Quatermass – tape 2317

Huffity Puffity Ringstone Round…

Our second visit to the Sci Fi Channel in this blog, although the start of the tape has a brief glimpse of the History Channel before it closes down. Before the programme starts, there’s a trailer for some sport, and a trailer for the History Channel (“Now on four hours a night”). There’s also a trailer for David Lynch’s Dune with a very portentous voiceover. They also have a Millennium countdown, which is useful for dating this recording.

Sci Fi Millennium Countdown - Quatermass

by my calculations, that makes it the 20th August 1996 just after 8pm BST.

Then the first episode of Quatermass starts, Ringstone Round. The narrator intones (with a vaguely European accent, possibly intended to evoke (and therefore mirror) Jacob Bronowski from The Ascent of Man?

“In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the whole world seemed to sicken. Civilised institutions, whether old or new fell, as if some primal disorder was reasserting itself. And men asked themselves, why should this be?”

It’s classic Nigel Kneale. Ancient awful powers affecting modern man. But for the first time he moves his story into the near future where society is breaking down. We meet the older Professor Quatermass (John Mills) as he arrives in a very run down street by taxi, whose driver is very keen to get away as quickly as possible. He’s then set upon by some thugs, looking like hippies, but speaking with the poshest accents imaginable. I’m assuming this was deliberate, showing that whatever societal breakdown is happening has affected all layers of society.

Quatermass is rescued by Simon MacCorkindale, another scientist who’s there for the same reason as Quatermass – to appear on a live television programme about the historic link up between a Russian and American space station. However, all Quatermass wants to do is rail against the ‘disease’ of the world, and show a picture of his missing granddaughter. After this outburst the interview is pulled from the air, but then the live pictures from space show the spacecraft suffering from some kind of catastrophic failure. And because Quatermass had declared that the project “would all come to nothing, sooner than they think” he’s cast under suspicion.

MacCorkindale takes Quatermass back to his home – he lives under a radio telescope. One of his colleagues is Brenda Fricker, off of Casualty.

Brenda Fricker

While there, they meet a group of apparent hippies who call themselves the Planet People, who wander around the countryside chanting ‘Ley, Ley’ and are convinced that they are going to be taken to another planet. They congregate at a nearby stone circle, which is guarded by a lot of armed police, although why armed police are bothering to guard an ancient stone circle at a time when most of society has broken down is unclear. But it does let the programme have a bit of a ruck. Then, as Quatermass and his friends retreat from the fray, there’s a blinding light from the centre of the circle, and when they return there, nothing remains but ash.

Ringstone Round

I remember being quite disturbed by the image of a body not quite consumed at the time.

Sci-Fi have found a weird way to shorten the credits of the programme. They’ve run two  captions next two one another, squashed up.

Quatermass Credits

Why they didn’t just run the credits at double speed is a mystery. I doubt anybody would have noticed. Interesting grammatical digression: The opening credits say “Euston Films Present” – implying that the company name is a plural.

In episode two, Quatermas and MacCorkindale rescue a young girl who was near the blast but didn’t die, while Brenda Fricker decides on a change of career.

Planet Brenda

But the radio telescope has recorded something when the circle was blasted, so the scientists have something to work on. But there’s an awkward atmosphere at dinner, as MacCorkindale seems to think his wife is being taken over by whatever madness drives the Planet People. The local District Commissioner arrives, looking for Quatermass, as his help is needed to work out what’s going on. Looks like this future history wasn’t kind to Queen Elizabeth.

District Commissioner

Quatermass goes with her to London to try to find out more, along with the young girl affected by the blast, while MacCorkindale and his team work on the problem. More Planet People turn up near their base, going to an even closer stone circle, and there’s another of the strange blasts.

In episode three, Quatermass has been separated from the district commissioner in a gang fight, and is lost in London. Luckily, he’s rescued by Ethel from Eastenders and her gang of underground-dwelling OAPs.

Gretchen Franklin

The girl is taken to a hospital while the district commissioner tries to contact someone involved in the investigation. But then things get a bit Exorcist.

Quatermass Exorcist

The girl levitates, then explodes into dust.

