Sunday, 29 December 2013

The End of the World (book review)

This first appeared in Fortean Times FT 309, Christmas 2013

The End of the World
Reverend Billy
OR Books, New York and London, 2012
118 pages, illustrated
pb and e-book, 118pp, illus, refs, £7.00, ISBN 978-1-935928-93-5

The Rev Billy (left) and the Stop Shopping Choir at a summer 2013 "happening" outside Freedom Bookshop in Angel Alley, Whitechapel, during one of their occasional visits to London. Photo: copyright Matt Salusbury

REFRESHINGLY different to all that misanthropic Armageddon porn swirling around of late, The End of The World suggests we may already be at the "global going-crazy tipping point" of an already unfolding consumerism-fuelled climate change enviro-apocalypse, the "Shopocalypse." While most prophets of doom display an unhealthy relish at the prospect of unbelievers engulfed by extreme weather events or whatever, the Rev's take on the End of the World is strangely uplifting, with an obvious love of people and of life, even if all life on earth is about to disappear.

Its surreal gallows humour would melt the heart of the most curmudgeonly lizard-bothering End Times freak, with The End heralded by an imagined "white-hot two-day blowout sale as Best Buy" and by the appearance of new eco-disaster cash-in products like "drowning Elmo toys." A wonderfully vivid opening scene relates non-stop breaking news pay-per-view reality disaster movies still playing on the i-Phones clutched in the cold, dead hands in the piled-up mounds of corpses when it's all over. But there's a serious side, US Geographical Survey data on "the widespread mortality of their forests" also gets a look in.

As Rev. Billy reminds us, "We are part of the tornado," urging the reader to take personal responsibility for the coming Shopocalypse, and to take steps to avert a climate change Armageddon through political activism, or as his Church of Stop Shopping Choir so succinctly put it, "Changealujah!" The Rev. Billy's the alter ego of New York actor and street performer Bill Talen, and the Church of Stop Shopping's "Forest Faith" enviro-creed owes more to Occupy Wall Street than to any of "the disastrous religions."

Nor is it a haranguing "I'm better than you" critique from the sidelines – the Rev. Billy and his associates have actually gone out and done some of the things The End of the World describes – one chapter recounts an impromptu assembly held by Occupy mass-arrestees in underground cell under a New York police station, another a guerrilla Thanksgiving dinner in the lobby of the Bank of America.

The End of the World will fit neatly in your pocket, and its "impossible" poetry is up there with the best bits of the Beat Poets, but with much better gags.



Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Future of the housing market: private rented sector

The future of the housing market: the private rented sector
(Westminster Social Policy Forum - 10 December 2013)

A hand-drawn poster at the recent "Made Possible By Squatting" art exhibition in Dock Street, London E1. Poster is anti-copyright, photo copyright Matt Salusbury

THE TITLE of the gig was actually "The future of the housing market: Help to Buy, property supply and the private rented sector", with the private rented sector (PRS in the latest jargon) tacked on the end. Westminster Social Policy Forum gigs, at an address in Whitehall, and their reports will cost you between £20 and £90 each.

There were developers aplenty, the representatives of private tenants were very thin on the ground. (Yes, there was someone big from Capita, formerly with government and now with Capita via the revolving door.)

Trowers and Hamlins in the Westminster Village
The organisers had Tower Hamlets Council down as the rather charmingly Medieval-sounding "Trowers and Hamlins", and elsewhere as "Towers and Hamlets". I didn't realise the "Westminster Village" mentality extended to not being able to name other boroughs in inner London!

I was there as the "reporting press", which means I got in for free. The press are supposed to be neutral in these matters, but I'm afraid I came over as rather losing it with my questions/comments.

This wasn't a spur of the moment thing, I actually went with the intention of doing a rant, having been to some forums already where they could go on and on about the private rented sector without mentioning the elephants in the room – the rents are too high, private tenants effectively how no rights at all in the current market conditions, they face retaliationary evictions as well.

And – my rant continued – the letting agent sector has gone rogue, and hasn't this sudden housing shortage go a teeny weeny bit to do with selling of the social housing stock via the Right to Buy for council house tenants over the past forty-odd years. (Recently suspended in Scotland for new council house tenants, with Scottish local councils allowed to suspend it for new tenants, which some have already done, so it is possible. Not that it's even on the agenda here.)

I was expecting a pretty poor debate or none at all, which basically what happened. There were loads of people from central government (Dept. for Local Govt and Communities, DWP, etc. as well as the Scottish Govt.) The England and Wales Govt. people seemed to echo what I've heard local councillors in my own borough of Haringey say a lot recently – the private rented sector is all fine and hunky dory, and indeed there should be more of it. (More and more local authorities are becoming commercial property developers in joint ventures rather than continuing to build council houses.)

We need to talk about money
The private rented sector being fab is now official policy, I was somewhat shocked to find out. No mention is made of the level of the rents, of course. It seems to be a very British discussion in which nobody wants to talk about money or actually name figures for rents that people have to pay.

The government people didn't want to discuss how high the rents were in the private rented sector at all, and were content to announce some forthcoming initiatives to protect private tenants from "rogue landlords," seemingly unaware or unbothered by the fact that the whole private rented sector, in London at least, has gone rogue. It's not the actions of a few bad apples anymore, it's an all-pervasive malaise across the market.

The developers and landlord representatives seemed to have a more honest take on the situation. Chris Norris of the National Landlord's Association, in response to the bit of my rant about Londoners going into debt to pay arbitrary letting agents fees every time they moved, said "the government have missed a trick" with its recent – very limited – regulations on letting agents to be brought into force in April. (The Scottish Government has banned letting agent fees, Katherine Sacks Jones of housing charity Crisis reminded us.)

One consultant who advises developers (private sector and social), said he's been on Shelter's "How long will it take you to save for a deposit on a house?" web tool, impersonating a 20-year-old hoping to by "a two-bed in Streatham", only to be told that his imaginary younger self would be able to put a deposit on a house when they were 44. This was Jerry Gilber, a partner with Ark Housing Consultancy speaking. Like a lot of the developers and landlords present, he seemed to have a much more realistic take on the unsustainability of the housing market than a government locked in to "free market is best" ideology.

Jerry said "the supply of affordable rented housing has dropped, the government has got to accept it needs some kind of subsidy – even in form of free land." He also warned that with the end of quantitative easing (printing money) on the horizon, for currently rather comfortable mortgage payers, "half a point on the interest rate is an increase on 10 per cent on what you have to pay back."

Step in and do affordable housing - homeowners
And did I really hear Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowners Alliance (an organisation that sounds like it would represent small "c" conservative curtain-twitchers anxious about the effect of Romanians moving in next door on their property prices) call for the public sector to step in and do affordable housing? Yes I did.

