I’m having a quiet December writing a book and a script (and eating things I shouldn’t) and sadly my two latest plays, The Road and Going, Going, Goon have fallen off iPlayer so there’s not much to report bar…
I was recently interviewed by Stuart Goldsmith for his Comedian’s Comedian podcast. I’m now replaying the conversation in my head in the early hours and thinking about what I should have said. It will be released at some point in the future and it’s rather a privilege to have been asked.
I will be presenting The 7th Dimension (BBC Radio 4 Extra) every Saturday and Sunday, 6-7pm and midnight-1am between now and the New Year. The shows on December 29th and 30th will feature my tributes to those from the world of UK science fiction and fantasy who has passed away this year.
Some more CD commentaries for Doctor Who episodes have come out from those delightful and hard working fellows at Fantom Films. I have moderated chats with Darrol Blake, Susan Engel, Nick McArdle, Carolyn Montagu and John Lesson (with a bonus track featuring Shirin Taylor) on The Stones of Blood and with Ann Davies, Richard Martib, Carole Ann Ford, Spencer Chapman, Nick Evans, Peter Badger and Clive Doig on The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Details on these, and previous releases, here.
It’s the XS Malarkey Christmas Party on December 18th – food and karaoke and retro video games all on us, your favourite 21 year old independent comedy club in the vicinity of Oxford Road. The club then takes a break over Christmas but starts again in January 2019. Listings details are available at theXS Malarkey Website.
Quatermass and the Pit comes is still out on Blu-Ray – a great Christmas present for your favourite admirer of classic TV (it really is one of the best TV serials ever made). I have been working on the release, donating a large amount of photographic and audio material, as well as presenting the commentaries on all six episodes. Not many cast and crew survive, but if they do, we got them, and they have been spliced in with some recordings of my chats with those who are no longer with us. The film sequences have been remastered and they look extraordinary. It’s going to be a terrific release considering the age of the source material and is well worth a look.
I have recorded some audios for the fabulous new entertainment producers Sound of Thunder who are making some delightful original content from a great talent pool. More details here. And they gave me an apple tree, the lovely people!
I have also made another documentary for the Doctor Who Blu-Ray range – A Weekend with Waterhouse finds me breakfasting with Adric and getting up close and personal with the man who played him. Chris Chapman is the superb programme maker behind this and a few more productions we are currently working on for later on in the range.
My Big Finish podcast Who’s Round is up and about again – recent interviews have included Clifford Rose, Janet Henfrey, Joanna Monro and David Graham. There are more to come, including a Christmas themed one with a very important member of the acting profession – the exact release schedule isn’t certain but keep an eye out here.
Oh and incidentally, A Happy Christmas to all of you at home 🙂
(Keep an eye out for my end of year Doctor Who In Memoriam which will materialise on New Year’s Eve)
(and actually, I said it was quiet but it looks quite busy when you write it down…)
When the Quatermass serials were released on DVD some years ago, I got in touch with Steve Roberts at the Restoration Team – wizards who have done so much for archive TV releases, not least Doctor Who – to offer my services. I didn’t know Steve at all, and he didn’t know me (nor did anybody in the world of archive TV – I had yet to start talking about Doctor Who in my stand-up and so my anorak was not, at that moment in time, tax deductible). My social and professional circle then (hard to believe) was pretty Doctor Who/science-fiction far free bar a couple of notable exceptions. Life was very different. But I harboured a hope that one day my vast storehouse of Quatermass documents and interviews would find a wider audience in a professional release.
Anyway, Steve was very polite and, I am pleased to say, ensured that the photos I had offered him (which had been given to me by the actor Cec Linder and the designer Clifford Hatts)were put onto the disc and into its accompanying booklet (written by that doyen of archival arcana Andrew Pixley). There was no time or money to do the commentaries I had – in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness – suggested, but I was still grateful that I had had some minor input into what I figured would be the only release of this kind that these programmes would get. It niggled that the promised credit for handing over my treasured and unpublished photos didn’t appear (an omission that took place down the line from Steve) and that we wouldn’t have commentaries with some of the surviving cast and crew with whom I was in touch – but I understood the various practicalities and that the release we got was far more impressive than the time and budget it had been allocated dictated it should have been. On a more personal note it was my first encounter with Steve – who was a gateway drug to his colleagues all of whom I now consider very good friends, and whose input into my personal and professional life has been far more important to me than any such relative trivialities.
