Quatermass (ITV 1979 with John Mills and Simon MacCorkindale)

UK / ITV – Thames – Euston / 4×60 minute episodes / Broadcast 24 October – 14 November 1979

Writer: Nigel Kneale / Story Editor: Linda Agran / Music: Marc Wilkinson and Nic Rowley / Executive Producer: Verity Lambert / Producer: Ted Childs / Director: Piers Haggard

After a gap of 20 years, Professor Bernard Quatermass, a legendary figure in the annals of British TV returned to our screens once more. In 1958 Andre Morrell had lasted played Quatermass on TV, now in 1979 it was the turn of the stately John Mills.

A genuine British scifi classic figure. Quatermass had been created by Nigel Kneale in the early 1950’s and in 1953 the first story The Quatermass Experiment had used up the BBC’s entire drama budget (all three thousand pounds of it!) in one fell swoop. This was back in the days when there was but a single TV channel broadcasting in the UK and The Quatermass Experiment was a major sensation, two more serials followed, each hugely popular and all three were made into movies by the Hammer studios. Fast forward to 1979 and it was with some expectation that the new series was shown, especially as the first episode was broadcast the day after a mammoth 75 day strike by ITV technicians ended – a strike that had blacked out the airwaves for much of that time too.

Mills’s Quatermass is an older man, retired from the British Experimental Rocket Group and searching for his missing grand-daughter in a Britain of the near future that is beset by civil unrest and clearly on its last legs. A major new religion has been taken up by most of the young people around the world, calling themselves Planet People they believe they are about to be transported away from the evils of the Earth to a new world Elsewhere. When huge beams from space begin wiping out these Planet People in large numbers at famous locations (Stonehenge, Wembley Stadium etc) it becomes clear to Quatermass that an alien race is “harvesting” the human race as a food source, the race is on to reach his grand-daughter (played by a young Toyah Wilcox) before she too is “harvested”.

This is a fantastic story, resolutely downbeat in the best UK scifi tradition, besides Mills the other main roles are taken by Simon MacCorkindale’s reliable scientist Joe Kapp and his wife Clare (played by Barbara Kellerman), if the hippy look of the Planet People seems a bit out of step for the late seventies that’s probably down to the fact that Kneale first sounded the BBC out about the script back in 1972 they eventually passed on the idea but it was taken up to be one of the first products for newly formed Euston Productions in association with Thames.

You may have heard of a TV Movie called The Quatermass Conclusion but this was the four parter amalgamated to feature length put together for over seas markets, this 100 minute version has a couple of scenes that are not in the four part serial but in essence is a less coherent telling of the story.

John Mills as Professor Bernard Quatermass
Simon MacCorkindale as Doctor Joe Kapp
Ralph Arliss as Kickalong
Jane Bertish as Bee
Paul Rosebury as Caraway
Rebecca Saire as Hettie
Barbara Kellerman as Clare Kapp
Bruce Purchase as Roach
David Yip as Chen
Brenda Fricker as Alison
Tony Sibbald as Marshall
Neil Stacy as Toby Gough
Toyah Wilcox as Sal
Margaret Tyzack as Annie Morgan
Annabelle Lanyon as Isabel
Tony Sibbald as Marshall
Elsie Randolph as Woman Minister
Larry Noble as Jack
Gretchen Franklin as Edna
James Ottaway as Arthur
Claire Ruane as Jane
Donald Eccles as Chisholm