Generally depressing though the event was, there were some interesting developments, some positive. Mark Pawsey MP, who's on the Local Govt Select Committee, confirmed to me that his Committee had in a report recommended offering longer tenancies and limiting rent increases (See here - Chapter 5). Not something you hear about on the news, and evidence that even if government are wedded to the invisible hand of the unrestricted free market, some parliamentarians are at least talking about putting some kind a brake on market forces.

Kick the doors off
And Lord Best, a housing association chair, said he'd been on one of the "dawn raids" by Newham Council, who are very big on licensing of all private rented accommodation in their borough. He described how the Newham licensing people are accompanied by police, UKBA, and HMRC officials as well, because so many landlords are "not paying tax" (about a third, according to Exaro).

While Newham so far have "not got a warrant to kick the doors off" dodgy private rented accommodation, Lord Best says they're working on it, they had two cases in court at the time of writing, seeking to get the power to go back and kick off two doors in particular. As the guy from Hawaii 5-0 would say, "Book 'em, Danno!"

In a less arse-kicking corner of the private rented sector, Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, head of policy and governance (mortgages) at the Nationwide, confirmed to me that the mortgage lender had become the first one (and as far as I'm aware still the only one) to end that traditional restriction on buy-to-let-mortgages, the condition that tenancies could only be for six months, or at the very most a year.

Nationwide buy-to-let mortgages can be for three years now. Andrew said the biggest risk they face by putting the tenancy up to three years is not the landlord getting burnt, but the tenant getting burnt. Increasingly, tenants are forced to put up to a year's rent (or even more) upfront to beat other offers and get the flat, and if they do that and the landlord does a runner, the tenant is screwed, and so is the mortgage lender.

It's a London thing
Kate Faulkener of Designs of Property had a lot of interesting data on the property market. First of all, the absolutely desperate market conditions private tenants face in the capital seem to be a London thing. Outside London – particularly in cities in the Midlands and up North – there is an acute shortage of accommodation, but that's because the landlords can't make any money out of it. Some have been putting up "provincial" rents so that these are edging up to the level they were in 2008, when landlords had to slash them, but they can't put them up anymore. Rents are 2.2 per cent below what they were in 2012 in Belfast.

What would be needed before out of London landlords could raise rents to beyond break-even point would be for wages to go up (not down, as they are at the moment).

Kate also said that in the UK, "40 per cent of our wealth in property" and "over 60 per cent of houses up to June were bought with cash."

Hardshrinking families
It seems also that the old chestnut beloved of politicians of all stripes, "hardworking families", are shrinking. The average household is getting smaller, but houses for smaller "hardworking families" (and cat-owning singletons doing as little work as they can get away with, like myself, and also older "downsizers") aren’t getting built. Everyone's desperate to sell you a two-bed property, it seems. As Richard Fagg of developers Bouygues, says, "land prices mean you can't build bungalows, you have to go for density."

Planning policy (Peter Taylor of developers DLA Piper pointed out that in a big development, planning law mean you'd have to build a few bungalows among all the two-beds that fewer people want.

Kate Faulkener warned that those older "downsizers" will be entering the market in big numbers soon, and can elbow aside the first-time buyers with a chain buy offering cash, and lots of it, for that little property they want to downsize into. "People trading down will be half the market soon," she predicts. And she warns downsizers are likely to distort the market, so that the sort of properties they like – "the three beds will become as desirable, and therefore as expensive, as the four and five beds."

Meanwhile, all this Help to Buy stuff to encourage buyers – including first time buyers – to buy houses will hit another snag no one's thought of. Kate notes that now that have hefty student loans to pay off, "the young already have one big debt, they don't want to get another one in the form of a mortgage."

Other interesting data that came out were: the proportion of rented accommodation as part of total housing stock is now moving up to 16-18 per cent, largely driven by the buy-to-let mortgage market. Rachel Fisher of the National Housing Association said that every five minutes, someone turns to the government for Housing Benefit, and Chris Norris of the National Landlords Association said of his corner of the sector (landlords with typically ten or fewer properties), "on average one in three tenants have Housing Benefit."

Mark Pawsey MP noted there was "an issue at the lower end of the market" where people "are unable to pay private rental" and held up an example of best practice in the private rented sector the - £125m deal for the Stratford Halo development, build under the government-subsidised Build to Let scheme. Details of the deal include "mutually agreed rent increases over time."

Oh dear, would that be the same Stratford Halo development that had an impromptu housewarming party by private tenant activists protesting at its government subsidy for building but at a distinctly subsidy-free flavoured rent of £1,700 a month for a two-bed flat?

Just as the Homeowners Association lady called on the public sector to do social housing, so Chris Norris of the National Landlords Association sounded positively Socialist compared to the government's free market fundamentalism. Chris said there is a "debate about whether the private rented sector quality of product is high enough," with lots of money "going into provision but not into investment and upkeep." And "enforcement isn't up to par… We need to regulate tenure, we need to regulate prices." He also questioned whether the usual two-month notice tenure "is fit for purpose – for families" and concluded that with "such an inbalance between supply and demand, the market isn't functioning for consumers."

Expectations incredibly low
Katherine Sacks Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, quoted the English Housing Survey as indicating that "a third of people had been there [in their private tenancies] for less than a year. She added that "one in four homelessness acceptances [Councils giving people emergency accommodation]" are "due to the ending of short-term tenancy" (the landlord evicting them for whatever reason, under current housing law they don't really need one.) "The private rented sector is a cause of homelessness," she concluded. A big Crisis survey on people's experiences of the private rented sector is due out in mid-February. An initial finding is that in the private rented sector, "people's expectations are incredibly low."

Hackney Council is launching a "Council-run lettings agency" that's starting soon, with the aim of taking the management (or lack of it) off the small landlords, and to "try an increase supply in Hackney," announced Councillor Karen Alcock, Hackney Council's cabinet member for property and housing policy.

She also said that the incentives the Council used to offer landlords to make their properties available to rent for people on their housing waiting list (often temporarily) "aren't attractive enough" to landlords anymore, because
"landlords can flip their tenancies every six months… increase rent by hundreds of pounds."

Bigger and Better
Mark Hitchen of the "Expanding the Private Rented Sector" bit of the Department of Local Government and Communities outlined vision for a bright future driven by free market ideology. He was, indeed, distinctly keener on the invisible hand of the market than the landlords and homeowners associations and developers. It was, he said, the Government's "ambition" to make private renting a positive form of housing, to make "private rented" Bigger and Better by "raising standards, tackling rogue landlords", against whom tenants will be protected through a forthcoming Tenant Package. There will be more from Local Govt. & Communities next year (2014) on "longer tenancies," Mark expects this will be driven by "market forces". Oh dear!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Please do not touch the walrus no. 7

I made "1001 Things not to do in London, number 7" on the website of the excellent Smoke: A London Peculiar magazine with "Please do not climb on the horse" in Spring Gardens, round the corner from the British Council/NICE offices and right near Admiralty Arch. See here...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Copyright of the Daleks

From the Freelance, the newsletter for NUJ freelances, November 2013 online edition

A "Complaints Manager Dalek" in the window of a vintage hifi shop in Hornsey Road, North London. Photo copyright Matt Salusbury, Daleks created by Terry Nation/BBC

NOVEMBER 23 sees the fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast of the first Doctor Who episode. Freelances will no doubt be interested in the details of one of the lesser-known aspects of Doctor Who's genesis all those years ago - the Copyright of the Daleks.

