Quatermass Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


1 Conversation

One of the Martians in 'Quatermass And The Pit', the third Quatermass serial.

From 1952, as part of their regular Saturday evening scheduled entertainment, the British Broadcasting Corporation ran a series of six-part dramatic serials on their single television channel. In July of the following year, one of those serials was launched that would empty public houses of their Saturday night clientele and terrify audiences while accumulating some of the highest viewing ratings of the time. The name of the title character would become synonymous with suspense and horror. That name was Quatermass and that first serial was The Quatermass Experiment.

The public will never accept that name.
- Cecil McGivern, BBC's Senior Drama Producer

When British television re-opened in 1946 after the conclusion of World War 2, it was still in its infancy with only one BBC channel transmitting in glorious monochrome and the majority of its programmes transmitted live. Many of its dramatic productions were adaptations of stage plays, produced and acted by stage and radio performers who had not yet come to grips with the new medium. Big screen directors trying their hand were frustrated by what they regarded as the limitations of the small box, with much of their work being stilted and ending up appearing as a series of talking heads. Science fiction was almost totally ignored with virtually the only previous programmes of that type having been aimed at the children's television or radio audiences.

The Quatermass stories were to set a new standard for television drama and became regarded as ground-breaking science fiction synonymous with shock and horror. Quatermass was the first scientific thriller produced for an adult television audience and was the creation of writer Nigel Kneale who had been engaged by Michael Barry, Head of BBC Television Drama, to adapt scripts for television production. When a slot for the midsummer period of 1953 became vacant, Barry asked Kneale to come up with a story to fill the gap. At the time Kneale had ideas for three different science fiction storylines, all of which centred on encounters with alien life forms. He summed the theme of the storylines up as: 'We go to them, they come to us, they've always been here.'

Kneale was teamed with producer Rudolph Cartier, a Viennese film director who had fled Nazi Germany in 1933, eventually taking up residence in England. Now with the BBC, Cartier was to become one of the most innovative of their producers, adapting big screen methods and sets to fill the small box screen. He used pre-filmed outdoor location shots interwoven with the live studio performance that gave a depth to his productions not usually found in television drama, while at the same time taking risks that pushed his productions and budgets to the limit.

However, the real 'stars' of the Quatermass productions were the storylines. These were something new to audiences who were used mainly to American cinema film productions with huge sets and comic opera costumes. Kneale had the ability to weave a story around the human fears and prejudices of the times. His stories were set in the present or the near future and told through the development of his characters with very little help from special effects. The budgets that were available for drama at that time were limited and extra money for special effects was virtually non-existent in the early productions.

In the 1950s Britain was just beginning to recover from the austerity of the post-war years and was entering into a nuclear age where atomic weapons were not only held by Britain but also the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR. The British public were well aware of the horrors that nuclear weapons could bring having witnessed the results of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and now far more powerful Hydrogen bombs were available to both sides. They were also experimenting with rockets as delivery systems and pushing into the unknown reaches of outer space, and who knew what might be found there?

The adversarial attitudes of east and west brought the fear of complete annihilation should those weapons be used and indeed Britain was already embroiled in another conflict in Korea. Many people lived with the ever-present fear of the outbreak of nuclear war and the destruction of complete civilisations that that could bring. Kneale's stories tapped into those very real fears replacing the threat of annihilation with that of destruction from an unknown extra-terrestrial source.

Kneale created the character of Professor Bernard Quatermass as the head of the British Experimental Rocket Group. He envisaged him as a scientist with a sense of wonder and a troubled conscience, who deplored military appropriation of his peaceful research and abhorred bureaucratic intervention. In his search for an unusual name for the title role, Kneale referred back to his origins on the Isle of Man where many names began with the letters Qu. He found the name Quatermass, which he thought would be suitably memorable, in a London telephone directory and awarded him the title of Professor. The first name, Bernard, was taken from a well known scientist of the time, radio astronomer Professor Bernard Lovell, who was the head of the new radio telescope team at Jodrell Bank.

The Quatermass Experiment - The First Television Serial

Originally titled The Unbegotten, then changed to Bring Something Back...!, the title ultimately settled on The Quatermass Experiment. Stock pictures of an American V2 rocket launch, followed by the eerie introductory titles formed from evaporating dry ice and accompanied by the staccato strains of 'Mars, Bringer of War' from Holst's Planet Suite, brought just the right dramatic effect to herald that this was going to be something different. Little did many of the prospective audience realise that they would soon be viewing subsequent episodes from behind the living room sofa; indeed many young children were banned from watching the programme entirely by worried parents.

