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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 12:42 GMT
Quatermass creator dies, aged 84
Nigel Kneale in 1955
The Quatermass serials paved the way for the likes of Doctor Who
Pioneering screenwriter Nigel Kneale, best known for the Quatermass TV serials and films that began in the 1950s, has died at the age of 84.

He died in a London hospital after a period of ill health, his agent said.

Kneale's The Quatermass Experiment in 1953 was the UK's first sci-fi serial and created its first TV hero, the alien-battling Bernard Quatermass.

The writer, from the Isle of Man, has been cited as an influence by Stephen King and film-maker John Carpenter.

The Quatermass Experiment told the story of an alien monster brought back to Earth by a British space rocket.

Robert Simpson, on Hammer Films' official website, said it was "event television, emptying the streets and pubs for the six weeks of its duration".

Last year BBC Four broadcast a live remake starring David Tennant and Jason Flemyng.

Channel controller Janice Hadlow described the original as "one of the first 'must watch' TV experiences that inspired the water cooler chat of its day".

It was followed by two further serials in the 1950s, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit, with all three dramas later turned into films. A fourth serial, Quatermass, was made in 1979.


Kneale also scripted TV dramas including 1984, The Year of the Sex Olympics and The Stone Tape, which are regarded as modern classics.

His 1954 adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 was so shocking that questions were asked in the House of Commons about the suitability of such material for television.

Shot from Quatermass and the Pit
Quatermass and the Pit is thought by many the best of the series
The Year of the Sex Olympics, made in 1968, imagined a future in which the public are subjugated by reality TV which places volunteers in a remote house and monitors their every move.

Kneale earned two Bafta best screenplay nominations for his film adaptations of John Osborne's plays Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer.

He continued working until the late 1990s, writing Sharpe's Gold and episodes of Kavanagh QC.

His wife Judith Kerr is the creator of the Mog children's books.

The couple had two children: Matthew Kneale, who won the Whitbread Book of the Year award for his novel English Passengers, and Tacy Kneale, a special effects designer who has worked on the Harry Potter films.

Thank you for your memories of the work of Nigel Kneale and your reactions to his death, many of which are published below:

I wonder if he would get a chance to produce such superb work these days? Current TV sci-fi/fantasy has a dreary preoccupation with the back story and emotional life of characters. Yet in works like Quatermass and the Pit and The Stone Tape, Kneale concentrated on the science or the horror and still managed to say a lot more about raw human emotion and the state of society than today's rubbish.
Jon Sutcliffe, Enfield, UK

Nigel Kneale was one of the great TV writers. If he had been working in any other genre, this would have been recognised much more readily. However, the quality of his work shines out whenever it is seen again. Long may we be given that opportunity. A worthy tribute might be a restaging of his brilliant The Road, which the BBC so carelessly mislaid decades ago.
Inga, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

One of this country's finest writers... ever. He helped to define what was possible with the new medium of television. Extraordinary stories, and their impact on ordinary lives.

Quatermass and the Pit has got to be one of the most perfectly crafted stories ever written. The world is richer place for what he has left, and a poorer place for his passing.
Mark Slater, Stockport

Kneale was certainly innovative and way ahead of his time. But he was also compassionate, moral and concerned about humanity, shown most effectively in Quatermass and the Pit, where Bernard Quatermass strenuously defends his view that militarism should not be taken into space.
Brian Anderson, Bedford, Beds

Kneale was a great talent and seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the potential and power of television as a medium for popular and intelligent drama. A creator of iconic television drama matched only in his visceral use of the medium by Dennis Potter.
David Ballantyne, Liverpool UK

Up there with Wyndham, Wells and Orwell - the fathers of intelligent, plausible science-fiction. Nigel Kneale was a true genius whose influence on the genre is undoubted and undiminished.
David Moody, Halesowen, UK

Nigel Kneale was the founding father of quality sci-fi TV. The fact that 50 years on Quatermass is still reverently spoken of says it all. He will be sorely missed, yet leaves behind a wonderful legacy. My thoughts are with his family and friends.
Mark Jobson, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Quatermass films terrified me as a child and entertained me as an adult. Superb imagination and way ahead of his time.
Dave, Kidderminster, England

Kneale was a true pioneer and visionary. His body of work was staggering, with Quatermass, The Stone Tape, The Year of the Sex Olympics still holding up today as prime examples of great television. He had a unique understanding of the human character and exploited it to shocking effect in his work.

British television owes Kneale a tremendous debt.
Andy, London, UK

One of my earliest memories as a child was my dad telling me about Quatermass, and how the whole country seemed to stop for it...

Only last week me and some friends held a Quatermass night; the plots, if not the special effects, still hold up remarkably. Even though he hated science fiction per se, I'll never forget how he summed up the first three serials...

