back to article Stob on Quatermass: Was this British TV's finest sci-fi hour?

In the pub, with my editor. "Those sci-fi classics of the fifties," he mused. "Not the Hammer remakes - the originals. Are they really classics? How do they compare with modern Doctor Who? Are they even watchable?" [Dissolve to Stob's flat. A portable computing machine is displaying the Amazon website's DVD section. Pan to a …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Restoration and VidFIRE

    Quatermass has been restored by the Doctor Who restoration team. You can read more about the work involved, here:

  2. Joseph Bryant


    The "dreary cowboy one", really? One of the best in the series, I thought.

    1. Gordon 10

      Re: "dreary"?

      Really? ..... honestly......really?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "dreary"?

      hmm. Like a fair number of the recent Dr Who episodes, I though it had a lot of promise, but was badly let down by interminable show-emoting and needing about an extra half hour scree-time to do it justice.

  3. Ru

    You win a special prize

    For the phrase, "the first opportunity to unzip its CGI fly and wave its synthetic jewels in the viewers' faces".

  4. alpine

    Quatermass and the pit

    I recall watching this as a young teenager when it was first broadcast, and on a small black and white tv, I have to tell you it was really scarey. The scariest bit was when the ground around the chap who'd been running and fallen could actually be seen rippling.

    The Hammer colour film remake is also pretty good.

    And finally, a word for the radio series 'Journey into Space', which I heard as a child. The thought of the tapping outside the hull and the automaton's voice 'it is forbidden to proceed beyond this point without wearing protective clothing' still chill me!

    1. lorisarvendu

      Re: Quatermass and the pit

      Although the Hammer movie is very good (actually it's my favourite film of all time), there was a lot cut out of the original series in order to fit the story into a 90-minute movie. There's one very subtle scene where the camera pans slowly across the archaeological dig, while in the background you hear the news on the radio, and it's all War this and Conflict that. Foreshadowing of the revelation that the Martians have instilled the human race with their own aggressive warlike ways.

      It's also interesting how Quatermass changes between the TV series and the film, reflecting the social changes in Britain between the 50s and 60s. In 1958 he's very much part of the parternalistic establishment (he goes to his Club), but by 1967 he's portrayed as a socialist working-class boy done good, disdaining an invitation to Breen's own Club.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: Quatermass and the pit

      "The scariest bit was when the ground around the chap who'd been running and fallen could actually be seen rippling."

      That bit sticks in my mind too - the gravel was a vicarage driveway. It is in my childhood "horror moments" - along with the "Nineteen Eighty Four" scene of the Big Brother face on a screen with everyone on benches yelling. There was a programme once that showed how they did some of the Quatermass SFX. The ripple was a sort of caterpillar track under the surface. The cables violently lashing about in the spaceship were powered by compressed air.

      I remember all the junior members of the family being excused from a cousin's wedding reception to go and watch a space serial on my aunt's TV. Would have been a 1950s Saturday teatime - but never been able to identify it. Was "Journey Into Space" transferred to TV?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quatermass and the pit

        Network 67:"I remember all the junior members of the family being excused from a cousin's wedding reception to go and watch a space serial on my aunt's TV. Would have been a 1950s Saturday teatime - but never been able to identify it. Was "Journey Into Space" transferred to TV?"

        Bilafadorus, the alien lad who crash landed from a flying saucer and had to be rescued by children, in the weekly serial that was part of Whirligig? That was on Saturdays. Terrible how old age begins to resurrect these memories...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quatermass and the pit

          "Bilafadorus, the alien lad who crash landed from a flying saucer ..."

          Hmm - Whirligig's 'Strangers From Space' was 1951 - which could be the elder cousin's wedding where I was a page boy in white velvet - but that would be stretching it for an early memory. Mentioning Whirligig only drags up Mr Turnip ...and ?Humphrey? (Lestocq according to Google).

          However the Googles have lead to a page on BBC sci-fi series. It gives the TV transfer of "The Lost Planet" and "Return To The Lost Planet" as 1954/55 - a better fit in both probable content and years. By then we had a TV and missing an episode of a serial for a wedding would have prompted the desire to temporarily absent ourselves from the pub reception.

