"the quintessence of British Pop culture blogs" - Thierry Attard

R.U.R ©BBC 1938
Originally posted on the original Moviemail website (now sadly revamped and no longer providing the same opportunity to write such pieces), this was a series of blogs tracing the apocalyptic themes of British science fiction television. It was published between August and December 2014 to tie in with the BFI’s major retrospective and celebration of the science fiction genre Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder.

These are the longer, uncut versions of the original posts with minor additions and corrections.

The earliest examples of British science fiction television, two adaptations of Karel Čapek’s 1920 stage play R.U.R (aka Rossum’s Universal Robots), from which the word ‘robot’ entered the language, bookended the span of the Second World War. Jan Bussell’s thirty-five minute version was produced for BBC’s fledgling television service in 1938. Experimental in nature, the Radio Times advertised it as “a play that should lend itself very well indeed to television from the point of view of effects.” It was remade ten years later, again by Bussell, and featured future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton as one of the robots leading a revolution against their human creators.

R.U.R touched on major themes about dehumanisation through technology and the failures of a technologically driven utopia. It seemed entirely apt to revisit such themes in 1948 as British society emerged from the privations of the Second World War, rejected the imposed austerity of the 1950s and set about considering the future.

The play traversed the technocratic idealism and scientific romance of H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1933, and its extension into dystopian, totalitarianism in George Orwell’s novel of 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both were part of a British science fiction literary tradition that included Arthur Conan Doyle, E.M Forster, Rudyard Kipling, John Wyndham, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, C.S. Lewis, John Christopher and Arthur C. Clarke.

They epitomised the then key elements of the British science fiction tradition, one quite different to the pulp American form of the 1930s and 1940s. British insularity, isolation, anxiety and apocalypse were state of the nation tropes and they would be manifested in literature, theatre, cinema and, most effectively, on television.

Both versions of R.U.R were also televisual experiments that expanded upon the innovations of radio and theatre. Their creative use of limited resources established another tradition of British science fiction television where the visually and audibly strange were presented in the ordinary, intimate, domestic environment of the viewer.

The Time Machine ©BBC 1949
This was developed further with Robert Barr’s 1949 adaptation of Wells’s The Time Machine, transmitted in January of that year, which ambitiously employed back projection, live cross fading, mixing between cameras, models and telecine inserts to depict the Time Traveller’s journey through time. Barr established the medium’s future form and gradually introduced documentary techniques into drama.

In this period, several BBC plays embraced science fiction and horror concepts.These included the alternate history of Take Back Your Freedom (1948) and J.B. Priestley’s vision of post-apocalyptic Britain in Summer Day’s Dream (1949); an adaptation of Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1950) and Wells’s little-known satire The Wonderful Visit (1952), where an angel attempts to adapt to human society. The children’s serial Stranger From Space, where a young boy befriends a marooned Martian, also ran for two series from 1951. Time Slip, screened in 1953, was the intriguing story of a man 4.7 seconds ahead in time from the rest of the world.

Writer Nigel Kneale, a key figure in the development of science fiction on British television, captured a sense of Britain’s changing fortunes in the 1950s as it was increasingly dominated by science and technology and its culture became heavily influenced by American consumerism. Kneale cut his teeth adapting 1952’s psychic alien possession drama Mystery Story and nuclear thriller Number Three in 1953 after joining the new Script Unit at the BBC in 1951. Both plays critiqued the pursuit of scientific knowledge and coincided with the optimism of the Festival of Britain, the debut of the Comet jet aircraft and the imminent completion of Britain’s first nuclear power station.
‘A countless host… with one single consciousness’
Viennese cinema director Rudolph Cartier arrived at the BBC in 1950 and worked with Kneale adapting Arrow to the Heart in 1952. The urgent need to fill a Saturday night slot in the BBC schedule gave them an opportunity to push the technical and stylistic potential of television with their ‘thriller in six parts’, 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment.

