‘We Are The Martians: The Legacy Of Nigel Kneale’ reviewed

PS Publishing’s essay collection pays tribute to the Quatermass creator and ‘father of British TV drama’.

I can’t remember how I first heard of Quatermass, I simply know that as a child in the 1970s I somehow became aware of that name and its association with my twin obsessions, science fiction and horror. Though I also recall thinking it was the name of the monster, a big, blobby, gunky, squirmy alien that probably lived in a crater – a crater-mass, in fact. My first actual meeting with the very human Professor was on August 25th 1979 when Hammer’s Quatermass and the Pit was shown alongside It Came From Outer Space as part of BBC2’s Masters of Terror double bill season. A few months after that, I sat glued to ITV’s first night following the strike that had kept the channel off air the entire Autumn, excitedly awaiting a brand new Quatermass serial. The tie-in novel may not have been entirely suitable for an eight year old, but I devoured it, and realised that Nigel Kneale, the author of the book and the series, was a name worth looking out for – probably the first time I took more notice of the name of the writer of a television programme than I did those of its cast.

Welcome, welcome, welcome home to ITV…

Nearly 65 years after Quatermass became a household name, his creator is still written about in articles and blogs, frequently cited in relation to the subjects of Hauntology and Folk Horror, and through DVD and BluRay some of his most highly regarded works are accessible to aficionados as well as new audiences. Kneale’s work kick-started the Hammer horror boom and has been homaged, pastiched and parodied across the British cultural board from Doctor Who to Hancock’s Half Hour and The Goon Show.

With this pedigree it may be surprising that this is only the second book devoted to a writer feted as both a pioneer and a visionary. The first, Andy Murray’s enjoyable and informative 2006 biography, Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale, has coincidentally just been re-released in a revised and expanded form by Headpress. What editor Neil Snowdon has compiled is less a biography – though it contains many biographical elements – and more a collection of essays and interviews in which some of today’s finest writers of television and film, genre fiction and genre fact, reflect on, analyse, and celebrate the many facets of Kneale’s work, in particular focussing on those that have influenced their own works and interests over the years.

With Snowdon having brought together nearly 30 contributors and interviewees in a tome running just shy of 500 pages, it’s impossible to do justice to each and every piece, so here’s a run-down of the contents…

Foreword – by Mark Gatiss, whose most recent Doctor Who episode, Empress of Mars, opened with a homage to Kneale’s adaptation of The First Men In The Moon.

Introduction – some words on the origin of the book by Neil Snowdon, commissioning editor at Electric Dreamhouse, whose debut Midnight Movie Monologues were reviewed by us here.

King Of Hauntology – award winning author and screenwriter Mark Chadbourn investigates how the landscape and environments of Kneale’s life influenced his writing.

The Literary Kneale – Tim Lucas, publisher and editor of Video Watchdog – whose 2006 obituary of Kneale also features in the volume – guides us through Kneale in print, an aspect of the writer’s  work often overshadowed by his film and television career.

The Quatermass Conception – the inception and afterlife of Kneale’s breakthrough work in which a man of science is transformed into a mass of sentient vegetation is comprehensively explored by Stephen Bissette, a writer, artist and editor who, in his comics career was part of the award winning team on DC’s Saga of the Swamp Thing (in which a man of science is transformed into, yes, a mass of sentient vegetation).

A Conversation With Judith Kerr – Neil Snowdon conducts a delightful and insightful interview with Kneale’s widow, best known and loved as the author and illustrator of the Mog books, and other classic children’s stories, who also happened to have a hand in the BBC’s original Quatermass Experiment creature.

On Nigel Kneale – renowned horror author and critic Ramsey Campbell on discovering Kneale in print as an 11 year old horror enthusiast and subsequent encounters on page and screen.

The Quatermass Legacy: A Personal Reflection On Kneale And His Influence – Kneale, the pioneering writer of the British horror genre on screen is discussed by screenwriter David Pirie, himself a pioneering writer on the British horror genre on screen.

Creeping Unknown Pt1: Wuthering Heights, The Crunch, Nineteen Eighty Four – film critic and author Kim Newman looks at some of “the less seen, less available, but no less important” projects Kneale scripted. Thankfully, with a Network DVD release of a trio of Kneale’s ITV works scheduled for September, The Crunch will soon leave the ranks of those “less available” works.

…face to face with five million years of terror!

Phenomena Badly Observed, And Wrongly Explained: Quatermass, The Pit, And Me – with careers in both the medical sciences and horror fiction, John Llewellyn Probert is well-placed to examine the combination of science and the supernatural in the third Quatermass outing.

Under The Influence – Maura McHugh, author of the forthcoming Midnight Movie Monologue on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, looks at Kneale’s dramatic legacy and pinpoints some subsequent films and TV shows that share themes with his works.