          It is annoying that my life up to my twenties is represented by only a few disconnected fragments of memories. Apparently when one reaches senility then the memories of childhood become crystal clear - even if you can't remember what happened five minutes ago.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Quatermass and the pit

            Network 67:"Hmm - Whirligig's 'Strangers From Space' was 1951 - which could be the elder cousin's wedding where I was a page boy in white velvet - but that would be stretching it for an early memory. Mentioning Whirligig only drags up Mr Turnip ...and ?Humphrey? (Lestocq according to Google)."

            Whirligig may have started in 1951, but there was definitely a space serial in the later 50s. My grandparents, where I used to watch Whirligig on Saturdays, only bought a TV in 1953 (for the Coronation of course) so it's definitely later than that!.

            Bilaphadorus is mentioned here:


    3. BenM 29 Silver badge

      Re: Quatermass and the pit

      >>And finally, a word for the radio series 'Journey into Space'

      which has just finished(?) being transmitted on Radio4Xtra.... bloody marvelous. At least the resurrected series didn't sound too bad on DAB :)

    4. Francis Boyle

      Re: Quatermass and the pit

      I've never seen the TV version, (The asking price on eBay was pretty prohibitive last time I looked) but the film version was one of the few genuinely scary pieces of cinema I've ever seen. Of course, it helped that I was a young teenager at the time. Even so, the evocation of a devil that even a confirmed skeptic like myself could believe in was an impressive achievement.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quatermass and the pit

        That was the thing about it, wasn't it. The whole plot actually gave a possibly rational reason for our 'belief' system.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: Quatermass and the pit

          Aside from the visualization of memories (maybe it seemed plausible to them back then), the plot is a masterpiece of believability. Modern horror relies primarily on scaring the audience directly - I guess it is easier to show a monster in a mirror or hurl an unexpected body at the camera. But the film version of Quatermass and the Pit provokes fear by making us emphathize with the characters and scaring them.

          Both the face and the voice of that workman, confused beyond belief by what he was seeing, has stayed with me a long time:

          Quatermass: "What colour is the sky, man? The sky! What colour is it?"

          Workman: "...brown..." (goes to pieces).

          Top stuff.

  5. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    100 degrees

    Given the era, I'd assume this would be in Fahrenheit, so not too hot to touch safely.

    1. The Serpent

      Re: 100 degrees

      Always nice to check it on Google though - worth a school boy snigger to search '100 f in c'

  6. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Compared to recent Quatermass remake?

    How does it compare to the David Tennant version of a couple of years ago?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Compared to recent Quatermass remake?

      Well, I have seen both. Albeit the original a long time ago (well, a re-broadcast, I'm not that old). I agree with Alpine above and found it pretty scary. The DT one was, well, different. Not least because I was 30 odd years older and our expectations of TV have changed, but I think the whole thing was treated more as an experiment or a re-enactment. i.e. "this is how a lot of TV used to be done. i.e. live. I wonder if we can still do it?". Obviously theatre actors have to cope with being live and having no second chance if you fluff your lines but it was pretty clear from the expressions of some of the cast that they were absolutely terrified! There was only one completely obvious line-fluff and a slightly humerous bit where they all tried not to react to some hapless off-screen crewmember demolishing a bit of the chemistry lab set but the real giveaway was at the end. They'd obviously allowed quite a lot of time leeway so it finished early and the celebratory bit at the end which I presume ought to have been "Woo Hoo! We've saved the Earth!" totally came across as "Woo Hoo! We've made it and no-one screwed up too much!".

      So, it was "interesting" to watch but more as an academic exercise. I wouldn't have said it was "good". And the answer to the question is "yes, we can sort of still do it but we're going to need a lot more practice" with the obvious followup "but does anyone want us to?"

    2. Steve Crook

      Re: Compared to recent Quatermass remake?

      David Tennant; Quatermass? Seriously? I've managed to miss that. Thankfully. Tennants constant gurning at the camera for Dr Who was enough to stop me watching much of it, so it took a while before I realised that the writing was rubbish, and don't get me started on Torchwood.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Compared to recent Quatermass remake?

        I'm glad I'm not the only one who hated all the gurning!

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Compared to recent Quatermass remake?

        Remember the days when Doctors were cast for acting ability and not for cheekbones?

  7. Chris Hawkins

    Quartermass - Goon Show Style

    Peter Sellars, Spike Milligna and Sir Neddy (Harry) Seagoon beat the Doctor Who restoration team to it with a 1959 Goon Show dedication..... "Quatermass O.B.E"

    Script 'ere:

    IMHO it was one of the best Goon Show's ever, especially in its opening prescient 1984 vision of the traffic troubles that continue to bedevil most western societies, 50 years on...