Cartier eschewed the intimacy of previous BBC dramas and brought his cinematic vision to bear upon Kneale’s human story of an astronaut who returns to Earth possessed by an alien entity. The exploits of the anti-establishment scientist with a conscience, Bernard Quatermass, gripped an audience of five million viewers and a British science fiction legend was born.

Cartier and Kneale next confidently tackled an adaptation of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its broadcast in 1954 caused complaints and questions in Parliament. Cartier again sought a broader scale, using over twenty sets and pre-filmed inserts, to adapt Orwell’s austere, totalitarian science fiction polemic.

It tapped into the still raw emotions about the darkest days of the Second World War and the fresh anxieties about the Cold War. The play’s final scenes, the torture of hero Winston Smith played by Peter Cushing, in Room 101 proved to be too graphic for BBC viewers. Yet, despite the protests about its 12th December debut the BBC repeated the play on the 16th December.

Simultaneously, when the makers of Nineteen Eighty-Four were described as ‘sadists and readers of Horror comics’, this reflected concerns about a creeping Americanisation of British culture through its SF and horror magazines and comic books. Hollywood’s own mix of paranoia and spectacle in the era’s science fiction film boom saw the genre gradually becoming a mass medium entertainment.

The arrival of the BBC’s commercial rival ITV in 1955 merely added fuel to the debate about high and low culture. Kneale and Cartier returned in the same year with Quatermass II, a deeply paranoid, pessimistic alien possession thriller that, as James Chapman noted, said a great deal more about ‘national impotence’ as Britain struggled to come to terms with its fading global influence. Quatermass and the Pit in 1958 upped the ante with a claustrophobic tale about humanity’s violent ancestral Martian legacy, fashioning an SF allegory from Britain’s colonial past and the race riots of that summer.

With his characteristic conservative pessimism, Kneale produced further plays in the genre in the decade that followed. The Creature, another starring vehicle for Peter Cushing and made prior to Quatermass II, was about an expedition to find the legendary Yeti. After a period working on film scripts, Kneale provided a ghost story with a twist about 18th century villagers haunted by a future nuclear apocalypse in 1963’s The Road. Sadly, the play does not survive in the archive. He also worked with director Michael Elliott in 1964 on ATV’s nuclear thriller The Crunch.

Another Kneale-Elliott collaboration The Year of the Sex Olympics in 1968, a psychedelic expression of what Adam Curtis noted as ‘the paranoia that was beginning to seep into the left at the end of the 1960s’, was a chillingly prescient satire about the influence of mass media and reality television that continues to resonate today.

The Quatermass Experiment ©BBC 1953

By the start of the 1960s the BBC’s commercial rivals ITV had captured the ratings with mass market, popular programmes, not only filling their schedules with slickly made imports but also with indigenous plays, series and serials. Associated Rediffusion and ABC produced many SF themed dramas in this period, primarily obsessing about misguided scientists and their failed attempts to launch rockets, encroaching apocalypse and its consequences.

David Karp’s One (1956), Priestley’s Doomsday for Dyson (1958), Lester Fuller’s Before the Sun Goes Down (1959), Murder Club — an adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s The Tenth Victim — and Giles Cooper’s Loop (1963), about an invasion via outside TV broadcasts, and his adaptation of John Lymington’s The Night of the Big Heat (1961) were just a few of the plays from this period.

One of the key figures responsible for the radical reshaping of drama at ITV franchise ABC was Canadian drama producer Sydney Newman. With the Armchair Theatre drama anthology he produced a series of plays that drew audiences of up to 12 million viewers and brought realism and new writers to the fore.

He also supervised children’s drama and in 1960 commissioned Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice’s six part Sunday afternoon serial Target Luna, about Buchan Island’s experimental rocket group headed by Norman Wedgewood, his children Geoff, Jimmy and Valerie, journalist Conway Henderson and a hamster called Hamlet.

