Authors: Nigel Kneale
BY THE CREATOR OF QUATERMASS
Three of Nigel Kneale’s science-fantasy plays for television are here published for the first time. Author of the pioneering “Quatermass” serials, Mr. Kneale shows here the same mastery of suspense and unrivalled ability at employing science fiction and supernatural themes in TV drama.
“The Road” is set in 1770 and concerns the conflict between an early scientific investigator and a philosopher as they come face to face with terrifying supernatural phenomena in a haunted wood.
“The Stone Tape”, surely one of the finest of 20th century ghost stories, also concerns the scientific investigation of a haunting, this time by a modern electronics research team at their newly acquired headquarters, an ugly Victorian mansion built on even older foundations . . .
The title play, in sharp contrast, is concerned entirely with the future and, in particular, that of television. Mr. Kneale envisages a “cosy and comfy” highly automated society when the problems of war and over-population have been successfully overcome by “Apathy Control”. “Low-drive” people (the bulk of the world’s population) spend their waking hours watching TV and such shows as Sportsex and the Hungry-Angry Show, produced by the “high-drive” personnel of “Output”. With relentless build-up of suspense, “The Year of the Sex Olympics” describes the discovery of a new breakthrough towards better apathy control. A controversial play when first shown in 1969, its underlying thesis—the addictive power of TV—is still being hotly debated and it remains a most vital contribution to the literature of modern communications.
3 SCIENCE-FANTASY TV PLAYS - - - -
“Stimulating playmaking and the best drama television has offered for many months”
“As obsessive, well-argued and worrying as all the best science-fiction aims to be”
THE STONE TAPE
“This supernatural thriller by Nigel Kneale is one of the best plays of the genre that he has written. Its virtues aren’t just the main spine of the story but the way the characters shift as in real life, the bitter, comic conflict between pure and impure science”
THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS
“A brilliant BBC-TV play by Nigel Kneale, ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ carries the concept of addictive TV-viewing to its ultimate—and horrifying—conclusion”
“A riveting, brilliant play. Nigel Kneale, who wrote it, deserves placing alongside Orwell as a prophet”
“Probably the most profound statement yet made on the box itself about the ultimate impact of television upon our society”
—Milton Shulman, Daily Express
“A highly original play written with great force and making as many valid points about the dangers of the future as any science-fiction work I can remember—including ‘1984’ ”
“The most extravagantly good thing. Really
thing. Really. Am I making myself clear? Possibly not. ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ was, in its own vocabulary, jumbo-size, super-king”
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
TOMATO CAIN and other stories
THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT
(Penguin Books, 1959)
(Penguin Books, 1960)
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
(Penguin Books, 1960)
Copyright © 1976 by Nigel Kneale
FERRET FANTASY LTD.,
27 Beechcroft Road,
London SW17 7BX.
Tel: 01-767 0029.
Printed in Great Britain
I find it hard to think of these three television plays as science fiction. My primary interest was in the characters, in developing them as real people. In each case they were faced with some extraordinary situation, of course, but they had first to be brought alive and rendered actable.
“The Road” is a ghost story set in the 18th century and I have tried to place its characters firmly there, in the Age of Reason. One of them is a sub-Johnsonian iconoclast of the London coffee houses, complacent in his vision of a perfectible future. His despised rival is a country squire, an amateur of natural philosophy, whose meek but insatiable curiosity makes him the prototype of the socially irresponsible scientist. Neither man is quite so simplified as that, of course. Each is full of confusions and contradictions. The idealist is also a sensual bigot; the would-be scientist has yet to cast off superstition. But between them these two possess the strands of thinking that will lead to some of the horrors of our own time.
“The Stone Tape” was written as a ghost story for Christmas. If a major electronics company takes over a Victorian mansion as a research centre and finds it indubitably haunted—well, who would be better equipped to crack the phenomenon? At first it is almost a game, a welcome distraction that appeals strongly to the schoolboyish side of the research team. But very soon the joke turns sour.
