Tuesday, July 18, 2023, marks the 70th anniversary of the first broadcast of the first episode of the first BBC "Quatermass" play, all of which were written by British screenwriter Nigel Kneale.
This was "The Quatermass Experiment", to be followed by "Quatermass II", and "Quatermass and the Pit". "The Quatermass Experiment" was unexpectedly a huge media event. It virtually emptied the streets of London as people were all home watching the play. "The Quatermass Experiment" was the United Kingdom's first science fiction serial, and Quatermass was the first British television hero. (Alas, only a single chapter remains, since no one at the time bothered to film or save live broadcasts.) As two more plays were made each was more successful than its predecessor was, until churches started rescheduling services so that congregations and clergy would not miss the plays.
Each play was adapted into a film by Hammer Films of Britain, a studio that incidentally built their great success on horror and science fiction after having success in the field with the first two "Quatermass" films. The third film was not made until the late 1960s. The titles of the films were the same as the BBC plays but "Experiment" was intentionally misspelled "Xperiment" to emphasize the "X"-certificate in Britain (more the equivalent of the US "R", rather than the US "X"). These films each got a modest release in the United States with the terrible respective names THE CREEPING UNKNOWN, ENEMY FROM SPACE, and FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. In 1980 a final Quatermass story was made for television, called simply "Quatermass". It was never re-adapted into a film, but a feature film (THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION) was made by editing down the television movie. In 2005 the BBC again produced a television version of "The Quatermass Experiment", doing it as a live play, the first in several years. The original "Quatermass" plays were the inspiration for the "Doctor Who" series. Kneale was asked to write for "Doctor Who", but he did not like the series, thinking it was too scary for a children's series.
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2023 Mark R. Leeper