Carolyn Seymour in The Prodigal Daughter (1975)

Carolyn Seymour - The Prodigal Daughter

IN 1975, THE year that the first series of Survivors was shown on the BBC, Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant) appeared alongside Alastair Simm and Jeremy Brett in the powerful one-hour drama The Prodigal Daughter.

Produced by Anglia Television and screened on the ITV network, The Prodigal Daughter sees Seymour take on the role of a troubled young woman named Christine Smith who becomes a housekeeper for some very traditional priests living in a presbytery. Christine’s presence turns out to be the catalyst for somes unexpected disruption for Father Perfect (Sim) and someeven more challenging self-doubt by Father Michael Daley (Brett) in relation to his faith that had shaped his life.

The Prodigal Daughter is an engrossing 50-minute character study, framed and shot in the classic 1970s’ studio-set style, lit up by a universally strong performances by a superb cast. Director Alastair Reid and producer John Jacobs both do fantastic work with a thoughtful and confident script by David Turner.

As the fragile but assertive Christine, Seymour is predictably brilliant. While the character is written as someone younger than Abby Grant, Seymour is equally as convincing as the unstable and anxious Christine as she is as the determined and resolute Abby. The backgrounds and life opportunities of the two characters (at least up until the point of The Death) could hardly be in starker contrast, but Seymour makes them both believable, rounded human beings.

The Prodigal Daughter has not yet secured an independent sell-through release, but it is included in the Network Special Edition DVD release of the wartime espionage drama Cottage to Let (starring Alastair Sim).

While you wait for the DVD copy you order from Network to arrive, a basic off-air recording in available on YouTube (which repeats the first section at the end of the recording).

An elderly priest recruits a young woman as housekeeper in the presbytery he shares with two young priests, but temptation and jealousy soon sew discord and doubt in some minds.

The Mad Death – interview and review in Starburst

Richard Heffer - The Mad Death - Starburst #449

RICHARD HEFFER (JIMMY Garland, Survivors) is interviewed in the current print edition of Starburst magazine, discussing his leading role in the three-part 1983 rabies mini-series The Mad Death.

Coinciding with the release of The Mad Death on DVD for the first time, Heffer recalls the making of the series, the topicality of its dramatic themes, the chilling and memorable opening titles, and his evident delight in taking on the role of no-nonsense government vet Michael Hilliard.

The DVD release is also reviewed in the online edition of Starburst magazine. The review concludes that the series:

remains gripping, thought-provoking, unsettling and disturbing; an overdue release from the TV archives from an era when the BBC made more shows that deserved those kinds of adjectives.

Rich Cross. 2018. ‘Interview – Richard Heffer: The Mad Death’. Starburst, No 449, p.92.

Rich Cross. 2018. ‘Review: The Mad Death (1983)’. Starburst, 3 May. https://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/mad-death-1983.

UPDATE 16 JUNE 2018: My review of The Mad Death appears in the print edition of Starburst magazine No 450.

Rich Cross. 2018. ‘Review: The Mad Death (1983)’. Starburst. No 450, p.85.

The Mad Death - DVD review - Starburst No 450

Simply Media to release The Mad Death rabies drama

The Mad Death - DVD cover

THE THREE-PART 1983 BBC rabies drama The Mad Death, starring Survivors‘ Richard Heffer (Jimmy Garland) will be released for the first time ever on DVD on 7 May 2018, courtesy of Simply Media.

The drama, which also features Barbara Kellerman (1990) and Ed Bishop (UFO), focuses on the efforts of Chief Veterinary Officer Michael Hilliard (Heffer) to contain an outbreak of rabies in rural Scotland, triggered when a tourist smuggles their infected pet back into the country.

As is standard practice with Simply Media genre DVDs, The Mad Death will be a vanilla release, without any special features or supporting material. Full details can be found in the Simply Media catalogue listing for the release.

The Mad Death

The BBC’s nightmarish vision of Britain under attack by a rabies outbreak. Starring Richard Heffer, Barbara Kellerman and Ed Bishop.

