one perfectly in keeping with the many excesses of the era. And, as Paul McCartney has often noted in recent years, there genuinely aren't many other places where you can watch alcoholic Scouse wife-beating junkie John Lennon singing 'I Am The Walrus' backed by a troupe of dancing policemen. Goo Goo Goo Joob.

Yet an intellectual snobbery against '"sci-fi" and all that childish nonsense' remained at large both critically and, perhaps, even within the television industry itself. Meaning that perfectly valid, thoughtful neo-Telefantasy plays like Theatre 625's Home Sweet Honeycomb or Thirty Minute Theatre's A Nice Cool Pad In The Sky received plaudits for their imagination and design but were often criticised for 'pandering to lowest common denominator tastes,' whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. Telefantasy often remained in the TV ghetto of late-night scheduling where little masterpieces like 1966's The Five-Nineteen - a West Country chiller set on in a train station and starring Francesca Annis - or the fine 1967 BBC2 serial Witch-Hunt - a disturbing proto-Wicker Man tale about a rural Gloucestershire village with its own pagan cult and featuring Patrick Kavanagh, Anna Palk and Timothy West - would be either missed or forgotten. Another only half-remembered BBC2 series from this period was Haunted (1967), starring Patrick Mower as a university lecturer investigating strange cases of psychic phenomena and the occult. The success of the occasional high-profile Wednesday Play's like Edward Boyd's ghost story A Black Candle for Mrs Gogarty (1967), or the brooding sexual madness of Leon Whiteson's Blood of the Lamb (1969), made this snobbish attitude all the more puzzling, especially when Sean McCarthy and Johnny Byrne's 1970 'trip-movie-as-groovy-social-comment' Season of the Witch (starring Robert Powell, Julie Driscoll and Paul Nicholas) helped to extend the boundaries of the genre still further.

And then there was The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), Nigel Kneale's play about a TV-obsessed totalitarian state which appeared to show Kneale's vision of mankind's immediate future as a crass, indolent, lobotomised race, wallowing in a gutter of hardcore pornography and degradation. And, after a decade of Big Brother and The X Factor, it's hard not to award Nigel ten out of ten for foresight. Apart from uncannily predicting the rise of reality TV - and viewers voyeuristic interaction with it - however the play was, actually, Kneale's rather heartfelt acknowledgement of (if not, necessarily, endorsement of) the permissive society; 'the new honesty' as the author described it in a spectactularly forthright piece for Radio Times that had the editors quick to make sure their readers knew these were not, necessarily, the views of anybody else at the BBC. It also, as with much of his work, showed Kneale's abiding distrust of all forms of the media, particularly (and ironically) television. For somebody who spent most of his adult life feeding the cathode ray, Kneale had an impressive and frequent ability to bite the hand that paid him.

At the other end of the spectrum we had Tony Williamson's rather old-fashioned 1969 series Counterstrike concerning an alien (played by Jon Finch) sent to defend Earth from invasion. Avoiding many of the high-concept trappings that Telefantasy was becoming associated with, this was a straight-forward rather tense psychological thriller which has been likened to a kind-of low-budget version of the contemporary US series The Invaders. Counterstrike's writers included Anthony Skene (whose episode was a rewrite of his Prisoner script A, B and C), Cyril Abraham and Coronation Street veteran Dick Sharples. Ten episodes were made, although one, Out of Mind, was cancelled due to programme overrun, was never rescheduled and was subsequently junked by the BBC without anybody having ever seen it. All of which sort of sums up Counterstrike's lasting impression - or lack of it - on the public. After the show's cancellation Williamson went to ITC to work on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Now, that's one we all do remember.

The seventies dawned with a shocking wake-up call just a month into the new decade. The reason that Doomwatch was to have such a lasting and prophetic effect on its audience can be attributed to the fact that it was not just a work of fiction. A 'green' programme years before the word (or even its creative terms of reference) had been properly defined much less articulated, Doomwatch was the creation of an actual honest-to-God scientist, Dr Kit Pedler, and his scriptwriter friend Gerry Davis. They had first worked together when Davis was script editor on Doctor Who, creating the concept of the Cybermen together. Pedler was working at the University of London and had become something of a media star as a kind-of apocalyptic science pundit (a straight cross between James Burke and the soothsayer from Up Pompeii). They took their format for a series about a government Quango that unexpectedly acquires more bite than bark to veteran BBC producer Terence Dudley. The leader of the department was Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul), a dedicated, thoughtful character who had assisted in the development of the H-bomb, losing his wife to radiation sickness in the process. His assistant was John Ridge (the excellent Simon Oates), that familiar figure from much 1970s TV drama, the macho dandy-about-town, an espionage agent who wore John Collier suits and Hai-Karate aftershave, sweet-talked all the mini-skirted secretaries and had a witty quip for every oil spillage. Completing the central trio was Toby Wren a gentle, dedicated researcher, played by the then virtually-unknown Robert Powell. Wren (rather than Ridge) was to become the series' heart-throb and the character's death in the final episode of the first season, trying to defuse a bomb, was a genuine shock to the audience. It was an earlier episode - the fourth, Dudley's Tomorrow, the Rat - however, that gained the show the notoriety for which is it still vivdly remembered to this day. Questions were raised about it in Parliament. Other episodes featured issues like hormonal change in Welsh factory workers (The Battery People), drug-aided subliminal advertising (The Devil's Sweets) and the mental anguish caused by sonic booms (The Red Sky). This was every Guardian readers' wet dream, a new cause to get annoyed about every week. The blend was what Pedler called 'sci-fact', dramatic situations staged around real contemporary fears. The show would run for three years and never stopped being controversial, angry and, more often than not, brilliant.

After Doomwatch's successful debut, several popular anthology horror series and one-off productions helped to cement the genre's new 70s 'grown up' image. 1972's Dead of Night, produced by Innes Lloyd and script-edited by Louis Marks for BBC2 consisted of seven supernatural tales. Robert Holmes' Return Flight (starring Peter Barkworth), about a plane on a collision course with something that doesn't seem to exist, and Don Taylor's harsh and venal The Exorcism were particularly effective. Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, not part of Dead of Night per se but made by, effectively, the same production team and broadcast at Christmas, remains one of the most frightening pieces of television ever made. Cunningly combining different aspects of the genre (hard technological SF, ghost story and outright horror), the story concerns a team of scientists who move into a new research facility, a renovated Victorian mansion which has the reputation of being haunted. They learn that the haunting is actually a 'recording' of a traumatic past event within the house made by the building’s very fabric and playing over and over again. Believing that this may be the key to the development of a new recording medium with practical uses, they throw all of their expertise and high-tech equipment into learning how the stone preserves its recording. However, their faux-naïf investigations serve only to unleash a darker and more malevolent primal force beneath. A similar production was Terry Nation's The Incredible Robert Baldick, starring Robert Hardy in the title role, a sort of Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the paranormal world. A pilot episode, entitled Never Come Night, was produced by Anthony Coburn, and directed by Cyril Coke. The drama was described as 'Victorian Gothic Suspense.' Baldick was an eccentric dilettante scientist-cum-detective, possessed of a personal steam locotive, The Tsar, complete with armour plating, bulletproof glass and an on-board laboratory who travelled around the country with his friends (Julian Holloway and John Rhys-Davies) solving mysteries. The programme was originally scheduled to be shown on Wednesday 6 September 1972 but the production was postponed due to the terrorist attack by Black September on the Olympic Village in Munich the day before. It was finally shown on 2 October 1972, but despite positive feedback (Clive James in the Observer wrote: 'The Incredible Robert Baldick should rate like mad: it's a kind of take-home Hammer film wrapped in silver foil. The well-heeled hero is a piece of nineteenth-century fuzz dedicated to fighting evil in its more occult manifestations. He steams about in a special train') a series of classy Victorian adventures, tragically, never followed with the BBC, allegedly, using the money set aside to make Sutherland's Law instead. There was also the long-running A Ghost Story for Christmas, a BBC institution which began in 1971 with Lawrence Gordon Clare's adaptation of The Stalls of Barchester and continued in later years with the likes of the poetic A Warning to the Curious (1972), Lost Hearts (1973), David Rudkin's The Ash Tree (1975, with Edward Petherbridge and Lalla Ward), Andrew Davies' memorable - and bowel-shatteringly scary - dramatisation of Dickens' short story The Signalman (1976, starring Denholm Elliott) and Clive Exton's Stigma (1977), all produced by Rosemary Hill. The BBC's love of the classic English ghost story remains something which is occasionally revisited to this day via productions as diverse as White Lady (1987), The Green Man (1990), The Blue Boy and Ghosts (both 1995) and, of course, Jonathan Creek's spookier moments (1999).