“The Year of the Sex Olympics” I wrote in 1968, when both technological development and expansion of birthrate were seen to be accelerating almost vertically upwards. As in former ages the classic signs of a disintegrating civilization were starting to show: the excessive obsession with sex, the rat-maze hysteria, the blind fear of the future and numb wish to exchange it for a bleak but at least comprehensible Dark Age.
So—an extrapolation: the New Dark Age brought on deliberately, with the most humane intentions. A world society fed, warmed and protected from its own impulses like so many battery fowls, kept to manageable numbers not by disaster or extermination but by gentle discouragement—by flooding it with powerful vicarious experience, particularly the sexual. The means to do it would be television itself, vastly developed, a non-stop drench of pseudo-experience, irresistible to the senses and quite overpowering. Numbing rather than rousing. Television and pornography in ultimate combination.
It would be a re-stratified world, sorted into the apathetically spoonfed billions who are stunned into the contentment of merely watching—and the tiny live minority who put the show on. It is only this latter group that might still throw up exceptions, odd ones who wish to opt out. And once in a while they might be allowed to do so—at the price of becoming part of the show.
NIGEL KNEALE, January 1976
CAST OF CHARACTERS
SIR TIMOTHY HASSAL
... James Maxwell
... Ann Bell
... John Phillips
... Clifton Jones
... Rodney Bewes
... Meg Ritchie
... Victor Platt
... David King
... John Elliot
... Christopher Morahan
Produced on BBC Television, September 29, 1963
THE WOODS – A CLEARING
It is approaching dusk of an autumn day. Leaves are turning brown on the crooked oak branches. A distant owl hoots. The camera tracks slowly forward.
The owl hoots again, closer.
The camera pans suddenly, to a close shot of a frightened man. He is a young countryman in coarse woollen shirt and leather jerkin. His eyes search the darkening trees. His hands are working feverishly to bind two twigs together with strands of grass, into the rough shape of a cross.
A dog barks somewhere nearby. He turns to look in that direction, grateful for the familiar sound.
THE WOODS – SOME HUNDREDS OF FEET AWAY
The dog barks again, close at hand.
Here a group of men are at work. Four of them are knotting stout ropes taut between the tree trunks to form a line that leads away out of sight, a couple of feet from the ground.
All are countrymen, roughly dressed.
And now another comes, his whiskered face topped by a tricorne hat. He is wearing a cast-off coat of the squire’s, for Lukey Chase is one of the squire’s servants and in charge of the work here.
He is followed by a lad with a sack, from which Lukey is selecting metallic oddments to hang on the ropes—old bells, jangling bits of harness and chain, scrap from a rural forge. Lukey tests the effect as he approaches, tugging at the rope.
The ironware clatters and jangles behind him all along the line. As he reaches the men working on the ropes, one of them turns to him—a huge fellow with a broad, beaming, gap-toothed face.
: Hey, Lukey—you’re gettin’ a bit of a tune in it now!
Grunts of laughter from the rest. Lukey dissociates himself from the scheme.
: I be just doin’ what squire showed us.
: Sort o’ tune as spooks’d take to, I’d say. He reckon to charm ’em out, hey?
: You heard what he said, Jeff.
(To the lad)
What you got left there?
He delves in the sack and finds a rusty cowbell.
: I only heard ’un say he were after spooks.
The mock-solemn faces of the others nod agreement.
: Squire reckons to stop anybody comin’ through here in the dark without us know.
He attaches the bell to the rope.
: Ah, spooks’ll just pass clean through a rope. Don’t he know that? Pass through anythin’, a spook can. Don’t even tickle him.
: ’Taint spooks he’s settin’ this up for, Jeff, it’s jokers. We got plenty o’ them hereabouts.
(shaking with laughter)
: Oh, ah?
: Any tricky lad come boltin’ through ’ere tonight—he’ll set this lot off an’ we’ll have him. Now it’s time to finish. Just take it as far as that thorn thicket and we’ll go.
(As they move)
Hey, where’s young Sam?
: There, look. Just went off by his self.
: Young devil . . .
: Beckon he’s frikkened?
: Frikkened o’ squire, more like, for makin’ it all up.