It was so successful it spawned three equally popular sequels, Pathfinders in Space, Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus. The various exploits of Wedgewood, the children and Henderson took them to Mars and Venus in fast paced, positivist adventure serials that blended science fact with the wonders and terrors of space exploration. While the production values were primitive, the Pathfinders trilogy set an ambitious template for popular children’s science fiction television in the 1960s.

Newman also reinvigorated ABC’s Saturday night schedule when he developed The Avengers, a Cold War espionage thriller that gradually transformed into a quirky escapist fantasy, its reassuring traditionalism and sophisticated modernity becoming the epitome of 1960s meritocratic pop. Many episodes of The Avengers, particularly when it moved from a studio VT to all film production, embraced science fiction concepts as suave British spy John Steed set out to foil diabolical masterminds of all inclinations.
‘Twenty robots… whirling through the universe with a sense of evil.’
1962’s Dumb Martian, an adaptation of John Wyndham’s short story and allegory about racism and domestic abuse that featured a space pioneer purchasing a mute Martian wife for company, was shown in the Armchair Theatre strand. Its story editor Irene Shubik had joined ABC in 1960, commissioning a number of fantasy themed scripts for Armchair Theatre and used the adaptation to launch her science fiction anthology series Out of this World. The only surviving episode, her adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Little Lost Robot, exploring the ethics of creating a race of artificial intelligences, received a welcome DVD release by the BFI in 2014.

She established contact with agent John Carnell, who had founded science fiction magazine New Worlds and had many SF writers on his books, and together they selected the short stories for adaptation. Its range of literate, thought-provoking adaptations demonstrated that American and British science fiction were contemporary bedfellows, with stories by Asimov, Clifford Simak and Philip K Dick rubbing shoulders with new scripts from Terry Nation and Richard Waring. These were connections Shubik would exploit when she and Newman moved to the BBC.

The BBC had, meanwhile, scored another success with the seven part serial A For Andromeda in 1961. Noted astronomer and cosmologist Fred Hoyle and producer John Elliot created an eerie story about a group of scientists who receive extra terrestrial instructions to design and build an advanced computer and create a life form, Andromeda. Once again, it was a drama focused on Cold War suspicions and paranoia, fears of technological advancement as well as the moral and ethical conflicts between idealistic science and government bureaucracy. Its sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough in 1962 developed the themes further into a critique of the degradation of science under capitalism.

Doctor Who ©BBC 1963

When Sydney Newman moved to the BBC in December 1962, he set about reorganising the Drama department. Prior to this Alice Frick, Donald Bull and John Braybon of the BBC Survey Group had compiled internal reports about science fiction, drama and audiences, referencing A for Andromeda and Out of this World. The reports would stimulate Newman’s desire to create a new series for Saturday tea time. He recruited his former ABC production assistant Verity Lambert to produce what would become the longest running science fiction series in the world, Doctor Who.

In November 1963 a British cultural phenomenon made its debut and Doctor Who then cemented its success when Lambert convinced Newman that Terry Nation’s seven-part story The Daleks (aka The Mutants) did not violate his rule against ‘bug-eyed monsters’ or his remit for the series to be scientifically and historically educational. The series’ longevity was assured when the Daleks made their first appearance in December 1963. Since then, its format has embraced hard science fiction, historic adventure, fantasy, Gothic horror and satire. Its appeal to generations old and new continues unabated by dint of the production team’s remarkable decision in 1966 to 'regenerate' its leading man.

Nation’s renewed affinity for science fiction also inspired Irene Shubik, who also moved with Newman to the BBC, and she asked him to adapt Isaac Asimov’s novel The Caves of Steel for drama anthology Story Parade in 1964. Starring Peter Cushing as detective Elijah Bailey, the play concerned itself with his investigation of the murder of an eminent scientist and the developing relationship with his partner on the case, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw. A detective mystery, it also provided Shubik with a social commentary on xenophobia, over-population and the impact of technology on human behavior.

