Survivors scriptwriter Shaw pens new drama on his meeting with Dora Russell

Don Shaw - A Meeting with Dora

A Meeting with Dora, a new radio play by Survivors scriptwriter Don Shaw (Greater Love, Mad Dog), explores (in fictionalised form) Shaw’s meeting with Dora Russell a redoubtable campaigner for “women’s rights, progressive education, sexual reform and birth control”.

Shaw visited Dora Russell’s Cornish home in 1979 while researching a film, commissioned from him by the BBC, intended to focus on the complex and ultimately failed relationship between Dora and her husband, the celebrated philosopher Bertrand Russell. The film never entered production, but this new radio drama revisits that memorable encounter.

Eleanor Bron stars as Dora Russell, with David Schofield taking on the role of Don Shaw. Shaw has a supporting role in A Meeting with Dora, appearing as John Russell, the troubled son of Dora and Bertrand.

Shaw explained to the Derby Telegraph  (9 August), “I took the idea to BBC Radio 4 where Jeremy Howe, head of drama, was captured with my account of my meeting with Dora.”

“While interviewing her, she became suddenly interested in my childhood. I had been the son of a coalminer-turned-postman. This contrasted sharply with Bertrand Russell’s childhood, he being brought up as an aristocrat living in a mansion in Richmond Park, Surrey. The play is set against the stormy background of a gale force eight and ends dramatically with an attempted suicide.”

“I’m really pleased with it and, thankfully, so are the BBC who commissioned it.”

The Radio Times’  preview of the play suggests that the play is: “a psychological drama about love, loss and the value of key emotional memories. […] A quiet, but powerfully nuanced piece of writing and acting.”

Don Shaw and Eleanor Bron were both interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour  (22 August) about their work on the drama.

A Meeting with Dora will premier on BBC Radio 4 at 14:15 (in the Afternoon Drama slot) on 28 August 2014, and will then be available on the iPlayer.

Says Shaw: “It is very strange starring in a radio play that you have written and starred in yet the role of yourself is being played by someone else. […] Knowing it will be played to up to a million listeners is hugely exciting.”

A Meeting with Dora is produced and directed by Pauline Harris.

Peter Duncan appears on BBC One’s Tumble

Peter Duncan (who appeared in the closing episodes of series two of Survivors as Dave) has joined the cast of BBC One’s gymnastics competition show Tumble.

Media retrospectives on Duncan’s varied career (including one in the Daily Mirror) rarely mention his time on Survivors, but there’s an interview on the Survivors: A World Away site that fills in that gap!

Peter Duncan - Survivors

Lucy Fleming promo photo from ‘Haunted – Girl on a Swing’ 1968

Big Finish Survivors scriptwriter Andrew Smith interviewed in Daily Record

An interview with Big Finish Survivors scriptwriter Andrew Smith is published today (24 July 2014) in the Scottish Daily Record.

Survivors of the fittest for writer Andrew

Rutherglen man’s tale in post-apocalyptic world

Imagine a world where the majority of the population has been wiped out by a virus, and how you’d survive that apocalypse.

Former Stonelaw High School pupil Andrew Smith has done just that, after writing a new hard-hitting audio play, which has just been released.

Having written for Doctor Who and Not The Nine O’Clock News on TV, Andy gave up on his writing career for many years, as he moved to London to join the police.

In recent years, he has returned to his former craft, writing Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 adventures on audio, for Big Finish, a London-based company that makes original stories based on hit TV shows.

Andy’s most recent work has been on Survivors, which is based on the 70s show of the same name, created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks and Blake’s 7.

Survivors ran from 1975-77, and featured the survivors of Earth after most of the world’s population is wiped out by a mysterious pandemic, accidentally unleashed by a Chinese scientist.

Andy, who formerly lived on Eskdale Drive, said: “I was a fan of the original series, so when the producer David Richardson got in touch and said they were looking to do a new series and asked if I’d be interested in doing one, I’d have bitten off his hand to be involved.