Directed by BAFTA-nominee Robert Young, The Mad Death is a disturbing and chilling three-part thriller that examined in terrifying detail the potential consequences of a rabies outbreak in Britain. Shown in 1983 at the height of Britain’s paranoia about the potential outbreak of the disease.

When a tourist from France cannot bear to leave her cat at home while she travels on holiday, she smuggles it in to Scotland for her trip. But what she doesn’t know is her pet is infected with a deadly disease, which goes unnoticed as it infects the animal population. The Mad Death has already spread far when it is finally noticed when it claims its first human victim.

This sparks off a deadly rabies outbreak, which threatens to attack the entire nation. Michael Hillard (Richard Heffer) and Ann Maitland (Barbara Kellerman) join forces to fight the dreadful disease, with one trying to contain the outbreak, and the other trying to trace the virus back to its source to save others from an agonising death.

What the press Said: “a dark and sometimes shocking plot which is driven by some powerful performances. The emotional impact of certain scenes is enough to ensure you won’t forget the serial any time soon.” – Curious British Telly

Format: DVD
Release Date: 7th May 2018
Run Time: 3 hours
Discs: 1
Language: English (with English Subtitles)

Dystopian BBC drama 1990 secures DVD release

1990 - Series 1 - DVD cover

SERIES ONE OF the critically acclaimed 1970s’ BBC drama 1990 has just been released on DVD by Simply Media. This is the first time that the programme, which stars Edward Woodward and Barbara Kellerman, has been released for sale in any format.

A dystopian, rather than a post-apocalyptic drama, 1990 was part of the same wave of darker TV dramas that began to emerge in the late 1970s of which Survivors was a key part. These shows, and others, such as The Guardians (1971), The Changes (1975), Noah’s Castle (1980) and The Knights of God (1987), imagined how society might be overturned by disasters or calamities of different sorts, and how humanity might respond to the loss of civilisation.

Clearly taking inspiration from George Orwell’s seminal treatise on authoritarianism 1984, 1990 depicts life in a then-future Britain that has isolated itself from the world and slid into tyranny. In a country in which freedom of speech has been outlawed and surveillance of citizens’ lives has become all powerful, small groups of rebels and dissidents attempt to outwit the authorities and subvert the system; even if that means finding ways to escape the country’s closed borders in the hope of finding a freer life.

The central protagonist in 1990 is Jim Kyle (Woodward), a journalist who attempts to rebuff the attentions of the spies and snoopers of the Public Control Department whilst secretly working for the underground resistance movement. The pressures and contradictions of Kyle’s life are made more intense by his entanglement with the beguiling senior PCD official Delly Lomas (Kellerman). Can Kyle continue to resist the PCD, aid the fightback, and still retain his secure and relatively-privileged position in the new Britain? Series one sets off to find out…

My review of the DVD release of series one and series two of 1990 both appear in the online edition of Starburst magazine.

It is excellent news that, by the time series one was released, Simply Media had already committed to releasing the second (and final) series of 1990 on DVD on 1 May 2017.

1990 - Edward Woodward, Barbara Kellerman, series one, Simply Media

1990 – series one

Britain, 1990. Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) stars as Jim Kyle, renegade leader of a resistance movement, in the BBC’s cult dystopian drama set in a totalitarian Britain.

The country is run by the bureaucrats of the Home Office’s all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). Hundreds of thousands of civil servants work hard at monitoring and exposing all possible and imaginary threats to the country.

They routinely command sophisticated surveillance of anyone suspected of opposing the status quo; ruthless suppression of independent thought in Special State brainwashing units cunningly disguised as caring rest-homes; and strict rationing of food, alcohol, and travel.

Free speech is forbidden. The rule of law no longer protects the vulnerable. Civil liberties are consigned to history as the Orwellian bureaucrats tyrannically impose their intimidating control.

Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), journalist for The Star, resists the forces of the Establishment. He’s smart, witty and charming. But is subversive acts aren’t going unnoticed, and he risks prison or death at the hands of the PCD’s ruthless controller Herbert Skardon, (Robert Lang), and his provocatively alluring deputy, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman).

Series One and Series Two were first broadcast on BBC 2 in 1977 and 1978 to critical acclaim. The series was never released on video or DVD until now.

1990 - Series 2 - DVD cover

By way of a personal aside…

Back in the early 2000s, when I was working with Andy Priestner on the special features accompanying the release of all three series of Survivors on DVD by DD Video/DDHE (the forerunners of Simply Media), I pitched to the company the idea of licensing 1990 for DVD release, and outlined the special features that I would like to have compiled as part of the DVD package. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the project did not proceed at that time, and this Simply Media release is ‘vanilla’ in format, and uses an untreated archival tape source. Despite this, this release comes very highly recommended to all enthusiasts of intelligent, high quality BBC genre TV drama from that classic period.

A screen capture of the pitch to DDHE for a 1990 release
My original pitch to DDHE, for a 1990 DVD release, from more than a decade ago…

Doomwatch DVD cover published

The cover design of the forthcoming Doomwatch DVD box-set has been published by Simply Media. The title is not yet listed on the Simply Media site, but is available for pre-order on Amazon and other online retailer sites. The Doomwatch DVD boxset (containing all of the remaining episodes from all three series and the 2006 BBC documentary The Cult of… Doomwatch) is released on 4 April 2016.

Doomwatch - DVD - boxset - cover

Doomwatch secures DVD release in April 2016

Celebrated edge-of-the-apocalypse drama (and Survivors pregenitor) Doomwatch will secure its first full DVD release in April 2016, when a boxset of all remaining episodes is released by Simply Media.

Doomwatch was produced by Survivors producer Terry Dudley, and several of its scriptwriters (Don Shaw, Roger Parkes and Martin Worth), and directors (including Eric Hills and Pennant Roberts) would go on to work on Survivors. Numerous Survivors cast members (including Stephen Dudley, Talfryn Thomas, Julie Neubert, Eileen Helsby, Lorna Lewis, Robert Gillespie and many others) appeared on-screen in Doomwatch.

With many Doomwatch episodes long-since lost from the archives, the Simply Media boxset will include all twenty-four of the surviving stories (across all three series of the show), including the infamous and never-transmitted Sex and Violence. Released on 4 April 2016, the new boxset will also include the 2006 BBC Four documentary The Cult of… Doomwatch. Says Simply Media:

Doomwatch was devised by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, who had previously worked together on the science-fiction programme Doctor Who, and who were responsible for creating the part-human, part-machine race known as the Cybermen. The Department of Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work – nicknamed ‘Doomwatch’ – is a section of the Ministry of National Security whose remit is to act as a watchdog group investigating current scientific work, and ensuring that the welfare of the general public and the environmental is not compromised. It is led by Doctor Spencer Quist, a gruff and no-nonsense Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who is assisted by Doctor John Ridge, a chemist in his late thirties who is not only a ladies’ man, but who also has a shady past and connections to MI6 and Toby Wren, a physics postgraduate from Cambridge played by Robert Powell.

 

 

The release is discussed on Archive TV Musings; while Wiped News provides a detailed guide to the lost episodes.

Simply Media is not yet (23 December) listing the title in its forthcoming catalogue, but the Doomwatch DVD set is available for pre-order on Amazon in the UK.

Survivors series three DVD studio day – ten years ago today

It is exactly ten years ago to-the-day (4 August 2015) that Tristan de Vere Cole, Peter Jefferies, Lucy Fleming, Morris Perry and Stephen Dudley were reunited at a studio in central London to record the ‘special features’ for the Survivors series three DVD release.

De Vere Cole and Perry recorded a memorable episode commentary for the classic Mad Dog, while Fleming and Jefferies watched and discussed Law of the Jungle. All five attendees recorded interviews for the series three ‘making of’ documentary New World Rising; while Stephen Dudley provided an extra interview reflecting on his work on series one (which was included as an ‘Easter Egg’ on the DVD release).

