Very British Futures – The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the Triffids aired on BBC1 in 1981 and became one of those SF television series that broke out of the genre ghetto and became part of popular culture, fondly remembered by many who saw it back then. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise since the novel of the same name by John Wyndham had been a bestseller, remaining in print since it debuted in 1951. The series follows the story of a group of survivors living in a post-apocalyptic world after a meteor shower has rendered most of the population blind and given rise to deadly, venomous plants called Triffids. The main protagonist is Bill Masden, a young farmer who has ironically retained his sight due to being protected by bandages after a Triffid attack. As he navigates the dangers of post-apocalyptic England, he must also deal with the threat posed by the plants, which are able to move on their own and attack humans.

Like the book, the series explored themes of survival, adaptation, and morality. Produced by David Maloney, directed by Ken Hannam and adapted for television by Douglas Livingstone, it starred John Duttine, Emma Relph, and Maurice Colbourne.

I had an excellent time recording this episode with Rik Hoskin, and Chris and Ella Burton and we got unexpectedly deep in places when it came to the moral challenges faced by the characters. You listen to our debate by finding Very British Futures on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, and many more platforms. Or go to its page on the podcast website.

In other news, I am currently back on the sound desk at Bolton Little Theatre for the upcoming play Flamingoland which runs 20th to 27th May 2023. Written by ex-Coronation Street actor Deborah McAndrew, it’s the story of two sisters, their daughters, and a local pest control officer. Mari is terminally ill and spends her days organising her funeral and her will. Her sister Bridie wants her to focus on making the most of her remaining time. But the whole family is poisoned by a secret from their teenage years. Will bringing it out in the open help them to heal or is too late? Sound effects for this one are fairly domestic. Probably the biggest challenge was filming a video sequence at the open mic night at the Doffcocker Inn, Bolton, for the finale. But it gave me a chance to put a new 4K Canon XA50 camera and shotgun microphone through its paces.

You can book tickets online from Ticketsource.

“It’s Behind You!”

A couple of photos and a write-up from the recent Aldbourne production of my Aladdin pantomime. I’m delighted that everyone had a good time.

Jo Hutchings - Aldbourne Archive

Oh, no it isn’t – Oh, yes it is!

Aladdin – Aldbourne Light Entertainment Club production February 2023

Did you experience the return of pantomime to the Memorial Hall stage? A fantastic production and enjoyable occasion all round. I passed the Hall during the (fully booked) matinee and heard the audience very much playing their part.

Many congratulations to all concerned!

Aladdin – Aldbourne Light Entertainment Club production February 2023

Aladdin was following in a fine tradition of light-hearted plays in Aldbourne. However, it’s tricky to pinpoint the first panto (if anyone has any details to share, it would be great to hear from you).

In the first decade of the twentieth century a tradition of Fairy Plays arose, inspired (according to Mr Google) by Féerie, that had its roots in France. Here in Aldbourne, this seems to have taken the form of performances like “Jack & The Beanstalk”…

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Very British Futures now on YouTube – and other news

Following the good advice of my friend Kevin, producer of Tripodscast and I Don’t Do SciFi, my show Very British Futures is now available on YouTube, making it even more accessible to listeners all over the world.

Very British Futures as you’ll know if you read this blog regularly, is my discussion podcast about the rich library of science fiction television which has been produced by my native country. Moving to YouTube is a savvy addition, as the platform is already a go-to destination for people looking for content on a wide range of topics. The YouTube app already comes installed as standard on many smart TV’s and set top boxes. Therefore we have the possibility for more people to discover and engage with Very British Futures thanks to the platform’s massive global reach.

You can find the podcast by searching for “Very British Futures” on the YouTube app. Or you can follow this link to my channel. I am afraid I haven’t had time to add much visually to the episodes. Each has a new piece of artwork, but its still essentially an audio production. All the existing episodes are there and I’ll be adding each new show simultaneously alongside the standard podcast.

In other news, the final part of the comic strip prelude to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Sons of Ares, has been published. It’s written by my old friend Rik Hoskin and illustrated by Kewber Baal. The first two collections were superb and I’m looking forward to the conclusion. To quote its Amazon page: “The last two entries into the Sons of Ares had Fitchner on his heels. In the first, he was driven by love and desperation to save his wife Brynn before her execution at the hands of the Board of Quality Control. Then, in book two, Fitchner went head to head with both of his early allies — Arturius and Quicksilver. His wrath left Arturius dead and set back Quicksilver’s dream of expanding exploration and human habitation to other stars. In Forbidden Song, Ares may not always be in control. But he has a plan — and it’s a doozy. Forbidden Song is one part Ocean’s 11, one part Les Miserables, and it sets the fuse for the Rising that Darrow will inherit.”

