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Quatermass (1979)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Quatermass (1979)
Euston Films for ITV, 24/10-14/11/1979
4 x 60 min episodes, colour
DirectorPiers Haggard
Executive ProducerVerity Lambert
ProducerTed Childs
ScreenplayNigel Kneale

Cast: John Mills (Professor Bernard Quatermass); Simon MacCorkindale (Kapp); Barbara Kellermann (Clare Kapp); Margaret Tyzack (Annie Morgan); Ralph Arliss (Kickalong); Paul Rosebury (Caraway); Jane Bertish (Bee); Toyah Willcox (Sal); David Yip (Chen); Brenda Fricker (Alison)

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In a collapsing Britain, the professor faces off an alien threat which is targeting Earth's young people.

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The fourth and final television outing for Nigel Kneale's rocket-scientist hero, Quatermass was made for LWT (the three previous series were made for BBC), and reached television screens in 1979, more than 20 years after the character's last appearance in Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, tx. 1958-59, filmed in 1967).

Quatermass is set in an alternative Britain of the near future, a country which has disintegrated into virtual anarchy, beset by muggers, with gang wars in the streets and state-sanctioned 'gladiator' killing replacing football at Wembley stadium.

Played here by John Mills, the professor is no longer a decisive man of action, but a weary, confused old man, adrift in a Britain he barely recognises, and desperately searching for his missing granddaughter. She has become a member of the Planet People, a cult of young believers who see their salvation beyond the stars, but are actually willing victims of an extraterrestrial force which causes them to gather in vast numbers across the planet, before 'harvesting' them, like animals killed for their scent. In a wry demonstration of grey power, the young are finally saved from annihilation when the professor assembles a team of aged scientists who are immune to the alien attraction.

Kneale's script was written some 10 years earlier, which might explain its preoccupation with hippie-like religious cults and stone circles. But a year after the 'Winter of Discontent', in which Britain was crippled by strikes and power cuts, rubbish was piled high in the streets, and unemployment reached levels not seen since the 1930s (with worse yet to come), the series' vision of societal collapse may have seemed all too contemporary.

Ideas of what was acceptable for television had moved on since the 1950s, as had the standard of special effects, with the result that Quatermass was a good deal more explicitly horrific than its predecessors. The mass deaths of the young Planet People were chilling, as was a scene in which a young girl levitates from her hospital bed, then explodes into dust.

Kneale's plot perhaps owes something to the New Age theories of Erich von Däniken, author of Chariots of the Gods, in which he claimed that Earth had once been visited by advanced alien beings which left their mark in the form of the Egyptian pyramids and other ancient architecture.

An edited two-hour version, The Quatermass Conclusion, was shown in cinemas outside the UK.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete episode: 'Huffity Puffity Ringstone Round' (51:55)
Children of the Stones (1977)
Quatermass Experiment, The (1953)
Quatermass II (1955)
Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59)
Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Mills, John (1908-2005)
Euston Films
Thames Television