“I remember the first series on TV particularly well, so I knew the characters of Greg and Jenny, but it was very different to write from Doctor Who, in part because its drama is grittier, with more mature themes.

“Survivors does get categorised as science fiction, but it’s all about how real people would react in a realistic way, when there’s less than one per cent of the population left.

“It’s harsher and, basically, it’s more adult as well, to the point where there’s a caveat on the packaging saying that it’s got adult material and not suitable for younger listeners, as there’s people with traumatic backgrounds and experiences, across the four discs.”

Andy worked with his producer and script editor Matt Fitton, as well as the other writers on the box set, to create a dramatic series where you never know what will happen next – and who is going to live or die.

Andy continued: “David and Matt came up with a plan for the series, so I knew what elements of our story arc I had to include in my episode. My play was to reintroduce Greg and Jenny, and late on we added some scenes with Carolyn Seymour, who played Abby Grant, as they hadn’t been able to track her down at first, before she got in touch when she heard Big Finish were doing the series, so were able to include her to include her in a couple of scenes.”

Script editor Matt Fitton said: “Andrew’s Survivors story – Judges – effortlessly recaptures the voices of the original TV series characters Greg and Jenny – plus a cameo from Carolyn Seymour as Abby – while immediately hurling them into a new and dangerous situation.

“An Andrew Smith script typically delivers dynamic action, with some interesting moral issues at its centre. In the case of Judges, with its pivotal policeman character in our post-apocalyptic society, it’s a story Andrew has a unique perspective on as a writer.

“It’s always a pleasure to work with him, and I hope we get the chance to collaborate again in the future.”

With Scots actor Ian McCulloch as original series character Greg, and Lucy Fleming as Jenny, as well as a tremendous cast of other experienced actors, Andy found it a difficult but rewarding ask to ensure all of the leads were given sufficiently good material to work with.

He said: “There are so many lead characters in it, you’ve got to find the right balance for everyone. With, for example, a Doctor Who story, you have to make sure you give the Doctor and the companion meaty things to do, and with Judges, it was a case of making sure there were enough storylines going on for our regular actors, John Banks, Louise Jameson and Adrian Lukis, as well as Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming.

“I hope I pulled it off, and managed to create a good ensemble piece, and I was delighted with the calibre of actors we had. You can pick any of them out, and say what a great job they did. They’re all fantastic.”

Andy was able to apply some of his day job experience into his play.

He explained: “Phil Mulryne really impresses as the policeman, Phil Bailey. Deciding he was a policeman was one of the first things I knew I would do – it wasn’t in the plan but it seemed the right thing to do, have a policeman who’s gathered together some people and is being the one who says follow me. I really related to that.

“Something I was proud of in the play was a scene where they discussed theft, which is something I’ve had in real life, where you ask someone to describe theft – and most people would say it’s taking something that doesn’t belong to you without permission.

“But what it you borrow something without permission and then return it – is that theft? What if someone shoots a duck flying overhead and it lands in your garden – is that theft? What if you want an extra bottle of milk and you take one and pay for it, but it would mean the milkman then doesn’t have enough milk to finish his round – is that theft?

“It’s a very difficult one to define.”

Survivors has won tremendous critical acclaim from reviewers, delighting the production team.

Andy added: “It does make you think, this series, and that’s one of the secrets of Survivors – it makes you think what skills have you got, would you be able to use them to survive? Put yourself in that situation, and think about the knowledge you have.

“When writing my plan, I thought a policeman would have a good range of skills in the community.

“But then you wonder, what if you are older and weak, or ill – what part would you play in the new communities?

“Hopefully, it will make the listener think, and I believe that’s why it’s been such a huge success with the people who’ve heard the whole series.”

Survivors is available on download and on CD, from http://www.bigfinish.com.

Kenny Smith. 2014. ‘Survivors of the fittest for writer Andrew’, Daily Record, 24 July. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/survivors-fittest-writer-andrew-3901401.

