Shortly before I started out making my own podcast series, I took part in Nigel J Anderson’s own video podcast Doctor Who Most Wanted, alongside Brian M Clarke. The same line-up would meet again online a couple of weeks later to record the first episode of Very British Futures.
Now that podcast is available on Youtube and I urge you to watch, especially if you have been enjoying Very British Futures. The focus of this episode is on reconstructions of missing episodes, both official and fan-made. I knew Nigel had ambitious ideas but I’ve been taken aback with how polished and visually entertaining the episode has turned out, thanks to the many hours he has put into it, to turn a Skype chat into a proper half hour episode.
Where possible the Skype footage is enlivened with CGI illustrations, alongside an animated clip of the unmade William Hartnell story Masters of Luxor, a clip from Nigel’s live action recreation of the opening chapters of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, plus other animations.
We cover quite a range of topics in course of the episode, including a look back at The Stranger series starring Colin Baker, the recent animated Troughton stories, and what stories we would especially like to be returned to the BBC archive.
In other news, there is still a little time to take part in Rik Hoskin’s Terror Trumps Kickstarter campaign and get a copy of his marvelous 70’s retro horror card game. If you want to learn more, take a look at their Kickstarter page http://kck.st/3bLx6zm
The Nineties were a busy time for SF television, just not for British voices. Whilst the success in syndication of Star Trek: The Next Generation ushered in a purple patch for US television – The X-Files, Deep Space Nine, Stargate SG1 and countless short-lived shows with a range of quality, it seemed to me that the UK lost confidence in the genre once Doctor Who was cancelled (bar the one-off 1996 TV Movie). It’s noticeable that a lot of what was produced by TV companies in this decade for peaktime audiences put the emphasis on their ‘realism’ or carried assurances that they were not ‘science fiction’ but drama. Star Cops, Bugs, Space Island One. ITV’s The Uninvited is an interesting example of that. It’s an alien invasion story dressed up as A Ruth Rendell Mystery.
I enjoyed rewatching The Uninvited recently and I equally enjoyed talking with my friends John Isles and Nicky Smalley about it a few weeks ago for the next edition of Very British Futures. Turns out like me, John kept it on VHS tape for a long time, simply because it was British SF TV at a time of relative scarcity. I don’t think I quite managed to fit in my appreciation of Leslie Grantham as one of the chief alien bad guys, all intense stares and cool demeanor. This episode might feel a little different to the preceeding ones because I was testing the water by having a more wide-ranging conversation about the Nineties and novelisations too. Here’s some more details about the show for the record.
Principle Cast Douglas Hodge – Steve Blake Leslie Grantham – Chief Supt. Philip Gates Lia Williams – Melissa Gates Sylvestra Le Touzel – Joanna Ball David Allister – James Wilson Caroline Lee-Johnson – Sarah Armstrong
Writer – Peter Broker Music – Martin Kizsko, Toby Gilks Cinematography – Doug Hallows Editor – Colin Goudie Producers – Ruth Boswell, Leslie Grantham, Laura Julian, Archie Tait Director – Norman Stone
I’ve been adding the RSS feed for the podcast to more online directories. You can find it at: Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Spreaker, Blubrry, and Digital Podcasts.
However you can still listen or download the show from the link below too.
Grisly, lurid artwork. An array of horror fiends, both classic and original. Yes it is the return of Rik Hoskin, Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri’s labour of love Terror Trumps a card game which is also a homage to the classic Seventies Top Trumps Horror packs. I wrote about this project a few months ago. Now I’m the proud possessor (ho ho) of the enhanced version 2.0. Not only do many of the cards feature fresh characters and new art, but each carries a witty description by Rik too. Plus they’ve introduced more power-up cards too.
Star Maidens is exactly the kind of show I originally set this podcast up for. Not quite a lost show, but certainly an obscure one, at a time when there was not that much SF on mainstream television that was not Doctor Who or from the Gerry Anderson stable. A British-German co-production, it’s certainly got a lot of problems in both concept and execution, but there’s some interesting ideas in there and for a relatively low-budget production, the world of Medusa is quite impressive thanks to Keith Wilson’s production design skills. (see one of his design drawings above for the Medusian city). Wilson also was the lead designer on Space 1999 and the two shows share a certain look. Although the more location bound episodes set on Earth do look cheap and ugly in that special Seventies way.