Fast forward to 2018 and Charles Norton, another crusader in the cause of cowbwebbed classics of the cathode ray,mentioned that he had pitched a Quatermass Blu-Ray release. Knowing he is receptive to stupid ideas and that there was time to get them acted upon, I got giddy and started pushing ideas his way. He was, as ever, receptive and keen, but also realistic about the budget (if any) we would have. We ultimately looked at doing a commentary on selected episodes of Quatermass and the Pit, at one location and all on the same day. That was the only way we could really afford to do it.
We eventually did all six episodes and every single element was recorded on a different day and at a different location.
Best laid plans and all that.
Luck was on our side in some respects.One of the few (three – we think) cast members still with us, Mark Eden, is married to Sue Nicholls who is a work colleague of my partner so I knew they lived literally up the road and that we had an “in”. By a weird coincidence, many years ago I made a reference to Quatermass at a comedy gig (largely for my own amusement) on the one night Andy Murray, Nigel Kneale’s biographer-to-be, was in the crowd. He introduced himself and we’ve been mates ever since. He also lives five minutes from my house (there must be some sort of Kneale Ley line running underneath south Manchester and causing his acolytes to gather here). So that was two contributors we could nobble off without too many practical problems.
Except… neither Andy nor Mark were available on the same day.Oh well, an extra day is fine – it just meant Charles having to travel to Manchester twice but was no skin off my nose (though I shouldn’t really be taking extra days off – I could only really afford to do one day on this project. But it’s Quatermass so I’m not going to say no am I? This is why I can’t afford socks). Andy brought Hobnobs to the recording of his episode which was delightfully apposite and is a measure of the man. It’s a good job we weren’t doing the other serials as we’d have been munching on cacti and drinking black, ammoniac slime. Hobnobs are much nicer.
I had just tracked down another surviving actor, Keith Banks (the third, John Hamblin, is in Tasmania : so we drew a line there although I wouldn’t have put it past Charles to jump on a plane, trailing his microphone and dropping his mobile as he did so, in order to get five minutes with him). Keith and I had exchanged letters earlier in the year and even though he is in his 90s he was an engaged correspondent and I was confident he’d participate. He was happy to but didn’t want to travel. That’s OK, one more extra day wouldn’t be a problem. Would it? Oh, but then visual effects assistant Peter Day was also happy to help but he too needed a different day at yet another location that would take some getting to (at one point Charles and I crossed a motorway roundabout with no pavement and blind corners and I realised that much as I love the serial, if doing a seven hour round trip wasn’t a bit of a silly thing to do in its name, then perishing in the path on an articulated lorry really was).
Rounding off the track were two people we were confident we could get on the same day and at the BBC. One of my drinking buddies in London is TV legend Clive Doig who I knew had been a cable basher on Quatermass and the Pit (“What’s a cable basher?” asked Charles and only then did I realise I had no idea). I hoped Clive would be game because he’s an entertaining fellow possessed of a sharp wit and a good memory. Ditto Dick Mills (sound assistant). Both were more than happy to oblige and I knew would give us excellent value. But neither was available to play on the same day. Sigh. So we went to Clive’s house when he was back from his holidays and, before he went on his, did a separate recording day with Dick at Television Centre (which was the day and place that all of the recordings were originally intended to be done when the commentary plans were being laid by mice and men).
But hey, we had an eclectic line up and enough for each episode. Judith Kerr, Nigel Kneale’s widow, was also keen to take part but ultimately the dates let us down (in her early 90s, she still has an extremely full calendar and works at a rate that shames this 44 year old). A near miss and one I know Judith was disappointed about because she loves talking about Quatermass and her late husband of whom she is so proud. It wasn’t for want of trying on the part of Charles, Judith and Judith’s wonderfully helpful agent Philippa though.
So much for the living, what about those sadly no longer with us? Well, over the years I had corresponded with several people from the serials and three key contributors – designer Clifford Hatts, visual effects wizard Jack Kine and Production Assistant Paddy Russell – had, for various reasons, elected to record their memories for me on cassette tape. These archive interviews have now been interspersed in the commentaries with the more recently recorded conversations and so these fabulous people are represented, on the Blu-ray, by themselves. As someone so grateful to them for indulging a geeky teenager all of those years ago it touches me that they’re preserved on tape and that their voices can echo through time and speak to us today. It’s a living record of the kindness they showed a young stranger and of my enduring gratitude to them.