    <quote>"Today at approximately this afternoon, a discovery was made on the site of the Notting Hill Gate site of the government’s new dig-up-the-roads-plan-for-congesting-traffic scheme. Workmen in the absence of a strike settled for work as an alternative."</end quote>

    The work done by the BBC Sound Team to emulate the original Quartermass sound track was superb.

    If you can find it on the Web, give it a's brilliant!

    Ying Tong Iddle I Po!

    1. dvd

      Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style


    2. Francis Boyle

      "Spike Milligna"

      Any relation to "the well known typing error" Spine Millington?

      1. Lord Voldemortgage

        Re: "Milligna"

        Yes, that should clearly be millignat - the chuff of which is the ultimate measurement of tightness.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        I thought I saw Jesus on a tram

        I said, "Are you Jesus?"

        He said, "Yes, I am."

    3. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

      [referring to skull]

      "Must be a woman, the mouth's open"


      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

        Yes, the skull discovery scene really demands a wider audience....

        Willium: Here, over here, mate. Here!

        Julian: Coming, Basil.

        Willium: Get your trousers on. Hurry, Julian. Look at this!

        [Orchestra: dramatic chord, held under effect]

        [GRAMS: Thing sound effect, continuing under next dialogue]

        Julian: Oh, dear! Saints preserve us!

        Workman (Secombe): (approaches) He, what’s all this about… hey!

        Julian: What’s this, now?

        Workman: Ohh! That’s a human skull.

        Willium: Is it?

        Workman: Aye. Must be a woman–the mouth’s still open. Ha ha!

        Julian: Here, we’d better call an Irish doctor.

        Irishman 2 (Sellers): Yes, let’s get one.

        Workman: Too late for that, it’s a goner, man. She’s a goner.

        Julian: Oh, dear!

        Willium: Call the Chinese police. Here, hold this whistle and play that note.

        [FX: police whistle]

        [GRAMS: running footsteps approach]

        Julian: (over) Listen! He’s coming. He’s almost here. (as foosteps slow down) He’s arrived.

        Constable (Greenslade): (panting and out of breath) You were playing my song. I’m sorry I’m late, but the frim of the flong succumbed the nim of the ploong.

        Julian: A likely story.

        Workman: No have a look at this, by here.

        Constable: Gad, the head of a skull! I’d better take its fingerprints.


        Bannister: Ohhh! Lord Crun?

        Crun: What?

        Bannister: This skull is 5 million years old!

        Crun and Bannister: (sings) Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.

        Crun: (sings) Happy birthday, dear Minnie, happy birthday to you.

        Bannister: Thank you, thank you, Hen, it’s nice of you to remember my skull.

        1. Petrea Mitchell

          Well, if we're all going to favorite bits...

          Professor Ned Quatermass: I'm afraid you'll have to be evacuated.

          Woman: Oh! Come in, I'll just pack a few things.

          Ned: Well, I-I-I-I-I-I-I--

          Greenslade: At this point, the script was heavily censored. But we leave the ensuing silence for listeners to imagine what might have happened.

          (Long, long pause with audience giggling throughout)

          Bloodnok: You filthy swines!

    4. adrianww
      Thumb Up

      Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

      Oh, I'm glad that someone mentioned that. It's far and away the best Quatermass ever.

      "I knew it! We're all descended from Irish Jews! Oy vey!!"

      "Yerrrsss mate. 'Orrible brown fing crawlin' up the wall. It was a weasel. An' all of a sudden it went..."

      [Sound FX: Pop!]

      And other such gems. Quick nurse, the screens...

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

        It's good to be alive, in 1985!

        Which is one of my favourite Goon Shows, and also an excellent version of 1984.

        It pits the Big Brother Corporation against the Independent Television Army.

        1. Chris Hawkins

          Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

          It is so good to see so many IT-type fans of a show that was broadcast in the '50's!

          My knees nearly fell of with pleasure at the responses!

          It confirms what I have often thought....... to be a successful happy IT-type person, particularly of the *nix variety, a regular dose of the Goons is absolutely necessary!

          Right, off round the back for the ol' Brandy!!!!

    5. Petrea Mitchell
      Thumb Up

      Re: Quartermass - Goon Show Style

      It's actually available on CD, although under the title "The Scarlet Capsule".

  8. davefb
    Thumb Up

    the film remake of the pit

    Scared the utter bejeezus out of me when reshown in the 70s80's (?). I was probably about 10 or 12?