It’s also intriguing to think that this show was shown a year before Star Wars was released and rewrote the SF landscape for ever. Nevertheless the disco futurism look of SF, typified by Star Maidens would persist for a while yet. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would be a key example. Despite the opportunities for kinky dominatrix and lesbian subtexts, and the fact that it has a plethora of beautiful women in its cast, it does not feel like a particularly sexy show, or at least no more than Space 1999 or UFO did.
We got so busy talking about the gender politics and the characters with my guests Dr Rebecca Wray and Kevin Hiley that we left out some basic details about the show. So here are the essentials you might like to have whilst listening.
Lisa Harrow – Liz
Christian Quadflieg – Rudi
Christiane Krüger – Octavia
Judy Geeson – Fulvia
Gareth Thomas – Shem
Pierre Brice – Adam
Derek Farr – Dr Evans
Dawn Addams – President Clara
Freddie Francis, Wolfgang Storch, James Gatward, Hans Heinrich
Eric Paice, Ian Stuart Black, John Lucarotti, Otto Strang
Very British Futures episode 4 – Star Maidens is available on all the major podcast platforms, or you can listen and download an MP3 copy below.
In the end, I’m glad I’ve finally got around to seeing this show, which for years I only remembered for the sticker colouring book which my grandparents bought for me back in 1976. Thanks for your continued listening and support.
One of the benefits of inviting different combinations of guests on to each episode is that you get a variety of tones. It keeps it fresh and surprising. This episode, covering the BBC Eighties series The Tripods, for example welcomes Andrew Roe-Crines to the guest sofa, along with regular contributor Kevin Hiley. Andrew is a senior university academic and he brings a certain thoughtfulness and rigor to his answers. Combined with Kevin’s great enthusiasm for this programme, it results in our deepest and most analytical hour so far, and one that has made me look at this drama series with fresh eyes. I hope it does for you too.
The Tripods was an unusual commission for the BBC, who have tended to regard Doctor Who as fulfilling their annual family science fiction needs. There hadn’t been an example of two major SF series on BBC1 since Blake’s 7 had appeared 1978 on mid-week evenings during the Star Wars boom. Based on the popular children’s novels by John Christopher, it followed the adventures of teenagers Will, Henry and Jean-Paul (nicknamed Beanpole) as they go on the run across Europe and eventually join the human resistance against the Tripods, gigantic machines which rule the human race through “capping”, a metal circuit fused to the skull. The cap makes the wearer an obedient drone. Ultimately the resistance discover that the Tripods are in fact vehicles for an amphibious alien race known only as the Masters.
Co-funded by the Australian channel WGB, this was an epic production, with lots of location filming and impressive effects. Unfortunately that epicness also led to a leisurely pace, especially in the first season. Viewers were frustrated by the lack of Tripods in many episodes, often only appearing for a moment, striding by. But when the action came it was excellent and the second season was much livelier than the first. But it was too late and the audience never returned in large enough numbers. Unlike the current BBC/HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials, which publicly committed itself to making the whole trilogy from the start, the BBC were making decisions on a season by season basis and fresh productions from new producers were lobbying for its budget. So The Tripods became a trilogy of only two parts.
In the subsequent years there have been rumours of a Hollywood movie but nothing has come of that. Personally I think the series, with a bit rewriting, especially to boost the female participation, would be a great fit for a streaming service. You can learn more about the series by listening to the podcast, which is available on Anchor and Spotify amongst other platforms. You can also listen or download a copy below.
Future programmes coming up on Very British Futures podcast include: Star Maidens, The Uninvited, Max Headroom, Out of the Unknown, Star Cops and The Nightmare Man. If there are any British SF shows you would cover in the future, why not drop me a line or leave a comment? All the best.
I was checking the stats for this website yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see that the short vampire story When the Bells Ring Out I uploaded before Christmas has been downloaded 49 times, which by the standards of this blog makes it practically a runaway bestseller. So it’s encouraged me to dust off another from the Monsters talking book CD release.
Monsters’ Inn is a shorter, much more lighthearted piece than When the Bells Ring Out. Written by Mark Simpson, read by Mark Kalita and produced by myself, it originally appeared on the old Phantom Frame website.
“Anyone will tell you that Hollywood is mean place to earn a living. But for artistes belonging to a very singular community, at least there’s one place where everybody knows your name.”
You can listen or download the audio talking book below:
Response to the first episode of Very British Futures was very warm, and now I am keen to push on and get several more recorded between now and September, when my workload will increase. Next out of the gate is Knights of God, the ITV 1987 family adventure series set in the then future year of 2020. Now 2020 was not a bundle of fun for most of us, but at least the country had not collapsed into ruins and being ruled by a jackbooted religious order. It’s an impressively mounted television series that recalls ITV’s ambitious children’s series from the Seventies such as Sky and Children of the Stones in its scope and grittiness.
