Survivors scriptwriter Martin Worth dies aged 91

Martin Worth - scriptwriter - Survivors

MARTIN WORTH, who wrote a total of seven scripts for the second and third series of Survivors (1975-1977), has died at the age of 91.

Born in Balham in London in November 1926, Martin Wigglesworth (who later changed his name to Worth), became a scriptwriter after a short stint as an actor in repertory and one-off theatrical productions. He went on to write for the stage, radio and television, penning memorable early TV scripts for Public Eye (1965, 1968), The Borderers (1970) and Special Branch (1970), before being hired by Terence Dudley to work on the eco-cautionary Doomwatch (1970-72). His script for the 1974 BBC documentary series Microbes and Men won him that year’s prestigious Best British Documentary award by the Writers’ Guild. The year that the first series of Survivors was shown, Worth penned all six episodes of the BBC’s adaptation of The Master of Ballantrae, which starred Brian Cox.

Worth’s work on Survivors’ second series

Worth joined the writing team on Survivors for series two, as the show’s centre of operations relocated to the Whitecross settlement, following the departure of Abby Grant and the blaze at The Grange. Worth was fascinated by life within the real-life community at Callow Hill, which provided the setting for the fictional Whitecross, “The location was wonderful,” he later explained to David Richardson, in an interview for TV Zone. “I took detailed photographs of everything.” Worth incorporated many of his observations and insights into his scripts, and plotted his stories to take best advantage of the layout of the landscape and buildings on site.

Worth’s first story, By Bread Alone, is a thoughtful reflection on the place of religious observance and theistic faith in the post-Death world. The impact of Lewis’ emergence from his crisis of faith drew directly on the life story of Worth’s own father; a priest who experienced his own existential angst when he came to doubt his long-held Christian beliefs. It was the kind of introspective, philosophical story which frustrated those looking to up the action-and-adventure quota on the show, but for those who warmed to its insightful themes and immersive atmosphere it marked an impressive debut for an incoming scriptwriter.

It was a measure of producer Dudley’s confidence in Worth that he was assigned writing duties on the closing two episodes of the second series of Survivors. The clash of generation and gender, brilliantly depicted in Over the Hills, is centre stage in the best of Worth’s three scripts for series two (and arguably his strongest single contribution to the show overall). It’s a script that shows Worth’s ability to craft a passionate clash of principles and strongly-held beliefs into an utterly compelling fifty-minutes drama, delivering something that is morally complex and which is determined to present the views of all the protagonists as valid and worthy of attention.

Series two closer New World is a cleverly-crafted mystery-adventure which signals the expansion of the series’ field of vision far beyond the environs of Whitecross. Worth’s script cleverly reveals the wider post-Death vista that the third series will set out to explore, and sets in motion Whitecross’ relegation to the fringes (finding a way to separate the two sparring actors playing the male leads on the show at the same time). Dudley required Worth to compress too many developments into a single episode, but with top-notch plotting and dialogue, and excellent guest characters, there’s a good case to be made for New World being the strongest of Survivors‘ three series finales.

In later years, Worth remained keen to put forward his conviction that the presence of the BBC Outside Broadcast crew at Callow Hill had a detrimental effect on the community, which – he suggested – unravelled under the pressures that filming brought. “We destroyed the very survivors we were trying to write the series about,” he explained to Timescreen. It was a contentious view, which many others who worked in-front-of and behind the cameras did not recognise. In contrast, they remember the friendships and ‘personal entanglements’ between residents and BBC visitors which developed during the spring and summer of 1976. They also recall the warm and high-spirited ceilidh that was held as the on-site ‘wrap party’ for the shoot, and note that Denis Lill and John Abineri continued to be welcome guests at Callow Hill for many years after the production left. It may simply be one of those rare cases where Worth’s evident love for a good story got the better of him.

