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…

Posting Letters to the Moon – Nettlebed Village – 21 April 2017

The Henley Standard has published a preview of the performance of Posting Letters to the Moon at Nettlebed Village Club on Friday (21 April 2017). Based on interviews with Lucy Fleming and Simon Williams, the feature hints at possible future performances after what is the last date in the current tour schedule.

Posting Letters to the Moon is a reading of the wartime letters between the actress Ceila Johnson and her husband Peter Fleming read by their daughter Lucy Fleming, with Simon Williams.

A brief encounter with Celia’s letters

Lucy Fleming - Simon Williams

THE wartime letters of the actress Celia Johnson and her husband Peter Fleming are the focus of a special fundraising performance at Nettlebed Village Club later this month.

The couple’s youngest daughter Lucy Fleming will be joined by her husband — and fellow actor — Simon Williams for a reading of the letters in aid of the venue’s roof fund on Friday, April 21.

The show, entitled Posting Letters to the Moon, has been performed a number of times previously — most recently at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire, where many of the scenes for David Lean’s classic 1945 film Brief Encounter, in which Celia starred opposite Trevor Howard, were shot.

But this is the first time the piece has been performed in Nettlebed — just down the road from where Celia was living at Joyce Grove at the time of the letters’ composition.

Following the outbreak of war, she had found herself separated from her husband, who was away on active service for long periods, but the couple wrote to each other regularly.

Touching and amusing by turns, Celia’s letters tell of her experiences during the war — from coping with a large, isolated house full of evacuated children, to learning to drive a tractor, dealing with rationing, learning to surf during occasional holidays in Cornwall, and all the while accepting offers — when she could get away — to act.

Unable to commit to the often lengthy run of a stage play, she preferred the less time-consuming schedules of film and radio.

These allowed her to devote time to her family and her work for the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps in Henley.

In addition to a number of patriotic wartime propaganda films and broadcasts, Celia’s most notable films of the period were In Which We Serve (1942) and This Happy Breed (1944), both of which — like Brief Encounter — were written by Noël Coward and directed by David Lean.

In the letters, Peter, the brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, writes about his adventures and trials working on military deception operations in India and the Far East.

Lucy, who put Posting Letters to the Moon together with her sister Kate Grimond, said: “It was a joy to discover these letters, and I hope the audience will find them as funny and moving as I do.

“The title is explained in the show. It refers to the difficulty of knowing how to get letters to my father, who was away for most of the war.”

Lucy and Simon’s appearance at Nettlebed is only the latest in a series of joint acting ventures.

The couple can currently be seen in cinemas playing Lord and Lady Wavell in Viceroy’s House, about the 1947 partition of India.

They also play estranged husband and wife Justin and Miranda Elliott in The Archers on Radio 4.

The April 21 performance of Posting Letters to the Moon will include an audience Q&A session — and Simon anticipates that a few questions about Ambridge might come up on the night.

He said: “Lucy plays my horrible wife, who I’m leaving in the story — it seems I’m divorcing her. Justin’s having an affair and I’ve asked Lillian [Archer], who’s a very popular character, to marry me, so there’s all kinds of things going on and a lot of people who come to see the readings are very keen to find out what’s going to happen!”

While Simon clearly enjoys every minute of working on the long-running Radio 4 soap, projects like Posting Letters to the Moon are much closer to home.

Lucy’s close resemblance to her mother, who died in 1982, has often been remarked upon — and Simon says this is something that is further brought out by the readings.

“She sounds incredibly like her. Which is why the letters are so moving, really. You can actually hear Celia’s voice — you know, that voice from Brief Encounter — you can hear it.

“She has a wonderful, light way of coping with emotion and such a lovely light sense of humour.

“The letters are wonderful — they describe what it’s like trying to be a young newlywed with a young family living in a great big house with lots of other children.

“And she was a policewoman in Henley and she was trying to plough and help run the farm with tractors and things.

“And then she was off making the films she made during the war and doing propaganda broadcasts and things.”

It sounds as though Celia — who was awarded a CBE in 1958 for services to the theatre, later becoming a Dame Commander — was juggling rather a lot during the war years.

“She absolutely was,” says Simon. “And all that on fuel rationing and food rationing and things. So the letters are full of interesting history as well as being funny and touching and romantic, you know? They’re wonderful.”

In keeping with the fundraising nature of the enterprise, the staging of Posting Letters to the Moon will be fairly minimal.

“This is just Lucy and me sitting on stools and reading the letters and filling in the gaps and the history and things,” says Simon.

“We’ve done it a few times in different venues and it’s a wonderful mix of history and lightheartedness — and bravery, you know? They were so brave.”

Simon, who has been married to Lucy for 31 years, will be reading the letters home written by his late father-in-law, who died in 1971. He said he had known Peter growing up, as their families were friends.

Much of Peter’s war service was highly secret at the time, but some details nevertheless emerge from the letters.

“He was in the Far East,” says Simon. “He was in Norway and then he was in North Africa and then he was mostly in India and Delhi — working, funnily enough, for Lord Wavell, who I played in Viceroy’s House.

