Review: The Sinister Folk

Went to the NFT’s showing of Murrain, an episode of the old play strand Against The Crowd* written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, and Robin Redbreast, from the BBC’s Play for Today written by British arch-surrealist John Bowen.

Robin Redbreast

Surprisingly, Robin Redbreast was the stronger of the two: think a cross between Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man and The Aphrodite Inheritance, all set in the Cotswalds, in which a newly single TV script editor finds that country folk have their own strange ways. Absolutely off its head, with bizarre naked karate in the woods, appearances by Herne the Hunter and Wayland the Smithy, and some of the weirdest dialogue you’d ever hear, it was just endlessly entertaining.


Murrain was relatively normal by comparison, a standard piece of Kneale fare in which superstition meets science – in the form of a pig farmer who thinks a local woman is really a witch and a vet who wants to protect the little old lady from those nasty bumpkins. If anything, it proved that DoPs in the 70s shouldn’t have got ambitions above their stations so many years before the invention of the Steadicam. Not really worth looking out for unless you’re a big fan of Bernard Lee (the original M in the Bond movies) or the scary dad in Sapphire and Steel Assignment 1.

The audience: As always, it’s worth reviewing the audience:

  • An above average beardy weirdy count this time, with a folk music DJ playing in the bar afterwards
  • Two audible uses of ‘the voice’
  • On my left, a young posh girl out with a ridiculously older man who clearly wasn’t a relative (shudder) and who insisted on narrating the plays to each other when they weren’t making out
  • On my right, a man with little understanding of personal boundaries and an incredible sinus problem: so bad was it, that the man to his right had to squeeze his way past Kim Newman at the end of Murrain to escape the torture in time for Robin Redbreast. I could not escape past ‘the lovers’
  • The man behind me started snoring 10 minutes before the end.

I’ve had better nights out

* My, didn’t they think they were being subversive?

BFI weirdness – Robin Redbreast and Murrain

As usual, it’s time for our monthly (assuming there’s anything on) look at what’s coming up at the BFI that’s TV-related – you might as well join if you want to know all the film stuff, too.

The principal season this month is devoted to the weird world of NF Simpson. Never heard of him, but there’s three plays on the 14th, A Resounding Tinkle on the 9th and 20th and an episode of Crown Court on 28 May, so you can get fully acquainted with him if you want.

However, on the 2nd May, there’s something a tad more promising as far as I’m concerned: Robin Redbreast, which was a Play for Today in which a divorcee retreats to a remote house in the country and finds herself in The Wicker Man territory; but better still is Murrain, by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame (how have I never heard of this?):

When a mysterious virus plagues local pigs and a family goes sick, panicking farmers blame a frail old woman – the ‘witch’ who lives up the lane. An idealistic young doctor tries to dispel the rumours.

That’s me convinced. As always, you can can start booking online and at the box office if you’re a member from 7 April, while everyone else can book in person, by telephone and online from 11 April.

Kneale Before Nigel

The Quatermass Memoirs

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.

Continue reading “The Quatermass Memoirs”


Sad news: William Franklyn and Nigel Kneale have died

William FranklynTwo pieces of very sad news. William Franklyn, best known for a hell of a lot of things, actually, but principally as secret agent Peter Dallas in Top Secret and as the voice of Schweppes, has died. He was 81. Over his 50-year acting career, he played numerous roles in shows such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Avengers and French and Saunders. He also took over from Peter Jones as the voice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the BBC Radio 4 serial.

Nigel KnealeNigel Kneale, one of the best writers television has ever had, died on Sunday, aged 84. Apart from the Quatermass series and an adaptation of 1984 that caused national furore, he was also responsible for a number of spectacular one-off plays such as The Stone Tape and The Road. Virtually all genre writers today owe him a great debt. He’ll be sorely missed.

Kneale Before Nigel

‘Celebrity’ Big Brother vindicates Nigel Kneale

The Year of the Sex Olympics

Anybody remember a 1968 programme called The Year of the Sex Olympics? Basic plot: population of the world starts to get out of control so the powers that be decide to keep the populace in check by beaming them pornography all day. But guess what? They get bored. There’s only so much porn people can watch before it gets a bit dull (take note Men and Motors). So the powers that be come up with a new idea: reality TV. Stick a family on an island and monitor them 24/7. Then, to really shake things up, stick a criminal on the island and see what happens. The result? People get glued to that all day instead.

It was a remarkably prophetic piece of television, albeit quite dull to watch, unlike the rest of writer Nigel Kneale’s output. What’s even more remarkable is Channel 4’s decision to compress The Year of the Sex Olympics’ plot and stick all its elements into one programme: Celebrity Big Brother.

So we have a bunch of dull people, aka ‘the family’ (Rula Lenska, Faria Alam, Preston Samuel, Maggot, Pete Burns and Chantelle the stooge), pornography (Jodie ‘glamour model’ Marsh, Traci ‘Baywatch’ Bingham) and criminals (well, alleged criminals Michael Barrymore and George Galloway as well as the definitely criminal Dennis Rodman), all stuck into handy half-hour segments for our exploitation/tranquillisation. How Brave New World of Channel 4. I guess our attention span ain’t what it used to be.

Even so, the irony is that given the complete Z-list nature of the ‘celebrities’, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a ratings flop. Our attention span really ain’t what it used to be and minor celebs just don’t aren’t enough any more.

Still, my prediction for the winner? Maggot. All of Wales will be voting for him. Let me know if I turn out to be right: I won’t be watching…