And you’ll be hearing Rik soon as a guest in the next episode of Very British Futures, talking about The Day of the Triffids.

Finally, my long association the Official Talking Pictures TV podcast continues, and the latest edition is just out. It includes my review of the hilarious Laurel and Hardy short Twice Two, featuring the boys in the dual roles of their usual personas AND their sisters (and each other’s wife). You can hear it on all the major platforms or online here.

Thanks for reading.

The Living Numbers

Late last year I signed up to the Matchmaker.FM website, looking for potential new contributors to my series Very British Futures. Part of that membership was the option to offer myself as a guest for other people’s podcasts. To my surprise, Tony Rambles got in touch, inviting me to appear on his series The Living Numbers. This is a conversational podcast talking to people from many walks of life. As Tony himself puts it:

“The interview podcast where amazing people tell their stories through conversations with numbers, laughter and life lessons. Everyone is interesting if you ask the right questions.”

I accepted his kind invitation and recorded a pleasant conversation with him over Zoom just after the New Year’s day. Tony was an excellent, enthusiastic interviewer. We talked about my pantomime acting and writing, the origins of my podcast, and my career as a Technical Officer in higher education. You get to hear me err and pause a little more that usual too, because I try and edit those tics out of my own recordings. 🙂

You can hear the episode Chipper Screenwriter Gareth Preston Talks Supporting Roles, Acting and Pantomime on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts and this link here

Many thanks to Tony for his curiosity and good humour, and I can certainly recommend his podcast for other, even more interesting interviews.

The Chocky Trilogy – Very British Futures

Chocky was a science fiction novel by John Wyndham, the final one published in his lifetime (1968). It tells the story of an 11 year old boy named Matthew, who begins to exhibit strange behavior and abilities that concern his parents. They learn that Matthew has an imaginary friend named Chocky, who is actually a highly advanced alien being with a mission to help humanity. The novel was adapted for radio, but most famously into an ITV television series which led to two original sequels, all written by Anthony Read. In the first series, closely based on the novel, Chocky saves Matthew and his sister’s lives following a boating accident, This leads to press attention and Matthew being kidnapped by a mysterious secret organisation, who hypnotise him to contact Chocky directly. After Matthew is released, Chocky bids him goodbye, not wanting to endanger him more. Chocky’s Children reunites Matthew and Chocky when he discovers he has a psychic link with Albertine, a maths prodigy of similar age but a more fiery temperament. She too, has a connection to the alien and together they discover new powers, including telekenesis and a psychic attack. In the final series, Chocky’s Challenge, Matthew has moved to New York, but Albertine has joined forces with three more of Chocky’s human contacts to create the first cosmic energy generator. Once again the secret organisation tries to control them and even captures Chocky within a prison. This time it is the teenagers who must rescue their extra-terrestrial ally.

Although the novel is narrated from the viewpoint of Matthew’s father, the series are much more from the children’s perspective. Very popular at the time with CITV viewers, the series has been released on VHS and DVD several times and continues to gain new fans.

As part of the research for this episode, I spoke to producer Richard Bates (A Touch of FrostThe Tripods) who originally obtained the rights for a television adaptation of Chocky, and served as both creative consultant and producer of the third and final series. I had intended to include clips from our conversation in the final show but annoyingly I lost the file. Joining me for this edition is my regular guest Dr Rebecca Wray, and author, publisher and old friend Will Hadcroft. Both of them coincidentally have also talked with Richard Bates in the past. We had an excellent conversation and it was hard to edit it down to even the generous 90 minutes I have given this episode. There was also time to talk about Will’s writing career and Rebecca’s new podcast I Don’t Do Sci-Fi.

You can hear the podcast on all major podcast platforms, including YouTube, or you can find it here on the web.

Here Lies Amicus & I Don’t Do Sci-Fi

Hope you are well. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited on to two more excellent podcasts recently – Here Lies Amicus and I Don’t Do Sci-Fi.

Here Lies Amicus is the brainchild of Cev Moore and is an in-depth review of the films of legendary Sixties and Seventies exploitation studio Amicus. Run by Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg, Amicus were one of Hammer Films’ main rivals and often fished in the same pool of actors and filmmakers as the people at Bray Studios. Probably best remembered now for their horror anthology movies like Tales from the Crypt and Asylum, Amicus also made pop music vehicles, thrillers and also two low budget science fiction movies: The Terrornauts and They Came From Beyond Space. This double bill was the subject of the October 2022 episode Amicus in Outer Space!

Here is a link to the Spotify page. The podcast is also available on most popular platforms.