A Conversation With Joe Dante – the Howling and Gremlins director talks to Neil Snowdon about discovering Hammer’s Quatermass 2 at the drive-in, and how he came close to working with Kneale in the 1980s.

Brief Encounter – horror author Stephen Laws details a chance meeting with his great hero, and also reproduces his essay on the Quatermass and the Pit script book from 1998’s compendium of writers on their favourite genre reading, Horror: 100 Best Books.

Adaptation And Anger, Or The Nigel Kneale-John Osbourne Synthesis – film journalist Richard Harland Smith takes a detour from the worlds of science fiction to the kitchen sink to detail Kneale’s screenplay adaptation of Look Back in Anger.

‘The Promised End’ Nigel Kneale’s Lost Masterpiece from 1963: The Road – Jonathan Rigby, author of the extensive, comprehensive horror film histories, English Gothic, American Gothic and Euro Gothic, revisits this legendary long lost BBC ghost story.

A Conversation With Mark Gatiss – the writer and actor talks about his lifelong admiration for Kneale, his own meetings with the writer, and his attempts to remount some of Kneale’s lost works.

Cool The Audience, Cool the World: Media, Mind Control & The Modern Family – film writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse takes an in-depth look at Kneale’s prescient satire on television, The Year of the Sex Olympics.

Pushing The Door He Unlocked: Ghostwatch and The Stone Tape – Stephen Volk’s infamous Hallowe’en broadcast, Ghostwatch, caused an uproar in press and parliament echoing the response to Kneale’s BBC adaptation of 1984 in the mid-50s, but it shares even more similarities with his classic 1972 modern-day ghost story.

Beasts: An Overview – horror author Mark Morris opens the cage on Kneale’s 1970s psychological and supernatural anthology series of plays linked by the theme of all things beastly.

It Would Have Been Suckled, You Know’: Beasts and ‘Baby’ An Appreciation – continuing the exploration of  Beasts, Jeremy Dyson, co-author of stage-hit Ghost Stories and author of several collections of haunting tales, looks at the series’ most overtly supernatural entry.

Quatermass: Rebirth & Resurrection – writer and storyteller Jez Winship looks back on the return of the Professor after a 21 year absence in a post-Star Wars world.

The Quatermass Conclusion: An Interview With Nigel Kneale – Editor and publisher David A. Sutton interviewed Kneale about his career and, in particular, his final TV Quatermass. The 1980 interview , originally published in Fantasy Media is reproduced in full.

Creeping Unknown Pt2: Kinvig – Kim Newman looks at Kneale’s early-’80s UFO comedy series.

In Pursuit Of Unhappy Endings: Chris Burt & Herbert Wise on The Woman In Black – Journalist and cinema historian Tony Earnshaw interviews the producer and director of Kneale’s 1986 television adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story.

Where’s Kneale When You Need Him – horror author Thana Niveau explores the strength of writing for female characters in Kneale’s body of work.

Creeping Unknown Pt3:​​​​​​​ Sharpe’s Gold & Kavanagh QC – Kim Newman rounds up his look at lesser-known Kneale with a pair of entries in long running series.

On Wishing For A Nigel Kneale Childhood – horror writer Lynda E. Rucker offers an American viewer’s perception of a ‘quintessentially British’ writer.

The list of contributors would be horribly incomplete if I didn’t mention Michael Smith’s stylish design and layout, and the aptly atmospheric illustrations and cover art by David Chatton Barker.

To say that this book is overdue is both an opinion and, literally, a fact, as financial troubles with the original publishers led to a situation which could have seen the entire project doomed. It would have been a huge loss to horror and science fiction fans, as well as those fascinated by the history of British film and television, if such an inspired and inspiring collection of writings had been lost. Thankfully through PS Publishing’s genre cinema imprint, Electric Dreamhouse, the finished volume, like a long dormant Martian spaceship, is set to see the light of day at last, arriving as a jacketed hardcover, or a signed and slip-cased limited edition. This deluxe version also includes an accompanying volume containing an unseen Kneale script, The Big, Big Giggle, whose controversial subject matter, a teenage suicide craze, saw it shelved by the BBC in the mid-1960s.

The book is aptly named with a quote from Quatermass and the Pit, in which humanity’s development is shown to have been guided by a powerful force from the distant past, rendering the planet as a vast colony of Mars. If we replace that influencing alien force with Nigel Kneale, then the imagery and ideas that live on in the minds of all the contributors – and in the minds of the readers – mean that We ARE The Martians!


 Both the Hardback and Deluxe Editions of We Are The Martians are available to order here: http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/we-are-the-martians-the-legacy-of-nigel-kneale-hardcover-edited-by-neil-snowdon-4286-p.asp

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