I was glad to be joined over Skype by my old Westlake Films muckers Kevin Hiley and Dr Rebecca Wray to remember the show and discuss its themes. They were worried they wouldn’t have enough to say but as you’ll hear we filled an hour nicely.
You can listen to the podcast at Anchor or on one of these platforms: Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, RadioPublic, Acast or PocketCasts. Whilst I’d encourage you to use one of those, to build up my figures, if you need a copy for your MP3 player, you can download it below.
Thanks for your support and join me next time, as we continue the theme of life under occupation and young resistance fighters with The Tripods.
For the last few months I have had a project secretly coming together, something to look forward to as I laboured on the third year of my degree apprenticeship. I have enjoyed being a guest on other people’s podcasts but it has left me with a desire to do more. So it was only natural to start thinking about my own podcast series. Now episode one has been released on the Anchor platform and Spotify, and hopefully will gradually be made available on other sources too soon.
Very British Futures is a celebration of lesser known science fiction television series which Britain has produced over the years. I felt that there already enough excellent series and websites covering Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Red Dwarf, The Prisoner, Quatermass and Supermarionation but there was a niche for talking about some of the less well-remembered productions. So each episode, some special guests and myself will be looking back at a different show, critiquing it and putting it into context of the history of SF. There’ll certainly be humour but the emphasis will be on appreciation rather than mockery.
1961’s Pathfinders in Space trilogy seemed a great place to start. It’s not the first British SF series by any means but it feels like the beginning of a new era of modern television. Its place as the precursor of Doctor Who means it is influential but at the same time it is not nearly as well known as it should be. Plus I knew from conversation that Nigel Anderson and Brian Clarke would be happy to talk about it and both were at ease in front of a microphone. We had already recorded several podcasts about missing Doctor Who episodes, for Nigel, and I also appeared in a video discussing the Daleks which Nigel had produced. Whilst being together in a room to record would have been pleasant, Skype’s audio quality was acceptable for a simple conversation.
It’s been good to go back to a little light audio production. Making a podcast is a lot simpler than an audio drama. Most of the work is editing the original Skype recording, applying some noise reduction, getting rid of mistakes or sections where the conversation went too far off-topic, then bookending it with music. My biggest problem has been learning to use a headset properly, being more use to a microphone on a stand or a dictaphone. I turned to my friend Chatri Ahpornsiri, who I’ve worked with on previous audio dramas, to provide the theme music and he generously provided four versions to choose from. You can hear more of his marvellous work at chatriart.bandcamp.com. There are several free to use platforms for hosting podcasts. I felt Anchor was the easiest to use and I was attracted by the way it automated posting my series on most of the major podcast outlets.
You can listen to the series at https://anchor.fm/gareth-preston but unfortunately you cannot download the episode easily from there. Whilst I’d prefer it if people streamed it from here or one of the other platforms for the sake of the show’s stats, I appreciate that some people would like the option to download the MP3 file for portable listening. So you can find episode one below:
At the moment I am editing the second episode, in which Rebecca Wray, Kevin Hiley and myself talk about Knights of God. After that there are plans to make episodes about: The Tripods, Star Maidens, The Uninvited and after that I have a long list of possible candidates, and plenty of guests I am hoping to record with. Would love you to have a listen and hear back from you, what you think and what shows you would like to be covered.
It’s time to take care of a little unfinished business. Back in 2020 I was kindly invited by Dylan Rees onto the podcast Doctor Who – Too Hot for TVto discuss the legendary TV21 Dalek comic strip. I was in the process of moving house at the time so my own copy of the strips and other related books were locked away in storage, so I had to rely on my memories and the internet for details. It all worked out in the end I think Dylan and I created a fun episode. However there was one story which neither of us could remember a single detail about. It has variously been listed by fan sites as The Emissaries of Jevo or The Seeds of Arides (the comic strip had no individual chapter titles) and ran between issues 90 and 95.
As the supposed guest expert on the show, this has irked me since and Panini’s recent restored release of the TV21 comic series in a glorious new edition last November 2020 has given me a chance to upgrade my collection and refresh my memory.
This is certainly the definitive reprint of the British classic comic strip. Thanks to Gerry Anderson’s own archive and contributions from collectors, many of the original artboards have been digitally scanned, supplemented by scans from the best surviving issues of TV21. Digital technology and printing is now at a stage where these 104 pages not only look as good as they did coming off the printing press in 1965, but it in fact often better. Bight colours zing, and the skilled draughtsmanship of Richard Jennings, Eric Eden and Ron Turner looks sharp and detailed. Well presented in bookazine format on quality paper and supported by some excellent archive articles, this is for my money the best Doctor Who publication of 2020.