To mark the decennial anniversary of this event, we’re publishing a set of never-before-seen behind-the-scenes photos from the day.

A gallery of previously-published photos from the day is available on the main Survivors: A World Away site.

Survivors directors Tristan de Vere Cole and Peter Jefferies at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005
Survivors directors Tristan de Vere Cole and Peter Jefferies at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005

Survivors director Tristan de Vere Cole and Morris Perry at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005
Survivors director Tristan de Vere Cole and Morris Perry at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005

The participants break for lunch at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005
Participants break for lunch at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005

Raising a toast at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005
Raising a toast at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005

Director Tristan de Vere Cole on set at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005
Director Tristan de Vere Cole on set at the Survivors series three DVD studio day, August 4 2005

New DVD and BluRay release for Ian McCulloch’s Contamination

Released on 6 July 2015, Arrow Film‘s new combined DVD and BluRay release of 1980s Italian splatter favourite Contamination (one of three Italian horror movies Ian McCulloch starred in after appearing in Survivors) offers a new print and a range of exclusive special features.

Amongst those new features are a Q&A session with McCulloch and director Luigi Cozzi filmed at the 2014 Abertoir horror film festival.

Starring Italian horror veteran Ian McCulloch (Zombie Flesh Eaters), Contamination from director Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash, Hercules) is one of the brightest stars in the firmament of early 1980s Italian splatter.

A cargo ship drifts up the Hudson River. Its crew: all dead, their bodies horribly mutilated, turned inside out by an unknown force. Its freight: boxes upon boxes of glowing, pulsating green eggs. It soon becomes clear that these eggs are not of this planet, and someone intends to cultivate them here on Earth. But who? And to what end?

Contamination takes the premise of Ridley Scott’s classic Alien and peppers it with exploding guts galore and dangerously infectious soundtrack from celebrated Italian prog-rockers Goblin (Deep Red, Suspiria).

Network release ‘Memoirs of a Survivor’ on DVD

On 23 June 2014, Network released on DVD a brand new transfer of the 1981 post-apocalyptic film Memoirs of a Survivor. The movie directed by David Gladwell, and starring Julie Christie and Nigel Hawthorne, is an adaptation of a dystopian novel The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing first published in 1974.

Network - Memoirs of a Survivor

Julie Christie stars in an award-winning adaptation of Doris Lessing’s famous dystopian novel. This complex, haunting science-fiction feature – screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 1981 – is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.

Set in Britain at an unspecified point in the near-future, Memoirs of a Survivor tells the story of ‘D’, a housewife trying to carry on after a cataclysmic war that has left society in a state of collapse. Rubbish is piled high in the streets among near-derelict buildings covered with graffiti; the electricity supply is variable, and water is now collected from a van. ‘D’ spends her time examining her relations with authority, with the marauding gangs of brutalised children who roam the streets, and with Emily, the traumatised, orphaned teenager who is delivered into her care.

BFI to release ‘The Changes’ on DVD in August 2014

The British Film Institute (BFI) has announced plans for the first-ever DVD release of the 1975 post-apocalyptic BBC TV children’s serial The Changes.

The Changes is set in then-present-day Britain where people suddenly turn against all technology, plunging the country back to a pre-industrial age of suspicion and superstition. The ten-part series follows schoolgirl Nicky Gore who flees the upheaval and danger of the city and sets out on a journey which develops into a quest to discover the cause of the calamity which has befallen the world.

Adapted from the Peter Dickinson trilogy, The Weathermonger (1968), Heartsease (1969) and The Devil’s Children (1970), producer Anna Home shot much of The Changes on location and on film in and around the Bristol area.

The Changes was first screened on BBC 1 between January and March 1975 – completing its run just a few weeks before the first episode of Survivors was transmitted.

The Changes - DVD cover - BFI release - August 2014

Thanks to Adrian H for alerting the blog to this news