Under normal circumstances, most secondary rights and neighbouring rights on a Doctor Who script written for the BBC should have stayed with the BBC. In-house BBC designer Raymond Cusick - a staffer - got nothing beyond his usual salary for designing the Daleks. Years later, he got a retrospective goodwill payment of a few hundred pounds (in 1980s money) for his Dalek designs.

The case of the scriptwriter who created the first Dalek series, however, was a very different matter. Read on...

Terry Nation - The Man Who Invented the Daleks - book review for Fortean Times

Curse of the Daleks - Nation and Whitaker's forgotten children's matinee Daleks stage play from the height of Dalekmania in 1965

Father of the Cybermen - Dr Kit Pedler, the man who invented Doctor Who's Cybermen, also from Fortean Times

Monday, 28 October 2013

Legendary Beasts of Britain - book review

This first appeared in Fortean Times, FT 306, October 2013

Legendary Beasts of Britain
Julia Creswell
Shire Publications, Oxford, 2013
pb, 48pp, illus. (colour), index, refs.
ISBN 978-0-74781-204-3

What stands out immediately from Legendary Beasts of Britain is the astonishing beauty of its illustrations – excellent colour reproductions of manuscript medieval bestiary illustrations (the yales, dragons, basilisks and "worms" – with and without legs – from the British Library's Harley manuscripts in particular), and photos of mythical beasts on coats of arms and on church misericords. Legendary Beasts is worth the very modest cover price – less than many of today's glossy magazines – for its images alone.

Nor are the illustrations and subject matter exclusively of Medieval vintage or mythical in nature. There's a spread of contemporary photos of Alien Big Cats, including a stuffed puma shot in 1980s Invernesshire, and a Morris dancing Beast of Bodmin putting in an appearance at Bodmin Riding Day just two years ago. The heraldic griffins, mermaids and dragons are neatly brought up to date with examples of logos – the Starbuck's mermaid and Midland Bank and Vauxhall cars griffin.

Cryptozoological pedants will be soothed by Legendary Beasts' quick to clearing up dragon-wyvern confusion, dragon-griffin and St Michael-St George confusion, with a sympathetic explanation of why heraldic dragons are so hard to confuse with griffins in the first place.

And the text's strong as well, with a surprising amount covered in a mere 45 pages of narrative. Oxford medievalist and linguist Julia Creswell points out some of the peculiarly British traits of our dragons – they're less interested in guarding gold compared to their Continental cousins. UK dragons are also keener on stealing milk than devouring damsels, as well as statistically less likely to meet their end through the deeds of noble knights, and more likely to be dispatched by guile at the hands of cunning commoners.

There's also a mention of what was probably Britain's last dragon hunt, in the North Wales county of Denbighshire as late as 1812. What put the locals into such a sudden panic appears to have been the misidentification of an impossibly exotic-looking new arrival into the valleys - the pheasant!

Another national characteristic is the "British love for creating comic rather than frightening monsters." It seems we British deal with our really terrifying monsters by turning them into children's cartoon characters or soft toy versions of themselves. "Nessie," it turns out, is an old Scottish pet name for Agnes.

It's a fine introduction to the beasts of British folklore – as well as some very modern British cryptozoological phenomena – making it the perfect small gift both for seasoned forteans and not-yet-enthusiasts alike.



© Matt Salusbury

Monday, 14 October 2013

There Be Beasts - report on London Cryptozoology Club's first conference - April 2013

Locals in a village in Burma with Richard Thorns's pink-headed duck lure. Photo: copyright Richard Thorns used with permission

This article first appeared in Fortean Times FT 302. Following a letter to Fortean Times from Paolo Viscardi, I have corrected a conflation of two different stuffed mermaids that appeared in the original article, this passage is indicated in bold type.

It was a full house in the basement at Treadwell's "esoteric beliefs" bookshop in Bloomsbury for There Be Beasts, the first London Cryptozoology Club (LCC) mini-conference in April. Treadwell's had helped out at the eleventh hour after the original venue fell through. James Newton, founder of the LCC and one of the conference's organisers introduced the day's proceedings before allowing

Richard Freeman, zoological director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, to kick off, resplendent in a waistcoat emblazoned with gold dragons. His pet hate is Hollywood's tendency to depict dragons as having only two legs, when they should have four. The two-legged versions aren't dragons, they're wyverns, says Richard. "People who put wyverns in films and pass them off as dragons" drive "cryptozoological pedants like me" into a murderous rage.

He reeled off a list of mystery animals, a list that until 1904 would have included the gorilla, then regarded as just "a hairy ogre from 'native' folklore." Richard feels that Gigantopithecus – a huge fossil Asian ape whose fragmentary remains suggest it walked upright – is a good candidate for the identity of a current cryptid, the yeti.

Richard Freeman at previous talks - CFZ's Weird Weekend 2006 (above) and the Fortean Times UnConvention 2010 (right)

While earlier researchers perceived Bigfoot – North America's manimal – as an ape akin to Gigantopitchecus, "armchair cryptozoologist" James Newton introduced us to current trends in Bigfoot research, which suggest we're dealing with something much closer to us humans. James worked as a volunteer at South Dakota's Cheyenne River Youth Project with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, a division of the Lakota Nation. Over twenty years of experience in youth work means he's good as spotting when children are trying to pull his leg, but he was struck by how Lakota kids he worked with described their attitudes and encounters with Bigfoot in a matter-of-fact way. Like the time in 2006 when, out of the blue, a girl named Misti Bad Warrior pointed to an illustration of Chewbacca in a Where's Wally? book and said, "That's Bigfoot."

Self-described "armchair cryptozoologist" James Newton, pictured when he was a youth worker with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe division of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota. Photo by kind permission of James Newton

Recent takes on Bigfoot, by the likes of researchers Autumn Williams – herself a childhood Bigfoot witness – and the "Tennessee Bigfoot lady" Mary Green, describe "habituation scenarios" – years of interactions between rural families and Bigfoot communities. The witnesses "were people who lack the sophistication to make it in cities… but were tuned in to their environment". Encounters could take the form of gift exchanges – missing animal feed, "artwork" gifts like knotted stalks of grass left in return, or a mother looking out of the kitchen window to see their child handing some biscuits over the fence to their "big hairy friend".