The Emissaries of Jevo was wholly illustrated by Ron Turner and written David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s script editor who wrote the large majority of the strip, with supplemented help from Angus Allen. The spacecraft “Guardian” and its crew from the planet Jevo is despatched on a secret mission to Arides to destroy a mutated species of plants. The flowers, infamous for their pollen which destroys all rival organic life, have mutated to gigantic size and now threaten to poison the galaxy. Unfortunately the ship is captured by the Daleks, who are quite happy for these flowers to unleash galactic genocide. Through a ruse, Captain Kerid persuades the Dalek Emperor that Daleks are vulnerable to the seeds too and his ship is released. When the Daleks discover the trick, they pursue the Jevonians, who heroically choose to complete their mission, even though it means certain extermination.
Despite its silly premise about mutant space pollen, this is a typically good example of the strip. Whittaker had developed a general rule that when the Daleks faced human looking opponents they would always lose, but in this story that guideline is cleverly bent. Although the Daleks destroy the Jevonians, it is an empty victory since the the flowers are destroyed and even the Emperor has a moment of doubt about whether they can ever truly conquer the human spirit. Curiously the crew of the good ship “Guardian” are described throughout as androids, yet this has no bearing on the story at all. We do not learn if all Jevonians are androids or just their astronauts, we never see them use any robot abilities and the crew certainly seem to have a full range of emotions. Kirid and his second in command even have a violent argument that ends with Kirid punching his subordinate in the face.
In good piece of continuity, the Daleks used a magnetrap to capture the spacecraft, just as they had used on Robot 2K a few weeks earlier. As was discussed on the podcast, magnetism is something of go-to for Whittaker whenever it comes to Dalek science, possibly because it was a bit of science that most schoolchildren would have learnt about. The Emperor voices a chilling piece of Dalek philosophy too. When Kirid tells him the apocalyptic threat posed by the seeds, the Emperor replies “Daleks are not android, human or animal. Why should we prevent these plants achieving what we are dedicated to achieve…?”
Ron Turner’s artwork is as splendid as ever. “Guardian” is quintessential Turner design. Loosely based on the Bluebird jet plane, its a riot of fins, flanges and intakes. The Daleks meanwhile are piloting claw-like space fighters that look impressive in action. Explosions are another Turner speciality and this story has some particularly good examples, my favourite being a Dalek scientist being ripped apart by an exploding gun.
In his introduction, editor Marcus Hearn describes the comic strip as the most enduring artefact of Sixties Dalekmania and I would agree. Their influence on the programme goes right up to the present day with the recent Dalek YouTube series and the visuals of Dalek saucers and armies in the 21st century series, clearly show the echo the comic. Even the fabulous look of the modern bronze Daleks has something of a Ron Turner feel to it. All the strips are exciting and accessible, but the best of them have depth too, as expanding that Dalek empire we heard about but the series could never afford to show us.
The Daleks is available to order from panini.co.uk, priced £9.99.
This first statement can be read as a symptom of age. My inner dad coming out. But its fair to say that it is quite rare for something genuinely innovative to appear. So much that people think is new and daring has often been done before. Take characters being meta-textual, self aware of the format they inhabit. Long before Fleabag was giving conspiratorial glances to the camera, or Gurney Slade worried about only having 25 minutes of existence left in his final episode, the Marx Brothers were bringing the audience into the artificiality of their adventures. Back in the 18th century, Lawrence Sterne was redefining what a novel could be with the tragicomic diversions of Tristram Shandy, and he in his turn was drawing on the Baroque poets of the previous century. All artists are standing on somebody else’s shoulders.
The Strange World of Gurney Slade has antecedents in The Goons, James Thurber’s humorous stories, Hancock’s Half Hour and Anthony Newley’s previous television shows. Nevertheless, in 1960, when the television sitcom was still inventing itself, there was nothing quite like it on the small screen, a fact that would ultimately doom it to cultdom rather than mainstream success. It’s a lazy cliché to say that some creative endeavour defies description. Besides which, I do have a few adjectives to describe these six episodes: odd, amusing, inconstant, clever, and a little too often – rather smug.