Meanwhile, Quatermass is talking to one of his old men, who used to work in the soap business. He talks about musk, a precious ingredient harvested from Musk Deer. This is significant to Quatermass, but before he can think too much about it he’s ‘rescued’ from the old people by some soldiers, and taken to what appears to be the seat of power.


Yes, the Daily Mail were right, and those pinkos at the BBC have finally taken over. In fact, they want to make a broadcast. The studio director is livid. “But Tituppy Bumpity is the only show anyone watches any more”

They arrange a satellite link between Quatermass, Nasa and Russia. The Americans and Russians think the problem is a failure to communicate, and want to send up a shuttle to communicate with whatever is sending the blasts. But Quatermass has a different theory. “The ripe crop can’t appeal to the reaper” he says. “The human race is being harvested.”

The Planet People are converging on Wembley Stadium. Apparently the venue for some ritualistic games nowadays, but Quatermass thinks it’s another ancient site.


Sure enough, there’s another blast there, which somehow Quatermass survives, despite being caught in the middle of it.

He collects a rag-tag band of aging scientists to try and figure out when the strikes happen, and fight back, if possible. Most of episode 4 consists of preparing the weapon to strike back – to poison the crop with a nuclear blast sent back up the energy blast, after attracting it with a synthesized signal to a place it had struck already – MacCorkindale’s radio telescope. Then, just as the blast is about to come, another band of Planet People arrive, one of whom is Quatermass’ granddaughter. They see each other just as the blast is starting, Quatermass almost collapses in shock, and in the end the weapon is triggered by them both together, young and old. It’s a pretty good ending, and worked better for me this time than it did when I first saw it.

After the programme, there’s a strange ‘news’ report from the future…

and an advert for the Sci Fi channel’s website. Cutting edge stuff in 1996.

Then, the start of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, featuring Telly Savalas,  and the tape finishes shortly after.

Adverts and trails:

  • trail: Armageddon movies
  • Vauxhall Corsa: Ruby Wax
  • Guardian Direct
  • Thomson holidays
  • Green Flag
  • Andrews Salts
  • Nationwide Security Blinds – John Stalker
  • Oasis – Mike Reid
  • trail: Starman
  • Special K
  • Prospero Direct
  • Green Flag
  • KFC
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises
  • Wrigleys Spearmint Gum
  • AA Car Insurance
  • Kellogg’s
  • Schwarzkopf Gliss
  • Thera-med
  • trail: Starman
  • trail: Armageddon Movies
  • trail: Outer Limits
  • trail: The Incredible Hulk
  • V-Fit
  • AA Home Insurance
  • Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
  • Gliss
  • KFC
  • Setlers Antacid
  • Nytol
  • Littlewoods pools
  • trail: Outer Limits
  • Royal London
  • Gliss
  • Nationwide Security Blinds
  • Thera-Med
  • Kellogg’s Special K
  • Vileda Actifibre
  • Boddington’s Gold
  • Andrews Salts
  • Quorn burgers
  • Mastercard
  • trail: Tales of the Unexpected
  • trail: Dune
  • trail: Tales of the Unexpected
  • Walkers Crisps
  • Green Flag
  • Hotpoint
  • Sensodyne F
  • Cuprinol Woodstain
  • Panadol Extra
  • Royal London
  • Orbit/Extra
  • Armageddon
  • ViFit
  • Thera-Med
  • Argos
  • Prospero Direct
  • green Flag
  • McVities Go Ahead
  • Soft & Gentle
  • trail: Starman
  • WHSmith – Nicholas Lyndhurst
  • Huggies PullUps
  • AA Home Insurance
  • Anadin Extra
  • Oasis
  • trail: Amazing Stories
  • trail: The Thriller Domain
  • trail: Alone in the Dark
  • Winalot
  • Blockbuster Video
  • Huggies Pull Ups
  • Special K
  • Winalot
  • AA Home Insurance
  • Gliss
  • Cuprinol Woodstain
  • Winalot
  • trail: The Outer Limits
  • Littlewoods
  • Toilet Duck
  • orbit
  • AA Car Insurance
  • Kellogg’s
  • Go Ahead
  • Gliss
  • Royal Caribbean
  • WH Smith
  • Thera-Med
  • AA Home Insurance
  • Walker’s Crisps
  • Cuprinol
  • Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
  • trail: Alone in the dark
  • trail: The Incredible Hulk

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