Suburban south London's Horniman Museum has in its collection a specimen known as "Japanese Monkey-Fish; Merman (Ningyo)." The Horniman's natural history curator, Paolo Viscardi,took us through an "unnatural history of mermaids."

It seems that in nineteenth century Japan, small representations of nature spirits were made – from a monkey and a fish – for shrines. When the first Western sailors turned up at Nagasaki, Japan's only trading port, a of monkey-fish mermaid cottage industry grew in response to demand.

Everyone assumed the Horniman mermaid, and all other mermaid "gaffes", were made from the head, arms and torso of a monkey sewn on to the back end of a fish. It transpired the Horniman "monkey fish", while it probably the back end of a carp, has no monkey parts at all. It has wire for fingers, a clay and papier-mâché head, fish jaws, bamboo neck, arms of wood and wire. Under X-rays or put through medical scanners, most "monkey-fish" mermaids display an absence of actual monkey bits. Leiden's small mermaid known as the Blomhoff Specimen can be traced to one of the nineteenth century trade fairs that took place around Nagasaki, but an extant mermaid specimen from India seems to be the only known still extant example of a mermaid that actually contains monkey body parts.

Richard Thorns, the "pink-headed duck guy" has been on three trips to Burma in search of that elusive bird – a large, mallard-sized diving duck with a long, ramrod-straight neck, chocolate brown in colour with a "bubble-gum pink" head (a gentler pink in the females). The duck was shy and solitary, preferring deep pools in wetlands. We're unsure if it was a species of pochard or a genus all of its own. It was always a rare bird, regarded from the early days of the British Raj as "a good day's bag." A 1920s captive breeding programme in Surrey failed, and the last recorded pink-headed duck (P-HD) was seen in 1935, in the north Indian state of Bihar. The wetland habitats around India's mega-cities have gone the same way as the pink-headed duck, but numerous marshes resembling those "vanished ecosystems" still exist over the border in Burma. "How could you possibly not want to go after that?" asked Richard.

His first Burma trip took Richard to Kachin State, three days upriver from Mandalay. You "can only stay at approved hotels" in Burma, so he had to use the services of a clandestine guide who had to hurry home when news came that "Immigration" were questioning his wife. In Richard's video interviews with locals, the camera's often pointed to the ground. People apparently didn't want to be photographed. Eventually, witnesses reported two P-HD sightings at one lake, and Richard heard about an unconfirmed sighting – lasting only a few seconds – by a Dutchman atop a hired elephant during a 2003 expedition to a lake at Naung Kwin. One fisherman said of the mystery duck, "it was here once." A broken hand from a motorbike accident cut short Richard's most recent expedition, while the Kachin Independence Army insurgency meant "unauthorised contact with foreigners" would land his guides in jail. He thinks one of the photographs he took just might show a P-HD on the lake. Time may be running out for the duck, if it does still live in Burma. Saffron and mustard cultivation are encroaching on the wetlands. Says Richard, "if Burma opens up, it would be very bad news for the pink-headed duck."

London Fortean Society coordinator Scott Wood described the legendary parakeets of London and friends. (The "friends" include the brand new Fordham Park panther – sighted by a woman in a street of that south London neighbourhood earlier that week.) Ring-necked parakeets are now endemic to a 30-kilometre stretch of West London (and Ramsgate), while South London is home to the Monk parakeet. Scott's fascinated by the urban legends and far-fetched "escape scenarios" surround the parakeets' arrival in the capital. These include Jimi Hendrix's two parakeets escaping from his Portobello Road flat at the moment of his death, fugitives from the Twickenham aviary of the exiled King Manuel the Unfortunate of Portugal, (still commemorated in Twickenham's Manuel Road,) break-outs during the filming of Anthony and Cleopatra and/or The African Queen at Shepperton Studios – except the later was filmed in Isleworth. Parakeet lore has turned the birds into a metaphor for immigration panic, a celebration of London's multiculturalism or a harbinger of global warming. The problem with these "scenarios" is that a DEFRA report says parakeets have been kept in English captivity since 1855, and are known to have been "naturalised" by 1960, before the demise of Hendrix.

James said of There Be Beasts that it "proved far more successful than we had imagined. We are hugely thankful to the speakers who gave their time and knowledge for free." There are plans afoot for "a bigger event in 2014" and for a summer LCC expedition to Dorset, in the company of "large cat" expert Jonathan McGowan, searching for traces of British Big Cats.

Barry Tadcaster, compere at the Centre for Fortean Zoology's Weird Weekend 2012, shown here with his partner in crime Orang Pendek. Several attendees pointed out Tadcaster's uncanny resemblance to Richard Freeman in a fez. Photo copyright Matt Salusbury

Since this article appeared in Fortean Times, I've spotted a parakeet in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, London N17 - much further east than London parakeets have been reported before. And I've heard - but not yet seen - parakeets even further east, in London's Victoria Park.

The LLC is on Twitter: @WeAreTheLC

© Matt Salusbury

Friday, 11 October 2013

Simulacra corner

My photo of a sinister, long-haired black cat seen out of the corner of my eye, watching me from on top of a log on Dingle Beach, near Dunwich, Suffolk, made Fortean Time's Simulacra Corner - issue FT307, November 2013. (There haven't been any Simulacra Corner photos put on their website since 2010.)

Looking at it from a slightly different angle, it turned out to be the end of a charred driftwood log that had bumped up against another one after being beached there on the high tide. ("Simulacrum: an image or representation of something, OED" - plural: simulacra).

Please do not touch the walrus - number 6

My photograph of the sign on West Green Road telling punters not to "Hang outside pub aimlessly after closing time" made Please do not touch the walrus - number 6 on the excellent Smoke: A London Peculiar website. There are only 995 more things not to do in London that they need from you, so if you see any such signs admonishing people not to do obscure things (touching the walrus, ringing the bell above the "do not ring this bell" sign, congregate in the park, etc,) please send them in.

(Image: copyright Matt Salusbury)

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Terry Nation - the man who invented the Daleks - book review

This first appeared in Fortean Times FT306;61, September 2013

Terry Nation – the man who invented the Daleks, Alwyn W. Turner (Aurum Press London 2013)
Paperback, £8.99, 344 pages, index, bibliography

Terry Nation once quipped that while many claimed the Daleks had really been their idea, no one pretended they were the real author of The Keys to Marinus, Nation's unmemorable early non-Dalek Doctor Who story. That didn't stop Nation recycling numerous ideas from Marinus into his later Blake's Seven sci-fi series, and repeating them in his Dalek stories. Nation's 1970s post-apocalypse drama The Survivors had the same title as the first draft of his first Dalek script. A Who producer once reminded Nation to "avoid any resemblance to your previous shows, i.e. a group of fugitives hunted through the jungle by Daleks." As Alwyn. W. Turner brings to our attention in this biography of Dalek scriptwriter Terry Nation, many of Nation's Who and Blake's Seven plot devices were just recyclings of H G Wells.