During production of Story Parade, Shubik proposed a science fiction anthology to Newman and commissioned the first 13 scripts for what became the landmark BBC2 series, Out of the Unknown. Shubik produced a daring, provocative and ambitious showcase of British and American writers, resolutely using science fiction as a vehicle to examine contemporary anxieties and concerns through allegory, metaphor and satire.

Out of the Unknown ©BBC 1966

Stories by Pohl, Ballard, Asimov, Simak, Brunner were adapted by the cream of British scriptwriters and, later, new scripts were commissioned from Nigel Kneale, Brian Hayles and Michael J Bird. As Mark Ward eloquently notes within the BFI DVD release of the 20 surviving episodes, its space age, swinging sixties currency may be passé but the series’ examinations of ‘the individual, the state, human identity, law and order, education, consumerism, medicine, war and so on, still concern us.’

While Out of the Unknown engaged intellectually with the genre, ABC’s Undermind in 1965 offered more of the same with its post-Quatermass alien conspiracy theme about an anarchic alien fifth column threatening Britain’s security. The BBC attempted to emulate the stylish heroics of The Avengers and ITC’s action adventure series with displaced Edwardian crime fighter Adam Adamant Lives! and Bondian alien secret agents led by Simon King, thwarting alien invasions in Counterstrike.

ITV’s schedules were also dominated by American imports from the Irwin Allen stable including Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Homegrown series for ITV were primarily the responsibility of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson who scored enormous success with their filmed Supermarionation puppet series.

Supercar, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, made for ITC during the 1960s, captured the essence of the space age and the post-war utopian ideal man working in harmony with technology. Crucially the blend of action and adventure with innovative visual effects, transnational settings and instantly recognisable signature music secured lucrative international sales and broadcast.

Similarly ITC film series such as The Champions and Department S featured many episodes with a science fiction flavor but their jewel in the crown was surely The Prisoner. Like Kneale, its star Patrick McGoohan anticipated the ‘fall out’ from the swinging Sixties and the consequences of the culture wars between the establishment and the counterculture. His strange, surreal series about a secret agent who resigns and is interned in a bizarre Italianate detention centre to have his mind scoured for valuable information, was full of moral and ethical questions about freedom and conformity.

The Prisoner expressed something of the postmodern qualities of British science fiction literature as it underwent a radical transformation under Michael Moorcock’s editorship of New Worlds magazine. It had become a medium of ideas and styles and the sounding board for great social and cultural changes.

Television and film iterations also attempted to reflect the counterculture movement’s determination to put issues about environmentalism, poverty, racial and sexual equality on the mainstream agenda. By the 1970s, science fiction offered an opportunity for producers, writers and directors to comment on the unfulfilled utopian promises of the 1960s and explore many alternate coming of age realities.

Next time: Part Two / 1970–75: ‘Waiting for the collapse’ — From Doomwatch to The Changes

Continuing our 10th Anniversary celebrations, we've got more Doctor Who books to giveaway. This week we have a paperback edition of James Goss' novelisation of Douglas Adams' celebrated story City of Death. Bundled with this is a hardback copy of Myths & Legends: Epic Tales from Alien Worlds by Richard Dinnick.

Based on the beloved Doctor Who episode of the same name by Douglas Adams, the hilarious and brilliant author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, comes City of Death

The Doctor takes Romana on holiday in Paris—a city which, like a fine wine, has a bouquet all of its own. Especially if you visit during one of the vintage years. But the TARDIS takes them to 1979, a year whose vintage is soured by cracks in the fabric of time.

Soon they are embroiled in an alien scheme which encompasses home-made time machines, the theft of the Mona Lisa, the resurrection of the much-feared Jagaroth race, and the beginning (and possibly the end) of all life on Earth. It’s up to the Doctor and Romana to thwart the machinations of the suave, mysterious Count Scarlioni—all twelve of him—if the human race has any chance of survival.

