The Clifton House Mystery

Network continue their quest to release the obscurest shows from British television’s past. I’m fairly knowledgeable about cult TV but I’ll admit I had never heard of The Clifton House Mystery until I received it as a Christmas present. One of a series of children’s supernatural dramas produced by HTV in the Seventies and it would seem the most obscure. Is it a lost gem or a forgettable turkey?

Conductor Timothy Clare, his wife Sheila and his three children Jenny, Steven and Ben move into a large detached house in Bristol. They briefly meet its previous inhabitants, the elderly Mrs Betterton and her granddaughter Emily, but she seems oddly anxious to leave a house she has lived in most of her life. Emily meanwhile tells Jenny in secret to look out for “the Grey Lady”. Steven is inexplicably drawn to buy an old Victorian soldier’s helmet being sold at the house auction. As the family being to settle in, a series of supernatural events afflict them. Objects fly out of their hands, Steven sees a screaming man’s face in the helmet and Jenny does indeed meet a ghostly elderly woman. After a dinner party for Timothy’s prospective American agent goes frighteningly wrong, the family turn to an amateur ghost hunter Milton Guest for help.

Watching The Clifton House Mystery today, the first aspect that struck me was the almost complete lack of any emotional sub-plot for the protagonists. If this was being made today, there would definitely be a link between the emotional health of the family and the hauntings. Perhaps friction between the parents who seem rather caught up in Timothy Clare’s career and their neglected children? Or teenage growing pains for Jenny being linked to poltergeist activity. Or generally the lack of any obvious affectionate behaviour between anyone. Then there is Milton Guest, a middle-aged apparent bachelor, who admits he’s never seen a ghost, even though he lectures on them. Here’s a character who could have been portrayed as a rather tragic or suspicious, like George Tully in Sapphire and Steel, but instead is almost immediately taken at face value after a few polite protests. But all that is left deep down in sub-text in favour of plot exposition and the most straightforward of reactions to everything from the haunting to the state of the house.

Simply because this is a children’s drama does not automatically prevent it from being scary. Executive producer Patrick Dromgoole had previously overseen such memorable teatime chillers as Children of the Stones and King of the Castle, and would go on to produce Robin of Sherwood in the Eighties. All these programmes had great atmosphere and memorable moments of fear. But here is a series that seems to actively pull back from anything genuinely scary. It’s two best horror moments, the ghostly screaming face, and later a moment when Jenny walks into her brothers’ bedroom to find the Grey Lady standing watching them, who then turns to look directly at her, are cliffhangers which are promptly cut away from, with no real follow-up. Mostly the story plods through its six episodes, steadily building up its story with no real urgency. The family might be disturbed and inconvenienced by the haunting, but there’s little real threat.

This series belongs to that sub-genre where the ghosts act as a window into history, rather than being malevolent creatures. In this case the children and the audience learn about the Bristol riots of 1831, when 4th and 13th Dragoons were summoned by the mayor to quell a mob which had laid siege to the city hall whilst protesting about their lack of representation in parliament. The Dragoons had eventually charged the crowd resulting in 4 deaths and over 80 wounded.

Playing ghost hunter Milton Guest, Peter Sallis is the only really recognisable face in the cast, and he delivers another one of his affable Yorkshireman performances. The four children all give those kind of stage school performances that you often find in children’s television, competent but not very naturalistic. Probably the best scenes of the series are actually in the first episode before the hauntings start, as a group of nosy, gossipy locals and the family pour over the contents of the house auction. At this point the show feels as though it could go into Jack Rosenthal territory, before the main fantasy thread appears.

The Clifton House Mystery was co-written by Harry Moore, a writer and producer often associated with Sherlock Holmes related dramas, as well as another children’s ghost series The Georgian House. His co-writer was Daniel Farson, a great-nephew of Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula, and best remembered as British television’s first onscreen investigative journalist.

The only extra on the DVD is a gallery of some publicity and set photos of the cast. I love the way Network are releasing so much vintage television on DVD, obscure discoveries as well as series which already have a fandom. But not everything vintage is automatically great and The Clifton House Mystery is nowhere near as interesting or stylish as other supernatural titles as Sky, Shadows, or Sapphire and Steel. Give this one a miss unless you are a completest like me.

Thurso Players present Rumplestiltskin

Goblin eyes

It never gets old, the joy of looking at my What’s On list over at the Lazy Bee Scripts suppliers portal and seeing that a new production of one of my plays is happening. So let me tell you the exciting news that the Thurso Players are staging Rumplestiltskin this December, between the 8th and 18th, including a live streaming performance, which is a first for one of my pantomimes.

