Survivors – tape 1575

This tape opens with UK Gold, and the end of some classic Eastenders. Lofty, Angie, Mary the Punk – the gang’s all here.

Then, the very first episode of SurvivorsThe Fourth Horseman. Survivors still has one of the greatest narrative title sequences of all time.

The programme opens with Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) playing tennis with a ball-serving machine. They get their money’s worth out of it.

Things have already started as we join the programme. Grant’s son is at boarding school, and are quarantined. The telephone exchanges are short staffed.

She lives in a place called Brimpsfield, which sounds made up, but there’s a real place with that name. I can’t find a train station there, but it’s quite possible for the trains to have stopped running there since 1975 when the programme was made.

Brimpsfield

Abby’s husband finally arrives back after a long, fractured journey. He’s played by Peter Bowles – was he a big TV star at this point? If so, this flags him as a major character.

Peter Bowles and Carolyn Seymour

Things get a bit ominous when Bowles can’t get Radio 4 on the radio. Then the power goes off.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming) has a friend with the disease, whose boyfriend is a doctor. He’s able to tell her how serious the epidemic is, and recommends she leaves town for the country. Naturally, while she’s walking the streets of the town, a bunch of men threaten her.

Abby gets sick, and is clearly sick for a time, but she wakes up, looking awful but still alive. And she discovers Peter Bowles dead on the sofa. So much for star power, and a smart dramatic device to underline the seriousness of the plague.

By the end of the episode, Abby has discovered her son might be alive, having been taken in a group from the school, to camp somewhere in the country. She symbolically cuts her hair short, and burns down her lovely house, then drives off into the night.

The next episode is Genesis. Abby is awoken from sleeping in her car by the sound of a helicopter. Its pilot is Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) who’s returning home, only to find his wife dead. His expression here sums up the entire series, really.

Ian McCulloch

He meets a woman in a fur coat, Anne, who needs his help freeing a man from under a tractor. She’s obviously from a rich family. “Father sent the servants away.” And she’s wearing a fur coat. She and Greg swap stories as they wait for the injured man to wake up. He opens a bottle of champagne. “Champagne tastes awful when it’s warm” she says.

Abby meets some people living in a house which still has power. One of them is Arthur Wormley (George Baker) a president of a union. “I think God might have spared me to lead those that are left.”

George Baker

He’s a ‘hang ’em high’ type, and when another group attack the house, Wormley has the leader summarily shot. So Abby leaves.

Greg doesn’t think much of Anne and her plan to get all the little people working for her, so he heads off, and while he’s in town stocking up on drugs, Jenny finds him. Heading back to the quarry to deliver drugs to the injured man, he finds Anne walking away. She tells Greg the man’s dead, so he tells her to get in the car. Cut back to the quarry where the injured man is trying to crawl from the shack he was in, shouting for his partner. Bleak stuff.

Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming

The episode ends with Jenny spotting a fire in the distance, and persuading Greg to find it. It’s Abby, who’s set the fire as a signal for others to find.

Before the next episode, the end of some Eastenders.

Then there’s a chance to vote for the programmes to be shown on ‘Grandparents Day’

Then, more surviving, with an episode called Gone Away. I haven’t mentioned Talfryn Thomas yet, as recurring comedy Welshman Tom Price, but he keeps popping up. Last week he found a Rolls Royce to drive. Here he finds a deserted farm, goes hunting unexpectedly, harrasses a man and his son when the son grabs a chicken, and then comes across Abby’s church headquarters.

Talfryn Thomas

Abby, Greg and Jenny go scavenging. They fill up at a petrol station – it’s a good thing this is still the 70s, and there are such things as petrol pumps with crank handles.

Pumping Gas

The find a supermarket with food, but it’s under the control of Wormley and his ‘community’. There’s a stand-off, but Jenny grabs a shotgun and they get away. Cue a debate about who has authority, and what kind of civilization they want to live in.

Wormley’s men find the church, but only Tom Price is there. Abby, Greg and Jenny return later, but one of the men, Robert Gillespie, warns them that the others are in the church, and manages to get the men to leave – not before Tom Price volunteers to join them.

Robert Gillespie

The next episode is Gone to the Angels, written by Jack Ronder, the first episode not written by series creator Terry Nation. According to iMDb we’ve missed the episode Corn Dolly.

the trio is on the way to Abby’s son’s school, hoping for some trace of her son Peter. Jenny and Greg find two small children.

Tom and Lizzie

Peter Miles (Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks) plays a man who manages to accidentally shoot Greg in the arm.

Peter Miles

He’s a bit rubbish, so they don’t stay with him very long. They go to meet Abby, who’s found three religious men in a remote house. But they’ve not had the plague yet, and Abby infects them.

Survivors, at least at the start, is a fine series, but hideously grim. It’s like The Walking Dead without the zombies. If I have a complaint, it’s that Nation’s dialogue is a little bit on the nose, when they’re discussing the politics of societal breakdown.

It’s not a series I love, because the premise unnerves me – I know I’d be utterly hopeless in such a scenario, and I’d be dead within a fortnight. But I admire the rigor with which the show plays out its different scenarios.

After this episode, recording continues with For The Love of Ada starring Irene Handl and Wilfred Pickles. The tape runs out during this.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for covering Survivors without mentioning the five second wine scene its detractors use as a stick to beat it with. I was too young to see this at the time, but I caught up with it on DVD and was impressed. Talfryn Thomas was the focus of the best episode they ever did, the murder one. I even liked the remake.

    1. I’m not aware of prevailing opinion on this, so I don’t even know which wine scene you mean. I think the series starts well. I remember the Talfryn Thomas episode you mentioned – a brilliant way to use an ostensibly comedy character.

      1. The wine scene happens in, um, the second series I think. It’s a brief bit where they taste their homemade brewings and it gives people the middle class shivers.

        I liked the series all the way through, though you can notice that as it goes on there’s a difference of opinion behind the scenes about how it should have ended up.

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