The Wednesday Play: Nigel Kneale’s The Road (1963)

The work of Nigel Kneale is some of the finest and most prophetic to have appeared on British TV. It was sufficiently good that he has been elevated to God-like status on this ‘ere blog.

However, for a large part of his career, television was regarded as an ephemeral medium, one that would be watched and then forgotten about, never to be revisited. Indeed, had his pioneering 1953 adaptation of 1984 not proven so controversial, its second performance would never have been telecorded and the whole thing would have been lost forever, rather than released on DVD to be enjoyed by subsequent generations.

Even once telerecording and then prerecording and filming, rather than live performance, became standard, broadcasters’ attitudes towards archive material was variable, with the BBC famously purging its archives in the 60s and 70s, bar ‘representative examples’ of particular shows.

Naturally, many of the corporation’s play strands were among the purges, which meant that several Nigel Kneale productions were ‘disappeared’. Among these is perhaps one of his best: The Road. His first piece for the BBC since Quatermass and the Pit, it is set in an 18th century village, whose inhabitants are haunted by visions and sounds along a nearby road. Are they ghosts, demons or something else? All is revealed at the end, in one of the most troubling revelations of Kneale’s entire body work.

The original, which starred Norman Kaye, Joy Mitchell, Alexander Archdale and others, is with us no more, unless somebody, somewhere has managed to save a copy that hasn’t yet been returned. But that doesn’t mean the script has gone. And if you have the script for a play, it can be re-performed, which is precisely what some fans of the original have done. And you can watch it below in this week’s Wednesday Play.


The Weekly Play

The Wednesday Play: The Woman in Black (1989)

Okay, technically this is more a movie than a play, but given it’s an adaptation by Nigel Kneale, I’m going to let it off.

A 1983 horror novella written in gothic style by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black concerns a mysterious ghost that haunts an English seaside town, heralding the death of children. Largely an investigation by solicitor Arthur Kipps, it follows his attempts to discover who the mysterious woman he sees around town is. Let’s just say he’s not pleased by the discovery.

Adapted more recently by Hammer Horror with Daniel Radcliffe in the starring role and more famously as a play in the West End, where it’s the longest running show after The Mousetrap, it was adapted for television by Nigel Kneale back in 1989. Despite featuring Adrian Rawlins as an ‘Arthur Kidd’ (sic), it was a considerably more faithful adaptation than the movie or the play. And you can watch it below, preferably in the dark.


Classic TV

Nostalgia corner: Kinvig (1981)

Nigel Kneale is best known as the creator of legendary BBC science fiction character Professor Bernard Quatermass. As you might expect, that attracted science-fiction fans to him. 

I can’t help but feel he didn’t have a very good experience with them, because after parting ways with the BBC in the 1970s and heading over to ITV, he came up with a sci-fi comedy, Kinvig, that took the serious piss out of sci-fi fans.

It starred Tony Hagarth as Des Kinvig, UFO enthusiast, sci-fi fan and owner of a small electrical shop. One day, ‘Miss Griffin’ (Prunella Gee) enters the shop wanting help. Kinvig soon deduces that she’s an alien from the planet Venus – except she turns out to be from Mercury. Oh well. Close.

The trouble is, all of this could be the Walter Mitty-like delusions of a science-fiction fan, desperate for some excitement with a beautiful woman. The audience is never sure as Kneale takes us through seven episodes of one ridiculous sci-fi situation and set after another, mocking everything and everyone along the way.

It’s not the funniest thing you’ll ever see but it’s interesting to see Kneale trying to do comedy and sci-fi at the same time. It’s available on DVD but you can watch it on YouTube below. If you like it, buy it:

What TV’s on at the BFI in December 2013

A little bit later than it should have been (sorry), it’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in December. And judging by the schedule, the BFI knows its my birthday since not only is there a Ghostwatch showing and reunion, there’s not one but two Nigel Kneale showings (The Woman in Black and The Stone Tape, complete with Q&A) and two ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ sessions (who wants a bet they might have something good and shiny in that?). Add on some classic ghost stories, some eleventh Doctor Doctor Who, and previews of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s Inside No 9 and an adaptation of The Thirteenth Tale and you have a month to top all months. Merry Christmas everyone and happy birthday to me!

Watch The Stone Tape in Horror  |  View More Free Videos Online at

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The Weekly Play

The Wednesday Play: The Incredible Robert Baldick – Never Come Night (1972)

As we learnt last year in ‘The Wednesday Play’, the various play and anthology series that the BBC and other broadcasters used to make sometimes led to TV series being commissioned, based on individual plays. Usually, this wasn’t the intention behind making the play in the first place but something that emerged from the play’s popularity. But sometimes broadcasters have gone out of their way to create plays with the potential to become series.

Drama Playhouse was a BBC series launched in 1969 explicitly designed to showcase plays that had the potential to become series: indeed, each play uniquely had both a series title and an episode title when broadcast, despite ostensibly being one-offs. Between 1969 and 1972, over its three seasons each of three episodes, the series did quite well in achieving its aims: season one resulted in the 13-episode spy show Codename, starring The Champions‘ Alexandra Bastedo and Callan‘s Anthony Valentine; season two did even better giving us not only The Regiment and The Befrienders but also the mighty The Onedin Line; and had it not been for a little problem with the Munich Olympics, the final third season might have gone three for three as well. Unfortunately, although the first two plays, Sutherland’s Law and The Venturers, got picked up to series, the final installment, The Incredible Robert Baldick, never made it to a full run.

Given its pedigree, this was a little surprising. The play was written by Terry Nation, the creator of Doctor Who‘s Daleks and frequent contributor to ITC shows including The Avengers and The Persuaders!. When The Persuaders!, for which he was also script editor, didn’t get a second series, Nation returned after a six-year gap to the BBC and pitched his idea for a series: The Incredible Robert Baldick.

Despite being Nation’s work, The Incredible Robert BaldickNever Come Night is for all intents and purposes a Nigel Kneale play, with its period setting that will turn out to contain future shocks (cf Kneale’s The Road), a brilliant scientist investigating a mysterious buried object that’s causing a haunting (Quatermass and the Pit) and the idea of a house retaining ‘memories’ of incidents and emotions that can be replayed (The Stone Tape, which amazingly wasn’t set to air for another few months). There are also elements of Doctor Who, with Robert Hardy’s polymath know-it-all zooming around the country in his specially built train, The Tsar, solving mysteries with the help of his entourage, including gamekeeper John Rhys Davies. He’s even called ‘Doctor’ by his friends. And the ending? Fascinating, but straight out of Doctor Who.

Indeed, as well as the Munich incident, it’s this ending that may have stopped a series being commissioned. Despite being an obvious attempt to lay down a series arc, its science fiction qualities were so out of keeping with the rest of the play’s more down-to-earth and supernatural tones that many of the audience felt cheated.

All the same, it’s an interesting and sometimes scary piece, and Robert Hardy is mesmerising as the eponymous Baldick – you can imagine what Doctor Who would have been like with him as the Doctor using just this as a template. Enjoy!