Actor Reginald Tate was engaged to portray Quatermass and brought a sympathetic interpretation to the role consistent with the character envisaged by Kneale. Isabel Dean played Judith Carroon, Quatermass's assistant and wife of Victor Carroon, the only survivor of the ill-fated space flight who was portrayed by actor Duncan Lamont. Two of Quatermass's assistants, Patterson and Marsh, were played by Hugh Kelly and Moray Wilson while Ian Colin took the role of Chief Inspector Lomax.

It's inside the rocket, here with us...
- Reichenheim

The story relates how the first British manned space flight, sending three men into space, goes horribly wrong when only one man comes back. Contact is lost as the spacecraft goes deeper into space than intended but when contact with the rocket is re-established over 50 hours later, there is no response from the crew. Taking control from the ground, the spacecraft is landed remotely, and is brought down on the outskirts of London's Wimbledon Common, badly damaging a number of houses. On opening the rocket only one of the crew, Victor Carroon, remains. Of the other two, Reichenheim and Greene, there is no sign except their empty spacesuits. After listening to a sound tape of the early part of the flight, Quatermass and his staff are soon faced by the possibility that their spacecraft has been entered by an alien life force that has taken over the crew. Horror mounts as they find an amount of a jelly-like substance within the skin of the spacecraft that is the same as that of the missing two crewmembers. Further clues lead Quatermass to suspect that all three men have been amalgamated into the body of Carroon.

There's been some changes since I last examined him.
- Dr Briscoe

In their efforts to find out what happened during the ill-fated flight Carroon is taken back to the rocket to try to relive the events by playing back the in-flight recording to him. He is temporarily rested in one of the nearby damaged houses where he takes hold of a cactus plant found in the house and begins to assimilate and replicate it. Gradually his arm turns into grey vegetative matter. While in the house he is abducted by foreign agents from the 'other side' who think that he has some special knowledge from the flight and they transport him across London to get him out of the country. The life form that was Carroon kills its captors and escapes to roam free through the streets of London. It derives sustenance by absorbing other life forms, both animal and vegetable and continues to mutate and grow larger.

Suppose that what's out there is only the form of a man possessed by the thing itself.
- Quatermass

From reports of strange occurrences across London, Quatermass and Lomax finally catch up with it when it takes refuge in Westminster Abbey, which was still prominent in the public consciousness from the real life coronation of the new Queen Elizabeth II only a few months before. Holed up in the very fabric of the building it prepares to shed spores which will blow on every wind and create millions of reproductions of itself, taking over all living matter on Earth within days. With a stricken conscience and realising that he has only minutes to save life on Earth from complete destruction, Quatermass broadcasts on television and admits that it is his experiment that has brought the whole of mankind to the brink of annihilation and to ask for forgiveness.

There was a certain antipathy towards Kneale and Cartier by the established BBC staff when it came to creating a visual effect of the creature. Kneale was told that if he wanted a visual effect of the Thing1 then as he had created it, he would have to produce it himself. Using a blown up picture of Poets' Corner inside the Abbey as a backdrop, Kneale and his wife sewed various pieces of material and foliage to a glove to create the contours and tendrils of the monster. Kneale's hand in the glove provided its slow undulations as he watched it through a monitor to make sure the movements were not too large or too sudden. This was the only special effect in the serial.

While the army prepares to blast and burn the creature out of existence, Quatermass realises that this may exacerbate the problem rather than solve it if even a single cell is left to begin replication again. He also senses within the creature a remnant of the humanity that was Carroon and the others without whose human knowledge and experience the life form cannot exist in a physical form on Earth. After publicly broadcasting his responsibility for bringing this frightful danger to Earth he enters the Abbey alone and tries to engage with that part that is still human and to persuade it to fight back and to reject the organism. A battle of wills ensues as Carroon and the others combine to separate themselves from The Thing and effectively to commit suicide to destroy it.

You will overcome this evil, Without you it cannot exist on Earth, you must dissever from it... send it out of earthly existence.
- Quatermass

And so the world is saved, but not recorded for posterity. One of Cartier's proposed innovations was to record the episodes and use excerpts to provide a synopsis of the story at the start of the second and subsequent episodes. Before videotape, the only way of doing this was to use 35mm film recording the live performance from a monitor. Unfortunately, the limitations of the recording medium provided a poor reproduction and the recording of the episodes was discontinued after the second episode. Subsequent recaps on the story continued with a panned shot of a line-up of the main characters and a voice-over by Kneale. And so, to this day, the only remaining filmed episodes of the original serial are episodes one and two as the final four parts were not recorded.