The debut episode opens with the start of an unimpressive domestic sitcom about a working class family: harassed wife, cheeky kids, interfering mother-in-law and boring neighbours inviting themselves in. In the midst of it all and already clearly distancing himself is the man of the house – Gurney Slade (played by Anthony Newley). When it comes to his first banal line of dialogue, Gurney can’t take it anymore and walks off the set, past the floor manager, and out into what seems at first to be the real world but in fact is a fantasy created by his imagination, mixing mundane backgrounds with characters such as talking rubbish bins, conversational dogs and advertising posters which come to life. At this point we could be watching an actor’s nervous breakdown from the inside, but the programme never explores that bleak reading, even if it never contradicts it either. It prefers instead to suggest that we are joining the protagonist in “Gurneyland”, as he describes it in the fifth episode. That’s about it as far as the overall story is concerned. Gurney, virtually free of all commitments, wanders along musing about modern life and going on flights of fancy. The first three episodes are much more free form, almost like an illustrated stand-up routine. However the second half becomes slightly more narrative driven. Gurney is put on trial for producing an unfunny comedy show, has to venture inside his own mind to deal with some squatters, and finally is challenged to take responsibility for the characters he has imagined over the previous episodes.
Anthony Newley created the series alongside Sid Green and Dick Hills, at the time two of the most in-demand comedy writers in British television. It is a definitely a young man’s view of the world. Our hero often runs up against older men who are stuffy, hypocritical or unreliable authority figures. A politician who is only concerned with his young mistress, or a music hall bore of a comedian trading in ancient jokes. Meanwhile women remain resolutely two-dimensional, mostly unobtainable objects of desire, reflecting perhaps Gurney’s admitted failures to make any meaningful connections with girls. Mention ought to be made though of Joy Stewart, who has a reoccurring role as a stereotypical suburban wife/mother, who is involved with some of the most likeable sequences, remaining resolutely domestically minded throughout. In that she is a symptom of what stops this series really striking home. All the characters are cartoonish stereotypes aside from Gurney. What’s more, the show actually congratulates itself on being too clever for the average viewer. So there is a hint of Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t find this funny? You’re obviously not sophisticated enough.
Ostensibly a comedy series, it’s never laugh out loud funny but more endearingly whimsical. Moments that made me smile tend to involve the talking objects, such as the farmyard dog who regards the farmer and his employees as part of the livestock, or a bin which likes the read the newspapers that are thrown into it. Elsewhere in a moment of dark humour, Gurney helps a couple of children to assemble their perfect mother from a collection of female mannequin parts left on a tip. There’s some funny daft jokes too. Examining the control room inside his imagination, Gurney is glad to see “At least it’s a clean mind.” Later on in the same episode there some amusing physical comedy as he is trying to giving a speech whilst fending off an invisible elephant, which eventually picks him up in its trunk.
The monologues are less successful, coming off as sub-Galton and Simpson material. I could imagine Tony Hancock or Harold Steptoe delivering Gurney’s sour comments on an actor fronting an advertising campaign for screws, or imagining how much easier his life could be if he could simply choose his wife from a army style line-up. But in Newley’s hands they become selfish whinges rather than amusingly pompous. I generally enjoyed the show more when a little more storyline comes into it.
There are some fine meta-jokes in the final part, just the kind of comedy which Wandavision is currently being hailed for. The prosecutor from the trial episode returns and complains that all he knows how to do is aggressively prosecute. “Suppose I’m hungry? How do I order a meal in restaurant?” In a self-flagellating moment, the girl of his dreams from episode two, played by Anneke Wills who was 17 and having relationship with Newley in real life, is shocked when she finds out the age gap between them. But too often Gurney’s jokes about his failings seem more design to invite admiration for his clear-sightedness, rather than humility.
Director Alan Tarrant makes a real virtue of the its monochrome production. The photography is crisp, the outdoor filming is mobile and dynamic, the more stagey looking later episodes have been thoughtfully designed too and in places anticipate where Doctor Who and The Prisoner are going to go in a few years time. It was one of Tarrant’s first directing jobs and sadly for us, he never produced anything as unconventional again, but would go on to a long and successful career in ITV light entertainment and sitcoms.
For viewers interested in the more fanciful British comedy of Python, The Goodies and The League of Gentlemen, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is a fascinating artefact. It rarely made me laugh but it does stay in the memory and at six episodes it feels perfectly formed. If Newley, Green and Hills wanted to make a singular show, they did succeed, but they should not have given themselves a round of applause for doing so.
Thanks to Network, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is available on DVD, which also contains trailers and photos, and a limited edition Blu-ray containing many more features and Anthony Newley’s contemporary film The Small World of Sammy Lee.