Examining the extraordinary role of HG Wells in the creation of the nuclear bomb 70 years ago – how a simple, devastating idea led to the world we know today.
In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells imagined bombs that destroy civilisation and lead to a new world order. But his “atomic bombs” – a name he conceived – are grenades that keep on exploding.
How did this idea become a reality?
The very talented (and sunniest, most charming fellow) Simon Guerrier asked me to provide a few voices for this documentary presented by Samira Ahmed and co-produced by another talented and charming Guerrier (there must be something in the family porridge), Simon’s brother Tom.
It’s quite an eclectic array from Yours Truly but hopefully they don’t all sound like me – and if they do I hope it doesn’t detract from what is a fascinating documentary which can be heard here until early August.
As I type this you have just over three weeks to catch The Dad Who Fell To Earth on iPlayer.It is a play I wrote for Radio 4 about a man who discovers that his recently deceased father wasn’t a door-to-door salesman as he thought but in fact an alien from a distant world charged with preventing the destruction of mankind. It’s about grief and loss and a purple planet with clever cats.
The play stars Ronald Pickup as Russ, Cherylee Houston as Jan, Alexandra Mathie as Wendy, Lee Fenwick and Pete/Steve, and Zoe Iqbal and Chelsea. Oh, and me. The producer os the fabulous Charlotte Riches. Most of us are pictures below.
I can honestly say that is has been the most rewarding engagement of my professional life so far – the writing process was smooth, the cast are fabulous and Charlotte has done an amazing job with the edit (Sound by Sue Stonestreet, one of the unsung heroes of the radio department at the BBC in Salford). I’m delighted to say the the play received Pick Of The Week in The Independent, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Mail.
You can listen on it here (depending on what date you read this):
I have had the privilege of working on the DVD commentaries for the forthcoming BFI box set of Classic BBC sci-fi anthology series Out Of The Unknown.With about 8 weeks to turn things round and a minuscule budget, producer John Kelly and I managed to accrue a pretty decent roster of talent which I am delighted to be able to reveal now.
All commentaries moderated by me.
No Place Like Earth
With Mark Ward (Out Of The Unknown expert) and Dan Rebellato (playwright, lecturer and John Wyndham expert).
The Dead Past
With John Gorrie (director) and Brian Hodgson (Special Sounds).
Time In Advance
With Peter Sasdy (director), Wendy Gifford (Polly), Philip Voss (Police Officer) and Danvers Walker (Dan).
With Clive Endersby (Mark), Roger Croucher (Fawkes).
Some Lapse Of Time
With Roger Jenkins (director), John Glenister (PA), Jane Downs (Diana Harrow) and Delena Kidd (Dr Laura Denville).
The Midas Plague
With Peter Sasdy.
The Machine Stops
With Philip Saville (director), Kenneth Cavander (adaptor), Michael Imison (story editor).
With Mordecai Roshwald (author), Michael Imison (story editor).
This Body Is Mine
With John Carson (Allen).
With Moris Fahri (writer), Bernard Brown (Bowers Two).
The Man In My Head
With Peter Cregeen (director), Tom Chadbon (Brinson), Jeremy Davies (designer).
Some of the commentaries spend some time with one participant then switch over to another as it wasn’t always practical to get people at the same time:indeed Roshwald and Cavander (for example) live in the USA so we did them by Skype. Others we visited at home to minimise disruption to them. So some are a bit of a mix and match, but we wanted as many participants as possible.
We were asked to provide 7 commentaries. We aimed for 13 and managed, ultimately, to get 11 – over half of the available episodes. I’m very proud of what we did on a release originally planned to have no commentaries at all.
Well, just a quickie. I’ve been pretty busy doing a couple of things I can’t talk about yet (a DVD commentary or two plus an episode of a TV series – but no, not Doctor Who or any of its spin-offs). I’ve already written about them for this blog though, so when the time is right I’ll cut and paste and hopefully there’ll be something of interest for anyone really desperate to find something to distract them from work.