To be honest I thought I had mentioned this at the time but looking back through my blog I shamefully omitted to post about it. I know Cev through our mutual association with the Official Talking Pictures TV podcast, where he also has an interest in reviewing the channel’s fantasy output. He kindly provided some useful background info on the two films, in addition to us re-watching them. Whilst neither film is great, they both have a lot of interest in them. The Terrornauts is more ambitious, featuring scientists being abducted and taken to an ancient alien space station to defend the solar system from an invasion fleet, but consequently it falls so much further, betrayed by wooden dialogue and bargain basement model work. They Came from Beyond Space is another variant on the alien possession trope, set in the Home Counties and having more than a touch of The Avengers about it. Unfortunately, the thin plot is padded out with a lot of busywork about infiltrating the aliens’ base and has a dull lead in Robert Hutton. Nevertheless, I had an excellent time discussing both titles with Cev.

Moving bang up to the date with a podcast only released yesterday – I Don’t Do Sci-Fi is the spiritual sequel to last year’s impressive Tripodscast, from the same team of Dani Wray, Rebecca Wray, John Isles and Kevin Hiley. It’s a conversational podcast based on the concept that Dani is an SF novice who in the past has had little exposure to a lot of the genre. So her friends are showing her examples of futuristic fiction, starting with the cult BBC drama Star Cops. Most episodes will feature a special guest and kindly I was invited to be part of the debut. Recording in person is always fun and we had a lively time revisiting the series which I covered in my own podcast last year.

You can listen to the series here or on your favourite podcast app. Hope you enjoy both series.

Very British Futures – Nineteen Eighty-Four

I like to mix it up on the Very British Futures podcast. After the jolly, lightweight Dominick Hide plays we plunge into the pitch black dystopia of the BBC’s harrowing TV play Nineteen Eighty-Four. Based on George Orwell’s famous prophetic novel, this is ambitious drama brought more lustre to Nigel Kneale and Rudolph Cartier reputations, and remained a high point of Peter Cushing’s career.

You can listen to the latest episode here or on your favourite podcast app.

The story is set in a futuristic austere Britain where the government is led by the IngSoc (English Socialism) party, headed by a man known as Big Brother. The Party seeks to control every aspect of people’s lives, including their thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. Winston Smith (Peter Cushing) is a low-ranking member of the Party who works in the Ministry of Truth, where he is responsible for altering historical records to conform to the Party’s version of reality. Despite being a loyal member of the Party, Winston is secretly unhappy with the oppressive regime and begins to rebel against it. He begins a secret affair with Julia (Yvonne Mitchell), a party member from the Fiction department. Together they become involved with a group known as the Brotherhood, which is rumoured to be a group of rebels who are plotting against the Party. However the Brotherhood is actually a myth created by the Party to lure out and eliminate any potential dissenters. Despite his efforts to rebel against the Party, Winston is captured and tortured until he fully conforms to their ideology. The novel ends with Winston being released back into society, fully loyal to the Party and completely brainwashed.

Writers Andrew Scott Roe-Crines and John Isles return to the show to join me in discussing the messages of the book and strengths of this television play. Find out about what the papers said, how the IngSoc party operates and the nightmare of Newspeak.

Now I am starting work on the next episode, about ITV’s Chocky trilogy.

My Top Five Television Shows of 2022

Stranger Things

Coming to its fourth season, after a third which seemed to have reached a natural conclusion for most of the characters, I did wonder if Stranger Things could possibly live up to its own hype. There had been some worrying signs of indulgence creeping in, when this was a Netflix series defined by its tight focus on exactly what it was – a pulp horror love letter to Stephen King, John Carpenter and 80’s pop culture. Despite its feature length episodes, the fourth season triumphantly improved on its last season with memorable horror set pieces, great new characters like Eddie and Yuri, some logical yet still unexpected depths being added to the young heroes and most importantly, pace and energy. To be hitting these highs in a fourth series is pretty rare.

The Sandman

Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking 80’s comic series looked like an impossible adaptation. The hero and his stories were so intrinsically linked to the comic medium of art and dialogue. Surely trying to make this gothic fantasy into a physical piece of television would only make it seem at best pompous and ridiculous, or just deeply compromised. But thanks to Neil Gaiman’s stewardship and a talented team of makers and actors, Netflix’s series captured all the strengths of the comic and added some well chosen translations of the problems. Fan favourites like “Dream of a Thousand Cats” and “The Sound of Her Wings” became new highlights. David Thewlis gave one of the best performances of the years as the malignant but pathetic would be messiah Doctor Destiny.

