New study of performance and production in Survivors

A NEW BOOK which examines the way in which actors perform in television drama, and the way in which their performance is captured by the camera, uses Survivors as one of its illuminating case studies.

In The Changing Spaces of Television Acting: From studio realism to location realism in BBC television drama, author and researcher Richard Hewett scrutines the craft of actors and performers working on The Quatermass Experiment, Doctor Who and Survivors.

He looks at the interplay between custom and practice, acting theory, evolving technology and other factors in shaping how performance for television is realised. Hewett pays particular attention to the distinction between studio and ‘on location’ production, exploring the influence that ‘place’ exerts on the way that a story is translated from page to screen.

Hewett’s book builds on the research that he undertook for the doctoral thesis, and an academic journal article that he published as one of the outputs of his research findings. Yet it’s clear that the aim of the book is to reach a non-academic as well as an academic audience.

For those interested in the history of British television production, there’s a great deal in Hewett’s book to capture the attention.

Enthusiasts with a particular interest in Survivors will be able to enjoy some fascinating and original reflections on the making of the show, informed by new interviews with cast members (including Lucy Fleming and Denis Lill and Roger Lloyd-Pack), and illustrated with numerous screencaptures from different episodes of the show.

In a Q&A with publishers Manchester University Press, Hewett explains that he enjoyed “every aspect of writing the book, from re-viewing the case studies to poring over archive documents.” He suggests that conducting interviews was the most satisfying part. “It was fascinating to have my theories challenged by the practitioners who originally worked on my case studies,” he says – people who were on set at the time and who were able to offer “their own unique perspectives.”

This book provides a historical overview and then-and-now comparison of performing for British television drama. By examining changing acting styles from distinct eras of television production – studio realism and location realism – it makes a unique contribution to both television and performance studies, unpacking the various determinants that have combined to influence how performers work in the medium. The book compares the original versions of The Quatermass Experiment (BBC, 1953), Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89) and Survivors (BBC, 1975-77) with their respective modern-day re-makes, unpacking the effects of the shift from multi-camera studio to single-camera location production. Textual analysis is combined with extensive archival research into production process and reception, alongside interviews with numerous actors and production personnel from more than sixty years of television production.

Richard Hewett. 2020. The Changing Spaces of Television Acting: From studio realism to location realism in BBC television drama. Manchester: Manchester University Press, ISBN 9781526148636.

Original series discussed in Guardian article on Survivors remake

“I COULDN’T WATCH that first season again. It’s too harrowing,” says Adrian Hodges of the remake of Survivors shown on BBC One in 2008. “It’s so close to what we’re going through now.”

In an interview in the Guardian, with genre journalist Steve O’Brien, Hodges looks back at the reception and impact of his remake of Terry Nation’s classic 1970s’ original tale of post-apocalyptic survival.

Illustrated with one of the familiar publicity shots of the original three series’ leads from third episode Gone Away, a short section of the article compares the revival with the original.

In doing so, O’Brien only commits three of the regular journalistic faux pas documented in How to annoy a Survivors fan.

When it’s suggested that, in depicting the impact of a global pandemic on screen more than ten years in advance of its real-world arrival, Hodges should be seen as a “prophet”, he disagrees. “I don’t think I am,” Hodges tells O’Brien. “It’s Terry Nation who should be called that.” 

Steve O’Brien. 2020. “‘I couldn’t watch it now’: Survivors was the pandemic drama years ahead of its time”, Guardian, 26 May. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/may/26/i-couldnt-watch-it-now-survivors-was-the-pandemic-drama-years-ahead-of-its-time

Denis Lill guest stars in Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators

Denis Lill features as Eddie Dogberry in "No More Cakes and Ale" episode 2/5 of Shakespeare and Hathaway

DENIS LILL PUTS in a winning guest appearance in the second series of Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators currently showing on BBC One and available in the UK on the iPlayer.