Add to that a bit of Nigel Kneale from a BBC interview and Peter Crocker telling us about the restoration and we have a track with various first-hand perspectives and mostly never-before-heard recollections. Only Charles’s dogged flexing of budgets and resources and his ambition to make this as definitive as possible could have made this happen. It was knackering process that eventually took us all over the country, sometimes for an interview that only lasts ten minutes – but it’s the sort of commentary I, as a consumer, would like to hear, which is the only rule one can follow when doing these things. I do a bit more of a proactive presenting job than on many commentaries though – there were various gaps which I have plugged with (I hope) interesting facts and observations which I have gathered from decades of interviews, letters, archives, paperwork and, I hope, informed insight.
I recently uncovered a stash of photos which I would have loved to have had as exclusives for my book, but the geek in me couldn’t have a definitive Blu-ray out there with a photo gallery which was incomplete because I had held stuff back for my own gain (even though I’m essentially giving away stuff I went to great time and personal expense to find). I’d even forgotten scan one picture which I had found in Paddy Russell’s things, but a delay with the authoring meant we could squeeze that in at the last minute (a little part of me – if I am honest – had hoped that my genuine mistake would have left me at least one exclusive for the book but when I remembered it and Charles mentioned the delay my conscience wouldn’t let me hold it back. Ah well. I’ve never been what you’d call commercially savvy. Buy the book anyway!).
I’ve told all this from my point of view but I’m just one – very minor – cog in the wheel (and Charles Norton has been the driver all the way – this release wouldn’t have happened nor would it have been as ambitious without his tenacity and chutzpah). In terms of the episodes themselves, Peter Crocker has done an amazing job on the restoration. Click on this link below for a before and after comparison which you might enjoy (I tried embedding it but I have no idea, I’m sorry – I find old actors, other people do clever things when pressing buttons!):
But do you know what? I do get a credit on the photo gallery for this, something I’ve been waiting for for many years, and looking at it, I don’t think anyone will really notice or care. And does it make me any happier deep down? Not really. A salutary lesson it not sweating the small stuff.
I’m proud of this Blu-ray. It’s the sort of thing I’ve dreamed of but thought impossible. We have managed to store in it special memories that will now be preserved forever. It’s a sort of time capsule – maybe it it can be unleashed on the humans of the future in, say, … five million years? it’s such a powerful piece, I’m sure its effects will be undiminished.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT WILL BE RELEASED ON BLU-RAY ON 5th NOVEMBER 2018.
The first volume of my Quatermass book will be out soon, from Miwk Publishing. It’d be out sooner if I didn’t spend a morning doing this sort of thing.
I am still performing regularly at The Comedy Store (every second and last Sunday of the month), XS Malarkey (Tuesdays) and the 99 Club Leicester square (Wednesdays – but I have opted to do the gig fortnightly from now on). I can’t fit many other gigs in because…
My play Going, Going Goon – part of the the I Told You I Was Ill umbrella, marking the centenary of the birth of Spike Milligan – was performed in front of a live audience in Hull on Saturday 29th September. It will be broadcast on Radio 3 on October 7th at 7.30pm. It stars Mark Heap (Green Wing, Spaced), Pippa Haywood (Green Wing, Bodyguard, The Brittas Empire), Jonathan Keeble (amazing radio actor with hundreds of credits), Stephen Wight (Olivier nominee for Dealer’s Choice, also starred in McQueen on stage) and, um, me (he knows the writer). The two other plays in the strand were written by Lee Mattinson and Jessica Hynes (who stars in her own piece). The audience loved the show, which is hosted by John Hegley, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I hope you give it a listen (as it clashes with Doctor Who perhaps I should point out that it’ll be on iPlayer for a month!).
My adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s lost television play The Road will be broadcast on Radio 4 on October 27th. It was recorded at Maida Vale studios and stars Mark Gatiss and Adrian Scarborough who play, respectively, a philosopher and an inventor who are investigating reports of a haunting in a wood in the late 18th century. It’s a spooky piece with a sting in the tale (don’t read up on it – avoid spoilers) and I know it is eagerly awaited in some quarters (many have tried and failed to get a remake off the ground in the past). We used some sound effects from the original production (which were themselves recorded ay Maida Vale) and the stellar cast is completed by Hattie Morahan (whose father directed the original), Colin McFarlane, Susan Wokoma, Francis Magee, and Ralph Ineson. I will be hosting a listening event at Home in Manchester which will play the broadcast as it goes out (start time, 2.30pm) and will take part in a Q and A afterwards. Tickets are free (but you need to have come to another event at home in their Film Fear season): details here.