Another anthology series from the same era was Menace produced by Jordan Lawrence in two seasons – 1970 and 1973. Several of the plays contained outstanding supernatural themes, including Killing Time (with George Cole), Hugh Whitemore's Deliver Us from Evil (with John Gielgud) and, its most memorable episode, James MacTaggert's Boys and Girls Come Out to Play. This was a surreal and genuinely disturbing somnambulist horror story in which a ruthless, psychotic nine year old schoolgirl, Belinda (an astonishingly mature and sinister performance by the eleven-year old Sarah Sutton) under the hallucinogenic influence of pep-pills and the haunting tune of a musical box commits a series of arsons and murders which her policeman father (Peter Jeffrey) is investigating. 'There's no end to what we can get up to at night!' A few years later, in 1977, Supernatural gave the horror anthology another timely boost. Described as 'eight stories from the Victorian Club of the Damned', the series was mostly written by Robert Müller in a format similar to A Ghost Story for Christmas and featured actors of the calibre of Robert Hardy, Gordon Jackson and Ian Hendry and a very well-remembered title sequence that mixed grotesque images of stone gargoyles with the sinister underscore of Bach’s Tocatta. This was a good time for the genre, with the classic adaptation of Count Dracula (at Christmas 1977, starring Louis Jordan) and Omnibus' Schalkan the Painter (1979) gaining huge viewing figures.

Children's Telefantasy was also a very important strand for the BBC in the early 1970s via drama series like The Witch's Daughter (1971), Tina Heath in the popular Lizzie Dripping (1973) and 1974's memorable Carrie's War. Based on the superb 1973 novel by Nina Bawden, Carrie's War was set during the Second World War and followed two evacuees, Carrie Willow (played by Juliet Waley) and her younger brother Nick (Andrew Tinney). They are billeted in a small Welsh mining village with the austere Mr Evans (Aubrey Richards) and his younger sister Lou (Avril Elgar). Carrie becomes an unwilling go-between, embroiled in a decades old family feud between Evans and his elder sister Dilys (Patsy Smart). With its accurate period setting - the serial was ambitiously filmed on location among the wintry hills of the Welsh village of Blaengarw; this was the intended setting of Bawden's novel, the author herself having been evacuated there for one week in 1940 as a child - the story which also featured Rosalie Crutchley as Hepzibah is less about the actual conflict in Europe and more an emotional war. One fought by the twelve-year-old Carrie, her naive but brave attempts to reconcile various parties without taking sides and her battle to make her voice heard in a world run by strict adults. It is very much a character-driven story, with interaction and internalised thoughts stressed over actions. Carrie comes to realise that her guardian, Mr Evans, is not entirely the ogre he at first appears, and by the story's end she has found some sympathy for him, and understands his genuine, if hidden, regret at having shunned his elder sister for much of her life. There's also a borderline Telefantasy subplot about a cursed skull that must never be removed from the house. In essence, the entire story is actually a five-episode flashback as a grown up Carrie returns to the valley more than thirty years later, and tells the story to her own children. Including what she believes to be a tragic end for which she was, ultimately, responsible by removing the skull. A genuine classic for a generation of Britons of a certain age, Carrie's War was subsequently remade in 2004 starring Keeley Fawcett as Carrie, Alun Armstrong as Mr Evans, Geraldine McEwan as Mrs Gotobed, Eddie Cooper as Albert Sandwich and Pauline Quirke as Hepzibah.

Another well-remembered children's series of the early 1970s was the eight part adaptation of The Phoenix and the Carpet (1976). The second in a trilogy of Edith Nisbet novels which began with Five Children and It (1902), this follows the adventures of the same five sibling protagonists – Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and the Lamb. Their mother buys the children a new carpet to replace one from the nursery that was destroyed in an accidental fire. The children find an egg in the carpet which hatches into a talking Phoenix. The Phoenix explains that the carpet is a magical one and will grant them three wishes per day. As a consequence, the children go on many adventures which eventually wears out their magical carpet. Jane Forster, Max Harris, Tamzin Neville and Gary Russell starred.

Two Anna Home produced serials written by Peter Dickinson - ManDog (1972) and The Changes (1975) deserve particular mention. The former - starring Ian Sharp, Carol Hazell, Adrian Shergold, Jane Anthony and Mollie Sugden - saw a trio of present-day children becoming involved in a conflict between a band of renegades and secret police from the Twenty Sixth Century. The latter concerned teenage heroine Nicky (Vicky Williams) in a near future world where an unknown force possesses adults to destroy machinery and revert to a Luddite state of ignorance and superstition. After the first appearance of the memorable credit sequence - an industrial and technological snapshot of mid-1970s Britain - the first episode, The Noise, begins in a mundane, suburban living room where a Nicky Gore is doing her homework. Within a few minutes of an announcement on television that abnormal weather conditions are occurring throughout Britain, her father (Bernard Horsfall) has destroyed the TV. Vicky is annoyed having quite fancied watching Top of the Pops that night, but she soon gets over her disappointment at missing out on Slade when she discovers that everyone in the street has begun to smash up their own machinery, hurling televisions to the ground and smashing bicycles, etc. (The urban scenes, although in theory set in London, were actually filmed in Bristol, presumably because of its proximity to Gloucestershire, the Forest of Dean and the Welsh Borders, where the rest of the series was shot.) When Nicky, against her pregnant mother's wishes, goes into the street she finds herself in a world experiencing a violent apocalypse - railway lines are being blowing up, cars and trains are set on fire. Many people affected by the titular changes start packing up to leave for France, aware reports suggest none of the carnage affecting Britain has happened. After Nicky has been unable to stop herself joining in the destruction of a car, she realises that she has lost her parents, and returns home to find they have decided to go to France without her. In a superb sequence, accompanied by Paddy Kingsland's spine-chilling music, Nicky surveys the ruined darkness of the city. The Changes posits a Britain in total chaos, the resulting upheaval displacing many people and reverting society back to a pre-industrial age where there is a deep abiding suspicion of anyone who may be harbouring machinery. Even the words for technology are taboo. The remnants of modern technology which escape destruction (such as electricity pylons) produce a physical, and sometimes violent repulsion, among the population. The ten-part series, originally broadcast every Monday from 6 January to 10 March 1975, traces Nicky's quest to reunite with her parents and to solve the mystery of the changes. The serial's theme echoes the contemporaneous adult drama series Survivors in which a small group of people attempt to survive the annihilation of the world's population by disease. The Changes, which also starred David Garfield, Keith Ashton, Edward Brayshaw, Arthur Hewlett, Roy Evans and Tom Chadbon, featured several memorable episodes including The Bad Wires - a shocking nightmare of television iconography gone evil - and started a noble discussion on the subject of casual racism (the only people seemingly unaffected by the madness engulfing society are a community of Sikhs with whom Nicky shelters). Despite a modest budget, The Changes was noted for its extensive location filming and its thoroughly downbeat tone. Complex and brave - certainly for children's drama, structurally it often resembled a piece of free-form jazz - The Changes ended after ten superbly tense and lyrical episodes with a shit-weird finale which linked the titular changes to Arthurian legend. Or something like that. It was great, anyway, with an eerie, sinister musical score by the BBC Radiophonics Workshop's Paddy Kingsland, combining the sound of an EMS Synthi 100 synthesiser with horn, sitar and percussion. It has become a very influential text for future generations of children's Telefantasy drama in how to do it properly.

