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.

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

Very British Futures – The Aliens

It’s been longer arriving than I hoped but Season Two of my podcast Very British Futures is finally taking flight. I’ve found a better way of planning my time, and so I’ve been able to invest some energy into editing my recordings from the last few months.

So first released blinking into the online world is our discussion of The Aliens, E4’s 2016 drama with blackly comic moments, set in a world of human and alien drug dealers, ghettoised resentful alien immigrants and one hapless protagonist who keeps trying to do the right thing but generally just digs himself deeper into trouble.

It has a marvellous cast of people who were just getting recognised for their talent, including Michaela Cole (I Will Destroy You), Jim Howick (Ghosts) and Michael Socha (Being Human) and Michael Smiley (Kill List) and was produced by a lot of the same team responsible for Misfits.

This is also best produced episode so far, thanks to the technical brilliance of Kevin Hiley (Tripodscast) and being the first to be recorded in an actual room instead of online. I was joined by two guests from Tripodscast: Rebecca Wray and Dani Wray. Both of them were excellent and had plenty of fascinating observations about the show and its characters. Look out for their forthcoming new series with John Isles I Don’t Do SF in the new year.

You can listen to the episode at Anchor FM or on all the major podcast platforms. You can also check its dedicated page at my new website for the podcast which also has links for further reading, including the original E4 website which contains a lot more background information about the fictional history of the aliens’ arrival in Britain. For the first season I also put the episode up on this blog as a downloadable MP3. I’ve decided to stop that for season two, partly to cut down on housekeeping, and also to hopefully encourage more listeners to the podcast platforms and build up the podcast’s official stats. If you would like to download a file to listen to offline, may I suggest checking out the episode’s page at Spreaker, which has a download option.

Hope you enjoy this episode. More coming soon, continuing with The Flipside of Dominick Hyde.

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.

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. However, it is 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 is 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, Atlantis, psychic powers etc. He’s shaken out of his lethargy when beautiful Miss Griffin enters his life, during the day as an angry customer, then at night 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, or Luna for example? 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 of it, 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.

Very British Futures – The Nightmare Man

The Nightmare Man was one of the first titles I wanted to cover with this podcast series, however finding the guests to talk about it proved harder than I expected. It seems this BBC SF/Horror serial is even more obscure than I thought and quite a few of the people I thought had seen it and would like to talk about it, revealed themselves unaware of it. Happily Ian Taylor, who I had met through amateur dramatics, was a big fan. So much so that he had created a horror discussion group on Facebook named after it. John Isles had not seen it but was keen too, so I lent him my DVD copy, and we were away.

The Nightmare Man is a very entertaining horror B-movie in four parts, adapted from a yarn by David Wilshire. It feels like a slightly more adult Doctor Who adventure, except the timelord has not turned up and its left to the local police, with a little military assistance, to save the day. Inverdee, a Scottish island preparing for winter, is shaken by a violent murder. A woman resident appears to have torn apart by something with super human strength. We know hoarse-breathing killer with blood red vision is out there, but exactly what is he is the central mystery. An alien, a drug-crazed madman, or something stranger?

Atmospheric, filled with likable characters and well paced over four half-hour episodes, The Nightmare Man should be better known but perhaps coming out before home video really took off meant that it could only live in memories of the few million who watched it on BBC1 in the summer of 1981. Hopefully this podcast should direct a few more people to seek out the DVD. It would certainly be a good choice for BritBox.

Cast
James Warwick – Michael Gaffikin
Celia Imrie – Fiona Patterson
Maurice Roëves – Inspector Inskip
Jonathan Newth – Colonel Howard
Tom Watson – Dr. Goudry
James Cosmo – Sergeant Carch
Pat Gorman – The Killer

Written by Robert Holmes from the novel Child of Vodyanoi by David Wilshire
Produced by Ron Craddock
Directed by Douglas Camfield

There are a limited number of copies Ian Taylor’s book on Jenny Agutter on sale available from We Belong Dead.

Very British Futures – The Nightmare Man

You can listen to the podcast on most major podcast sites and apps. If you do, any ratings or reviews are much appreciated. You can also listen or download it from this page. Thanks for your interest.

Very British Futures – Star Cops

Star Cops is a series which has grown on me over the years. When it was first shown on BBC2 back in 1987, I watched it but left with the impression it was distinctly average. In trying to get away from one set of SF clichés, it had ended up embracing a whole bag of detective tropes instead. Years later I bought the VHS videos at a charity store and viewing it again it seemed a lot stronger and cleverer than my 21 year old self had given it credit for.

When I was canvasing friends for what TV shows they would like to talk about on my potential podcast, Star Cops was mentioned quite a lot. So much so that this is my first four handed episode, with regulars Kevin Hiley and Dr Rebecca Wray joined by Peter Grehen, a friend and writer who I had first met through BBV as the author of Sontaran: Silent Warrior and later asked to write an Agents of Psyence script, which sadly was never made. I was slightly worried that some guests would get marginalised but I’m pretty happy that we all had our say, whilst keeping the episode down to a reasonable length.

Important credits to know about Star Cops as you listen:

Main cast
David Calder – Nathan Spring
Erick Ray Evans – David Theroux
Linda Newton – Pal Kenzy
Trevor Cooper – Colin Devis
Jonathan Adams – Alexander Krivenko
Sayo Inaba – Anna Shoun

Production Team
Created by Chris Boucher
Written by Chris Boucher, Philip Martin, John Collee
Produced by Evgeny Gridneff
Directed by Christopher Baker, Graham Harper

Very British Futures is now also available on Pod Follower and Pod Bean. If you do listen to the podcast on one of the platforms which allows reviews, then please consider leaving a review for us, because it helps raise the show’s profile.

As ever you can listen and download the show from here too. Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.

Very British Futures – Star Cops