Denis Lill appears in the final episode of 24: Live Another Day

Denis Lill (Charles Vaughan) appears briefly in the dramatic closing episode of the latest Jack Bauer ‘real-time’ adventure drama 24: Live Another Day, playing the role of the captain of the ship Letitcia, whose vessel, based at Southampton docks, is intended to provide the escape route for one of the series’ main villains – until Bauer intervenes. This ninth series of 24 (which was twelve one-hour episodes long, rather than the customary twenty-four) was based in London, and featured a large number of British actors in supporting roles – including Stephen Fry, who took the role of the British Prime Minister Alastair Davies. The final episode of the series, which was shown on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD in the UK, was first broadcast on 16 July 2014.

Denis Lill - 24: Live Another Day
Denis Lill – 24: Live Another Day

Doctor Who Cares convention includes appearances by Hudson and Brown

Appearing at the Doctor Who Cares Tenth Planet convention at Copthorne Hotel, Windsor SL1 2YE on 9 August 2014 (as part of an extensive line-up of Doctor Who cast and crew members) are original series Survivors costume designer June Hudson and June Brown (who appeared, in the role of Susan, in the opening episode of series three Manhunt).

The convention is a benefit for the retired actors’ home Denville Hall.

June Hudson - appearing at Doctor Who Cares
June Hudson – appearing at Doctor Who Cares
June Brown - appearing at Doctor Who Cares
June Brown – appearing at Doctor Who Cares

Big Finish Survivors cast and crew at London Film and Comic Con

Chase Masterson (Maddie Price) will be appearing alongside Big Finish Survivors audio drama producer David Richardson, script editor and scriptwriter Matt Fitton, director Ken Bentley and executive producer Nicholas Briggs at the London Film and Comic Con on 12-13 July in Earls Court, London.

Masterson will be be available to sign copies of the series one Survivors CD boxset, but, like Briggs, will be “unable to sign any photography from TV series that they have appeared in.”

More details of the event are available from the Big Finish and London Film and Comic Con sites.

Big Finish - Survivors - quotation

New Big Finish Survivors audio adventure interviews

New interviews with John Banks (Daniel Connor), Sinead Keenan (Suzie Edwards), Adrian Lukis (James Gillison), Chase Masterson (Maddie Price), and San Shella (Sayed) have been added to the Survivors: A World Away Big Finish mini-site.

These latest interviews join those with producer David Richardson, director Ken Bentley, script editor and writer Matt Fitton and writers Jonathan Morris and Andrew Smith.

There are also reviews of all four episodes in the first series. More interviews with cast and crew will be added soon!

Survivors: A World Away - Big Finish Survivors

Survivors series two DVD studio day – ten years ago today

It is exactly ten years ago to-the-day (3 June 2004) that Lorna Lewis, Denis Lill, Pennant Roberts and Heather Wright were reunited at a studio in central London to record the ‘special features’ for the Survivors series two DVD release.

All of the participants in this reunion of series two Survivors personnel provided individual on-camera interviews recalling their time working on the show, much of it based in and around Callow Hill (‘Whitecross’) near Monmouth in Herefordshire.

In addition, Lill and Roberts provided a genuinely fascinating audio commentary on the episode Lights of London Part II; the second-half of a unique two-part Survivors story. The assembled Survivors alumni also made themselves available for interviews with journalists from the cult and genre press to promote the forthcoming release.

The commercial success of the Survivors series two DVD release ensured that DD Entertainment would exercise its option to release the third and final series of the original Survivors the following year, and agree, in the process, to fund the most extensive set of ‘special features’ seen on any of the three series DVD box-sets.

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

It is a sad and sobering thought to remember that both Pennant Roberts and Lorna Lewis have been lost to us in the decade that has passed since these special features were recorded (alongside the death of several other key members of the series cast and crew): a fact which makes their recollections of the recording of the second series of Survivors all the more poignant to revisit.