[Footnote 9: Described by BBC continuity as 'a serial for older children,' the TV series was freely adapted by Anna Home from a trilogy of novels by Peter Dickinson. The series took most of its material from the first book The Weathermonger which, together with Heartsease and The Devil's Children have recently been reissued in a single volume in the UK. In the original books, however, the character of Nicky appears only in The Devil's Children - the other books have entirely separate characters. Also, the time span of The Changes is considerably reduced from that in the original trilogy which take place over several years.]

A BBC co-production with a West German TV company (Sudfunk-Stuttgart) created an extremely beautiful and strange children's serial called The Moon Stallion (1978), written by Brian Hayles, also produced by Anna Home and starring a now teenage Sarah Sutton as Diana, a blind girl with a telepathic link to ancient layline forces conducted through a chalk horse on the Wiltshire downs. Her archaeologist father and her brother visit friends in Berkshire near the site of the ancient Celtic horse carving cut into a chalky hillside. Though Diana is blind since birth, she has 'the sight' which connects her to a mysterious white stallion, to an ancient legend of Arthur as a Celtic chieftain, and to danger from others who seek her paranormal gifts. Like The Changes and Carrie's War, there is a generation of - now fortysomething - Britons who have particularly fond memories of the charming, lyrical Tom's Midnight Garden, adapted by John Tully from Phillippa Pierce's classic novel. When Tom Long's brother Peter gets measles, Tom is sent to stay with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen in a flat with no garden and an elderly and reclusive landlady, Mrs Bartholomew, living upstairs. Because he may be infectious he is not allowed out to play, and feels lonely. Without exercise he is less sleepy at night and when he hears the communal grandfather clock strangely strike thirteen, he investigates and finds the small back yard is now a large sunlit garden. Here he meets another lonely child called Hatty, who seems to be the only one who can see him. They have adventures which he gradually realises are taking place in the Nineteenth Century. And each night when Tom visits, Hatty is a different age, chronologically out of sequence. First produced in 1968, the story was remade in colour in 1974, with Nicholas Bridge, Charles West, Anne Ridler, Adrienne Byrne and Margot MacAlaster and again in 1989 starring Jeremy Rampling, Shaughan Seymour Isabelle Amyes, Simon Fenton, Caroline Waldron and Renée Asherson. Tully also adapted Ray Brown's borderline time-travel novel The Viaduct for a three-part series in 1972 with David Arnold, Michael Raghan and Adrian Hall. This concerned a young boy living near a Victorian railway viaduct with his aged grandfather and hoping to become a railway engineer when he grows up. But, at night, he dreams that he is the son of the man who originally built the Viaduct in the 1850s. Another well-remembered script adaptation of a classic Phillippa Pierce children's novel (Minnow on the Say) was Marilyn Fox's Treasure Over the Water (also 1972), starring Andrew Balcome, Justin Swan, Carol Hollands, Dorothy Gordon, Jean Challis and Kevin Stoney. And, of course, we always had the amusing goings-on of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firman’s The Clangers to fall back on. All of which, somehow, made perfect sense when you were eight.

If the kids were being catered for very nicely, the cause of adult SF drama took something of a dent in 1973 when Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks (the then-producer and script editor on Doctor Who) created the ambitious Moonbase 3, a supposedly 'realistic' (and, therefore, rather dull) series about a moon colony in the early years of the Twenty First Century. Starring Donald Houston, Fiona Gaunt, Barry Lowe and Ralph Bates, it was a co-production between the BBC, 20th Century Fox and the American ABC Network. Unfortunately, it also wasn't very good – slow to the point of torpor the programme was notable for its attempt to combine a realistic presentation of spaceflight procedures, ensured by hiring James Burke as a technical adviser, with futurist notions of the expansion of humanity into the stars, the series limped through six rather uninvolving episodes. Although the last, View from a Dead Planet, in which all life on Earth appeared to have ended, did manage to be suitably grim and effective. But it was too little too late and the show was cancelled.

[Footnote 10: Born in Derry in 1936, James Burke was educated at Maidstone Grammar School, and at Jesus College, Oxford. In 1966, James joined the Science and Features Department of the BBC, where he established his reputation as a reporter on the BBC science series Tomorrow's World. He was BBC television's science anchorman and chief reporter for the Project Apollo missions, as the main co-presenter, along with Patrick Moore, of the BBC's coverage of the first moon landing in 1969. In collaboration with Mick Jackson, he would later produce the ten-part documentary series Connections (1978), which traced the historical interrelationships between invention and discovery; each episode chronicled a particular path of technological development. In 1985, with Richard Reisz and John Lynch, Burke produced the ten-part series The Day The Universe Changed, which concentrated on the philosophical aspects of scientific change upon Western culture. In contrast to the conclusion of Connections, wherein Burke stated that computing and communications might one day be controlled by a kind of computer science élite, in the conclusion of The Day The Universe Changed he postulated that a world-wide revolution in telecommunications and computer technology would soon allow people to instantaneously exchange ideas.]

Equally apocalyptic were David Rudkin's seminal Play for Today Penda's Fen (1975), chilling Playhouse productions like The Breakthrough (1975) and proto-docudrama series like Leap in the Dark and The Mind Beyond. The trend reached its somewhat inevitable conclusion with Terry Nation's superb post-apocalypse saga Survivors. Set in the village of Pinvin, in Worcestershire, against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills, Penda's Fen was something of an evocation of conflicting forces within England past and present. These included authority, tradition, adult hypocrisy, landscape, emerging sexuality, and most of all, Britain's mystical pagan past. All of this came together in the growing pains of the adolescent Stephen, a vicar's son, whose various encounters include angels, Edward Elgar and King Penda himself. The final scene, wherein the protagonist has an apparitional experience of the 'mother and father of England' was especially memorable. In addition to Spencer Banks, the cast also included Jennie Hesselwood, Ian Hogg and Georgine Atkinson. Critics have noted that the play stands apart from director Alan Clarke's other, more realist output. Clarke himself admitted that he did not fully understand what Rudkin's story was about. Nevertheless the play has gone on to acquire the reputation of a true television classic. Following the original broadcast Leonard Buckley in The Times wrote: 'Make no mistake. We had a major work of television last night. Rudkin gave us something that had beauty, imagination and depth.' In 2011, Penda's Fen was chosen by Time Out magazine as one of the one hundred best British films ever made. They described the play as: 'A multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed – and prescient – ecological awareness, Penda's Fen is a unique and important statement.'