But then, the Doctor’s holidays tend to turn out a bit like this.

Written by Richard Dinnick and brilliantly illustrated by Adrian Salmon, Doctor Who - Myths and Legends takes traditional legends and gives them a Time Lord twist.

For thousands of years, epic stories have been passed down from Time Lord to student, generation to generation. The truth of these tales was lost millennia ago, but the myths and legends themselves are timeless.

These are the most enduring of those tales. From the princess Manussa and her giant snake Mara, to the Vardon Horse of Xeriphin, these stories shed light on the universe around us and the beings from other worlds that we meet. Myths hold up a mirror to our past, present and future, explaining our culture, our history, our hopes and fears.

A collection of epic adventures from the Time Lords’ mist-covered past, Myths and Legends is an unforgettable gallery of heroes and villains, gods and monsters.


Cathode Ray Tube has one copy of each to give away to one lucky winner courtesy of BBC Books and Penguin Random House. Simply answer the question below and submit your entry via email.

  • - This competition is open to residents of the UK only but not to employees of BBC Books and Penguin Random House or their agents. 

  • - Entries must be received by midnight GMT on Friday 29th September 2017. (NOW CLOSED)

  • - This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and no cash alternative is available.

  • - No responsibility will be accepted for delayed, mislaid, lost or damaged entries whether due to system error or otherwise.

  • - Only one entry per visitor per day. No multiple entries allowed. Entries sent using answers posted on competition websites will be deemed void. We know who you are!

  • - The winner will be the first entry with the correct answer drawn at random.

  • - The winner will be contacted by email and the books will be sent by first class post to the winner after the competition closes.

  • - The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

  • - Entrants are deemed to accept and be bound by these rules and entries that are not in accordance with the rules will be disqualified.

  • - By entering the free prize draw, entrants agree to be bound by any other requirements set out on this website. Entry is via email to frank_c_collins@hotmail.com. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received, only partially received or delayed for whatever reason. Paper entries are not valid.
Question: In the televised City of Death which two actors make a cameo appearance as eccentric art dealers? 

Email your answer to the question above, with your name and address, including post code, and we'll enter you into the prize draw.

Good luck!

10TH ANNIVERSARY COMPETITION: Doctor Who books to be won!

Well, readers. It's hard to believe that this blog has been around for ten years. Yes, TEN years. Before we break out the champers and the cake please indulge me as I update you on my latest work. Once we've got that sorted, then we'll properly celebrate with a series of competitions, the first of which is announced below.

Although I've not written anything new specifically for the blog since September 2015 (the review of the Bernard Wilkie book if we're being pedantic) I have been rather busy since my Christmas update.

I've just finished reviewing all 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return for Frame Rated and I'll be doing much the same for Outlander Season 3 over the next few months.

A lovely piece I wrote some time ago about the Doctor Who comic 'The Age of Chaos', published by Marvel back in 1994 and written by none other than Sixie himself, Colin Baker, has recently been published in the third issue of that extraordinary fanzine Vworp, Vworp! It was an honour to feature in this stunning publication and you can purchase it from their site.

I have been publishing on Medium recently and also judging whether to move Cathode Ray Tube over to that platform. A couple of reviews from the archive have been dusted down and re-published over there and you can keep an eye on developments on my Medium page. Please give me a follow there.

There are a couple of projects that I can't talk about at the moment as they are either not confirmed yet or, if they have been agreed in principle, I won't announce anything until the good people I'm working with deem it appropriate to do so.


I've been clearing out the Cathode Ray Tube cupboards and thanks to BBC Books I'm able to offer some giveaways to my readers, particularly those of whom have stuck with me since the beginning, way back when I published the first review here on the 8th September 2007. Let's celebrate!

This weekend I'm giving away a bundle of two books: DOCTOR WHO: THE LEGENDS OF ASHILDR anthology and THE SCIENTIFIC SECRETS OF DOCTOR WHO by Simon Guerrier and Dr. Marek Kukula.