You can find out more and book tickets by visiting their website at thursoplayers.org.uk

Rumplestiltskin is particularly dear to me because it was my first solo panto outing and I put even more of my own daft sense of humour into it, references to pop culture stuff I love, along with my desire to write a fast-moving show which was easy to stage. I hope they are having a great time in rehearsals and even better adventure in front of the audience.

Manchester Indie Filmmakers Group

Two photos of Gareth Preston

It’s not often I get to talk to a real live audience, but this coming Wednesday 6pm 17 November 2021 I’ll be at Manchester’s Central Library to talk to the Manchester Indie Filmmakers Group about my career to date, with an emphasis on my audio and podcasting work. It should be a fairly informal event and free to attend. If you are interested, please check out their Facebook page for more details.

Gareth Preston is our guest speaker for this weeks meeting. Gareth is a writer and blogger with his own podcast series and regularly contributes reviews for the “Talking Pictures TV” podcast. Gareth has been involved in a variety of films and Theatre productions. A fascinating evening for anyone interested in audio , social media or how to get your own series recognised in the vast arena of Social Network.

Of course my association with MIFG goes back quite a long way. I have starred in several of Nigel Anderson’s films, including Angel Snow and The Diary of Anne Frank. Nigel, and regular collaborator Brian Clark were also my guests for the first edition of Very British Futures and I looking forward to having them back next year in the podcast to talk about A for Andromeda.

Elsewhere, Tripodscast goes from strength to strength with episode 3, looking at the original book The Pool of Fire. I know Rebecca, John and Dani have some interesting ideas for later instalments, including some exclusive interviews.

Examples of the new Terror Trumps cards

The Kickstarter campaign for the second wave of Terror Trumps collectable playing cards has already off to a roaring start, already at 144% support. My friend Rik Hoskin writes:
“We’re roughly halfway through the funding period for these Terror Trumps cards, and, as I write these words, we’re about to unlock our first stretch goal–free art prints for everyone!  If we reach 100 funders we’ll unlock even more free prints which will also go to everyone, because we want everybody to get as much out of this as we have… and we are having the time of our lives!”

I’ve seen a preview set of the cards and they are if possible even better than the first wave. If you want your own packs, plus some exclusive extras, visit their campaign page today.

Hope you are having a great November. Thanks for looking in.

Tripodscast

It’s very flattering when someone credits you as an inspiration. John Isles and Rebecca Wray were inspired to create their own podcast, partially by my own Very British Futures podcast. Together with Dani Wray, the result is Tripodscast, a series discussing everything you could possibly want to know about John Christopher’s Tripods series. The books, the TV series, the comic strips and more. A good choice, because my episode on the BBC TV series is still my most downloaded instalment.

Episode one is out now and its excellent. A very entertaining 50+ minutes of conversation about the first novel The White Mountains, along with an charming interview with another friend of mine, author Will Hadcroft about his correspondence and eventual meeting with John Christopher, a pen-name of Samuel Youd. It is well produced too and reminds me that when I start season two of my podcast I want to do some in-person recordings as well as Skype chats.

You can listen to Tripodscast on Spotify and at Anchor.fm – https://anchor.fm/the-tripodscast

Wishing them the best of luck for future episodes.

Hosting the Talking Pictures podcast and more

Hope you are well. A quick round up of several pieces of interesting news.

Firstly, I am hosting the latest episode of the Official Talking Pictures TV podcast which has just been release, covering the Talking Pictures schedule for second half of October. For non-UK readers, Talking Pictures is marvellous, family run independent UK television channel which shows vintage movies from the 30’s to the 80’s. The podcast was started by Adam Roche, the genius behind the podcasts Attaboy Clarence and The Secret History of Hollywood. Later he handed into the capable hands of Scott Phipps, Mel Byron and Daniel Reifferscheid who’ve been doing a marvellous job since. But they deserve a break, so several regular contributors including myself are handling an episode each.