The opening credits sequence of a TV series can often tell the viewer far more than simply the name of what he or she is watching. If done properly, credits can reveal style and content, set a particular mood and even, on occasion, tell a story in their own right. In a laboratory, a Chinese scientist drops a phial in slow motion onto a hard surface. As the glass explodes, spilling a green liquid, Anthony Isaac's powerful music begins. Now we are in various airports around the world as a variety of oriental diplomats and businessmen, each unknowingly infected by a deadly plague, become the carriers of death. Passport stamps indicate that the virus has spread to Moscow, New York, Paris and finally London. A lone church bell tolls as the screen fades to black. If weekly the opening to Survivors was designed to freak out its audience and leave them staring, numbly, at their lava lamps then it certainly succeeded.

Survivors ran for three series and thirty eight episodes from April 1975 to June 1977. Terry Nation created the series, but left the show after the first series due to disputes with the producer, Terence Dudley. The series' main actors included Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming, Ian McCulloch, Celia Gregory and Denis Lill whilst notable guest stars in the series included Patrick Troughton, Peter Jeffrey, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Philip Madoc, Bryan Pringle, Iain Cuthbertson and Peter Bowles. In a High Court case in the mid-1970s, which was abandoned by both sides due to escalating costs, the writer Brian Clemens claimed that he had suggested the concept of the series to Terry Nation in the late 1960s and had registered the idea with the Writers' Guild of Great Britain in 1965. Nation strenuously denied this. In 2008, following the successful revival of Doctor Who, the BBC produced a new version of Survivors, with Adrian Hodges as the main writer. Although using the basic idea and most of the character names from the original series, in the credits, this version was stated to be based on Terry Nation's novelisation of Survivors, which was published in 1976. This statement was, essentially, to avoid a variety of copyright problems as the rights to the series rested with a different legal entity from the book which was own by the Terry Nation estate. The revival – a curious mixture of really very good post-apocalyptic drama and some disappointing twee, middle-class characterisation - ran for two seasons but the BBC announced in April 2010 that there would not be a third.

This was also the era when Dennis Potter's work reached its most complex, surreal and often dangerous. Fay Weldon once called Dennis Potter 'the best television playwright in the world.' The simple reason, of course, is that Dennis Potter loved television. He loved writing for it, commenting on it, and criticising it. From his first appearance in the 1960 autobiographical documentary Between Two Rivers the love affair between Potter and TV continued until weeks before his death in 1994 when his final interview, a dignified, even life-affirming, head-to-head with Melvyn Bragg, was broadcast. The affair had its sticky moments, like many affairs, but the anger that Potter showed in his 1993 Royal Television Society Memorial Lecture, attacking those who sought to make television into a form without soul or poetry, will stand, alongside his exceptional work, as his epitaph.

[Footnote 11: Dennis Potter was born in the Forest of Dean in his beloved Gloucestershire in 1934. He went to St. Clement Danes School in London, while the family lived for a time with his maternal grandfather in Hammersmith. During this period the ten year old Potter was sexually abused by his uncle, an experience he would later allude to many times in his writing. Between 1953 and 1955, Potter did his National Service and learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, serving with the Intelligence Corps and subsequently at the War Office (a setting he would later use for his 1993 series Lipstick on Your Collar). After leaving the army, in 1956, he won a scholarship to Oxford to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics, editing the student magazine Isis. Potter joined the BBC after university, initially as a trainee in radio and then television journalism, during which time he worked on Panorama. He left joining the Daily Herald newspaper. From August 1961 he became their television critic. Potter soon returned to television, writing sketches for That Was The Week That Was. He then embarked on his career as a television playwright, having already been an – unsuccessful - Parliamentary candidate and a rejected Doctor Who scriptwriter (his story 'was about a schizophrenic who thought he was a time traveller,' was quickly rejected by Verity Lambert he told The Times many years later). His early TV plays, beginning with The Confidence Course for The Wednesday Play in 1965, seemed to follow TW3's brief of discussing things which society probably felt were best left unmentioned: the cynicism of politics (Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton), the complex relationships between adults and children (Alice), and the reality of historical figures (1967's Message for Posterity, prompted by tales of Churchill reluctantly sitting for his eightieth-birthday portrait). Such interests, placed against a backdrop that derives from autobiography, can be seen throughout Potter's work. Vote, with Keith Barron in the title role as the (very autobiographical) idealist working-class miner's son who has to stand (and lose) as an opposition candidate in a safe Tory seat after a sitting MP has been killed in a hunting accident, was scheduled for June 1965 but postponed by the BBC, who feared accusations of political bias. It was finally shown in December, a week after its 'prequel' Stand Up, Nigel Barton, detailing Nigel’s school-life, and featuring the wonderfully stern-faced Janet Henfrey playing virtually the same role as she would in The Singing Detective twenty years later. Potter clearly had an eye for the absurd perhaps most shockingly shown in 1968's A Beast with Two Backs. Set in the Forest of Dean some fifty years before the writer's childhood there, it concerned what the Radio Times described as a 'true legend': something has to be blamed for an attack on a woman in the forest, and a dancing bear seems a valid sacrifice. However, like a miniature Twin Peaks, even a rudimentary investigation began to uncover much that was rotten in the locality. Potter was also fascinated with fantasy in various forms, as shown in 1966's Where the Buffalo Roam, Shaggy Dog (1968), and Moonlight on the Highway (1969), one of several Potter plays to focus on sexual loathing due to hideous childhood memories (The Bonegrinder is another).]

Following the religious controversy caused by 1969's passion play Son of Man Potter's next BBC play, Angels Are So Few a year later, can almost be seen as a deliberate attempt to court - possibly even provoke - negative publicity from the tabloids and forces of social conservatism. In one scene, a young married couple watch a TV film about the making of a porn movie. Certainly the violently anti-war Lay Down Your Arms (also 1970), the anti-politics Traitor (1971) and the anti-pretty-much-everything Only Make Believe (1973) show Potter's anger swinging out wildly (though often accurately) in many directions simultaneously. The best of these plays, Only Make Believe, is also the closest that Potter ever got a what could be described as 'mainsteam' Telefantasy (if that isn't, in itself, a contradiction in terms). In this, Potter's frequent alter-ego in his fiction Keith Barron plays a scriptwriter who gets dragged into the fantasy world that he is in the process of creating for a new TV show. Like Get Off My Cloud, but for grown-ups. Other Potter plays from this period like Follow The Yellow Brick Road (1972), Late Call (1975) and the sexually explicit Double Dare (1976) also dealt – to various degrees - with the nuts and bolts of television writing and production. Yet Potter could also be sensitive, wistfully nostalgic and introspective when he wanted to be - as in the award-winning Blue Remembered Hills (1979). And, also in the hugely under-rated Schmoedipus (1974) which featured a sympathetic (if edgy and surreal) portrayal of a housewife's desire and guilt over the child she gave up many years earlier. (It was eventually remade for cinema a decade later by Nic Roeg as Track 29.) Nevertheless, the BBC, doubtless stung by past criticism, chose not to show the infamous Brimstone and Treacle in 1976. Managing Director Alasdair Milne found the scene of the possessed man raping a brain-damaged girl too distressing for transmission, and so seventy thousand pounds of tax-payer's money went down the toilet. The play was subsequently made into a movie and the original was finally broadcast - to huge acclaim - in 1987.