Heather Wright, Lorna Lewis, Pennant Roberts and Denis Lill are reunited in the studio
Heather Wright, Lorna Lewis, Pennant Roberts and Denis Lill are reunited in the studio
Denis Lill and Pennant Roberts review Survivors series one DVD materials
Denis Lill and Pennant Roberts review Survivors series one DVD materials
Denis Lill during his on-camera interview
Denis Lill during his on-camera interview
Pennant Roberts poses for a press shot
Pennant Roberts poses for a press shot
Heather Wright poses for a publicity shot
Heather Wright poses for a publicity shot

Big Finish ‘so proud’ of their work on Survivors new audio adventures

Audio drama specialists Big Finish have also gone public to explain why the company is so proud of its work on the series:

David Richardson, producer:
We never undertake these audio productions of classic TV series lightly. We are telling new stories for something that we love, and it’s a huge responsibility. I felt that with Survivors that we had superb scripts and a terrific cast. What I found most flattering was the fact that Ian McCulloch, at several times during recording, said he felt our episodes were the equal of the very best Terry Nation scripts. That meant a great deal.

Ken Bentley, director:
Compared to most of the plays I’ve directed for Big Finish, Survivors is straighter, darker, and more truthful. The emotional ground we cover is much broader, and without borders. It’s been fascinating to read the scripts, to see how the writers respond to this new storytelling world. It’s been a privilege to work with the cast and hear them bring to life characters who are battling to stay alive (Terry Molloy delivers a performance so magnificent it makes you wish Big Finish gave out awards). And the sound design is so finely detailed, staging sequences just as they would’ve done in the original television series. That’s how much thought we’ve put into this. Right down to the smallest detail.

Matt Fitton, script editor and writer of episode 1, Revelation:
Survivors gives us the opportunity to showcase the talent we have at Big Finish in exciting new ways. While we’re all used to thinking of Chase Masterson, Terry Molloy and Louise Jameson in a sci-fi adventure context, here their characters are thrown into real and gritty scenarios and pushed to the very limits. It’s a world much closer to our own, where ordinary people are confronted with extraordinary situations and the dramatic potential is immense. Mix in the original TV series cast alongside some of our amazing new cast – Sinead Keenan, Adrian Lukis, Caroline Langrishe and John Banks to name but a few – and we think Survivors is a storytelling world with a tone like nothing you’ve ever heard before from the Big Finish stable…

Andrew Smith, writer of episode 3, Judges:
This audio series of Survivors continues what its TV predecessor did better than any other of its kind that I can think of, which was to immerse the audience in its world. As we listen we can’t help but consider, in a world where so much of what we take for granted has gone (including technology, government and law), how would we cope? Would we have the temperament, skills and determination to survive? It helps that the characters – such as Greg and Jenny – are people like us who behave realistically in extreme adversity, sometimes making wrong decisions. It’s been a privilege to be a part of bringing this landmark series to a new audience and to place these characters, portrayed by our first class cast, in further jeopardy. Across the four episodes you’ll be going on an emotional roller coaster ride with them.

John Dorney, writer of episode 4, Esther:
Given that we usually work in fantastical universes, it’s been revelatory to work on something so grounded and earthy. Freed of those sci-fi shackles, I think we’ve all – actors, writers, directors, sound designers, etc- really had the chance to flex our metaphorical muscles and work outside of our comfort zones. And I think everyone’s grabbed that chance with both hands and taken the opportunity to do something really special. We’ve gone back to basics just as much as the characters have. We’ve been able to focus on people and the way they behaved, we’ve been able to look at the best side of humanity and its darkest, and push everything as far as we can go. It’s not quite like anything you’ll have heard from Big Finish before and I doubt you’ll forget it in a hurry.

Series one, which is released in early June 2014, is still available for pre-order from the Big Finish web site.

Big Finish - Survivors series one - 'The apocalypse is coming'
Big Finish – Survivors series one – ‘The apocalypse is coming’