I am going to be one of the guests on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (except this edition is being recorded at the Manchester Dancehouse) on October 5th. The podcast has an illustrious roster of past guests s I’m extremely flattered to have been asked. The recording is sold out, but it will, of course, be available online afterwards if you gohere.
Quatermass and the Pit comes to Blu-Ray soon, and I have been working on the release, donating a large amount of photographic and audio material, as well as presenting the commentaries on all six episodes. Not many cast and crew survive, but if they do, we got them, and they have been spliced in with some recordings of my chats with those who are no longer with us. The film sequences have been remastered and they look extraordinary. It’s going to be a terrific release considering the age of the source material and is well worth a look.
I filmed a role in the Eddie Izzard/Judi Dench/Jim Broadbent film 6 Minutes to Midnight at the end of last month: it’s directed by The Next Doctor‘s Andy Goddard. Most details are still under wraps but you can read a little bit about what I got up to on ithere.
The Quatermass book grows by the day. It’s pretty much my sole focus between now and Christmas. These past few months have found my securing contributions form David Tennant, John Carpenter, Barbara Kellermann, Indira Varma and Toyah Willcox. So it’s going to be pretty detailed! More info soon…
XS Malarkey is now 21. What a run, and it continues this month with appearances from Chris Lynam and Danny McLoughlin amongst others. More details are available at the XS Malarkey Website.
I have had the sad duty of writing two obituaries this month. Both have been published by The Guardian and are for Jacqueline Pearce and Zienia Merton.
I have also made another documentary for the Doctor Who Blu-Ray range. More news soon…
It’s tricky being an amateur researcher.I don’t kick doors in, nor do I follow up if someone forgets to email me back. So I do leave stones unturned, largely because I don’t want to annoy anyone. The ridiculous thing, of course, is that without exception all of the actors and production personnel I have spoken to have been very happy to have been remembered. But that doesn’t stop me being shy.
So this month, when I discovered that Victor Platt, a very recognisable actor with a Toby Jug countenance that made him born to play coppers and barkeeps,passed away in January aged 96 I rued that I had not found him (hiding in plain sight as he was). He could have told me about Quatermass and the Pit (he has a great cameo as a spooked PC who
takes Andre Morell around a deserted, possibly haunted house) and Doomwatch and The Road. Of course, his loss is properly felt by his family and loved ones and he may not have remembered much about the acting career he retired from 40 years ago in order to turn his hand to sculpting – but he might have enjoyed a lunch and a reminisce and I’d have been flattered and excited to have met him. Getting in touch with such people (which I attempted to do with Mr Platt several times) is more difficult now – my union, Equity, used to forward mail to members but since belligerent autograph seekers began to overuse the free forwarding system to send gazillions of unwanted items through the post to unsuspecting pensioners (and then kicked off when some weren’t returned) they no longer do – which means genuine researchers lose out too.
Carl Conway also passed away recently – and his death highlights another aspect of how tricky amateur research can be.My friend Ben Jolly let me know that IMDB was suggesting that Mr Conway had just passed away aged 95 (IMDB previously had him listed as deceased in 1992 by the way). So I did some digging. I found a Texan Carl Conway had died on February 17th aged 95 and I immediately put this down to IMDB being useless and people not fact checking properly (a real internet malaise, especially with IMDB and Wikipedia). Digging deeper however, I discovered that our Carl Conway – from Doctor Who‘s The War Machines and The Ambassadors of Death – had passed away exactly a week before the American one. Also aged 95!
Mr Conway had been suggested to me as a potential interviewee.He had been a DJ on Radio Caroline and had contacted the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame in 2008 to tell them what he was up to (which is what had made me certain that IMDB’s 1992 death date was wrong). His two roles in Doctor Who plus his career as the voice of the famous pirate station and his subsequent life organising film shows for old people’s homes would have made him a fascinating subject, but alas I never tracked him down (remember, I do all this stuff in my spare time).
So, Mr Platt and Mr Conway – sorry I never got to meet you, and believe me I would have loved every minute of doing so. Sorry not to have had the chance to thank you for all the entertainment. In the great scheme of things the fact that I never managed to track you down will have meant very little to you – but it would have meant a lot to me, and I think the small band of people who read and listen to my stuff would have been chuffed too.