Although remembered as one of TV's greatest sci-fi writers, Nation was a failed comic – he was once advised, "the jokes are good, it's you who's not funny." He penned gags for a scriptwriting agency set up by Spike Milligan, Eric Skyes and Steptoe writer Ray Galton, and came to comedy just as comedians began to admit beginning to admit their jokes were not all their own work. Nation wrote for comic genius Tony Hancock's last ill-fated TV series and theatre tour. The ever-affable Nation somehow managed to keep working with the increasingly volatile and drunk Hancock – Nation said he was paid £100 a week in 1950s money "basically for babysitting" Hancock, his duties included covering up the unfortunate incident involving a naked Hancock in a train compartment.

Plentiful work for Hancock caused Nation to turned down the first Who script he was offered. The inevitable Hancockian falling-out followed. But that new children's sci-fi drama was still on the table, so Nation began writing what became the first Dalek series as a Saturday job, devising gags for an Eric Sykes-hosted revue being his day job. Tony Hancock's younger brother Richard became Nation's formidable agent – the BBC knew every Jim'll Fix It Dalek walk-on meant an invoice in the post next morning.

Fan folklore about why there's so little Dalek in the 1990s Doctor Who TV movie, and fan legends about planned Who/Blake's Seven crossovers, are demythologised here. I was particularly interested in the small print on Nation's now-legendary 1963 contract reserving for him the Copyright of the Daleks. Turner says this was the result of BBC failure to grasp the then new concept of "merchandising," or the implications of Beryl Vertue, secretary at Nation's agents (later a TV producer) crossing out what she told them was an unnecessary contractual clause on merchandising.

Saturday job though it may have originally been, Dalek merchandising earned Nation immense wealth, although Turner agrees the rumoured seven-figure sum he earned from 1960s Dalekmania was exaggerated. Nation toasted with champagne a deal reached with the Pertwee-era Who producers regarding first refusal on Dalek scripts and the commissioning of what became Planet of the Daleks. It dawned on the visiting Who team that this wasn't a special celebratory tipple, Nation made so much money from Dalek spin-offs that he routinely drank the stuff. After moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s, Nation tried unsuccessfully to get various shows and films realised. Apart from some script doctoring on McGyver he did little paid work. He didn't need to – he and his family still lived comfortably off the Daleks.

The Man Who Invented details just how much effort and money Nation spent on trying to get a The Daleks TV series commissioned in the States, and how much of a blow it was to him when he ultimately failed. At one point, a studio had been booked and set construction was about to start for The Daleks when the plug was pulled.

Old socialist Cardiff boy Nation attributed his Stakhanovite script output to "my Welsh guilt." He certainly showed the same work ethic when soaking up cultural influences as a child – he bunked off school for a whole term and went to the pictures every afternoon before he was rumbled. The adult Nation churned out scripts at phenomenal speed, exasperated script editors observing that his first draft was often his last. He was said to have run off a Blake's Seven episode in five days. While he was frequently slapdash, Nation was happy to accept changes when editors pointed out that there were three uses of the sprained ankle plot device in a single episode of Blake's Seven, or several different ticking bombs in a single helping of Who.

Although the narrative of Nation's sci-fi oeuvre is engaging, the book's episode guides to forgettable adventure series that Nation worked on – The Saint, The Persuaders! The Champions, The Baron – is hard going. The problem with such a biography is that few readers are fans of 1950s radio comedy, the above-mentioned not very good adventure shows and Nation's sci-fi output.

Cryptozoologists may care to investigate What a Whopper, the Swinging (very early) Sixties Nation-scripted comedy starring most of the Carry On team and pop star Adam Faith. It's sort of like Alien Autopsy but with the Loch Ness monster.


See also:

My feature on Curse of the Daleks, the long-forgotten (probably deservedly) Daleks children's matinee play co-written by Terry Nation, from the height of Dalekmania in 1965

My profile of Kit Pedler, creator of the Cybermen for Doctor Who (also from Fortean Times)

Friday, 6 September 2013

Last chance to see Haringey Heads

My Haringey Heads photo exhibition is still on at Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham, but must close Sunday 29 September. (It'll still be there for the London Open House weekend.)
Special guest for the exhibition is the ornamental concrete or plaster (not entirely sure which?) head removed from the Wood Green Empire cinema in the 1970s by Haringey Council staff. The Wood Green Empire is now the Halifax building society, and still has some lions on it (photo below, although it's not in the exhibition.)

I was a little surprised to see I had become a municipal poster boy, with a massive Haringey Council poster of myself displayed in the exhibition. Photo of me copyright Dave Butroid, photo of photo copyright Rikki Blue.

Directions are here. Flyer is here.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A celebration of the life of Boris the cat 2002-2013

Boris the cat died in my arms from massive kidney failure at Wanstead Veterinary Hospital on Friday, but what an amazing life he'd had! Here are some recent and not so recent photos of him.

He would have liked me to point out that he was not named after the current right-wing Tory Mayor of London (known to his friends and family as "Alexander" anyway,) but after French engineer and singer Boris Vian, and possibly after children's cartoon character Boris the Bold.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Father of the Cybermen

This first appeared in Fortean Times FT 209 way back in May 2006. I'm putting it online for the first time in the run-up to the Doctor Who 50th anniversary (23 November).

Pedler's photo of part of a gecko's retina - from of his early 1960s electron microscope work in the field of eye cells

CHRISTOPHER Magnus Howard Pedler was born in 1927 into a fourth generation medical family and trained in medicine at London’s King’s College Hospital. In his own words, “as a doctor and biological scientist I have lived in various experimental laboratories since the age of eighteen.” [1] Earning a second doctorate in Experimental Pathology, he lectured at the University of London and set up the Anatomy department and electron microscopy unit at the University’s Institute of Ophthalmology, where he undertook 12 years of research on eye diseases and the functions of the retina, publishing 38 original medical papers. Dr Pedler’s entry in the Medical Directory of 1969, his last year in practice, listed the highlights of his distinguished career, modestly summing up his other achievements with the word “etc.”

But that “etc” masked several self-reinventions by this extraordinary polymath who was Dr Kit Pedler, or just plain Kit: his hobbies included building racing cars and, like his mother, he was an artist and sculptor. And, forty years ago this October, Kit Pedler’s coldly rational silver spare part cyborgs the Cybermen made their first TV appearance in Doctor Who, terrifying a generation of children hiding behind the sofa. The Cybermen returned to Doctor Who in 2006.

