TRIVIA | PRESS | QUOTES
Nigel Kneale (1922-2006)
Date of Birth: 18 April 1922
Born in 1922 the son of a local newspaper owner and editor on the Isle of Man, Nigel Kneale attempted a career as an actor before concentrating on writing. He won the Somerset Maugham award for short fiction in 1950 for a collection of stories entitled Tomato Cain all set in the Isle of Man's past. Influenced by his own personal experience the stories did flirt with monsters and the paranormal. Encouraged to follow this success with a novel, instead he turned to the newly emerging medium of television and joined the BBC as one of only two members of its script department. His main job was to tailor stage plays so that they could be put before the cameras. Not too difficult when everything was shot live and resembled a stage performance anyway.
With a gap in the BBC's schedules in the summer of 1953, Kneale wrote The Quatermass Experiment, a six part science fiction serial. With the audience in Britain for the first time turning away from radio to television because of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, The Quatermass Experiment hooked the nation and cleared the streets for its evening transmissions. Kneale had been critical of the BBC's attitude to drama at the time, calling it radio with pictures. Indeed the special effects department refused to create a monster for the serial and Kneale himself had to make and perform the part with the aid of children's author Judith Kerr who he later married.
Asked to do another futuristic story along with Quatermass producer / director Rudolph Cartier, they dramatised George Orwell's nightmare future vision 1984 (1954). One of most complex productions the BBC had attempted at the time, it was shot in two studios including one for a whole orchestra to provide the music to accompany the live performance. The production and especially its final scene where the hero is threatened with his worst nightmare in Room 101 provoked thousands of complaints and was raised in the House of Parliament. Horror had come into the nation's living room. In reality the rats that were the cause of the terror were rather docile and had to be lured into place by apple juice being smeared around their cage. It was in considerable doubt if the planned "repeat" second live performance would take place until it was learnt that the Queen approved of the work.
In 1955 Hammer Films released the film version of The Quatermass Xperiment, a brave decision as it was believed it would be impossible to attract a huge audience with the new adult X certificate. It proved to be a massive hit not only in Britain but also in America under the title The Creeping Unknown, leading directly to the creation of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958) and the beginning of Hammer's reign as the major producer of successful horror films. Kneale did not contribute to the script as he was under contract to the BBC (though the BBC did profit) and Hammer used their regular American screenwriter Richard Landau.
in 1955 Kneale created Quatermass II for the BBC which he would help translate to the big screen. A third story, Quatermass and the Pit, would follow in 1958, shot at Ealing Film Studios which enhanced the production and it remains Kneale's personal favourite of his Quatermass stories.
Amongst his work for the BBC was an adaptation of a Chekov story for director Tony Richardson. Richardson set up Woodfall films who inaugurated the British "new wave" with an adaptation by Kneale of John Osborne's "angry young man" play Look Back in Anger (1958).
Kneale continued his ground breaking work at the BBC with a number of plays, many now sadly destroyed, that merged fantasy themes with a deeper underlying theme. In the early seventies, the BBC rejected both a new play, Cracks, and a final Quatermass serial. Kneale moved to the commercial ATV channel where he continued to craft popular and impressive fantasy drama including a filming of Quatermass / The Quatermass Conclusion (1978).
American directors who had grown up watching the filmed versions of his dramas secured his services in the early eighties. John Carpenter asked him to write a non-Michael Myers script for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, though it would be much changed by release, and John Landis collaborated on an eventually unmade remake of The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954).
Kneale has continued to write for television but it is for his ground breaking work in the fifties, sixties and seventies for which he will be remembered. Along with author John Wyndham, Kneale took Science Fiction away from rockets and ray guns and returned it to the structure of HG Wells but in a contemporary setting and with a sub-text that resonated deeper than its genre trappings would suggest. He continues to influence knowingly or unknowingly every Earthbound fantasy drama brought to the screen.
Kneale died on 29 October 2006 at the age of 84.
* = television
Wuthering Heights (6 December 1953) (script) *
Quatermass II (22 October 1955 - 26 November 1955) (script) *
Quatermass Xperiment (original scripts)
1958 - 1959
Men in the Moon (script)
The Book Programme: Tales of Horror (16 December 1976) (performer (himself)) *
(24 October 1979 - 14 November 1979) (script) *
SF:UK: Big Brother Goes Hardcore (1 April 2001) (performer (himself)) *
Watching You (22 May 2003) (performer (himself)) *
The Cathedral (26 October 1952) (script) *
The Commonplace Heart (13 January 1953) X (script) *
The Wednesday Play: Curtain Down (12 January 1953) X (script) *
Golden Rain (2 August 1953) (script) *
The Laice (29 March 1953) (script) *
Number Three (script) *
Look Back in Anger (script)
Panorama: 26 January 1959 (performer (himself)) *
Dark Terrors no.7 (October - December 1993) pp.9-19
L'Écran Fantastique no.12 (1979) pp.52-53 (France)
Film Comment vol.28 no.3 (May / June 1992) pp.51-53
Film Dope no.31 (January 1985) pp.11-12 (UK)
Filmfax no.37 (February / March 1993) pp.64-67 (USA)
The House That Hammer Built no.11 (February 1999)
pp.128 - 136 (UK)
Journal of Popular Film and Television vol.30 no.3
(Autumn 2003) pp.158-165 (USA)
Midnight Marquee no.47 (Summer 1994) pp.57-68 (USA)
Monthly Film Bulletin vol.56 no.662 (March 1989) pp.90-93;
Primetime vol.1 no.9 (Winter 1984 - 1985) pp.22-25
Shivers no.28 (April 1996) pp.50-51 (UK)
Sight and Sound vol.28 no.2 (Spring 1959) pp.86-88
Starburst no.16 (1979) pp.14-19 (UK)
Starburst no.58 (June 1983) p.40 (UK)
Starburst no.59 (July 1983) pp.30-33, 41 (UK)
Starburst no.265 (September 2000) pp.48-57 (UK)
Time Out no.489 (31 August 1979) pp.8-10 (UK)
TV Times vol.80 no.31 (24 July 1975) p.20 (UK)
TV Zone no.106 (September 1998) pp.38-43 (UK)
TV Zone no.162 (May 2003) pp.46-51 (UK)
Video Viewer no.2 no.11 (May 1983) p.5 (UK)
Video Watchdog no.47 (1998) pp.32-43 (USA)
National Film Theatre Programme March 2000 pp.40-42
Last Updated: 14 February, 2010
All text on this page © 2000 - 2009 EOFFTV