1. We go to them... 2. They come to us... 3. They have always been here...!
Martin Winchester, Liverpool

Another one of my personal heroes gone. I don't think that his influence on TV drama in the UK has yet been fully realised, but I don't think it's overstating the case to say that Nigel Kneale pretty much invented popular drama on British television.

These pioneering television writers truly are a dying breed and, maybe we don't all realise it yet, but we will miss them. Good on you, and thanks for the memories.
Martin, High Peak, UK

The world is poorer for the passing of Nigel Kneale. He was a pioneer, a modern day prophet and hugely influential. The Year of the Sex Olympics was originally a prediction of what might happen in the future. Today it is a chilling parody of reality television. The collapse of society so clearly detailed in the final Quatermass story is a warning to us all.
Jamie Dowling, Birmingham, England

I remember watching the film versions of the Quatermass stories as a teenager, after the 1979 story was aired, and being mortally terrified by Quatermass and the Pit. Since then I've been enthralled repeatedly by these classics. They don't date.

Nigel was a genius in every sense of the word and I for one am sorry he has gone. I'll watch my DVD of the original series again tonight as a memorial. Thanks Nigel.
Paul Jones, Grays, UK

Landmark TV - never to be forgotten series.
John Rowney, Chesterfield

This is extremely sad news. His seminal Quatermass science fiction serials, particular the BBC trilogy, are still unsurpassed in the history of British broadcasting. Seeing them again on the recently issued DVD set is a reminder of a remarkable creative talent.

Other works such as his adaptation of 1984, The Year of the Sex Olympics and the remarkable The Stone Tape are enduring testaments to a pioneer of television drama. His admirers will cherish his memory and watch again the works he wrote at the height of his imaginative powers.
James Conway, London, UK

I remember my Dad telling me how he went to the doctor suffering from palpitations and lack of sleep during the Quatermass series. Turned out he was suffering from stress due to the scary nature of the programme! Now that's quality writing.
Essex Havard, Cardiff, Wales

A true genius of TV, I only met him once at a screening of Quatermass and the Pit and he seemed a humble man that was just doing a job, but I believe TV as we know it would not be the same without him.

Directly responsible for some of the greatest television ever, indirectly responsible for most of the rest... he will be missed but never forgotten.
James Hadwen, Nr Norwich

Always highly attuned to the anxieties of the nuclear age, he produced outstandingly original science fiction drama. In an era of primitive special effects, his ability to compel lay in his focus on the human reaction to whatever plot was unfolding, which is why his classic works are still so worth watching today.
Mike Webb, San Diego, United States

Anyone who believes this man was just a writer of great television should unearth his novelization of the 1979 version of Quatermass - Kneale had an incredible command of language, wrapped around an insightful understanding of dynamics and reactions of society, even in a sci-fi setting.

Simply put, Kneale shaped and influenced the tone and intelligence of science fiction in this country, from the 70s' Doctor Who through 80s' The Day of the Triffids to 90s' Ultraviolet. RIP Nigel, you'll be missed.
Leonard Sultana, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

I remember seeing The Stone Tape at the National Film Theatre, introduced by the author. Magic! I don't think he'll be fully appreciated until now - the mark of most geniuses. Perhaps a tribute season will be arranged, showing just how many 'firsts' he was actually responsible for.
John Wall, Hampshire, UK

The Year of the Sex Olympics is scarily accurate about the whole reality TV craze - predicting where Big Brother and the like will eventually end up. At the time (1970?) it must have seemed totally outlandish - now it looks prescient.

Also don't forget Beasts - another example of just how well he could write for TV.
Mark Phillips, London, United Kingdom

He also wrote the interesting series of plays, Beasts, and the offbeat SF sitcom Kinvig, both now happily on DVD. To compare his stuff to Doctor Who is a bit misleading: his work was more serious in intent and execution, strong science fiction rather than family adventure.
Jason Mills, Accrington, UK

What better way to celebrate the remarkable work and life of Nigel Kneale by finally releasing the restored version of his 1954 screenplay of Orwell's 1984.

Together with Rudolph Cartier he created the genre of Telefantasy and two of the still most talked about BBC dramas from the 1950s.
Clive Shaw, Stockholm, Sweden

Kneale was a true literary genius, a godfather of television science fiction with an eerie ability to portend future developments with his provoking, brilliant and challenging plays.