    Utterly terrified and had problems sleeping for a few nights..

    Great stuff!

    oh and yeah chris, the goon version is brilliant as well :)

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Gordon 10

      Jebus - Manimal - thats a series that needs to be forgotten.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @TMK > Shame the article doesn't mention the shockingly prescient 70s John Mills Quatermass serial made for ITV.<

      Huffity puffity ringstone round

      if you lose your hat it can never be found ...

      Images from that show are stuck in my head even now, 30 years on. Prescient, indeed.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        It was my boyhood introduction to the idea of some sort of post-apocalyptic hippie mayhem.

        I'm still waiting for it to happen! ;)

    3. Dante


      Wasn't manimal Starbuck/Face?

      1. GrumpyJoe

        Re: ?

        Nope, it was Simon MacCorkindale

        Was also in Clavdivs according to that page. Didn't remember him being a brit!

  10. Cyberelic

    I remember

    I remember my father anticipating Quatermas on TV in the fifties. Presumably there was a good deal of advance publicity/bit of a buzz in the press or at 'work'. Of course there was only 2 channels then. I don't personally remember it being earth shattering, but I was allowed to stay up to watch.

    The other TV I got late night privileges (bed by 9pm) was Hancock, which I enjoyed much more. Sadly all the extra 'business' in the 'Radio Ham' seems to have got lost, but in the original Hancock used his mouth to pull out a length of solder, and flinched when it burnt his lip. We've all done it... That was the only time I can specifically remember my father and I laughing spontaneously together.


  11. andy gibson

    Quatermass 2

    QM2 had a couple of horrific bits - where they pulped the visitors to the site to block the tubes going to the big containers housing the "monster" when Quatermass was trying to kill it. No graphic gore needed, the screams were horrible enough when you were a child.

    Even now when I drive in North Lincolnshire, seeing the signs for the real village of Winterton (the name of the town in the film) gives me a slight chill

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quatermass 2

      They did a film of this too, I have it on DVD. Quatermass was played by an American, Brian Donlevy since American money was quite important to the film industry at the time. Quite fun, if only for the respect given to politicians...

      Some of the location filming was done in Hertfordshire in the embryo Hemel Hempstead new town where just the roads had been laid out in the virgin countryside.

      1. graeme leggett Silver badge

        Re: Quatermass 2

        the meteorites infecting people was scary enough me when I was a youngster.

        "there's something on your face" - stuck with me for years

  12. Winkypop Silver badge

    Quatermass and the pit

    Scary shit

  13. Qwelak


    I picked up the box set of the original Quatermass, Q2 and the pit (probably the same as reviewed) only 2 or 3 weeks ago. I too was a little miffed by the lack of the original Quatermass series beyond ep 2 but it's a shame that Stob did not watch Q2 as it is much better quality than the original Q. episodes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ironically

      You are lucky to have the first two episodes at all! Telerecording was in its infancy and it was very much experimental when it was used on the first Quatermass. In fact it is suspected that the quality was considered so poor they didn't bother continuing beyond episode 2. At that stage the BBC had no VTR's at all!

      For 1950's TV its is remarkable that anything survives. Doctor Who is missing 106 of the first 253 episodes (i.e. 1963 to 1969). And that is a good survival record compared to most BBC shows. There's examples of whole series with hundreds of episodes having nothing surviving.

  14. David Pollard

    All good stuff - real heroes

    The great thing was that in those days they had real heroes, the heroes were scientists, and they generally managed to save the world.

  15. graeme leggett Silver badge


    probably a pointless bit of trivia but Doctor Who does reference Quatermass at one point,

    ".... rocket group's got its own problems..."

    And Andrew Keir is in Dalek Invasion Earth (the film)

  16. Rick Brasche

    scariest most disturbingly awesome sci fi Ive seen in years

    watched the Quatermass eXperiment last month after hearing about it on El Reg earlier.- it was as sci fi is supposed to be. Cheesy effects were ignorable as we watch humanity treated as less than ants.

    Then I realized Id seen it before....tho I gave the credit to someone else. In Russel Davies' last Torchwood episode, Children of Earth, I though finally this guy was able to write something besides gay club scenes and a shagging clubhouse series. CoE was brutal, brilliantly acted, and awesome.