Telefantasy series of the 1970s included Philip Martin's perplexing story of crime, multiculturalism and heroin trafficking Gangsters (originally a one-off Play For Today in 1975 followed by two perfectly extraordinary series in 1976 and 1978). It was a bafflingly strange trip with a highly stylised postmodern script that combined film noir trappings, elements of hip British gangster movies like Get Carter and Performance, Bollywood and kung-fu set-pieces, as well as increasingly outrageous end-of-episode cliffhangers, memorable dialogue (the character whose catchphrase was 'awwww sheeeet!') and a downright bizarre final scene to the last episode where the characters not only 'break the fourth wall' but actually walk off the set completely. It starred Maurice Colbourne, Ahmed Khalil and Saeed Jaffrey. The series, set in the multi-cultural criminal community of Birmingham, has remained a cult favourite ever since, memorable for its strong violence, multi-ethnic cast (and realistic - and these days rather shocking - depiction of the racism of the era). The series' creator, Philip Martin, also appeared in multiple roles, playing the gangland boss Rawlinson in the original play, the hired assassin The White Devil at the end of season two (though Martin was credited as Larson P Whipsnide, a reference to his WC Fields inspired performance as the character), and as himself, dictating the script to a typist, in cutaways throughout season two. Just as surreal and compelling was The Aphrodite Inheritance (1979, with Brian Blessed, Alexandra Bastedo and Stefan Gryff), created by Michael J Bird and continuing many of the themes of his earlier, and equally, beautiful Cretian drama The Lotus Eaters (1972).

The odder, and more dystopian, branch of near-contemporary conspiracy drama was well catered for during this period. Wilfred Greatorex's paranoid middle-class nightmare 1990 (1977) starred Edward Woodward as a journalist and Barbara Kellerman as his girlfriend, in a nightmarish Nineteen Eighty-Four-style scenario about a future Stalinist police-state. Two seasons were made, the second also featuring Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell. 1990 was set in a future in which Britain is under the yoke of the Home Office's Department of Public Control, a tyrannically oppressive bureaucracy effectively manipulating the population's civil liberties. This was precipitated by an irrecoverable national bankruptcy in the early 1980s, triggering a de facto state of emergency and causing the economy (and imports) to drastically contract forcing stringent rationing of housing, goods and services. These are distributed according to a person's status in society as determined (and constantly reviewed) by the PCD on behalf of the government, which is union-dominated and socialistic in nature. As a consequence, the higher-status individuals in this world appear to be civil servants and union leaders. Although running the bureaucratic dictatorship, the state appears to shy away from explicit political violence, preferring - in rather Soviet Bloc-style - to set up psychiatric pseudo-hospitals called Adult Rehabilitation Centres which employ electro-convulsive treatments to cure dissidents. Ordinary criminals found guilty of traditional and new economic and social crimes are prevented from clogging up the prison system by having short sentences during which they are force-fed 'misery pills', which induce depression during their incarceration. For at least part of the series, the country is on a three-day working week, presumably to conserve energy or to promote full employment through job-sharing. Woodward played Jim Kyle, a journalist on the last independent newspaper called the Star, who turns renegade and begins to fight the PCD covertly. John Gould's similarly themed three-part thriller The Donati Conspiracy had been made in 1973. A particularly memorable, lurid and tense bit of drama, it concerned the simmering discontent at large in a parallel contemporary Britain ruled by a fascist dictatorship. It starred a pre-Porridge Richard Beckingsale in a poignant straight part as a student insurrectionist facing execution, along with Michael Aldridge (as the titular character), Janet Key, Mary Tamm and James Bree. The Catholic Herland reviewer Louise Dray considered it to 'one of the best series currently. Topical unexpectedly, as science or political thrillers often turn out after they're written, it has a young anarchist on trial for causing an explosion. The flip side to this one is that he was trying to stop tranquillisers being put into the water supply. Set in a menacing Britain of the future where condemned people are "Done to Death." "How?" "They never say, it's believed they shoot them." Mysterious mandarin at the centre of the web is Callan's fellow-agent from the other Channel, Anthony Valentine.' A sequel, State of Emergency with Michael Gywnn and Patrick Mower replacing Aldridge and Valentine followed in 1975. Similar still was Philip Mackie's alternative universe drama An Englishman's Castle (1978, starring Kenneth More) another strong and angry serial drama set in a fascist present, an alternate 1970s, in which Germany won World War II and occupied England. Peter Ingram (Kenneth More) is a writer for a soap opera (which is also called An Englishman's Castle), set in London during The Blitz and the subsequent Nazi occupation. He - and many other people - are oblivious to Nazi rule, which is hidden behind a facade of seemingly normal English daily life. German rule is maintained mainly through an extensive system of collaborators and quislings. When dissidents are detained it is done by polite, soft-spoken English police officers - but they are then delivered to horrible torture in Gestapo chambers which are kept discreetly out of sight. Ingram gradually becomes aware of the real state of things.

All of these dramas were products which could only have been made during a decade which increasingly saw the various strands of leftist activism of the 1960s transmogrifing into more aggressive forms of harsh and sometimes violent counteraction. This was a period in which terrorist cells like the West German Red Army Faction, Italy's Brigate Rosse, France's Action Directe, the IRA and even Britain's own example of what a bunch of ex-public schoolgirls do when they've got too much time and weaponry on their hands, The Angry Brigade, all happily blowing shit up in the name of … you know, something or other. Bit of a waste of time, to be honest. You get fifteen years inside for that sort of nonsense and you miss a lot of good telly whilst you're banged up and slopping out. Another 'alternate-present' scenario was created in the excellent Scotch on the Rocks (1974), a five-part adaptation by James MacTaggert of a novel by the future Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Private Eye co-founder Andrew Osmond. This concerned a Scottish revolution against 'their English oppressors' in a near-future with a general election approaching. British authorities fear that the Scottish National Party and an underground movement, the Scottish Liberation Army, will increase their influence. Pro-establishment MI5 agent Graham Hart and Detective Superintendent Rennie of the Glasgow CID infiltrate a demolition expert named MacNair into the SLA. Hart is trying to prove that David Mackie, an SNP Member of Parliament with Socialist leanings, is involved with the SLA, while Rennie wishes to arrest Brodie, a vicious criminal who is organising Glasgow youth gangs for the SLA. The general election takes place and results in a hung parliament (as, indeed, that February's real-life election had). Mackie's girlfriend Sukey Dunmayne, daughter of a laird, briefs an SLA section in Stirling, consisting mainly of students and commanded by effete lecturer Donald Levi, to act against any deal between Henderson, the moderate leader of the SNP, and the sitting Conservative Prime Minister Patrick Harvey. Their plan to kidnap SNP delegates is reported to the authorities by MacNair. The students are arrested, except one who is armed and is shot by soldiers led by notorious British Army hard-liner Colonel Cameron. The series starred Bill Simpson, Maria Aitken, Iain Cuthbertson, Maurice Roëves and Cyril Luckham. It also involved the BBC in civil action by the Scottish National Party which objected to the series' depiction of SNP-inspired violence.