The show is described as a “comedy drama about an oddball couple of private detectives who investigate crime in Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Lill appears in the fifth episode of series two “No More Cakes and Ale” as seventy-something farmer and plaintiff Eddie Dogberry. The Radio Times describes Lill’s appearance as follows:

Who is Eddie Dogberry? Late one night at Touchstone Farm, farmer Eddie was violent assaulted when he accosted three thieves attempting to steal his quad bike. Now the date for his court case has arrived, and he wants justice.

What else has Denis Lill been in? The actor is known for his role as Alan Parry in Only Fools and Horses. More recently, he starred as Mr Rose in TV series The Royal.

The episode will be available for streaming (in the UK) from the BBC’s iPlayer service until February 2020.

Britain by Bike with Larry & George Lamb visits Monsal Dale

TV CAMERAS WERE back in Monsal Dale again recently, this time to record part of a two-wheel tour of the Peak District by Larry and George Lamb.

Episode three of the second series of Britain by Bike with Larry & George Lamb (first shown on Channel 5 in the UK on 31 August 2018) showed the father and son cycling along the Monsal Trail out of Bakewell, through the Headstock Tunnel and out across the Monsal viaduct.

In 1977, the Monsal valley was one of the principal filming locations for the third series Survivors episode Mad Dog.

‘The Peak District’ episode of Britain by Bike is available to stream from the My5 web site (until 15 July 2019).

Britain by bike with Larry and George Lamb - Monsal Dale - Headstock Tunnel

Britain by bike with Larry and George Lamb - Monsal Dale - inside the Headstock tunnel

Britain by bike with Larry and George Lamb - Monsal Dale - top of the viaduct

Britain by bike with Larry and George Lamb - Monsal Dale - view of the viaduct

Britain by bike with Larry and George Lamb - Monsal Dale - the rocky outcrop

‘Gone Fishing…’ in the Monsal Mad Dog valley

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - title plate

THE MONSAL VALLEY filming locations used in the classic third series Survivors story Mad Dog featured in an episode of Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing shown on BBC Two earlier this month.

The BBC’s cameras (at both ground and drone level) took in shots of the valley floor, the valley’s bridges, the viaduct, the weir and (of course, given the subject matter) the river Wye as it meanders its way through the valley.

The series shows the efforts of comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse to fish in a variety of locations (with Whitehouse as the expert and Mortimer as his apprentice). With both of them having to adjust their lives after recovering from major heart surgery, the pair spend as much time joking, teasing one another and reflecting on their lot as they do attempting to catch-and-release fish.

Episode three “Rainbow Trout – Derbyshire Wye” was first shown on BBC Two at 22:00 on 4 July 2018, and will be available on the BBC’s iPlayer (for viewers in the UK) for thirty days following transmission.

A fully-illustrated guide to all of the Monsal Valley filming locations used in Survivors can be found on the Survivors: Mad Dog site.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the bridge close to Netherdale Farm

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Monsal valley

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Monsal valley floor, looking towards the viadcut

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the bridge near Upperdale House

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - Bob Mortimer shares the Wye with a farmer's cow

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Weir in the Monsal valley

Twenty years today since Survivors was last shown on British TV

Terry Nation's Survivors - on satellite and cable TV in the 1990s

TODAY MARKS THE twentieth anniversary of Survivors‘ last appearance on British TV.

Beginning in 1993, the entire three-series run of Survivors enjoyed several repeat showings on the satellite-cable channel UK Gold. As the BBC never ran repeats of Survivors, this was the first time that the programme had been seen on British television since Survivors‘ original transmission on BBC 1 between 1975 and 1977.

The final transmission on UK Gold concluded, with the broadcast of series three finale “Power”,  shortly after midnight on Monday 27 April 1998. This concluding episode was preceded by an episode of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image and followed by an instalment of crime drama The Equalizer.