It’s been my absolute pleasure over the past few weeks to pop into BBC 7 and record the links for their fantastic 7th Dimension* sci-fi hour, introducing such eclectic delights as Mark Gatiss reading The Devil In Amber, plenty of spooky tales heralded by the gloriously arch tones of Edward De Souza’s Man In Black on Fear In Four, and of course, Journey Into Space. Oh, how I thought that would be clunky, slow, frightfully poised and naive, and how wrong I was – it’s brilliant. The characters are all great, there are no easy solutions to the jeopardy (each problem is solved with practicality and invention), it has an extraordinarily bold imagination and there are some genuinely creepy moments. I’ve become thoroughly hooked. Thanks to Nick Briggs for vacating the seat for a couple of months whilst he excels in Doctor Who Live**, and for recommending me to his producer, the most amiable and accommodating man in the media, Martin Dempsey. With Martin’s encouragement, I’ve thrown in the odd obscure reference for aficionados of sci-fi, but hopefully not so as to (excuse the pun) alienate passing listeners. Like Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, I want to spread the joy equally to lovers of the genre and those who may have only the most superficial interest. So if you spot that lyric from the theme to Star Cops, enjoy the occasional Quatermass reference or smirk on Speak Like Pip And Jane Baker Day, all well and good; but if you don’t notice them and they don’t mar your enjoyment as I bounce through the hour, that’s fine too.
I’ve even been asked to host the whole of an extended shift over Halloween, which has a fantastic and eclectic line up of spookiness. Loitering in Broadcasting House has its advantages too: I’ve already spotted David Starkey and Ian Botham, and finally met David Tennant face-to-face, and was able to thank him for lending his support and vocal talents to Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. What a thoroughly nice man he is.
So listen out for the 7th Dimension, from either 6pm or midnight, every day, for the next couple of months. I’m rather enjoying it, and getting better as the weeks go by I think.
* Beware, the picture on the website makes me look like I have a stupidly shaped head.
**And before accusations of jobs for the boys, I think I’ve met Mr Briggs twice, maybe three times.
Well the madness has begun: flyers litter the streets and students dressed as pirates line the pavements thinking that the best way to get punters to come to see their thespian hi-jinks in Penzance is to yell at strangers and guffaw in a way only those with a vestige of youthful bravado left in them (soon to be dissipated by tax and broken dreams) can. And God has gleefully placed various ambling types between you and where you want to go, and they shamble along in a zig-zag as you try to get past. Even without clocking you, they manage to anticipate which direction you’re going to take to manoeuvre out of their way and block your path with deadly slowness: ambling human shields, precision-placed and impenetrable, walls of anorak-clad flesh determined to make you late for your fourth gig of the day as you realise you’ve said yes to one too many people.
Anyway: Days One and Two, Thursday 5th and Friday 6th August
Previewers and Reviewers
A gentle start. A preview, so the pressure is off – just get the freshly honed show out there and in your head Toby. A decent fist of a crowd, enough for you to verbally map out your masterwork, consolidate it, identify the less certain and more fatty passages, and work your arse off on Friday to have it shipshape for preview two when the press are allowed in. And it works – Thursday a workmanlike and slightly (in places) tentative stab at an hour long version of the show that ties up all the loose ends. Some ends where tied more efficiently than others, though. No problem – have a look at those, reinsert forgotten jokes, reorder, and bingo! Friday flows much better and is finally the show as it needs to be, and is performed without too many fumbles. All good. Except, what’s this? Two press in on Thursday and none on Friday? That’s entirely the wrong way around! Dash and crikey. And shit. Oh well. As I wait tentatively and with irritation (it’s no-one’s fault, it was a communication breakdown inevitable in the flurry of the fringe) I have other things to do. One is to appear on Hardeep Singh Kohli’s Chat Masala, and to blog about it. Read about that adventure here.