The Quatermass Experiment
EpisodeFirst ShownAudience
Contact Has Been EstablishedSaturday, 18 July, 19533.4 million
Persons Reported MissingSaturday, 25 July, 19533.5 million
Very Special KnowledgeSaturday, 1 August, 19533.2 Million
Believed to be SufferingSaturday, 8 August, 19534.4 million
An Unidentified SpeciesSaturday, 15 August, 19534.1 million
State of EmergencySaturday, 22 August, 19535.0 million

The Quatermass Xperiment - The Hammer Film

A few days after the final episode was transmitted the BBC received a request from Hammer Films to buy the film rights. This would be one of Hammer's first productions and certainly their most successful up to that time. The storyline was rewritten by the film's producer Val Guest, who made a number of changes from the original. The spelling of the title reflected its X certificate and it was released later in America under the title The Creeping Unknown. In the film version the part of Quatermass was taken by American actor Brian Donlevy, probably the most miscast portrayal of the character. His brusque authoritarian interpretation was completely out of sympathy with the character envisaged by Kneale and didn't find favour with either the writer or the producer. Radio and film star Jack Warner2 played Police Inspector Lomax. Further changes removed the abduction subplot allowing Carroon to simply wander out of hospital unnoticed. It also introduced what was thought to be a more dramatic and acceptable ending to the film, by electrocuting the monster inside the abbey using a generator from a BBC outside broadcast unit.

Later Productions

Cartier and Kneale went on to collaborate on a number of dramatic productions including Wuthering Heights, The Creature and Moment of Truth. That they were masters of dramatic production was signalled again in their adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, producing what was possibly one of the finest pieces of drama seen on British television. It was notable for the introduction of Andre Morell as O'Brien - he was to go on to portray Quatermass in the third television serial. Controversy surrounded the production however. Performances by Morell and Peter Cushing as Winston Smith, especially in the Room 101 scene, brought about a furore of complaint from viewers that it was completely unsuitable for Sunday evening viewing. Questions were asked in the House of Commons and the repeat performance scheduled for the following week was almost cancelled. It was only when the Queen, who had seen the performance, let it be known that she '... quite liked it', that the repeat went ahead.

Quatermass II - The Second Television Serial

The post-war years saw a changes in attitude of the public towards the men of science, doctors, politicians and other professional classes who had always enjoyed a position of respect as those who could be trusted to bring benefits to civilisation. But that trust was being whittled away as suspicions were raised in the public mind of the evils they might now bring in the form of nuclear, gas and biological weapons due to the pressures of the cold war. The ever increasing secrecy of governments, creating new hideous weapons and secret places to develop and deliver them, was bringing about a distrust of, and a questioning attitude to, authority. Then there was the enemy within. In America the McCarthy witch hunt for communist spies and sympathisers in the United States along with Britain's own real spies, the subversive Burgess, McLean and others gave an aura of legitimate authority being infiltrated by outside alien forces taking over its power base.

Against this real life background Kneale wrote the second serial, Quatermass II, which was broadcast beginning Saturday, 22 October, 1955 less than a month after the opening of the first commercial television channel ITV in London. Reginald Tate was contracted by the BBC to reprise his performance as Quatermass but suffered a heart attack and died outside his home just days before production was due to start. The part was taken over at very short notice by John Robinson, a well known TV actor who brought a rather school-masterly interpretation to the part. In this serial we were introduced to his daughter and assistant, Paula, played by Monica Grey who was described as '... less of an actress, more a finishing school on legs'. The main supporting actor, Hugh Griffiths played Dr Leo Pugh, Quatermass's senior scientific assistant.

Set in the near future, Quatermass was now head of the renamed British Rocket Group, charged with the project of setting up a manned colony on the Moon, where people would live and work in pressure domes ferried there by rockets powered by atomic engines. But there is a problem. The prototype rocket's engine has blown up on the Australian Tarooma launch pad with all the force of a nuclear explosion and tests on the second rocket, still in the UK, show the same thing is likely to happen if it is launched. With these failures the moon-base project is about to be axed by the government.