As well as giving chillingly plausible monsters to Doctor Who, Kit brought us Doomwatch, a British X-Files with a terrifying environmental catastrophe each episode – from plastic-eating bacteria to missing nukes and transplanted pig hearts affecting their recipients in terrible ways. Kit then went beyond science fiction, and renounced “the harmful side effects of technological medicine” and the “technogenic” disorders of industrial society in The Quest for Gaia – a “deep-green” rant that was decades ahead of its time. Kit’s final reinvention was as a popular prime time TV Fortean investigator, in the series Mind Over Matter. He brought a charming bedside manner and a scientific rigour to popular science investigation of the paranormal, which the medium of television has not seen in the quarter century since its transmission.

Kit’s “voyage of discovery” into the paranormal moved the former Doctor Who scriptwriter to comment, “the science of physics has moved sharply towards a view of the universe. … which shows the real fabric of things to be so strange, mysterious and fascinating that any well brought-up science fiction writer would give up in sheer despair.” [2]

Dr Pedler’s medical achievements included The Fine Structure of the Corneal Epithelium – cutting edge work on eye cells including “cytoplasmic organelles of basal cells tissue from anaesthetized kittens.” His paper The Fine Structure of the Radial Fibres in Reptiles’ Retina was among the first to examine the “profuse” fibre in the eye cells of lizards and geckos. To 21st century readers, his nonchalant description of how “after decapitation, the eye was removed” from his subjects, sounds as disturbing as any of his Doctor Who scripts. Kit later denounced the excessive vivisection of the medical establishment – “There is conditioned brutality among scientists, especially in the universities of Britain.” [3]

Kit’s long immersion in the world of pure medical research provided him with material for creepy medical horror stories, in which he explored feasible yet frightening forms of immortality. In The Long Term Residents, a biochemist is lured from a world of “biomedical conferences, grant applications and experimental data” to a strange seaside hotel, whose owner turns out to be a scientist from his past who continues working after death through injecting compounds into an implanted “lumber unit.” The narrator is sentenced to immortality confined to a chair in a room filled with ancient scientists discussing pure science problems for all eternity. White Caucasian Male concerns a microbiology lecturer, whose routine of “monotone and pedestrian lectures” and “effect of A on B research” changes when he accidentally re-arranges human brain cells grown in a culture into a miniature mind, which drives him to self-destruction with its hallucinatory telepathic death-screams. [4]

Kit suffered a near fatal illness – he wouldn’t go into details – an experience which he felt gave him a different outlook on life. He gradually drifted away from the medical establishment; “It was years after I had qualified as a medical doctor before I realised I had been subject to a six-year long conditioning process. I had been turned out of school as an efficient medical and surgical technician, but woefully bereft as a healer.” Over time, these criticisms could turn into fully-fledged rants. He was particularly scathing of the infant science of heart transplants; “£18,000 and 25 graduates to give patients a life expectancy of an extra seven months.” [5]

But while he still felt at home in the world of the retina, Kit’s expertise led to a new outlet for his many talents – television. He had already appeared on the BBC science programme Tomorrow’s World when, in the spring of 1966, Gerry Davis from the science series Horizon came to Kit’s lab for a programme on heart transplants. They were impressed enough to engage him “for help and advice” on the Doctor Who serial that became The War Machines. “Mr CMH Pedler … agreed a payment of £25 for each episode”. [6] The War Machines featured the brand new futuristic Post Office Tower – now the Telecom Tower – visible from Kit’s lab window and at the time London’s tallest building. The story foreshadowed the Internet by having as its villain the supercomputer WOTAN, controlling all the world’s computer networks via telephone lines. It wasn’t so much Kit’s science ideas that gave The War Machines its realism, as his feel for “science and society” issues – a key scene takes place at a press conference for the launch of WOTAN.

Kit’s relaxed bedside manner was already endearing him to many. Veteran broadcaster Joan Bakewell called him “my favourite scientist.” A co-worker said, “He was an easy man to work with, a regular guy, good fun, and although a double doctor, approachable. … A thoroughly nice guy …. You didn’t feel you were dealing with a man with 27 million qualifications,” or as the TV Times put it - “with almost twice as many letters after his name than in it.” [footnote 7]

The Post Office Tower featured again in the genesis of Kit’s next Doctor Who creation, the Cybermen. In the spring of 1963, he looked out of his laboratory window and daydreamed silvery space beings landing at the foot of the tower. There followed a discussion that evening with his wife – also a doctor – on what would happen if someone had so many mechanical spare parts they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between their human self and a machine anymore.

Kit imagined the Cybermen as having plastic and metal prosthesis – their more robot-like all metal design evolved later in the Doctor Who series. The first Cybermen – in the series The Tenth Planet – still had a recognisable facial bone structure and identifiable human hands sheathed in clear plastic. Spare part surgery at the time was a world of frighteningly huge “electro-magnetic” mechanical heart-lung machines, while prototype Soviet prosthetic hands made it possible to operate faster than with a natural hand. Spare part surgeons were predicting that microsurgery, grafts and transplants would take over from prosthesis by the 1990s. Yet the medical ethics of spare part surgery was in its infancy. Experts were seriously suggesting wiring amputees’ nerve-endings directly to machines, sending “intention signals” directly from the brain to work them faster, [8] With such attitudes, Kit was right to express anxieties on spare part surgery. [See Cyberman sidebar]

Kit had little formal experience as a writer for television, and worked closely with script editor Gerry Davis – a veteran of Softly, Softly. At the end of Kit’s stint at Doctor Who, Kit admitted he still hadn’t learned to write sci-fi properly. His Cybermen scripts had to be extensively reworked by Davis and others. But he was an excellent ideas man, and the BBC was happy to leave the narrative structure to others.

Kit’s association with the Cybermen attracted controversy, and he was forced to defend them against enraged parents after a Tomb of the Cybermen scene showed fluid spurting from a dying Cyberman’s innards. Then there was the incident in which “Pedlar took one of Doctor Who’s Cybermen into a busy shopping area of St Pancras, he almost blocked the street and ‘got into trouble with the police’”. Recalling the occasion, he doesn’t sound very penitent…‘I wanted to know how people would react to something quite unusual … but I also wanted to be a nuisance.’” [9]

The last Kit Pedler Cyberman story, The Invasion, ended with the Cybermen repulsed – just three weeks after Kit appeared on Horizon talking about the retina. By then Kit had departed the “genial hokum” of Doctor Who and announced his next collaboration with Gerry Davis. Having scared the nation’s kids, Pedler and Davis found a way to keep adults awake with scientifically plausible anxious eco-nightmares.