The first series of Survivors was released on VHS cassette by BBC Video the same year that the UK Gold transmissions began, and again by Sovereign Video in 1998, before series one secured its first DVD release (and its third VHS release) courtesy of DD Video in 2003.

TV and Satellite Week - 26 April 1997

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…

Twenty years since the death of Survivors’ creator Terry Nation

Terry Nation

Today (9 March) is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Survivors‘ creator Terry Nation, who died from emphysema in Los Angeles, US on 9 March 1997 at the age of 66.

Nation enjoyed a long and varied career as a scriptwriter and show creator, notable for his contributions to Doctor Who and his work on numerous other TV series throughout the sixties and seventies and into the eighties. As well as creating Blake’s 7, Nation also devised the small-screen post-apocalyptic classic Survivors.

After he relocated to Los Angeles in 1980, Nation tried unsuccessfully to convince a US TV network to remake Survivors for the American TV market. Nation could hardly have imagined what would have become of Doctor Who in the last two decades, but the story of Survivors has also continued to evolve in ways the series’ creator could not possibly have anticipated, including:

  • The release of Survivors on DVD in different formats and packages, and for different regions, in the UK, America, Australia and Italy
  • The arrival of the first commercially published book to explore the genesis and production of the series.
  • The broadcast of a two-series, twelve-episode ‘re-imagining of Survivors by the BBC between 2008 and 2010
  • The re-publication in 2008 of his out-of-print 1976 Survivors novel
  • The release of the first ever audio-book version of his Survivors novel by Big Finish in 2014, voiced by Survivors actress Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant)
  • The release of a series of new and original audio-adventures, set in the time and place of the original Survivors TV series, and involving the three original core stars of the show: Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards) and Ian McCulloch (Greg Preston). This audio series will result in, at a minimum, 36 new original episodes, with releases (which began in 2013) now confirmed to continue until at least the end of 2018
  • The publication of two book exploring Nation’s talents as a scriptwriter (including his work on Survivors) – Jonathan Bignell and Andrew O’Day. 2004. Terry Nation, Manchester: Manchester University Press; and Alwyn W Turner, 2001 Terry Nation: The Man Who Invented the Daleks, London: Aurum

 

Lucy Fleming appears in Eastenders and The Archers

Lucy Fleming appeared as Judge Evelyn Heap in BBC One soap Eastenders (31 May 2015), an episode viewable (in the UK) on the BBC iPlayer until 30 June 2016.

Lucy Fleming as Judge Evelyn Heap in Eastenders 2016

In May, Fleming also appeared (alongside her husband Simon Williams) in and episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Archers (6 May 2016) playing Miranda Elliott (while Williams voiced Justin Elliott).

Denis Lill appears in Midsomer Murders episode “A Dying Art”

Denis Lill (Charles Vaughan, Survivors) appears in the current episode of Midsomer Murders (Series 18, Episode 4) “A Dying Art”, in the role of frustrated and under-achieving artist Simeon Rowling: one of number of suspects in a typical Midsomer Murders‘ killing spree.

Art comes to the picturesque Midsomer village of Angel’s Rise with the opening of a new Sculpture Park. But when its launch is marred by murder, DCI Barnaby and DS Nelson have to get creative to crack a case where art imitates death, and everything has a deeper meaning.

The episode, which was first broadcast on ITV on 3 February 2016, is available for streaming on the ITV hub until early March.

Since John Nettles stood down at the end of the thirteenth series, the lead role in Midsomer Murders (in the guise of DCI Barnaby) has been taken by Neil Dudgeon – who in 2008 appeared in a memorable guest starring role in the third episode of the remake of Survivors (as the paranoid former farmer Sean, who has locked himself and his young children in isolation in a vain attempt to protect them from contact with the infected).

Denis Lill - Midsomer Murders - A Dying Art - Series 18 - Episode 4
Denis Lill – Midsomer Murders – ‘A Dying Art’ – Series 18 – Episode 4