Quatermass is approached by a young army officer, Captain Dillon, played by John Stone, who has tracked and recovered pieces of what appear to be a meteorite which has landed near his radar tracking unit. A farm labourer who was holding the meteorite just after it landed seems to have been affected when it burst open leaving a strange v-shaped lesion on his face. Examination of the pieces shows it to have been hollow, implying something travelled to Earth inside. Intrigued by the puzzle Quatermass and Dillon drive down to interview the farmer and villagers at the local pub. One local mentions the new government building project which has swept away the nearby village of Winnerden Flats.

My God! I think I'm going mad... It's the moon base, but what's it doing here'?
- Quatermass

Quatermass finds that a vast building project which is a copy of his moon-base is being constructed by an army of workers who do not know what they are building and have been told not to talk about it. They are housed in a separate village and the project is guarded by a security force armed and ready to shoot to kill. Each of the guards has the same sinister mark on their neck or face. As Quatermass and Dillon try to evade the guards to get a closer look, they find one of the meteorites intact; it bursts in Dillon's hand and he is left incapacitated and with the mark. They are found by the guards and while Dillon is taken back to the plant, Quatermass eludes them and escapes.

Dillon! There's something on your face.
- Quatermass

Back at Whitehall, Quatermass tries to find out more about Winnerden Flats and discovers that it is supposed to be a test plant for production of synthetic food. He finds that this is only a cover story and many of the Whitehall officials also have the mark and have been taken over by alien life forms. Together they are working to establish a power base within the government and provide a habitat from which they can invade the Earth. Quatermass manages to get himself and a journalist, Hugh Conrad, played by Roger Delgado3, into an official visiting party to the plant. Conrad is infected but manages to get his story out to his newspaper.

Many more of the alien-carrying meteorites are falling and being gathered by the guards to be fed into the pressure domes where they become a composite creature living in a poisonous atmosphere. Quatermass rallies the duped workforce to rebel against the guards and they manage to destroy the dome which explodes, releasing poisonous gases and killing many of them. The creature is destroyed by its exposure to the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere and under cover of the confusion, Quatermass escapes with the help of Pugh who has come to find him.

We've only wiped out a single nest.
- Quatermass

The fourth episode was only the second programme in TV history to be preceded by the warning that it was '...not considered suitable for children or those of a nervous disposition', the previous occasion having been Kneale and Cartier's adaptation of Orwell's 1984 a year earlier. Cartier had used the Shell refinery at Shell Haven, Essex to film outdoor shots of the plant for insertion into the serial. Several outdoor scenes were shot there, including the uprising of the workers and a running gunfight with the guards set against a backdrop of intertwining pipe work, storage tanks and the complexity of a modern refinery.

With the help of Pugh and the BRG tracking equipment, Quatermass locates the source of the incoming meteorites to be from a gigantic asteroid orbiting the Earth. Using the faulty atomic rocket he launches with Pugh to intercept the asteroid at its next approach. Pugh has been taken over during his rescue attempt at Winnerden Flats and tries to kill Quatermass, but is foiled and ejected into space leaving Quatermass to land alone on the asteroid. The life form begins to enshroud the spacecraft with its tendrils as Quatermass sets the atomic motor to go critical and explode. The menacing source of the invasion is destroyed as he escapes in the manned stage of the rocket to return to a saved Earth.

In this serial Cartier used a greater amount of filmed outdoor sequences interwoven with the live performances to produce a wider scope of dramatic effect, particularly for the insurrection scenes in the Shell refinery. He also had the use of the new film studios at Lime Grove, recently acquired by the BBC, in which he built what was then the largest TV studio set, which depicted the interior of the Winnerden Flats pump room in which the workers holed up. Models of the plant's domes, spacecraft and sets were created by Bernard Wilke and Jack Kine of a new special effects department. By the standards of the time many of the effects were quite realistic but some did not come off quite so well.

The depiction of blowing up the pressure dome was achieved by immersing a model in a glass-fronted tank filled with water, through which the scene was filmed. The inside of the model dome was filled with milk and a detonator exploded to shatter it, providing a realistic effect of escaping gases as the milk flowed out into the surrounding water. The launch of the rocket in the final episode would have done credit to a Jerry Anderson film more than twenty years later. It was marred only by the shadow of a lifting arm that could be seen on the rocket's exhaust smoke. However, the spacesuits worn by Quatermass and Pugh were laughable. They appeared to made of cardboard and held together with tapes and had the largest, unrealistic helmets ever filmed. The special effects department would have done better to have stayed with the real suits that were borrowed from the RAF's high altitude flight that were used in The Quatermass Experiment.