Doomwatch’s first episode aired on 9th February 1970, breaking all records for a new series, with 13 million viewers. Doomwatch was born out of scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings on environmental hazards which were “slowly cutting our throats” according to Davis – such as a death from noise pollution at Fylingdales radar station. Davis had realised through a process of “picking Pedler’s brains with Doctor Who” that he and Kit were fellow doom merchants. Davis insisted, “Doomwatch is not science fiction.” [10]

The programmes’s title is the codename for the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work, a trio of government scientists who dealt with the worst excesses of science, and fought constant battles against central government and M16.

Brilliant Nobel Laureate Dr Spencer Quist headed the fictional Department, whose ever-changing staff included argumentative M16-trained burglar Dr John Ridge and baby-faced heartthrob Tobias Wren.

The opening episode – The Plastic Eaters – centred on Aminostyrene, a genetically engineered bug for breaking down biodegradable bottles, that acquires a taste for aircraft electrical wiring insulation. Kit rewrote it as Mutant 59 The Plastic Eaters – a Doomwatch novel with Gerry Davis. The gleefully Luddite novelisation is more funny and exciting, with scenes of Gremlins-type chaos as a prototype lunar survey robot on display in a department store runs amok and demolishes Santa’s grotto: the “smell of rotting plastic” fills the air, gas meters burst, and radios and TVs disintegrate. Other Doomwatch subjects tackled super resistant GM rats or mass male impotence caused by hormone-laced manure from a battery chicken farm leeching into the soil. Kit correctly predicted that, while the moral dilemmas of the 1950s and 1960s were around physics, biology would be the new ethical minefield. Doomwatch even got its own Oxford English Dictionary entry: ‘the surveillance of the environment to prevent harm to it from human agencies.’ Labour MP Ray Fletcher proposed creating a real-life parliamentary Doomwatch committee – with Kit sitting on it.

Producer Terrence Dudley moved Doomwatch away from science and turned it into a thriller for its second series, with the Pedler-Davis team now having little input into the programme and even criticising its direction. They wrote two more novels, the long-winded The Dynostar Menace – a race to shut down a brand new orbital fusion reactor before it starts transmitting power to earth and destroying the ozone layer – and Brainrack – a mass dumbing-down of the population through petrol additives.

Kit’s firm grounding in environmental sciences through Doomwatch led to environmental consultancy work for industry on waste reduction and energy saving, decades before European Union regulations forced these issues into the corporate mainstream. A 1975 Man Alive documentary had him as its nuclear waste expert. Kit’s next project left sci-fi behind and took him in a deep-green philosophical direction, with The Quest for Gaia – A Book of Changes.

Gaia was a damning but futuristic indictment of “technologist toymakers” and of ‘cybernarchy’ – the “parasitic industrial society” of packaging, supermarkets and hamburgers. Another target of Kit’s wrath was baths and how much energy they used – both in hot water and in the casting and enamelling of the tub: “I regret the passing of my bath immeasurably…marvellously relaxing. But there it is, in a Gaian society, baths are out.” The mainstream did not ignore The Quest for Gaia: New Scientist called it “searching and deadly.” [footnote 11]

Gaia led to more environmental consultancy work for Kit, which in turn led to an appearance on the Thames TV consumer programme Money Go Round, interviewed in a scrapyard near Shepperton, to show how the infant science of recycling could work. In the “local boozer afterwards” the conversation turned to “UFOs and ghosts and all the rest of it.” Kit asked, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone did a proper science programme” on these phenomena?

The result was “a very brave decision,” seven half-hour episodes of Mind Over Matter, which went out at 7pm on Tuesdays on ITV in the summer of 1981. Kit was the main presenter and wrote the tie-in book Mind Over Matter: a scientist's view of the paranormal. His co-presenter was the man who had interviewed him at the scrapyard –Tony Bastable, presenter of the 1970s children’s programme Magpie.

The focus was on precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokenesis. The book included do-it-yourself experiments in Ganzfeld, psychokenesis, telepathy, Remote Viewing (RV) and metal bending – the latter a nod to the Uri Geller phenomenon.

Kit’s presentation had a Fortean’s healthy distrust of orthodoxy. “I have always distrusted ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’ who try to exclude ‘laymen’. There was never anything difficult about science: it was only made so by some scientists.”

But Mind Over Matter had hard science credentials, with “more Nobel Laureates interviewed than you could shake a stick at.” Kit insisted, “Although it sounds outlandish, it’s really a very down to earth series. We’re dealing with proof, not speculation.” The first two episodes looked in detail at ground rules for evidence, and Kit demanded the same double blind experimental protocols he had learnt on the hospital wards. [12]

Kit concluded that there was plenty of room in quantum physics for paranormal phenomena - “Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger and Dirac …… imagined such unfamiliar immensities as to make what I have referred to as the ‘paranormal’ almost pedestrian by comparison”, in a quantum universe where the act of measurement may change the object being measured, where cause may not always precede effect, and where it may eventually turn out that “future events cast a shadow back into the present.” In the quarter century since then, quantum physics has, of course, got a lot weirder.

Mind Over Matter featured what is believed to be the first filmed real-time RV experiment at Indian Rock in Berkeley, California. Sceptical photographer Hella Hammid, who’d become “rather good at RV”, drew the features of Indian Rock, the location randomly picked from an envelope, as Kit wandered up and down the rock. Except that Hammid’s sketch showed another location from the experimenter’s list. This was “the displacement effect” well known in RV. Kit confessed that it was his fault. Before the experiment, he wrote on a bit of paper “During the experiment, a part of the equipment will inexplicably fail” and sealed it in an envelope. The experiment’s random number generator also crashed.

This “displacement effect” reared its head again when Kit donned the cut-in-half golf balls for a filmed Ganzfeld (whole field) experiment. While Carl Sargent and others tried to mentally send Kit an impression of a randomly chosen photograph, he described one of the other pictures that had stayed in its envelope. While the Ganzfeld environment was supposed to relax Kit, it has the opposite effect, and he confessed to being “anxious and tense at different parts of my mind working against each other … What rubbish you‘ve got yourself into, Kit.” … “My God, what if I succeed, I don’t want to be a psychic!”

Kit interviewed Stephen North, who could apparently bend metal in pyschokenesis experiments conducted by Birkbeck College’s Professor Hasted. North said of his wild talent – “Certainly I don’t know how I can do it, but there are ways I can stop it from happening. For instance, when I started to do it, everything in my house began to bend. All the cutlery bent and gradually I found I could stop that when I wanted to, and I can stop it from damaging my watch or my own keys.”