“But there’s not so much history in his letters because obviously his letters were censored, you know? There’s interesting background stuff about the war, but the details of what he was doing, he obviously wasn’t allowed to expand on that.”

The family thread that runs through the event extends to Nettlebed Village Club itself, as Simon acknowledges.

“Lucy’s great-grandfather [Robert Fleming] built the club, and so it seems rather fitting that we should be fundraising to get the roof rebuilt. It’s a wonderful great big building.”

Dating from 1913, the club is in need of a complete new roof at an estimated cost of £240,000.

A community grant has been awarded to the project by South Oxfordshire District Council and together with local donations and club funds the total raised so far is approximately £160,000.

With £80,000 still to be raised, various other fundraising events are being arranged and work is expected to start in the summer.

As well as being home to the Nettlebed Folk Song Club and Sam Brown’s Fabulous Ukulele Club, the club building — consisting of a large hall, a small hall, a bar and a billiard room — is used for a wide range of functions and community activities.

“We have weddings and we have quiz nights and we have bingo nights and we have dances and discos and stuff,” says Simon. “It’s always in use, you know? And it’s always there for people to hire if they want it.”

For Simon, looking ahead to the Nettlebed Village Club performance of Posting Letters to the Moon, there is something else that Celia and Peter’s letters have to offer us today.

“The beauty of it really is that people don’t write wonderful letters now — a letter that has pen and ink and news and sentiment. They just send a little emoji, you know, on their texts on their mobile phones. It’s not quite as eloquent.”

With a seated capacity of around 227, Simon says that tickets for the show have been “selling quite well”, adding: “If they sell too well, we’ll just have to do the show again some time. We might do it as part of the Henley Literary Festival — or we might do it in The Studio at the Kenton.”

Tickets for Posting Letters to the Moon are priced £15. Doors open at 7.30pm for 8pm and the club’s bar is open from 7.15pm.

To book, call Nettlebed Village Club treasurer Sue Worth on 0118 934 5960 or visit http://www.buytickets.at/nettlebedclub/89109

Tanks vs squirrels…

“THERE is a fair amount of quiet din, going on in the distance. I think they must be rumbling up the tanks.

“I saw a mass of these monsters parked along the woods near Joyce Grove. One, roughly the size of the Albert Hall was rather charmingly named Cupid.

“I don’t know why I tell you all about this imitation battle when you know all too much about real ones but at the moment it impinges on our life and it makes a change when walking to the village to see tanks instead of squirrels.

“I really prefer squirrels but I can visualise a moment when I’d rather see a Cupid.”

— Celia Johnson to Peter Fleming,
March 9, 1943


Henley Standard. 2017. ‘A brief encounter with Celia’s letters’, Henley Standard, 10 April, http://www.henleystandard.co.uk/news/theatre/107993/a-brief-encounter-with-celia-s-letters.html

Big Finish confirm episodes, storylines and cover design for series six of Survivors audios

Survivors - Big Finish - series six - slipcase

Big Finish have released more details of the sixth series of Survivors audio adventures, scheduled for release this June, including titles, writers and summaries for each of the four episodes and the slipcover design, and have released a new series six trailer. Series six of Survivors audio is available for pre-order from the Big Finish web site.

We’ve got more news – and a trailer – for June’s next set of adventures for the Survivors…

In June, Big Finish releases Survivors – Series 6, the latest in an award-nominated run of stories produced as an audio continuation of Terry Nation‘s reflection of a plague-devasted world and the fight for survival for those who are left. Today we can confirm full cast and story details of this four-story set, along with unveiling the trailer:

6.1 Beating the Bounds by Ian Potter

Abby Grant’s search for her son has taken her all across Britain and back. Following every possible lead, she finds herself on long-abandoned roads to forgotten villages.
But now, two years after the first Death, such communities still wish to protect themselves. And they do not take kindly to strangers.

6.2 The Trapping Pit by Christopher Hatherall

On a routine trading mission from Whitecross to Evelyn Piper’s Foundation, Jenny Richards and community doctor Ruth Anderson are ambushed by desperate scavengers.

When the tables turn, an escape attempt becomes a struggle for survival. With a young boy’s life hanging in the balance, Ruth’s skills are put to the ultimate test.

6.3 The Revenge of Heaven by Simon Clark

Greg Preston has forged links with survivors in Norway to start rebuilding society. He’s ready to return home to his family… until an unexpected visitor drags him into a race across the Scandinavian snows.

Hope for the future lies with a kidnapped scientist, and some will go to any lengths to control that hope.

6.4 Lockup by Andrew Smith

As her journey continues, Abby encounters a secure and well-ordered community, based inside a prison complex, calling itself ‘Peacetown’.

But the settlement is not as idyllic as its name suggests, and the lockup harbours secrets. Among them, a prisoner. Someone Abby knows of old… A man called Greg Preston.

Survivors – Series 6 can be pre-ordered today on Download or CD for £20 or £25 respectively. These prices are frozen until the set’s general release at the end of July. If you buy on CD it unlocks a digital version as a Big Finish exclusive, with all digital titles being accessible on the free Big Finish download/playback app available on Apple and Android mobile devices.