Once again the opening titles and closing credits were accompanied by the stirring Mars, Bringer of War, with further incidental music provided from the BBC library, much of which was by composer Trevor Duncan4 from his suite The Challenge of Space. This time the live transmissions were tele-recorded on 35mm film for a repeat performance on the Monday following the Saturday's live performance. The opening episodes were viewed by audiences of nearly eight million and increased to over nine million in the final episode while the Monday repeats achieved figures of up to four million.

Quatermass II
EpisodeFirst shownAudienceRepeated
The BoltsSaturday, 22 October, 19557.9 MillionMonday, 24 October, 1955
The MarkSaturday, 29 October, 19557.9 millionMonday, 31 October, 1955
The FoodSaturday, 5 November, 19557.9 millionMonday, 7 November, 1955
The ComingSaturday, 12 November, 19558.3 millionMonday, 14 November, 1955
The FrenzySaturday, 19 November, 19558.3 millionMonday, 21 November, 1955
The DestroyersSaturday, 26 November, 19559.0 millionMonday, 28 November, 1955

Quatermass II - The Hammer Film

Hammer released their film version of Quatermass II on 24 May, 1957 again starring Donlevy who once more stomped his angry way through the film. It was also later released in North America under the title Enemy from Space. Kneale had parted company with the BBC in late 1956 and worked freelance with Val Guest to adapt the script for film. He kept the storyline largely true to the TV script but ended the film with the destruction of the creatures in the dome without carrying on to destroy the invading asteroid. Hammer also used the same Shell refinery for location shots of the factory.

Quatermass and the Pit - The Third Television Serial

In 1958 the BBC commissioned Kneale to write another Quatermass drama. This, the third serial entitled Quatermass and the Pit, was to become generally accepted as the best of the Quatermass trilogy. Cartier and Kneale had not been altogether satisfied with John Robinson's performance in Quatermass II and for this serial contracted Andre Morell as the third TV Quatermass. Morell, a civilised and debonair actor, gave a thoughtful performance, much more in keeping with Kneale's originally perceived characterisation.

Once more the storyline tapped into human fears and prejudices, weaving together a heady mixture of diabolical race memories, anthropology, legend and the occult while Kneale speculated on the origins of man's intolerance. He wanted to explore the reasons for man's inhumanity as evidenced in the wars, race riots, purges and hatreds which plagued society throughout its history. In particular Kneale drew inspiration from the civil unrest and race riots which broke out in the suburbs of Nottingham and Notting Hill, London in 1958.

The London of the 1950s was still engaged in major reconstruction after the damage caused by wartime bombing and it was still fresh in Londoner's memories what it was like to have flying bombs and rockets rain down upon them. New high-rise buildings were being constructed on the bomb damaged sites involving digging deep into the London clay to provide firm foundations where it was not unusual for work to be held up when unexploded wartime bombs were exposed in the diggings. Kneale wondered what would happen if something more ancient and alien was found and what might happen if that something was still active.

The location for this serial was London's Knightsbridge where the five million-year-old bones of hominid half-men are found in the clay diggings for a new high-rise development. Further excavation reveals a strange artefact that is initially identified as an unexploded bomb but subsequently realised to be a spacecraft that clearly has carried the half-men. Quatermass becomes involved in the investigation when it becomes clear that the artefact is not of earthly origin. Along with Mathew Roney, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, played by Canadian actor Cec Linder, it becomes clear that the area around Hobbs Lane has had a troubled past. Indeed, it is soon revealed that Hobbs Lane was formerly known as Hobs Lane, Hob being a familiar name for the devil, and has a long-recorded history of demonic occurrences, apparitions of ghosts and demons, especially when the ground nearby is disturbed.

I think these are old friends we haven't seen for a time.
- Roney

Quatermass has been summoned to the War Office to be told that his rocket group is to be taken over by the military and he is introduced to Colonel Breen who is to replace him as head of the group. As the story unfolds the characters of Breen, Quatermass and Roney are shown to be susceptible to a greater or lesser degree by the genetic engineering forced on their prehistoric ancestors. Breen, played by Anthony Bushell, is portrayed as highly militaristic and authoritarian, Quatermass is only partly affected by the malign influence of the alien craft while Roney has lost all of his susceptibility and is largely unaffected.