So I was sent MP3’s of the guest reviews and it was up to me to edit them into a programme, providing the linking material and adding some extra thumbnail reviews. Juggling that with my other work has been a challenge but happily I was able to clear an evening to put it together. Basically trying not to drop the ball. In this show you can hear reviews of films like Mona Lisa, Leave Her to Heaven and The Quatermass Xperiment. You can download it from this link or listen on all the major podcast apps.

https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/talkingpicturestvpodcast/id/20827100


Excellent news from my mate Rik Hoskin. His graphic novel Only Death Can Save Us won the Indie Volt Award from Best Graphic Novel of 2021.  Rik adds “I say ‘my’ when really it’s mostly Russ Leach’s work, I just provided the script! Book 2 has just launched crowdfunding on indiegogo, so the award came at a good time!”

You can find out more about both books at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/only-death-can-save-us-book-2-techstone#/


Another friend and a splendid guest on the debut episode of my podcast Very British Futures, Nigel Anderson, has been busy on his own video podcast Doctor Who – Most Wanted and episode 3 is on Youtube now. He’s joined by VBF regular John Isles to talk about the Dalek stories, especially the missing or unmade episodes. It’s just as polished as the first episodes and well recommended.

Very British Futures – Outcasts

When I started thinking about Outcasts, in my mind it was a series just a few years old, and I was shocked to find out it was actually broadcast in 2011. Nevertheless its striking how little impact this expensive primetime BBC1 science fiction series seems to have made. A quick google search reveals no dedicated fan sites, only a few reviews on newspapers and general purpose geek TV review sites. In the comments section underneath them, a mixture of short thoughts evenly divided between bouchets and brickbats. Creator Ben Richards tried to generate some excitement with teasing a few things which might have happened in season two but to no avail. No streaming company was rushing to Kudos’ door for more stories from Carpathia and it seemed there was no one campaigning for more. And revival campaigns are surely one of the defining factors of SF fandom?

Looking back there hasn’t been a really successful show about colonising a planet, despite the apparent strengths of such an idea. Neither Earth 2, or Terra Nova lasted more than a season and Outcasts continued the trend. Distant space colonies of explorers and farmers it seems, are more a place we like our heroes to visit, have an adventure, then blast off again to somewhere new. Post-apocalyptic survival tales seem to fare better. The Walking Dead and Survivors have both tackled themes about setting up a new society from the ground up and hooked us into the characters and their plight, yet both had more than their share of soapy storylines. Maybe when we go into space we’re always looking for new worlds to explore, preferably with interesting lifeforms to fight or fall in love with.

Perhaps another lesson to learn from Outcasts is that a great episode one is still important. Maybe a Netflix series can afford a slow burn when all the episodes are simultaneously online, although I wish they didn’t indulge in them quite so often, A weekly series however needs to grip from the first night. Most of the really negative, virulent reviews of Outcasts are based on the first episode. Watching the whole series I agree with some of my guests that the series does improve but the drag factor of the first two slow episodes sets a gloomy tone that later episodes never really shook off, even as the plot picks up momentum. At the same time some of the reviews themselves are weirdly hysterical. For example one newspaper asked if Ed Wood Jr (the notorious low-budget director) was in charge. Whatever else can be leveled at the programme, the production values are first class.

In this episode, I’m joined by Nicky Smalley, Dr Rebecca Wray and John Isles to talk about our rewatch of Outcasts and what we think worked and what didn’t. There’s some interesting discoveries along the way.

Essential facts

Cast
Hermione Norris – Stella Isen
Daniel Mays – Cass Cromwell
Amy Manson – Fleur Morgan
Ashley Walters – Jack Holt
Eric Mabius – Julius Berger
Michael Legge – Tipper Malone
Liam Cunningham – Richard Tate
Langley Kirkwood – Rudi
Jeanné Kietzmann – Lily Isen

Production
Created by Ben Richards

Written by Ben Richards, David Farr, Simon Block, Jimmy Gardner, Jack Lothian

Produced by Radford Neville
Co-produced by Jörg Westerkamp, Thomas Becker, Vlokkie Gordon, David Wicht
Executive Produced by Jane Featherstone, Faith Penhale, Matthew Read, Simon Crawford-Collins, Ben Richards
Directed by Andy Goddard, Omar Madha, Bharat Nalluri, Jamie Payne

Production companies
Kudos Film and Television
ApolloMovie Beteiligungs
BBC America
BBC Wales
Film Afrika Worldwide

You can now follow Very British Futures on Audible, as well as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and most other major platforms. If they don’t work for you, you can also listen or download it from here:

Very British Futures – Outcasts

As I explain at the end of the episode, this show marks the end of season one. The podcast will be taking a hiatus until Summer 2022, whilst I concentrate on other work. But it will be back. Thanks for reading.