Inside Man

Stephen Moffat most satisfying work since “The Doctor Falls”, this contained four-part thriller was essentially a farce with the timing aimed at tragedy rather than hilarity. Embracing his misanthropy, he and director Paul McGuigan played with time and the audience. Cleverly challenging our own unconscious prejudices with a story where the murderers and would-be murderers were more sympathetic than the victims. As with many of these locked room murder mysteries, the cleverness might unravel if examined too closely and it relies on certain contrivances disguised as glib jokes. Mary’s apologetic “We’re not the sort of people who break windows,” for example. But at a time when too many prestige series are content to spread out as far as possible, this tight four-parter was short sharp pleasure.

The Umbrella Academy

In recent years, there’s been a fair few deconstructive superhero series and films. For me, The Umbrella Academy became the best of this sub-genre with its third series. The plot was propulsive without being cluttered, giving the characters room to breathe, the humour was often genuinely funny rather than self-consciously wacky and most importantly its damaged family of characters cared about each other, even if there were a lot of pain along the way. It was celebrating different kinds of love, between impossible people that gave this often eccentric saga its heft. Some of it dialogues were memorably acerbic too. Five to Elliot: “Wait a minute. You were actually waiting in your room for someone to come and persuade you to come downstairs again? That is pathetic.”

Ms Marvel

Disney+ has settled into a steady production line of polished, big budget fantasy series, but Ms Marvel stood out amongst them with its smart writing and a winning lead performance from Iman Vellani as the young superhero. The Khan family dynamics were a pleasure to watch, whilst the series took a fairly standard “young person discovers superpowers and tries to balance school, family and adventures” Marvel fomula and made it feel fresh again. Plus it brought a significant piece of history, the India partition to a wider audience too.

Two older series which I discovered this year and devoured were Ted Lasso and Bob’s Burgers. The former was an old fashioned sentimental comedy that once upon a time would starred James Stewart as the eccentric man challenging the mean system with his decency and kindness. As it is, it featured a superb ensemble of characters and a heart warming belief in the power of compassion and understanding that somehow was invigorating instead of sickly. The latter is a near perfect animated sitcom with a family of five characters who work in many combinations. The one-liners keep coming fast and funny, whilst it manages to have flights of screwball fancy whilst portraying a poor working family constantly having to think about money.

Very British Futures – The Flipside of Dominick Hide

Time travel is a dangerous business, not only for what effect changes in the past might affect, but the lure of nostalgia for a seemingly more exciting, more authentic world. A temptation which young Dominick Hide cannot resist any longer. He’s a time travelling historian from a future where life is peaceful and advanced, but most records of the past have been erased by an unknown catastrophe. His curiosity about the wild world of 1980 leads to an adventure which changes his life and that of Jane, a boutique shopowner with whom he falls in love, despite being married to Ava in his present.

Play for Today is generally remembered for its dramatic socially conscious dramas, yet over the years it has featured several notable comedies such as Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May and Jack Rosenthal’s Bar Mitzvah Boy. In fact one of its most successful and beloved installments was a science fiction romantic comedy The Flipside of Dominick Hide. In this episode, we analyse this play and its sequel, Another Flip for Dominick.

Making a welcome return visit for this episode are the warm and witty Tim Reid and Charles Auchterlonie, the hosts of The Randomiser, a podcast reviewing Doctor Who old and new, as well as other British cult TV. Hope you enjoy this one.

You can listen to Very British Futures on all the major podcast platforms, or online at Anchor.FM

Treasure Island sails with the Berkeley Players

I’m delighted and flattered that the Berkeley Players are staging my co-written pantomime version of Treasure Island on the 8th, 9th and 10th December, at Berkeley Town Hall.

When adapting Robert Louis Stevens’ classic children’s adventure for the stage, in tandem with Adrian Barradell, I was keen that the theme of Long John Silver being a unreliable father figure for Jim Hawkins was kept in the story, together with the pirate being something of an anti-hero, rather than an out and out villain. I also wanted to make sure there was still plenty for Sally Trelawny and Jim’s mum to do, in what is very much a boy’s own tale. There’s plenty of groansome jokes, as well as some quite decent character ones. I’m particularly fond of cheese obsessive Ben Gunn. It was a lot of fun writing all that pirate speak too.

You can buy tickets at Berkeley Pharmacy. Wishing the cast and crew every success!

Next February 2023, Aldbourne Light Entertainment Club will be putting on Adrian’s and mine’s retelling of Aladdin on Aldbourne Memorial Hall on Thursday 9th, Friday 10th and Saturday 11th. Again this makes me very happy and I’m pleased that they were impressed enough by our script. I’ll be plugging their production again nearer the time, but for now, enjoy your rehearsals.