Not sure I’d have personally given away the punchline in the title of the article, but never mind (Two Stars for that, title writer).
Then to the first F***ing Funny For A Fiver shows (three gigs in one evening on my first night here – perhaps a clue to why my decision to not drink was steadfastly maintained for about seven and a half minutes after show one). I’m compering these intermittently. I use my desire to unwind and my anger at the reviewer situation to fuel an inventive, if slightly long, opening, to prove to myself that I can be witty and spontaneous and delight an audience even without a refined and honed script. Banter, whimsy, comic flights of fancy – they all tumble out and I’m as surprised as anyone, revelling in the heady, freewheeling atmosphere you can only get at the craziness of the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s going well! Good work – karma restored, and the comedy Gods are smiling. They’re also, alas, refilling my wine glass far too quickly and all the heady expectation, disappointment, desire to please and sheer enormity of the situation lead to a rather more, um, wayward second section, where I all but undo the good work done in the first. Karmic balance knocked out of kilter again, resolutely fulfilling its mission to maintain that life is just, well, like that. Still, the comedians in the room enjoy watching the poison of Bacchus unravel my faculties in public, and entertainment that is had is of the kind the Romans would have thoroughly enjoyed. (So, first half, Five Stars, second half … hmm, Two). The other acts on were Mark Allen, Elis James, Sam Gore and The Boy With Tape On His Face who were all excellent. It’s a top notch late night show, albeit one with an occasional compere who promises he’ll never drink again.
Wife And (Good And Bad) Times
I’m sharing a flat with Jason and Clare Cook; this is good news as they’re splendid people who find it amusing when I get angry about things, and it’s far enough away for me to walk off any macaroni cheese pies I’m definitely not going to buy from Greggs, promise. My wife (an undisputed Five Stars, always and forever) has taken the long, six hour trek to Edinburgh to grab two all too short days with me. She arrives just in time for F***ing Funny For A Fiver, which provides perfectly timed evidence that she’d probably be better off if she hadn’t bothered. We had a couple of nice meals – one at a restaurant that shall remain nameless on The Royal Mile, that boasted a fine menu but service that was as enthusiastic but inefficient as a holiday rep attempting to disarm a nuclear missile with a pen-knife and some jam (Three Stars, being generous as it was only the second night). L’Escargot Bleu was a different affair – an authentic French vibe and casually brilliant food at respectable lunchtime prices (Four Stars).
Friday and Saturday saw her help me go through the gig, firm it up in my brain and really work it through, and emerge much better for it. All we could then do was wait for the reviews from Thursday. Out they came and they were fair enough for that first night, although I wish Chortle could extrapolate that a first preview gig from an experienced comic will inevitably tighten up by the time any potential punters arrive. I have to say they have form for not allowing for the symptoms of a preview, and the only criticisms in the review referred to obvious first night flaws rather than problems with the show (so I’ll only give them Two Stars, despite some decent insight and neat phraseology). Nonetheless, it reads like a coveted four star review – though that’s not matched by the rating, so ultimately it’s a missed opportunity for some poster adornment. Slightly disappointing, and a tad churlish, but hey ho, that’s what can happen when you let people in on a preview. A similar story with Three Weeks too, and that’s a publication where the reviewer you’re allocated is a real lottery. You’re often at the mercy of someone who has only got the job because they own a pen. I’ve seen some right howlers in there in the past, so to get one that uses its word count to accurately describe the show and make reasonable criticisms must be chalked up as a win (Three Stars to me, Four Stars to the reviewer).
So so far, solid if not sexy. Maybe I flirted with sexiness at my rock ‘n’ roll antics on F***ing Funny For A Fiver (I wished they’d called it Quite Amusing For The Price Of A Lady (Godiva), it’d trip off my tongue with far more élan, frankly), which just goes to show that sometimes, being sexy is no replacement for a mug of Horlicks and a good read.