And, of course, there was also Terry Nation's Blake's 7, a piece of pure ham space opera that, somehow, far exceeded its humble origins (as a last minute replacement for Softly Softly: Task Force) to become one of the BBC's most popular dramas ever. Arguably, however, it wasn't even the best bit of new telefantasy that the BBC created during this period. Jack Gerson's The Omega Factor emerged from BBC Scotland in 1979. The series, a kind of proto-X-Files, produced by George Gallaccio, concerned a psychic, Tom Crane (James Hazeldine), engaged to work for a Government department investigating the paranormal after the death of his wife at the hands of a psychic from the sinister Omega organisation. Crane finds that he possesses psychic powers which, in turn, bring him to the attention of the team of scientists who comprise Department 7, a secret government off-shoot investigating paranormal phenomena and the potential of the human mind. The phenomena explored include hypnosis, brainwashing, extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, poltergeist phenomena, out-of-body experiences and spiritual possession. The series also starred Louise Jameson and John Carlisle and several of the episodes, notably The Undiscovered Country, Visitations and St Anthony's Fire were extremely memorable, particularly an early sequence where Crane is pursued down a road by an invisible force which extinguishes the street lights one at a time as he walks past them. Sadly, only one series was produced, possibly thanks to the objections of public moralist Mary Whitehouse, who called the episode Powers of Darkness 'thoroughly evil' because it depicted a man burning to death.

Also memorable was The Flipside of Dominick Hyde, a clever and touching Play for Today written by Jeremy Paul and Alan Gibson in 1980. This concerned a time traveller from the future (Peter Firth) who came back to London in the 1980s to try and find his mysterious great-grandfather. Whilst there he meets and falls in love with Jane (Caroline Langrishe), whom he makes pregnant, despite the fact that he has a wife (Pippa Guard) and son in the future. In a somewhat inevitable paradox, Dominick turns out to be his own ancestor and, to fulfil his role in history, has to return to the future. Rick James' beautifully distinctive song 'You'd Better Believe it, Babe' was the final touch to this masterpiece. In 1982, a sequel, Another Flip for Dominick, returned Firth to the 1980s. Another Play for Today from the same period was Psy Warriors by David Leland, directed by Alan Clarke (1981) and concerning psychological interrogation training carried out on soldiers. It was in this climate that challenging plays like Alan Garner's Red Shift (1978 about three men psychically linked through history and location), Philip Martin's paranormal chiller The Unborn (1980, starring Jack Shepherd), The Remainder Man (1982), Stargazy on Zummerdown (1978) and the apocalyptic rock musical Orion (1977) also appeared.

In 1977, the BBC's premiere factual popular science show, Horizon, even got in on the act producing a pseudo-documentary from 2002 (presented by an aged Richard Baker) which looked back on the scientific advancements made - and reported on by Horzion - since 1977 and, with uncanny accuracy, predicting things as diverse as test tube babies, the development of the Internet and virtual reality and the increase in leisure time due to computerisation. Unfortunately, they didn’t predict the rise of Simon Cowell, the Iraq war, the emergence of the New Right and Bill Oddie stopping being funny and becoming very annoying indeed so let us not laud their Nostradamus-like powers too greatly.

Douglas Adams' phenomenally popular SF radio comedy serial The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy began in 1978, and by the time it reached television in 1981 it had already evolved into two books and a stage show. Arguably, it was the TV adaptation, starring Peter Jones, Simon Jones, David Dixon, Mark Wing-Davey, Sandra Dickinson and Stephen Moore which set the seal on Adams' success, turning what had previously been a mere cult into something approaching a British institution. The serial brought the narration of the book to life and, in doing so, helped to create an entirely new televisual language of information-imparting computer graphics, supplemented by illustrations and trivia scrolling along the screen, something so normal to our Twenty First Century eyes that we barely comment on it these days.

The early 1980s saw a positive glut of BBC telefantasy from all parts of the genre's wide boundaries. There was classic literary SF adaptations including Douglas Livingstone's version of Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids starring John Duttine, Maurice Colbourne and Emma Relph in 1981 and a jaunty period adaptation of The Invisible Man in 1984, produced by Barry Letts, with Pip Donaghy, Frank Middlemass and David Gwillim. There were also high-brow dramas such as David Rudkin's bizarre three-hour epic Artemis 81, with Hywel Bennett, Sting and Dan O'Herlihy, Anthony Garner's Z for Zachariah (1984), a grim, after-the-bomb story featuring Anthony Andrews and Pippa Hinchley and The Queen of Annagh, Terence Hodgkinson's 1982 'during World War III' play starring Diane Fletcher.

Play for Tomorrow, a Neil Zeiger-produced series of six futuristic plays, also came from 1982. Michael Wilcox's Cricket, with Malcolm Terris, Jeremy Childs and Simon Rouse, was one of the most distinctive, a black comedy which saw a computer selecting a cricket team whilst the players acted as a guerrilla army. Perhaps the best of the bunch was Stephen Lowe's Shades, a pessimistic pro-CND piece with an excellent young cast led by Tracey Childs, Stuart McKenzie, Emily Moore and Neil Pearson set in 2001 but featuring novel usage of much then-contemporary pop music (notably The Jam's 'Burning Sky') and, again, predicting a future in which virtual reality played a significant role in many people's lives. Although its prediction of a future in British politics dominated by 1981's flavour of the month, The Social Democrats proved to be less-than-visionary.

Post-nuclear tales were popular and topical in the early 80s - particularly after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and people started building fall-out shelters in their garden shed - the trend best exemplified by the horrifyingly realistic two-hour drama-documentary Threads, written by Barry Hines and produced by Mike Jackson, which centred on the lead-up to, and long term effects of, a nuclear strike on Britain. Filmed in Sheffield with Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale and about four hundred local people as extras, and mixing in footage of IRA bomb-blasted shop fronts to simulate the effects of a nuclear firestorm, Threads remains, alongside Peter Watkins' notorious 1965 film The War Game (itself finally broadcast after a two decade ban in the mid-1985 to a terrific response), as powerful and provocative as anything that television has ever produced. Troy Kennedy Martin's adaptation of Angus Wilson's The Old Men at the Zoo (1983) covered similar themes. The Old Men At The Zoo was a five-part drama serial which was a dark comic mixture of high drama and low comedy. The series was set against the backdrop of London Zoo and the fictional keepers and curators responsible for its on-going profitability. It featured characters as grim metaphors for a radically-changed British society. The Government and Civil Service were seen as atypically corrupt and liable to turn any public amenity or locale to a profit should they wish to do so - and the once sacrosanct London Zoo was no exception. The programme opened with Smokey the Giraffe going beserk, and his keeper subsequently dies after being kicked in the testicles by the beast. Simon Carter (Stuart Wilson), newly-appointed Secretary of the National Zoo, is left to clean up this unsavoury mess as a collection of fanatical old men determine to preserve the Zoo and its image, and an over-zealous press baron (Robert Morley as the deliciously wicked Lord Godmanchester) plans to exploit the Zoo's recent difficulties for maximum profit. The series also featured Maurice Denham, Andrew Cruickshank and Marius Goring. The Nightmare Man was pretty scary too, albeit in a much more traditional 'monster on the loose' vein. It was adapted by Robert Holmes from David Wiltshire's alien invasion novel Child of the Vodyanoi, directed with atmospheric brilliance by Douglas Camfield, and dealt with a killer on an isolated and mist-covered Scottish island. Starring James Warwick, Maurice Roëves and Celia Imrie, the serial was well-received (and, a DVD release would be pretty well-received in this house too).