Very British Futures – Kinvig

Characters from show

It’s tempting to describe Kinvig as an artistic imperfection, there to make the rest of Nigel Kneale’s television work look even better in comparison. That would be nonsense of course. Nobody involved in this 1982 ITV sitcom wanted it to be anything other than a great success. It’s a fact that Kinvig was not a successful programme in terms of ratings or on the Audience Appreciation Index. The debate lies in whether Kinvig is an unappreciated rough diamond, a textbook disaster, or something in-between.

Kinvig concerns a lazy repairman called Des whose life permanently stuck in neutral. Apart from his good-natured twittering wife Netta, his only friend is Jim Piper. Des indulges Jim in his obsession with unknown mysteries – UFO’s, Atkantis, psychic powers etc. He’s shaken out of his lethagy when beautiful Miss Griffin enters his life, first as an angry customer, then as a seductive alien who tells him he is the only man who can save Earth from the evil Xux. Or is it all in his mind? (Answer: Yes it is)

If it wasn’t written by Nigel Kneale, the writer of classics like Quatermass and the Pit, 1984 , Beasts and The Woman in Black, it’s doubtful that Kinvig would ever have been released on DVD or enjoy any cult status at all. Who remembers SF sitcoms The Adventures of Don Quick for example, or Luna for example? As it is, of my two guests for this episode, only Charles Auchterlonie had seen it before, whilst Tim Reid came to it completely fresh. Chas and Tim already have an excellent podcast of their own – The Randomiser where they discuss Doctor Who and Red Dwarf. I’m a big fan, as well as knowing them as friends from way back in early noughties of Doctor Who internet fandom. In fact I’ll be guesting on a future edition of their show.

I must take a moment to praise Andy Murray’s excellent production notes and his definitive book on Nigel Kneale’s career Into the Unknown which came in very useful when researching the programme.

Overall, most episodes in this series end up championing the show of the week, but I’ll confess that this episode is a bit of demolition job. Hopefully you will think it is an entertaining deconstruction.

Production Details

Cast

Dennis Kinvig – Tony Haygarth
Netta Kinvig – Patsy Rowlands
Jim Piper – Colin Jeavons
Miss Griffin – Prunella Gee
Buddo – Simon Williams
Mr Horsley – Patrick Newell

Production Design – Michael Oxley
Costume Design – Sue Formston
Written by Nigel Kneale
Produced & Directed by Les Chatfield

You can download Very British Futures from your favourite podcast app. In fact if my podcast is not on your favourite podcast app, let me know and I’ll make sure it gets put there. Or you can listen or download from this very page.

Very British Futures – Kinvig



Podcasts, Superheroes, and Dick Barton

Dick Barton logo

It’s getting busier as a new academic year looms and the UK slowly brings itself back to normality after more than a year of lockdowns and distancing. I’ve reached that stage where I am having to be careful about how I manage my time and future plans, but that’s really a good state of affairs to be in.

The Very British Futures podcast has been a great success and definitely the most fulfilling project I’ve been involved in for a long while. It’s been great to reconnect with some old friends and make some new ones along the way. Plus I’ve enjoyed the speed of the production process too. So it will be a wrench to take a break but I need to to concentrate on the final year of my BSc apprenticeship. Season 1 will be ending with a look at Outcasts and a reunion of three regular contributors. Season 2 will be coming in the Spring of 2022 and will feature another wide spread of British programmes, from Day of the Triffids to The Comic Strip. Thanks to all the blog readers who have supported it.

Rik Hoskin’s novel Bystander 27 has made a good debut. You can read my review on the blog. For newcomers it’s a fresh take on the superhero genre, looking at what it is like to live as an ordinary New Yorker in a city that seems to constantly under attack by super criminals, invasions from other dimensions, and power crazed scientists. Whilst Captain Light and The Jade Shade fight in the air above Manhattan one day, it’s business as usual for Jon Hayes, ex-soldier, and his pregnant wife Melanie, Until a burning helicopter thrown from the sky crushes Melanie in front of her husband. Grief starts Jon asking questions about the whole pantheon of superbeings. Why are there unnamed leagues of minor and major superheroes who only fight enemies at their ‘level’? Who can hold people like The Mechanic to account? Why is the world imperiled once a year by a threat that can only be defeated by a large team up? As Jon delves deeper he’s shocked to find his search coming painfully close to home.

The nature of modern publishing being what it is, reviews and social media are significant indicators that what publishers’ keep an eye. So not only do I recommend the book, if you have read it or do in the future, if you can leave a short review on Amazon etc. or just tweet your thoughts, it can really help. You can buy Bystander 27, a standalone fantasy novel from all good bookshops.

