Quatermass and the Pit
Kneale Before Nigel

Kneale Before Nigel: Quatermass and the Pit in HD

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit is arguably the point at which TV became capable of doing science-fiction well. Kneale had, of course, transformed British TV with first his adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 and then given us two previous, genre-defining Quatermass serials – Kneale established the “we go to them” genre with The Quatermass Experiment and “they come to us” with Quatermass II. However, let’s just say the technology wasn’t quite there yet and maybe directors were a little too theatrical still.

But Quatermass and the Pit, TV’s first “they were always here”, arrived in 1958, at a time when film was really starting to influence TV and productions no longer needed to be performed completely live. Instead, parts of it could be pre-recorded, opening up location filming and the chance to do more complicated special effects. There were also well established BBC departments for creating special effects and sound, as well as greater budgets available to make things that didn’t look like tatty gloves instead of aliens.

Nevertheless, most TV was still performed live and recorded on 405-line videotape, if at all. But as the previous Quatermass serials had had such an impact, The Powers That Be decided that while Quatermass and the Pit would mostly be performed live, albeit with copious filmed inserts, it would be preserved for posterity by being ‘telerecorded’ on 35mm – that is, a film camera was aimed a TV monitor.

That means something rather exciting: despite being shot for British TV in 1958, large parts of Quatermass and the Pit were HD-ready, provided someone took the time to clean them up. Which is what the BBC has done. Out this month is an actual, honest to goodness, Blu-Ray release of Quatermass and the Pit.

Wondering what it looks like and whether it really is HD? Wonder no more.

I should also point out that you can watch the entire thing on the BBC iPlayer in SD for the next seven months, if you so desire. But really, get the Blu-Ray.

Bagpuss
Classic TV

Another heart-warming interlude: some official Bagpuss stories you never knew about

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss,

Old fat furry cat-puss.

Wake up and look at this thing that I bring.

Wake up, be bright.

Be golden and light.

Bagpuss, Oh hear what I sing.

Stop now if this means nothing to you. The rest of you, keep reading.

New Bagpuss

Following on from yesterday’s heartwarming interlude, today, in a sort of Advent’s Advent as we head into December, I thought we could warm the cockles of our hearts by listening to some new Bagpuss stories. Now, I don’t mean new in the same way that there’s a new series of The Clangers; I mean new in the sense that you probably won’t have encountered these stories, but they are all written and narrated by Oliver Postgate, just as the original Bagpuss stories were, and feature the original characters, too. However, he only recorded audio versions, so you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine what went on Emily’s shop.

But four new Bagpuss stories? That doesn’t happen every day, does it?

Continue reading “Another heart-warming interlude: some official Bagpuss stories you never knew about”

The Man With The Flower in his Mouth
The Weekly Play

The Weekly Play: The Man With The Flower in His Mouth (1967)

July 14 1930 was an auspicious day for TV plays, as it marked the first time that a play was ever transmitted on TV. The BBC had been experimenting with John Logie Baird’s TV technology since 1929, running test transmissions from both Baird’s premises and their own radio headquarters at Savoy Hill. In the summer of 1930 it was decided that a drama should be produced as a new test for and demonstration of the medium.

The lucky title was Luigi Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth. Val Gielgud (yes, a relation), the production’s director, chose the play as it was only about half an hour long, had a confined setting and only had three characters: The Man (Earle Grey), The Woman (Gladys Young) and The Customer (Lionel Millard).

The production was broadcast live from a set at the Baird company’s headquarters, 133 Long Acre in London. Generally regarded as a successful experiment, it was watched by prime minister Ramsay MacDonald with his family at 10 Downing Street, where Baird had installed one of his prototype ‘televisors’ two months previously so MacDonald could view the test transmissions he and the BBC regularly broadcast.

Given it was early days for TV, don’t be too surprised to learn that it wasn’t shown in 1080p high-def or 4K Ultra. Instead, the video was a mere 30 lines – 1/36th the resolution of HD and a 1/20th the resolution of PAL. It also also wasn’t recorded, so that first ever TV play is lost to history, I’m afraid.

Recreated

However, in 1967, a shorter version of the play was remade entirely in 30-lines by Bill Elliott of Granada TV in Manchester. He used student actors to play the parts and recorded the performance a stereo tape recorder: one track held the 30-line video signal; the other track held the audio. Not only did use his own home-built recreation of Baird’s televisor to act as camera and monitor for the recreation, he also brought in the play’s original producer, Lance Sieveking, to authentically reproduce and present it. Sieveking was also able to provide the original artwork used in the play and the same 78-rpm gramophone record that had provided the music in 1930.

This clip is restored from a Betamax copy of the 1967 video, filmed off-screen at 30 lines. And it’s this week’s TMINE play. Enjoy!

Ben Elton
BFI events

What TV’s on at the BFI in December? Including The ABC Murders, The Midnight Gang and Sound of Movie Musicals

Every month, TMINE lets you know what TV the BFI will be presenting at the South Bank in London

December is usually when the BFI starts dolling out its TV presents to one and all, like Scrooge after the third ghost has visited, and this year is no different. As well as the traditional League of Gentlemen chat and the usual Missing Believed Wiped revelation of what previously lost TV has been recovered this year (as well as a new animated Doctor Who episode anyone?), there’s a whole bunch of TV previews with starry Q&As afterwards:

  • Sound of Movie Musicals, with Neil Brand
  • The ABC Murders with Rupert Grint and Tara Fitzgerald
  • The Midnight Gang, with David Walliams and Alan Davies
  • Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special with Brendan O’Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Paddy Houlihan and Danny O’Carroll

There’s a short season devoted to the rise of alternative comedy, while Nish Kumar and special guests will be discussing the new wave of TV satire. There’s even a sitcom workshop for young people. All that before Christmas, too!

Full details after the jump.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in December? Including The ABC Murders, The Midnight Gang and Sound of Movie Musicals”

Lost Hearts
The Weekly Play

The Halloween Play: A Ghost Story For Christmas – Lost Hearts (1973)

It’s Halloween today. It’s also Wednesday. As it’s an occasional TMINE tradition to feature not only a spooky play at Halloween but also a play on Wednesdays, how can I resist featuring one today, in this year of all years?

But what to choose? Well, since I’ve been talking about The Haunting of Hill House quite a bit of late and since I happened to mention Lost Hearts in passing thanks to certain bad make-up decisions, there’s an obvious choice, isn’t there?

It’s Lost Hearts. Wasn’t that obvious? It was certainly as obvious as just about everything in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

A Ghost Story For Christmas

For those of you who don’t know, Lost Hearts was one of the much revered scary plays the BBC put out every Christmas during the 1970s, usually as part of the A Ghost Story For Christmas strand. As with most of the plays, Lost Hearts was an adaptation of a classic MR James ghost story. This one sees a young orphan sent to stay with his much older cousin at a remote country mansion. His cousin is a reclusive alchemist obsessed with making himself immortal and Stephen is repeatedly troubled by visions of a young gypsy girl and a travelling Italian boy…

Adapted by Robin Chapman and directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, it’s notable as both the shortest of the Ghost Story For Christmas series as well as the only one to use hurdy-gurdy music to scare the crap out of the viewer.

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first British TV adaptation of Lost Hearts, since it was featured in ITV’s Mystery and Imagination series in 1966. However, just like The Road (recently remade by Radio 4) no copy of that first version exists, unfortunately.

Sleep well, everyone.

As always, if you liked the play, support its creators by buying it on DVD