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of The Tripods, a two season adaptation of the first two books of John Christopher's trilogy. The Tripods could have been one of the most impressive of all BBC telefantasy productions but sadly, due to a mixture of lacklustre scripts, the inexperience of several of the young cast, some cheap special effects and a plodding snail's pace, it fell flat on its face. On a brighter note, the performances of John Shackley, Roderick Horn, John Woodvine and Pamela Salem were, at least, watchable. One of the saddest aspects of The Tripods was that Charlotte Long, the young female lead, died in a motoring tragedy shortly before the series' debut.

In the area of children's telefantasy Paul Stone's charming version of The Box of Delights in 1984, with a superb cast headed by Patrick Troughton and Robert Stephens, and the adaptations of CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia beginning in 1988, proved tremendously popular. The sub-genre could also produce little oddities like 1987's pseudo-documentary schools series Welcome to My World (with Robert Powell), two seasons of West Country Tales and the spooky Mystery of the Disappearing Schoolgirls (1980, starring Bridget Armstrong and Patsy Kensit). The trend continued into the 1990s with impressive serials as diverse as Moondial (1989), Return of the Psammead (1993), Elidor (1995), The Demon Headmaster (1996), and the first two signs of a young Welsh scriptwriter Russell Davies' emerging greatness, the wonderful Dark Season (1991, starring Victoria Lambert, Kate Winslet, Bridget Forsyth and Jacqueline Pearce) and the only slightly less impressive Century Falls (1993 and featuring a stunning performance by the young lead Catherine Sanderson).

Dark Season concerned Third Year secondary schoolgirl genius Marcie and her two, older, friends Tom and Reet becoming suspicious of the sinister Mr Eldritch, whose computer company arrives at their school and distributes free computers to all the pupils. With the reluctant help of their teacher, Miss Maitland, they apparently defeat the threat of Eldritch, who disappears. However, later episodes tell of the actions of Miss Pendragon, who works for Eldritch and is attempting to revive the massive, secret Behemoth computer from its long-hidden location beneath the school. In Century Falls When Tess Hunter and her mother arrive in the eponymous village, they gradually find haunted by a disaster which befell it during the performance of an occult ceremony forty years previously. Tess befriends the only other children in the village, brother and sister Ben and Carey Naismith, and finds that Ben has strange powers which he draws from the waterfall that gives the village its name. The Naismiths' uncle Richard is working with his aged father, Dr Josiah Naismith, to complete the unfinished ceremony using Ben's powers, hoping to raise the spirit of a mysterious God-like being, Century. They are eventually stopped by Tess' actions, aided by the local Harkness sisters, who knew the original tragedy of the 1950s events.

Whilst such 'straight' drama series as The Singing Detective, Edge of Darkness, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Dead Head and even several episodes of the Jersey crime series Bergerac (Fires in the Fall, What Dreams May Come, A Man of Sorrows, The Dig) were busy dabbling in areas of surrealism, dreams and the supernatural, the 1980s saw only occasional steps into the unconditional telefantasy arena, notably David Pirie's Rainy Day Women (1984) starring Charles Dance, Lindsay Duncan, Ian Hogg, Cyril Cusack and Gwyneth Strong and Michael Hastings' Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984), directed by Alan Clarke. Nick Dunning's The Lorelei with Amanda Redman and Trevor Preston's Children Crossing starring Peter Firth - both for Screen Two - and Paul Cornell's TV debut Kingdom Come (all 1990) took the BBC's telefantasy legacy into a new decade. There were other important pieces, like Benjamin Zepheniah's spirited Dread Poets Society (1992) in which Byron, Keats and the Shelleys appear on an inter-city train which is taking the author to a job interview and Ben Elton's ecologically sound Stark (1993). Black Easter (1995), with Trevor Eve, was a macabre tale set in a futuristic Europe. Dennis Potter, meanwhile, would return to flirting with the genre again for his final three works for the BBC Blackeyes (1989), Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (both 1996, the latter in a co-production with Channel Four).

When Michael Grade announced his decision to postpone the twenty-third season of Doctor Who in 1985, several newspapers quoted a BBC source stating that a replacement series had been found. It was to be called Star Cops. Over two years later a series bearing that title finally appeared on BBC2 for a nine-episode run. Star Cops should have been massive but, due to a combination of factors - particularly its transmission time - the series was shelved after its first season. The brainchild of Chris Boucher, this was an effort to merge telefantasy with crime drama. If that makes the series sound like a forerunner to Crime Traveller then it's worth noting that the BBC themselves did not consider the series to be science fiction at all, preferring to describe it in press releases as 'a futuristic police series' and using Boucher's work on Bergerac, Shoestring and Juliet Bravo as justification. The other major writer on the series was The Observer's resident doctor John Collee. David Calder played Nathan Spring, a career policeman who had become disenchanted with the system on Earth. His companions were Box, an electronic 'intelligent listening device' (in other words, a Dictaphone that could answer back), also voiced by Calder, and his assistant, David Theroux, played by American Erick Ray Evans. The opening episode was a disappointment, although with the murder of Spring's girlfriend early in the second episode the series showed itself to be a lot harder and more cynical than it at first appeared. Two more important characters were soon introduced: Pal Kenzy (Linda Newton), an abrasive and, initially, corrupt official who, through a devious publicity stunt, got herself tied to the Star Cops after Spring had given her the boot; and the series' main comedy element, Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper), an overweight chauvinist (his 'Fancy a quick game of Hide The Sausage?' is one of the series best-remembered lines). Star Cops contained some marvellous visual effects by Mike Kelt and Malcolm James, and strong performances from guest actors, including Roy Holder and Geoffrey Bayldon. The episodes directed by Graeme Harper were especially inventive, whilst the scripts (despite an unfortunate habit of stereotyping ethnic groups) were intelligent and witty. The crimes that the ISPF were called on to investigate included computer sabotage in Intelligent Listening For Beginners, a conspiracy surrounding a missing scientist in Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits, Mafia drug trafficking in This Case to Be Opened in a Million Years and media-hoaxes in Little Green Men and Other Martians.

In 1989, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the 'death' of George Dixon in The Blue Lamp, Arthur Ellis' The Black and Blue Lamp was broadcast. This borderline telefantasy play focused on Dixon's killer, Tom Riley, and Constable 'Taffy' Hughes, walking out of The Blue Lamp and into a quasi-80s crime drama series The Filth, full of coppers on the take and hip street-talk. The sight of cosh-boy Riley whimpering as he is beaten up in his cell for simply asking what a 'blag' is was a disturbing highlight of British crime drama. The police, represented by John Woodvine and Kenneth Cranham, were now the villains of the piece, and Riley's world no longer has any meaning. The Black and Blue Lamp was an attempt to show how attitudes to the police in the media (and, indeed, in life itself) have changed over the past forty years. Along similar lines GF Newman's Nineteen 96 (also 1989) was a more circumspect interpretation of recent events in Northern Ireland, particularly the alleged shoot-to-kill policy by the security services and the claims of former MI5 officer Colin Wallace about sexual misconduct at an orphanage, but with the action transported to Wales and seven years into the future. Keith Barron starred as the John Stalker-based Met officer assigned to look into the allegations, but undermined by MI5, MI6 and - possibly - the government.