Ashildr, a young Viking girl, died helping the Doctor and Clara to save the village she loved. And for her heroism, the Doctor used alien technology to bring her back to life. Ashildr is now immortal – The Woman Who Lived. Since that day, Ashildr has kept journals to chronicle her extraordinary life.

The Legends of Ashildr is a glimpse of some of those stories: the terrors she has faced, the battles she has won, and the treasures she has found. These are tales of a woman who lived longer than she should ever have lived – and lost more than she can even remember.

An original novel written collaboratively by James Goss, Jenny T. Colgan, David Llewellyn and Justin Richards featuring the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi, and Ashildr as played by Maisie Williams.

Doctor Who stories are many things: thrilling adventures, historical dramas, tales of love and war and jelly babies. They’re also science fiction – but how much of the science is actually real, and how much is really fiction?

The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who is a mind-bending blend of story and science that will help you see Doctor Who in a whole new light, weaving together a series of all-new adventures, featuring every incarnation of the Doctor and written by many recognised and established Doctor Who authors.

With commentary that explores the possibilities of time travel, life on other planets, artificial intelligence, parallel universes and more, Simon Guerrier and Dr Marek Kukula show how Doctor Who uses science to inform its unique style of storytelling – and just how close it has often come to predicting future scientific discoveries. Because anything could be out there. And going out there is the only way to learn what it is.

Cathode Ray Tube has one copy of each to give away to one lucky winner courtesy of BBC Books and Penguin Random House. Simply answer the question below and submit your entry via email.

  • - This competition is open to residents of the UK only but not to employees of BBC Books and Penguin Random House or their agents. 

  • - Entries must be received by midnight GMT on Friday 22nd September 2017. COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

  • - This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and no cash alternative is available.

  • - No responsibility will be accepted for delayed, mislaid, lost or damaged entries whether due to system error or otherwise.

  • - Only one entry per visitor per day. No multiple entries allowed. Entries sent using answers posted on competition websites will be deemed void. We know who you are!

  • - The winner will be the first entry with the correct answer drawn at random.

  • - The winner will be contacted by email and the books will be sent by first class post to the winner after the competition closes.

  • - The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

  • - Entrants are deemed to accept and be bound by these rules and entries that are not in accordance with the rules will be disqualified.

  • - By entering the free prize draw, entrants agree to be bound by any other requirements set out on this website. Entry is via email to frank_c_collins@hotmail.com. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received, only partially received or delayed for whatever reason. Paper entries are not valid.
Question: In the Doctor Who universe what's the name of the physical effect that occurs when two versions of the same person from different time periods make physical contact? 

Email your answer to the question above, with your name and address, including post code, and we'll enter you into the prize draw.

Good luck!


Yes, my lovely readers I am still here. I know the Cathode Ray Tube site has been silent for well over a year but I just thought you might like to know that I haven't been idle. I've just been out and about writing for other sites and publications in the brief pauses I can find during my full-time job.

I'd love to write more and, in fact, I'd like nothing better than to write every day and earn a living from it but my job is all-consuming of my time and energy at the moment. However, more paid work would be lovely and I remain, as always, a writer for hire.

So... by way of promoting my wares here's a brief run down of where you can find my latest keyboard twiddlings.

Doctor Who - Series 9 and Christmas Special: The Husbands of River Song
Click above for ALL of the Series 9 episode and 2015's festive special coverage at the splendid film and television review site Frame Rated posted between September and December 2015. Plus there's a three-part overview of Series 8 too! More Doctor Who soon.

Other television reviews at Frame Rated
Outlander Seasons One and Two, Penny Dreadful Seasons Two and Three and The Man in the High Castle Season One and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride are just some of the other shows I've covered in the last year. Latest The Man in the High Castle and Sherlock reviews are forthcoming. 

