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The Quatermass Memoirs

Posted on January 25, 2007 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Quatermass MemoirsI don't know if you've ever done jury service or not. But if you haven't, you may – or may not – be delighted to hear there's often plenty of waiting around involved.

It's up to you what you do with your time, of course. You can read, which will at least enable you to hear the tannoy system telling you where to go to ruin someone's life. But unless you bring your own books, you'll be reduced to reading whatever some kind person's left behind.

Plus somehow, when you've just helped send someone down for eight years and everyone on the jury is having to eat massive amounts of chocolate to keep their blood sugar levels up from the shock of all the horrible things they've heard, you're often just not in the mood to read anything too taxing.

You could, if you wanted to, blog. Judging by the GPRS charges on my Virgin bill for this month, this is a bad idea that will clearly bankrupt you.

So audio books are where it's at. Now you won't have time to get through all of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (I'm on hour 18 of 34), but something relatively light like a Big Finish play is just what the Doctor ordered.

Unfortunately, I'd listened to all mine already. So instead, I chose to listen to a little known oddity: The Quatermass Memoirs.

Released last year to approximately zero fanfare as part of a “Classic Radio Sci-Fi” range, The Quatermass Memoirs is a blend of documentary, drama and clips episode. Originally broadcast on Radio 3 in 1996, it's narrated by Nigel Kneale, the creator of British television's first science fiction hero, Professor Bernard Quatermass.

With the help of archive news footage, he explains the various real-world influences that went into the BBC Quatermass TV serials of the 1950s. Intercut with Kneale's narration are clips from the serials, together with new Quatermass material written by Kneale.

In a bit of a coup, this features Andrew Keir, who appeared as Quatermass in the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit. Quatermass has retired to live by a Scottish loch. Thoughts of his work for the British (Experimental) Rocket Group are long gone until the arrival of a woman, Mandy, who wants to write a biography of the good professor. It's not long before he's reminiscing about the horrors he saw and that were covered up by the governments of the day.

Expect to be thrilled by the last piece of Quatermass fiction penned by a true master of writing

Rather than The Quatermass Memoirs, the play should really be titled 'The Kneale Memoirs'. There's nothing really added to the character of Quatermass by the play although it's a delight to hear one of the many original Quatermasses reprising the role* in material written by Kneale. Instead, this is more the BBC finally acknowledging part of Kneale's enormous contribution to TV history and Kneale getting a chance to tell some tales from his youth and point out some of his many correct predictions for the future (and acknowledge where he didn't quite get it right).

Being a BBC documentary, there's no real mention of ITV's 1970s Quatermass serial (aka The Quatermass Conclusion, when it was chopped down to make a TV movie), although admittedly the plot of that tale would have made it hard to set the fictional part of Memoirs after it. The fact the the Beeb had turned down Kneale's scripts for this and other shows on numerous occasions, forcing him to defect to 'the other side', doesn't look so good in retrospect, either. However, Mandy's closing dialogue does hint at the dystopian setting to Quatermass, a nice nod and wink to listening fans.

At £8 or so from Amazon for a 2 CD piece of history, it's a worthwhile investment. Don't expect to come out of it with much that's new, other than Kneale's thoughts on his own work, and don't be too saddened as you realise it's more or less Kneale's self-written obituary. But do expect to be thrilled by the last piece of Quatermass fiction penned by a true master of writing.

If you haven't watched any Quatermass, you can get just about everything on DVD and I wholeheartedly suggest you do!

* Brian Donlevy is the only other actor to play Quatermass twice, appearing in the two 1950s black and white movies. I don't care what anyone else thinks: God I used to love them.

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