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.


What TV’s on at the BFI in October/November 2014?

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in October and November 2014. And gosh, what a bounty there is, thanks to not one but two sci-fi seasons. On top of a discussion of forthcoming BBC2 documentary series Tomorrow’s Worlds and a celebration of ‘queer sci-fi TV’, there are showings of both of Nigel Kneale’s versions of 1984 (with a Kim Newman discussion about Kneale’s work), a repeat of The Cloning of Joanna May, showings of a Doomwatch episodes, movie and the Channel 5 remake, and various science-fiction TV plays, including Fable, an Out of the Unknown, and a Play for Tomorrow.

Should be good!

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in October/November 2014?”


Why is British television the way it is? Because of streams

I, Claudius

It’s story time! And theory time, albeit theory backed up by the occasional publicly announced historic strategy, etc.

Anyway, it can’t have escaped your notice that British TV isn’t as good as it was when we were all kids. Not the BBC. Not ITV. Not Channel 4, which might not have existed back then. Not Sky, which definitely didn’t exist back then. Not none of them. It’s all been dumbed down and it’s all stupid, innit? Drama isn’t as intelligent, comedies aren’t as funny, and the schedules are filled with pointless rubbish. Not like when we were kids.

Or is it?

Well, yes and no. And I’m going to explain why after the jump. I hope.

Continue reading “Why is British television the way it is? Because of streams”

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:

Classic TV

Nostalgia corner: The Third Man (1959-63)

The Third Man

It’s tempting, these days, just as the likes of Agents of SHIELD, Hannibal and Bates Motel are gracing our screens (or about to), to think that the idea of spinning off a TV series from a popular movie is a new phenomenon. But just as the likes of Dick Barton and Bernard Quatermass were moving from radio and the small screen to the big screen in the 40s and 50s, so, too, were popular movie characters making the transition to TV.

So after the jump, let’s talk about Harry Lime aka The Third Man.

Continue reading “Nostalgia corner: The Third Man (1959-63)”