    And it was thematically identical to the Quatermass outing. Children being harvested for trivial alien use, humanity powerless to stop it, government in league to suppress the whole thing while hoping to benefit from it, and no real reason on humanity's part to "save" ourselves if the aliens really cared to try again with a little more effort.

    why does the BBC not throw its weight behind it's best ideas and writers? Can't an entire national system do something with the likes of Peter K. Hamilton for example, so we're not stuck with Star Wars: Dead Horse Beaten XXVII?

    Please! we promise to drink more tea! Or we'll keep Eddie Izzard here as a hostage until you comply? :)

  17. Christian Berger

    Actually that might be where the "telecinophobia" of the BBC came from

    The BBC tended to avoid telecine, or filmed material on TV, a lot more than other stations. For example in Germany we still had a few TV shows shot on film until the turn of the century. StarTrek TNG was an US example of a show shot on film, even though it was edited on video. The BBC on the other hand went through great expenses to go completely video.

    That's why they were keen to get portable broadcast quality VTRs when they came out

    I always wondered if that was because those early problems with bad recordings.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Actually that might be where the "telecinophobia" of the BBC came from

      Morse was filmed on film, and the smaller depth of field of cine cameras is one reason it looks so good. TV cameras tend to make everything very flat.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Actually that might be where the "telecinophobia" of the BBC came from

      The reason the BBC wanted to use video on location instead of film was because it was faster and easier. Simple as that. The BBC used film extensivly. Indeed until the mid 1980's most shows had their exteriors shot on 16mm film. The first season of Doctor Who to use VT video for exteriors as a matter of routine was the 1986 season for example. Prior to that they had to have special permission from the head of department to use VT on location (the first instance being Tom Bakers first story in 1974 due to the extensive CSO and model work).

      There were also strict union rules about what could be done and where. For example you would never be allowed to shoot a series on film at a TV Centre studio. But if you went down to the BBC's Ealing Studios, you'd only be able to shoot on film.

  18. Stevie


    Just watched the 6-part "Pit", though I got no booklet with my copy here in the USA.

    I thought it showed the BBC's reputation for quality sci-fi to be well-founded and could only lament that he quality of the script (with all those great incidental characters) was a thing of a bygone age.

    Although the SFX and miniature work was naturally dated, I thought that in some respects the 6-parter surpassed the movie version.

    Not only that, I'm something of a Golden Age buff and I don't recall either of the two major plot ideas of this story being used before. Not saying they weren't, just that my recollection from my quite wide reading around the material is that they weren't.

    Which is another major feather in the writer's cap from where I'm standing.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Nogbad1958

    For the best horror anywhere...

    Many moons ago young uns, when the telly used to close down about one thirty or two am. I watched quatermass and the pit while babysitting in a house down a lonely country road in England. After the film finished I had to sit in a wooden hut (old farm workers home) for a further two hours before the parents came home. And there were trees tapping on the roof with the wind the whole time.

    I was shivering with fear the whole time. Quatermass had got me like that, and the silence and the isolation kept it that way. (Still there weren't many white haired kids at school when I went back on the Monday, just me!)

    Didn't help that all I had to read was the Pan book of horror stories, and that the kid stayed asleep the whole time I was there.

    Oh yes and the dad drove me drunkenly home through swirling patchy fog. You know what, I think it may be the ambiance that really makes a good horror film.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: For the best horror anywhere...

      I watched the three hour version of "Das Boot" in an dark, cramped underground college bar with gurgling and hissing pipes running along the roof. Boy, did that add to the effect.

  20. Raedwald Bretwalda
    IT Angle

    So available, but poor video quality

    As a lad I read battered Penguin editions of the shows. They had some monochrome plates in them. I've always wondered whether watchable recordings existed. Sad that they don't, except for the last.

    IT trivia: IIRC, one script refers to an electronic digital calculating device as a "computor" rather than "computer", because the conventional spelling had yet not been settled.

  21. Gavin Burnett

    Nigel Keale

    Also wrote the Stone Tape.

    Scared the hell out of me when I was a kid - watched it alone one dark autumn night.


  22. William Boyle
    Thumb Up

    All a matter of perspective

    And memory. I LOVE all the QM productions, and have collected all that I have been able to. They are hokey, dated, and their production quality horrendous! That said, they are STILL tonnes of fun!

    FWIW, I also collect old Vincent Price horror films, and one that turned me into a quivering bit of sniveling slime when I was 10 or 11 (House on Haunted Hill) now turns me into a quivering mass of laughter! :-)

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