Film reviews at Frame Rated
You'll also find my reviews (including Blu-ray releases) of Spectre (2015), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Kes (1969). Plus you can also read a brief tribute article about David Bowie and his work on screens big and small: Cracked Actor

For those avid Blu-ray watchers out there I was also commissioned to write essays for a number of Arrow Film and Video releases this year, including:

The Count Yorga Collection
For the first pressing of the Blu-ray of Count Yorga, Vampire and The Return of Count Yorga, released in August 2016, the enclosed booklet featured my essay about the films: A Tale of Unspeakable Cravings.

Woody Allen: Seven Films 1986 to 1991
Due out in February 2017, this Blu-ray box set containing Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, September, Another Woman, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alice and Shadows and Fog features a book of new writing about the films. I've completed an essay 'The air is full of electricity' about September (1987), which will also gain a standalone Blu-ray release in March 2017.

Cathode Ray Tube remains blessed with visitors even though nothing new has been posted for some time and I remain ever grateful many of you still enjoy the material archived here. If I can overcome a few personal obstacles I hope I can be back here with new posts in 2017. Until then, I wish all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Two names synonymous with the pioneering days of creating visual effects for television are Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine. Back in the 1950s, they were the Visual Effects Department of the BBC even though at the time it wasn't even known as that, BBC Television Centre was yet to be built and neither of them had created effects for television before.

Bernard Wilkie's previously unpublished memoir, written in the 1990s, arrives from Miwk Publishing this September. Although Wilkie wrote The Technique of Special Effects in Television in 1971 (considered the effects industry bible by many) and his notes and diaries were accessed for Mat Irvine and Mike Tucker's excellent BBC VFX: The Story of the BBC Visual Effects Department published in 2010, this book provides an in depth, illuminating and often hilarious account of his profession directly from the horse's mouth, as it were.

He takes us, via some amusing detours, from his inauspicious introduction to fibreglass techniques during his first interview with Richard Levin, the BBC's Head of Television Design, in 1954 to his retirement from the BBC in 1978 shortly after overseeing the Visual Effects Department's move to Western Avenue in Acton.

As he told the Radio Times for its Doctor Who 10th Anniversary Special in 1973: "Special effects are a combination of engineering and artistry, with a spot of conjuring thrown in." Conjuring is from whence Wilkie's inventive and creative impulses seem to have sprung. The trouble is, he wasn't terribly good at it.

SOLDIER AND ME - The Complete Series / DVD Review

Soldier And Me, Granada's 1974 BAFTA award-winning children's drama, comes to DVD this month courtesy of Network.

The nine half-hour episodes, broadcast in a Sunday tea-time slot between 15 September and 10 November 1974, were made by producer Brian Armstrong and directed by Carol Wilks, both formerly producer and researcher respectively on Granada's hard-hitting documentary strand World in Action.

Soldier and Me was an adaptation by writer David Line of his own best selling book 'Run For Your Life', originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1966. Line was the pseudonym of thriller writer Lionel Davidson.

As Jake Kerridge noted Davidson, born in Hull in 1922 and who died in 2009, was perhaps the last of the great adventure writers of the 1950s and 1960s, casting his unwitting heroes in the tradition of the ripping yarns spun by writers such as John Buchan. He was referred to as "today’s Rider Haggard" by Daphne du Maurier and his early novel 'The Rose of Tibet' was praised by Graham Greene as a "genuine adventure story." (1)

Davidson's career as a writer started with him as an office boy opening the post at The Spectator (it published his first story when he was 15 after he smuggled one of his own pieces into the submissions he forwarded to the literary editor), writing syndicated features for children and an agony column and, after the Second World War, working at Fleet Street's Keystone press agency. As a freelance writer he travelled to Czechoslovakia in 1947, smuggling himself aboard a lorry deporting Slovaks from Hungary back to Czechoslovakia as per Stalin's diktat for Eastern Europe. (2)

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