As the investigation progresses, three-legged insect-like creatures are found in a sealed compartment of the spacecraft behind a partition engraved with a pentacle and cabalistic signs. These are the Martians that have taken early ape-men to alter by experimental surgery and biological modification to implant Martian characteristics and use them to colonize Earth by proxy. The Hobbs Lane spacecraft is the remains of one of their landings that has gone wrong leaving the Martian insects sealed in their spacecraft and the mutant ape creatures outside. Disturbing the creatures brings on a series of physical events and a powerful influence begins to be exerted over human minds implanted with terrifying memories and visions of Martian life lying latent within the human psyche.

You realise what you're implying? That we owe our human condition to the intervention of... of insects!
- War Office Minister
It's like a gargoyle Roney; haven't you seen it before, carved on walls in a dozen countries? Is it somewhere in the subconscious? A race memory?
- Quatermass

Sladden, the engineer and operator of the drill which is used to open the partition, sets off an episode of violent telekinesis while alone in the spacecraft and is possessed and driven mad by the images flooding into his mind. The pit becomes alive as wooden piling, rocks and debris are hurled at him by an unseen force generated by the spacecraft trying to destroy him. He flees from the pit with the rolling gait of an ape and is followed through the streets, all the while being attacked by the force. He collapses in a churchyard as he tries to seek refuge, and the very ground under him begins to ripple as if to swallow him up.

They were jumping, leaping through the air, in and out, them big places... in and out of them... huge, right up into the sky...
- Sladden

Roney has developed an experimental apparatus, the optic-encephalograph, with which they are able to obtain a visual image from the human mind. From these images can be seen a picture of life on Mars during a purging of the Martian hives where the weak, the mutated and the different are hunted down and killed to cleanse the race of genetic differences and maintain its purity. It is The Wild Hunt. It becomes clear that the human species has been genetically engineered to provide a host for the Martian creatures to flee their dying world. Martian memories and traits have been implanted into the earthly ape men which the very fabric of the spacecraft can influence.

The Wild Hunt... it appears in legends the world over. The phantom ride of devils and witches, that it's supposed to be fatal to see'
- Roney

An accident in the spacecraft during a television broadcast from the pit creates a massive electrical surge through its hull. The spacecraft begins to come alive, pulsating and glowing with a malevolent influence over those nearby. The Wild Hunt has begun and the spacecraft begins to sublimate into a fiery horned demon figure in the shape of the insect creatures. As Hob towers over London it exerts its malevolence and supplies the energy to spread the purge. Those humans who are most effected begin to kill every living creature that does not fit the pattern. As the demonic figure becomes stronger the killing and destruction spreads outward across London.

Animals, they're killing the animals.
- Roney

Roney is one of those least affected and reasons that iron and water are the devil's traditional enemies and can be used to destroy it. Between them, Quatermass and Roney use a chain from the building site to earth out the demonic figure. Roney throws the chain into the Hob figure and in the resulting discharge is killed.

Transmitted live from the BBC's new Riverside Studios at Hammersmith, London, Mars, Bringer of War was not used on this production. Library music composed by Trevor Duncan was used and the opening title Quatermass and the Pit was uncovered as running water washed away soil and clay to reveal the legend. Another innovation used on this production was the recently formed BBC Radiophonic Studio. Using electronic manipulation of sound they produced the eerie noise and pulsating sound effects for the dramatic moments and action scenes.

Kine and Wilkie were again responsible for the special effects, movements of objects, rippling ground under the unfortunate Sladden, the Martian bodies and the metamorphosis of the spacecraft into Hob, much of it being carried out during the live transmission. The pit itself was reproduced on the sound stage at the newly acquired Ealing Studios and was required to appear to become gradually deeper as the story unfolded. This effect was achieved by building upwards and moving relevant scenery like the site hut and ramps higher up the set walls for subsequent scenes. Several tons of clay were shipped in to provide a realistic floor through which the actors could wade.

The first episode received positive press reviews and ratings of 7.6 million viewers. As the serial progressed the audience increased, notching up over 11 million by the final episode and smashing previous BBC figures. The Clissold telephone exchange, the busiest in north London, reported that no calls were received during the final episode while cinemas reported their worst takings on the evenings that the programmes were screened. All episodes had again been captured on 35mm film and were repeated as a compilation of two 90-minute episodes, putting the first three and the last three episodes together, and transmitted on subsequent Saturdays over the Christmas/New-year period.

Quatermass and the Pit
EpisodeFirst shownAudienceRepeated
The HalfmenMonday, 22 December, 19587.6 millionSaturday, 26 December, 1959
The GhostsMonday, 29 December, 19589.1 millionSaturday, 26 December, 1959
Imps and DemonsMonday, 5 January, 19599.8 millionSaturday, 26 December, 1959
The EnchantedMonday, 12 January, 19599.5 millionSaturday, 2 January, 1960
The Wild HuntMonday, 19 January, 19599.5 millionSaturday, 2 January, 1960
HobMonday, 26 January, 195911.0 millionSaturday, 2 January, 1960

Quatermass and the Pit - The Hammer Film

Kneale collaborated again with Producer Val Guest to rewrite the screenplay for filming by Hammer but it took until 1967 for the film to be made and distributed. In this production Scottish actor Andrew Keir took the part of Quatermass from Donlevy and the part of Roney was taken by James Donald. Sladden, the technician, was played by Duncan Lamont, formerly Carroon from TV's The Quatermass Experiment. Probably due to Kneale's influence this adaptation contained only minor differences from the TV script insofar as the alien spacecraft is discovered while extending an underground tube line and has a more curved, amoebic shape. In the final scenes Roney uses a construction site crane, swung into the apparition of Hob to destroy it. The film was released in America under the title Five Million Years to Earth.

Quatermass - The Fourth Television Serial

Kneale was commissioned by the BBC in 1972 to write a fourth serial. This time it was in four, 50 minute parts entitled simply, Quatermass. Filming began but the project was shelved by the BBC in 1973 due to rapidly escalating costs where it remained until 1977 when the BBC's rights to the serial expired and were taken over by Euston films, a subsidiary of ITV. The serial was made by them and shown on ITV from 24 October, 1979 starring (Sir) John Mills as Quatermass. The same footage was also abbreviated into a 105 minute film entitled The Quatermass Conclusion for release on the North American market, which finally made it onto the video market. In addition it was edited into a two part omnibus edition and transmitted again in Britain on 9 and 16 May, 1984.

Set in in the near future, the storyline draws on the dropout and hippy culture of the 1960s, plus the political climate, power cuts and strikes of the 1970s. Old Quatermass comes out of retirement to look for his missing granddaughter Hettie. The world meanwhile has changed for the worse. Soviet and American governments spend billions on useless space projects while fuel and food shortages impact on the general population. Law and order is breaking down and gangs of thugs are taking control of the streets of London and the other major cities. The only semblance of law is applied by corrupt Pay-Cops, a police force of contracted armed mercenaries.

Kneale portrays a growing cult of young people, calling themselves the Planet People, who reject science and knowledge and roam the countryside believing they will soon be transported to another world for a better life. A malign influence is affecting the Planet People, bringing them to converge on old megalithic sites throughout the land in a trance-like state brought on by repetitive chanting and over-breathing. One of the sites is Ringstone Round, about which an old nursery rhyme exists.

Huffity puffity, Ringstone Round,
If you lose your hat it will never be found,
So pull up your britches right up to your chin,
And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
And when you are ready, then we can begin,
Huffity, puffity puff!


In his search for his granddaughter Quatermass travels to London to take part in a television programme celebrating the inauguration of a joint venture by the United States and the USSR to build a space station. Quatermass hijacks the programme to denounce the wastage and makes an appeal to help him find his granddaughter. As he does so the space station is destroyed in full view of the television audience by an unseen force. The force originates from a beam of light that is aimed at congregations of young Planet People at the megalithic sites.

They've always believed that somehow they're going to be taken away to another planet. Another world, somewhere out among the stars.
- Quatermass

He is assisted by another of the guests on the programme, radio astronomer Dr Joseph Kapp, played by Simon MacCorkindale, who takes him back to his home at his observatory near the megalithic site at Ringstone Round. Just after his arrival the Planet People begin to congregate there and again the light beam strikes taking many of them while other reports show that the same thing is happening all around the world. Quatermass suspects that the light beams are from an ancient matrix outside the Earth, programmed to harvest human tissue. He believes that it has happened before in prehistoric times and that survivors have raised the megaliths to mark the places of terror as a warning to future generations.

I think this is the gathering time. The human race is being harvested.
- Quatermass

Older individuals do not seem to be attracted by the force and as the number of occurrences increases Quatermass lays a trap to destroy the force. Electronic signals mimicking a congregation of young Planet People at Ringstone Round are transmitted to attract the light beam. The site is booby trapped with a nuclear device to be detonated as the beam strikes, but it will require a human to trigger the bomb. As the trap is laid Quatermass's granddaughter arrives with a group of Planet People and as the beam strikes, Quatermass and granddaughter trigger the bomb together.

Although it was another original story and the first Quatermass television production to be made in colour, perhaps because television audiences had become more sophisticated the serial didn't register the same horror factor as its predecessors and consequently didn't receive the same critical reception or viewing figures.

EpisodeFirst shownRepeated
Ringstone RoundWednesday, 24 October, 1979Thursday, 9 May, 1984
Lovely LightningWednesday, 1 November, 1979Thursday, 9 May, 1984
What Lies BeneathWednesday, 8 November, 1979Thursday, 16 May, 1984
An Endangered SpeciesWednesday, 14 November, 1979Thursday, 16 May, 1984

The Quatermass Memoirs - BBC Radio Three

Having saved the world three times it was time for Quatermass to retire and write his memoirs. In 1996 Kneale wrote a five-part radio serial for Radio 3 transmitted from 4 March through to 8 March, 1996. This was a quasi-documentary in which he combined a mix of soundtrack clips from the serials with Andrew Keir returning as Quatermass, recounting his life to a female journalist in his hideaway retirement lodge in the highlands of Scotland. This was interspaced by Kneale's commentary outlining the sources of his inspiration and supported by soundtrack clips from BBC and Pathe news. It is an enlightening insight into the thoughts of a master storyteller and how the plots were developed.

The Quatermass Experiment - BBC Channel 4's Television on Trial.

In a season of programmes entitled Television on Trial, the new digital BBC4 television channel looked at the changing face of television through the six decades from 1950 to compare earlier productions with modern techniques. It is no coincidence that they chose The Quatermass Experiment as a suitable drama for reappraisal. The original serial's script was edited to a single one and a half hour production and screened on 2 April, 2005. Although of necessity parts of the story were attenuated it still held largely true to the original, almost certainly because Kneale was used as a consultant and assisted with the rewrite. The end product retained the dramatic effect while keeping a taught and fast moving pace.

Jason Flemying portrayed a rather younger Quatermass, clad in a raincoat inspired by Donlevy's portrayal, Dr Briscoe was played by David Tennant5 and Carroon by Andrew Tiernan. Keeping faith with the original production it was decided to transmit it live, the first time the BBC had done so in over twenty years. Only minor hitches marred the production, which was produced at a disused Ministry of Defence establishment in Surrey. The establishment provided indoor and outdoor facilities while giving a utilitarian governmental look to the sets.

The Books and the DVDs

In 1960, scripts for all of the three television serials were printed by Penguin Books in paperback. In 1979 Kneale adapted the fourth serial, Quatermass, into a novel which was printed first in hardback by Hutchinson and later in paperback by Arrow Books. Arrow then followed up with reprints of the Penguin editions including an updated forward by Kneale. The BBC have also released the first three television serials as a three disc set. Although only the first two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment are present the other two serials are complete. The DVDs also contain special feature interviews with Kneale, Cartier and others involved in the productions.

The 2005 production of The Quatermass Experiment has also been released on DVD and is a worthy substitute for the original. The Quatermass Memoirs were released on audio CD. All three of the Hammer film versions have also been available on DVD and can be tracked down through the usual internet sources.

It would not be difficult to find reason enough to criticise some aspects of the acting and production of the serials. If you look hard enough you will find examples of the 'long meaningful look into the distance', the 'pregnant pause in the dialogue' and cut-glass accents in Queen's English, all of which were the actors' stock in trade of the time. Fault could also be found with the 'science' of the productions, but taken in the context of its time this was still high drama that gripped its audiences with intelligent, quality science fiction. That the first three serials are in monochrome only deepens the dramatic effect instilled by Kneale and Cartier. If any production could be described by that overused word, seminal, this was surely it.

1The Thing appeared in the final episode's credits as Itself.2Later to be forever associated with the television character Dixon of Dock Green.3Later to become well known as Doctor Who's foe, The Master.4Trevor Duncan was a name used by composer Leonard Treblico allowing his music to be used by the BBC.5Tennant learned that he was to be contracted as the new Doctor Who during the rehearsals.

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