Man serving a woman at a counter

Unusually, some news from my day job. Manchester Metropolitan University’s Brooks Resource Centre was recently featured as a model of good practice by the National Technician Development Centre. You can read an article about where I work on the website, and see the above lovely picture of myself and fellow technician Lucy (pretending to be a customer).

After a long hiatus, Bolton’s amateur theatre scene is coming back to life. I’m currently involved getting the sound together for Bolton Little Theatre’s first production of the season Dick Barton – Special Agent. It’s quite a challenge since as well as the needs of this play, I am also putting the sound deck back together again and upgrading it too. But it will be ready for 13th September.


Dick Barton – Special Agent is a fast-moving comedy, affectionately mocking the famous 30’s/40’s hero of radio, TV and film, as he and his sidekicks Snowy and Jock battle Evil Foreigners In London (EFIL) and their plan to drug the nation with cannabis-laced tea. Running 13-18th September 2021. You can book online now.

Although I have stopped linking to every review, I am still a regular reviewer on the Talking Pictures TV podcast. The station has gone from strength to strength, with an increasing amount of vintage British television joining their film library. Their Saturday Morning Pictures programming has been a big success, and they are hoping for equal reaction to their new Friday night cult film nights, The Cellar Club, hosted by Caroline Munro. I review the first night on the current podcast, which includes Hammer’s The Mummy and nudie flick How to Get Undressed in Public. Available, like Very British Futures, on all major podcasting platforms.

Recently I had the pleasure of guesting on The Randomiser podcast, talking about Doctor Who and Red Dwarf with Tim Reid and Chas Auchterlonie. The time flew by and hopefully the episode will be out soon. In the meantime you can check out this excellent banter pod at randomiserpodcast.buzzsprout.com

In further podcast news, my friends and VBF contributors John, Dani and Rebecca will shortly be starting Tripodscast, all about the classic BBC SF show and perfect if we’ve intrigued you with our recent coverage. Nicky Smalley is also going into the podcast business with Unended, a show pondering what happened next to the fictional lives of characters in popular TV shows.

I’ll be back soon with more on Outcasts soon and other theatre news. Thanks for reading.

Very British Futures – Out of the Unknown

Since I started this blog, my Out of the Unknown articles have been the most popular posts, so this series was a natural to cover on the podcast. In fact, making this episode and watching these episodes alongside Stephen Hatcher and Dylan Rees has only deepened my appreciation of this remarkable adult SF drama, as well as my frustration that so many great episodes remain lost.

There have been other good adult SF dramas on television. In the last decade probably the best UK example of a serious anthology has been Black Mirror, but even that thoughtful series can be criticised for being narrowly focused on media matters and its formula summed up as “a new media technology brings out the worst in everyone”. A couple of years ago Channel 4 did a co-production with Amazon Prime, Electric Dreams, adapting stories by Philip K Dick. Some of them were excellent, but Out of the Unknown has such an impressive range of stories and authors, covering genres from comedy to chiller.

I felt the best way to cover this anthology was for myself and guests Dylan Rees and Stephen Hatcher to pick an episode each to concentrate on, as well as a general appreciation. It was a formula that worked particularly well and I’m going to apply it again on other long running series.

Out of the Unknown Essential Facts

Producers – Irene Shubik, George Spenton-Foster, Alan Bromley
Story Editors – Irene Shubik, Robin Parks
4 seasons (1965 – 1971)

For more information on Out of the Unknown, including my reviews of all the existing episodes, start here.

Very British Futures is available from Anchor.fm and most leading podcast platforms, now including Soundcloud. You can listen or download this episode from here.

Very British Futures – Out of the Unknown

Hope you enjoy this one as much as we enjoyed making it.

Blue

The final tale in my Monsters audiobook trilogy. With When the Bell Rings Out and Monster’s Inn still being downloaded regularly, I felt it was only right to make the third story available.

Blue was written by Loretta Thessane is read by Karl Purder. A science fiction horror tale about a centuries old shape-changing alien living among us and occasionally hiring himself out as a duplicate for people who want to avoid something or literally be in two places at once. On top of this already bizarre premise, Blue becomes aware of a alien killer in the local community whose activities are drawing attention to his carefully concealed life.

It’s an imaginative and excellently performed short story, and I hope you enjoy it. Listen or download below.

Blue