Worth’s work on the third series of Survivors

This view aside, Worth was still disappointed by Dudley’s decision to break-up the Whitecross settlement and push the series out on the road, believing that there was untapped dramatic potential in the world of Whitecross commune and small-holding. He felt that abandoning that framework in favour of the struggle to rebuild civilisation could only accelerate the series’ demise. Setting his own misgivings aside, Worth embraced Dudley’s changed brief to deliver three contributions to what became the final series of Survivors that fully embodied the new perspective.

The riveting drama of Law of the Jungle, lit up by a bombastic performance by Brian Blessed, offered a chilling realisation of the ‘red in tooth and claw’ realities of humankind’s relation to nature in the post-Death world. It was a story that stood in complete contrast to the pastoral, bucolic and settled life of Whitecross, and was exactly the kind of the script that would have enthused Dudley. Bridgehead and Long Live the King each saw Worth very effectively wrangling the different elements that were the series’ metaphors for the revival of civilisation and of society. The scripts for both episodes again showed Worth’s talent for melding abstract themes and ideas with convincing, and very human-centred, drama.

Worth’s script for Power, the series last ever episode, is a fantastical ‘procedural’ story, showcasing the effort to bring the first Scottish hydroelectric power plant back online – while a saboteur in the survivors ranks attempts to wreck their plans. Worth placed great store in ensuring that the technical elements of this story were accurate, visiting both a power plant and a sub-station as part of his preparation. “I was shown exactly how it worked,” he explained later. “Getting it all right, doing accurate research, is very satisfying. Do it responsibly and you can always get dramatic value out of the difficulties you encounter.” This attention to detail did not lead Worth to turn in a ‘dry’ plot. In Survivors‘ closing fifty minutes, he ensures that the drama remained centred on the social and personal aspects of the struggle to reconnect the country’s first power supplies avoiding the narrowly mechanical. Power remains something of a contentious endpoint amongst Survivors enthusiasts, but very few of the controversies that this last episode give rise to are reflections of any shortcomings in the script. Worth crafts an assured sign-off for Survivors‘ sometimes disjointed final series, and delivers a number of welcome pay-offs in the process.

After Survivors

The year that Survivors came to an end, Worth also provided scripts for The Onedin Line and the BBC’s adaptation of Poldark. He would go on to write for Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984), Gems and C.A.T.S. Eyes (1985) and Drummonds (1987), and continued to pen scripts for both theatre and radio until his retirement.

Worth was rightly proud of his contributions to Survivors, and was a keen supporter of anyone researching the history of the series. In 1988, Worth was interviewed by Andrew Pixley and Anthony McKay for Timescreen magazine, and discussed the full breath of his work on genre television, including but not limited to Survivors.

In the mid-1990s, he was interviewed by Kevin Marshall during his research for his self-published tome The Making of Terry Nation’s Survivors, and appeared as one of the panelists for the Survivors session at the ‘Dreamwatch 94’ convention, chaired by Marshall, which was one of the first public reunions of cast-and-crew to discuss the series ever held. In December 2006, Worth appeared as one of the interviewees in BBC Four’s The Cult of…Survivors retrospective documentary on the series (also appearing in the Doomwatch, The Onedin Line and Poldark episodes).

When Andy Priester and myself were writing The End of the World?: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Survivors, we sadly did not have the opportunity to interview Martin Worth. It was not until 2010 that I was fortunate enough to arrange to meet with him for a fascinating afternoon of discussion about his work on both Doomwatch and Survivors. Worth had been unaware of the publication of our Survivors book, but was effusive and animated in his praise when I was able to provide a copy for him to read, and full of helpful comments and suggestions for a second, updated edition.

He remained convinced that uprooting the series at the close of series two had marked a premature death-knell for the show. Terence Dudley had, he charged:

made a mistake in allowing the survivors to succeed in getting the country organized again. Though it was fun to write, it effectively killed off the series. If we’d stayed with the community in Wales trying to get by through their own self-sufficiency, it could have gone on for many more seasons.

That is certainly an enticing and and intriguing prospect from one of the most accomplished and perceptive scriptwriters to have worked on the original Survivors.

* His ex-wife, Angela Wigglesworth wrote an obituary for Worth that was published in The Guardian (6 August 2018).

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