Although the BBC's commitment to telefantasy seemed to wane during the early 90s (apart from Red Dwarf, which one always sensed the BBC never regarded as 'proper' Telefantasy in the first place even if the writers and cast certainly did), the amazing reaction to Stephen Volk's 1992 Screen One, Ghostwatch, must have made those who question the size and commitment of the Telefantasy audience sit up and take notice. A pseudo-documentary about a haunted house, broadcast on Hallow'een, it starred Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles and Sarah Greene, scarred just about everyone who came into contact with it witless and was proof positive of television's ability to provoke and question. There are people out there - and this author is one of them - who still have nightmares about 'Pipes.' 1995 at last saw the BBC returning telefantasy to prime-time with Bugs. The series was devised by Carnival boss Brian Eastman and producer Stuart Doughty with input from veteran writer-producer Brian Clemens. Other notable series writers included Colin Brake and Stephen Gallagher. Two episodes (Bugged Wheat and Hollow Man), were written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who went on to create the US series Smallville. The plot of the programme involved a team of specialist independent crime-fighting technology experts, who faced a variety of threats based around computers and other modern technology. The main trio of regulars were Nick Beckett (Jesse Birdsall), Ros Henderson (Jaye Griffiths) and Ed (Craig McLachlan in series one to three, Steven Houghton in series four). Initially an independent team, they began working alongside the government agency Bureau of Weapons Technology in series two under the authority Jan (Jan Harvey). Despite its sometimes paint-by-numbers plots, and the potentially fatal tag of 'an Avengers for the 90s' - something which had also badly hampered perception of the recent Virtual Murder (and, if anything, Bugs was, rather, 'a Department S for the 90s'!), Bugs was actually a highly enjoyable, if rather lightweight, slice of adventure drama. The same, unfortunately, couldn't be said of the next series Carnival Films placed with the BBC. The thoroughly miserable Crime Traveller has, over the years, become something of by-word for everything that is crass and unoriginal about TV – not least because of its producers long-running refusal to even acknowledge the series was science fiction in the first place – as though that denial, in some way, was an excuse for just how wretched the thing turned out to be. Jeff Slade (Michael French) is a detective with the CID department of the local police force led by Kate Grisham (a scowling Sue Johnston who seemed to have realised from day one what a horrorshow she'd found herself a part of). Slade is a good detective who gets results although his approach is somewhat maverick and his methods do leave a lot to be desired and have more than once landed him in trouble. Amongst Slade's colleagues at the department is science officer Holly Turner (Chloë Annett) who has a secret that Slade manages to uncover. Holly owns a working Time Machine that was built by her late father. Yes, it really was every single bit as bad as that description sounds. And about twenty five per cent more. Virtual Murder, on the other hand, was in the mould of some earlier off-beat series, such as The Avengers. Like Steed and Emma Peel (or Adam Adamant and Georgina Jones for that matter) Cornelius (Nicholas Clay) and Valentine (Kim Thomson) investigated a succession of rather eccentric or bizarre occurrences. They often did so in cooperation with the police, represented by Stephen Yardley as Inspector Cadogan and Jude Akuwuike as Sergeant Gummer. Complementing the occult elements and those of virtual reality, there was a thread of playful, sometimes dark humour running through the scripts and an underlying sexual frisson between Clay and Thomson.

The mid-to-late 90s were a depressing time to be a British telefantasy fan. Neil Gaiman's much-anticipated Neverwhere (1996) wasn't quite the renaissance that we all hoped for and with the subsequent failure of the 1996 Doctor Who Universal co-produced TV movie and of 1998's Invasion: Earth the BBC, temporarily turned its back on one of its longest standing areas of drama production. Ironically, it did this just at the very moment that ground-breaking, intelligent and exciting imported US series like Quantum Leap, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were proving the viability, depth, range and popularity of the genre. But that was, it seemed, part of the problem – 'these things cost too much' went the argument. 'If you're going to do it properly, it needs more money than we've got.' As if to prove the point, Andrew Marshall's Strange - trailed, ridiculously, in the contemporary press as 'a British Buffy' - was both a deserved critical and commercial failure in 2002. And, when the Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) ended after two, largely unsuccessful, seasons in 2001 that seemed to be indicative that the genre was, if not dead, then coughing up blood and, at the very least, not at all well.

Of course, we all know what happened next. Somebody at BBC Wales finally got sick of Russell Davies badgering them to let him have a go at reviving Doctor Who for the Twenty First Century and told him to go away and get on with it. So, he did. The astonishing flowering of Telefantasy at the BBC (and, indeed, across the entirity of British broadcasting) in the wake of the good Doctor's return from his sixteen year exile - one hundred all too brief minutes in 1996, notwithstanding - has been little short of remarkable. It has produced some extraordinary work, every bit as good as anything that has gone before (Life on Mars, Jekyll, Primeval, Being Human, Merlin), some patchy-but-decent shows like the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood and the 2008 'reimagining' of Survivors, some nice ideas that didn't work as well as one would've hoped ([spooks]: Code 9, Hex) and the odd rank and towering disaster (Bonekickers, Demons). Just like the 1960s, in fact. And the 1970s come to that. But, the genre is now healthy and vibrant again, a confident and vital part of the television landscape and, seventy years after it began, still holding off from getting its bus pass just yet. Why bother? It doesn't need one - it's got all the spaceships imaginable.

8 comments:

Tony said...

This was a very long, and very interesting article. A great read. I learned some fun facts, and I love fun facts. Thanks for the post!

Tony Peters
Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping
www.eloquentooks.com/KidsOnACase.html

Keith Topping said...

I did *say* it was a long'un to be fair! Can't do me under the Trade's Descriptions Act over that one!

Thanks muchly for the comments.

xx

deborah said...

That was a fascinating and very expensive read!

I am now off to Amazon to see if some things I'd forgotten all about till now are available on DVD

Moondial
Z For Zacariah
Treasure Over The Water
Red Shift

To name but the first four on the list!

Keith Topping said...

I'm not even sure Treasure Over the Water will still *exist* let alone have eben released. It was 1972, right at the heart of the "what can we junk this week" phase (see previous article for the full horrid details).

I'm pretty sure you can get Moodial on DVD at the very least.

Rhod said...

Thanks for that article, Keith - I appreciate the work that must have gone into it.

I'd love to see that Horizon anniversary "mockumentary" again.

Perhaps in response to the concerns about over-population in the 70s, another futuristic product covered in this programme was a synthetic substance that could be made in abundance and used as a food at one temperature, and a fuel at another...thus presumably solving the world's food supply problems in one go.

Michael S. Collins said...

That was very interesting, Keith. I enjoyed reading it - it's been sitting on my browser since you posted the link, waiting for the time to read it.

Of course, you do realise there will now follow several "Where can I find this?" questions once I digested the interesting from the interesting-but-already-seen.

Good work, that man!

Best wishes
Michael

Alex Briggs said...

Just stumbled across this. Nice to see an updated version of this excellent article and to receive a credit so long after I submitted suggestions for the 2nd edition of the book. Didn't realise I was Magic. I may have to retreat to a secluded spot later on in order to test my powers.

Anonymous said...

I get pleasure from, cause I found exactly what I used to be looking for. You've ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye