When Roy Ward Baker died last year, all the obituaries concentrated on “A Night To Remember” (quite rightly too), his definitive version of the Titanic disaster, vastly superior to James Cameron’s epic, but it didn’t have Leonardo Di Caprio, Kate Winslet or Celine Dion. However the wrong was put right this year when five British films were chosen to be shown in five weeks in new digital prints on the big screen (Passport To Pimlico, The Plague Of The Zombies, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Hobson’s Choice and Quatermass & The Pit).
When we get round to choosing our definitive TV programmes on Dirk, one name will loom large for me, Nigel Kneale, The most important screen writer of his or any generation. Next year will be 50 years since “The Quatermass Experiment” stopped London traffic and redefined what could be achieved with good writing on a limited budget followed by the even more impressive “Quatermass II” (the first time a number had ever been used on a sequel name) and then, the genius that is “Quatermass & The Pit”. In the midst of these he adapted a definitive version of “1984”, a brilliant play called “The Creature” (later refilmed at Hammer under the title “The Abominable Snowman”) and this was followed in the 60s with the fantastic “The Year Of The Sex Olympics” which envisioned a time when we would be watching what people were doing in a house on television, sound familiar Big Brother?. “The Stone Tape”, “Beasts” and “Quatermass” were highlights of the 70s and in the 80s he made the rarely seen TV adaptation of “The Woman In Black”, all would loom high in my list of the greatest TV works of all.
A small company named Hammer bought up the screen rights to “The Quatermass Experiment” (retitled “The Quatermass Xperiment” to cash in on the new X certificate) and it made a lot of money for them. “Quatermass II” quickly followed, leading them directly into the Horror genre which they became famous for, however, Kneale was not happy with what they had done to his work and wanted to wait until it was right for him to adapt “& The Pit” himself for Hammer, ten years passed.
An American, Brian Donlevy, had played Bernard Quatermass, the head of British Rocket Group, in the first two films. Hammer had needed an American star, but he was a faded star and had a problem with drink plus he didn’t even know the Quatermass from Television.
Andre Morrell had been brilliant as Quatermass on BBC-TV and Andrew Keir stepped into his shoes for the big screen. There is an extension of the London Underground, a skeleton, some skulls and a sort of craft are found, the digging stops. Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) takes charge of the situation and makes an announcement that it is a German weapon from the war, but how did it get down so far and how did those skulls around it remain intact? Quatermass aided by the lovely Barbara Shelley has another theory. When a compartment is found in the craft, it opens to reveal “insects” that start to decay fast, it appears that the craft and it’s contents could be millions of years old. With a professor they reveal, they believe this to be a Martian spacecraft that visited earth millions of years ago to experiment on humans and develop them, so as such “the human condition” is due to intervention of “insects”. After the whole craft it exposed, it seems that it is a living substance and seems to come alive…..
This is probably the most important piece of Science Fiction that was ever broadcast on BBC-TV , it led directly to “A For Andromeda” and “Doctor Who”. As a film , it broke the Horror / Science Fiction crossover genre (something that has started with “The Thing From Another World”) and was Hammer’s most important product of the 60s.
I have seen it once before on the big screen, at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, when they used to have a wonderful “Darkness Over Britain” weekend every Halloween, in the presence of Nigel Kneale himself, I never got the chance to meet him again, but my armiration for him can sill be seen on the BBC Website obituary for him.
- ‘Quatermass and the Pit’: The original, classic TV series by Nigel Kneale (dangerousminds.net)
- The impact of the V-2 rocket (alastairsavage.wordpress.com)
- Hammer YouTube Channel (attheflix.com)