His influence was felt across everything from Doctor Who to The X Files, and without Quatermass we probably wouldn't have had Hammer Horror either. Television is suddenly so less satisfying without him.
Robert J.E. Simpson, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Although he loathed Doctor Who, I think Kneale was quietly proud that his work had inspired other creations. Without a doubt a pioneer of TV writing and broadcasting, he should be up there with Dennis Potter.
David Foxen, Emsworth, UK

When Quatermass appeared for the first time on BBC, I hid behind the couch because I was only eight. During the repeat a few months ago, I still hid behind the couch at the age of 64 !!!
ina Gilchrist, Wetzlar, Germany

Nigel Kneale was, in my opinion, Britain's greatest and most original screenwriter and as I had the privilege of meeting him once I'll add that he was a thoroughly pleasant and charming bloke too.
Bill, London, UK

I remember him appearing at a special screening of Quatermass at the BFI in London in the late 80s and he received a warm greeting from fans, but I feel he never really received the recognition he truly deserved from the industry he gave so much to or for the way he managed to predict what television would become. What a great creative imagination has been lost with his passing.
Jackie, Nottingham UK

Much of Quatermass appeared before I was born and yet it became as big a part of my cultural landscape as Doctor Who. I remember being scared witless when I saw Quatermass and the Pit on the BBC some time in the early 70s and I absolutely loved the John Mills series on ITV in 1979 (I think). Nigel Kneale was a terrific and original writer. His passing is a great loss to TV drama.
Jim, London

Probably the most important and innovative writer of his generation, the Quatermass serials and his adaptation of 1984 rank among the greatest achievements of live television and The Year of the Sex Olympics has proved itself sadly prophetic.
David Forbes, Widnes

The consistently high quality Nigel Kneale maintained over his lengthy career in TV and film can be attributed to his refusal to compromise his work to the demands of the "creatures" (as he termed them) in the film and TV industry. Although he is best known as a writer of science fiction and horror, he refused to work to existing generic formats, instead basing his frightening and thought-provoking dramas on contemporary social fears.

I once wrote to him enquiring about an out-of-print book of his and he took the trouble to look up my phone number and invite me round to his house, where he gave me a signed copy. A nice bloke as well as a TV pioneer.
Alex Briggs, London, UK

A truly original creator, who proved that popular drama could be intelligent and intelligent drama popular. Another work of his that deserves a mention is his adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, which managed to be truly terrifying by intelligent use of mood, suspense and character without ever resorting to cheap shocks or gore.
Colin Stuart, Worcester, UK

The father of modern television drama has died. What can anyone say to convey the true impact of this? I always somehow thought that people like Nigel Kneale would go on for ever, and I don't know how I will ever come to terms with the fact that they never can. A loss beyond description.
Charles Norton, Leicester, UK

The breadth of Kneale's imagination, coupled with his understanding of how to write for the medium of television, defined templates for telling science fiction stories on the small screen that are still in use today. His legacy will always be those masterclasses that have inspired so many pupils.
Jeremy Bentham, Boreham Wood, UK

Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series is timeless. He was a television pioneer who harnessed complex ideas in scripts that brilliantly combined intelligence and popular appeal.

As with many pioneering originals he never really received the wide recognition that he deserved in his lifetime.

It says something about how much what Kneale represented in particular, and television culture in general, has been degraded, that one of the categories in last night's National Television Awards was for Most Popular TV Contender - an award for a so-called "star" of a reality television series! It's enough to have Quatermass spinning in his pit!
Deborah, London, UK

Nigel Kneale's brilliant concoction of ghost stories, scientific romance and kitchen sink drama is still cutting edge today, with shows like Torchwood carrying the flame. He wrote about the society he lived in but also predicted aspects of the future we are now living in.
Paul Phillips, Manchester, UK

I recently got hold of the original Quatermass serials on DVD, and was amazed at how well they stood up to today's productions - especially in terms of atmosphere.

Nigel Kneale wrote the serials at a time when sci-fi was regarded by many as kids' stuff, but the on-screen warnings put an end to all that! Writers of modern science fiction/fantasy owe a huge debt to Nigel Kneale. A genius and legend indeed.
Rob, Winsford, Cheshire

Very sad news, but he leaves behind an immense legacy. His adaptation of 1984 pretty much launched the career of Peter Cushing and his Quatermass serials set the bar for TV science fiction - a bar never really surpassed. With wit and imagination, he took the viewer to places that were unusual and frightening but always with a deep and thoughtful intelligence. The Year of the Sex Olympics is stunning in its foresight. If you made it today, it would be hailed as a savage piece of social commentary.

He will continue to inspire those dark corners of the imagination.
Julian Thorley, Staffordshire, UK

One of the defining moments of my childhood was watching Nigel Kneale's series Beasts on ITV in 1976. The episode Baby is one of the greatest portrayals of the supernatural on either television or cinema, where Kneale builds up the tension to an almost unbearable level. A great talent, may he rest in peace.
Paul Adams, Luton, UK

Quatermass creator was 'TV giant'
01 Nov 06 |  Entertainment


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