Mind Over Matter revisited the mid-1970s case of ‘Philip’ – a fictional ghost “living at the time of Cromwell in 1600,” who was deliberately made up by a “group of eight meeting for two hours a week for almost a year…. to see whether ordinary people could generate some sort of spirit.” The group was of a “sceptical turn of mind,” but they eventually found their “table itself began to move” – an event filmed for Canadian TV – then the “table [was] flying around the room.” Kit interviewed one witness, Dr Lawrence Lesham, who had a “fair amount of experience with conjuring” and “was convinced no-one present was rapping the table.” Kit dryly concluded that psychokenesis was “the least implausible explanation.” [13]

Kit’s medical experience informed Mind Over Matter’s look at faith healing – “I am afraid we have to face the real probability of professional bias” – and the placebo effect, for which he drew on his time on the wards: “I worked for a doctor who cured people simply by looking magnificent … he would intone with exquisitely measured mellificence ‘You are much better.’ And they got better.”

On May 26th 1981, Dr Kit Pedler was found dead outside his house in Sittingbourne, Kent, by his girlfriend Cherry Gilliam. The doctor who had been so disparaging of heart surgery had dropped dead from a heart attack, aged 54. Mind Over Matter’s Episode 5, which went out the next week, was – appropriately – about out of body experiences.

Why have there been no programmes like Mind Over Matter in the 25 years since 1981? Bastable points to endless UFO programmes on Sky TV, but none with Kit’s scientific rigour. Kit’s tone throughout Mind Over Matter suggested that a breakthrough in the science of the paranormal was around the corner, but he admitted the situation was not helped by “a very large number of completely gullible people in the field who accept absolutely everything they hear about the paranormal, from sharpening razor blades under pyramids to UFOs from Atlantis.” ITV’s own publicity for the series trivialised Mind Over Matter by introducing it through a piece in which pop star Alvin Stardust, actor Donald Sinden and other celebrities gave their own “spooky” – and uninteresting – accounts of paranormal hauntings. [14]

The final Mind Over Matter episode was meant to take the form of Kit in a panel discussion with experts. Co-presenter Tony Bastable was in the chair, filling dead man’s shoes, and recalls putting it to Supernature author Lyall Watson that “Anybody who goes into this field automatically suffers derision.” The TV Times listing for the panel discussion, transmitted 23rd June 1981, asked “If we accept such things as telepathy, do we have to change our view of the world around us? Is there a future for the subject, or will it simply fade away?”


Is it just me, or do those "stub your cigarettes out here" bins attach to posts not look like the advanced guard of some sort of cyberman invasion, especially given their resemblance to the faces of the cybermen in their latest design? Photo: Matt Salusbury

Kit Pedler admitted he was influenced by Dan Dare from Eagle comic, and the evil green Treens in particular. He originally envisaged the Cybemen as Jedi-like ‘space monks’, but Gerry Davis urged him to follow his anxieties about spare part surgery.

Kit’s first Cyberman adventure, The Tenth Planet, (1966) introduced the Cybermen back-story: they exhausted their planet’s natural resources and were driven underground as their planet’s atmosphere began stripping itself away. In desperation they started to convert themselves into immortals with superhuman strength, but without any emotion. Cybermen come from Earth's evil twin planet Mondas, which split from earth billions of years ago, just as the Moon did. Some of the 160 “exoplanets” (planets outside our solar system) that been discovered in the last decade have “bizarre orbits,” and a ‘rogue’ planet like Mondas, which breaks up at the end of the The Tenth Planet as it nears the Earth’s atmosphere, is beginning to seem more plausible.

The original Cybermen came to superficially resemble humans through parallel evolution, while Cybermen from subsequent stories are just people like us taken prisoner and ‘converted.’ Part of their terror lies in the seductive possibility that we might actually want to be ‘converted.’ In Tomb of the Cybermen, the almost deaf-mute character Toberman is found by his colleagues to be partly-converted, with a metal and plastic arm, while Tobias Vaughn – one of Doctor Who’s most convincing villains – is converted from the neck down, but finally dies helping the Doctor thwart a Cyberman invasion.

The original Cybermen were plastic and metal, with identifiable human hands and facial bone structure. Cyberman design has evolved in a more metal, robot-like direction over the years – their costumes have featured plastic hoses, golf balls, silver-sprayed wetsuits, and Wellington boots. 1970s Cybermen had flares, while 1980s Cyberman had a baggy silver jumpsuit and a recognizable human throat that moved when they spoke. The 2006 Cyberman redesign has a completely metal exo-skeleton.

Cybermen have superhuman strength, and can punch through walls and throw people around – in some not very convincing scenes where you can see the wires. The Doctor found several obscure ways of killing off the near-indestructible Cybermen – fuel rods from a nuclear reactor, giant X-ray lasers; nail varnish remover-type solvents that affect the “respiratory units” in their chests, and gold – either as dust or in bullets. Gold ‘s density would give it good armour-piercing properties.

Kit himself found test tube people a much more terrifying than Cybermen.

If they were built with 21st century technology, Cybermen would probably have a ceramic skeleton with Teflon and carbon-fibre ligaments. Modern Cyberpeople include: the artist Stelarc, with electrodes implanted in his muscles to allow his limbs to be operated over the internet, and scientist Kevin Warwick, who has a transponder in his arm which allows him to open the door of his lab. Barcelona Baja Beach Club members have their pass and bar tab on chips implanted in their arm (FT 206, p34).

Cybermen voices also evolved over time. The original Cyberman voices from their debut in The Tenth Planet were staccato and with that weird discordant intonation like those automated telephone response services you get when you ring banks and cinemas. As they got more robot-like, Cybermen had buzzing ring-modular voices, and the actors had to open and close a little slit for their mouths when they spoke. Later Cybermen had a booming, more human-like voice.

Kit and Gerry Davis also conceived the Cybermats – cat-sized reconnaissance cyborgs (cyber organisms) modelled on silverfish and delivering a toxic bite. Such animal cyborgs are already with us – in the form of “RoboRat” – a rat with implanted electrodes whose every action could be controlled by a computer, and flying 1mm square ‘microbots’ that use the antenna of a real male silk moth to follow a pheromone trail (FT 186).

The glory days of the Cybermen were in the era of the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. The Tenth Planet was quickly followed by The Moonbase (1967) – credited only to Kit Pedler only as Gerry Davis was also working on the series as its script editor. In The Moonbase, The Second Doctor turns the Gravitron - an anti-gravity device that manages the earth’s weather – on the Cyberman invasion fleet.

Then came Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) – the one in which the Cybermen burst out of their frozen tombs and throw humans around, and the Cybermats make their debut. Next was The Wheel in Space (1968) – written by former Who script editor David Whitaker – based on a Kit Pedler’s tense but convoluted story about a space station hypnotically attacked by space-walking Cybermen and Cybermats

Scriptwriter Derrick Sherwin made only “casual” use of Pedler's concepts for The Invasion (1969) – the one where the Cybermen come up through the sewers around St Paul’s Cathedral. The Invasion correctly predicted that all the world’s computer operating systems would be in the hands of one corporation – although its name was International Electromatics, and it was a Cyberman front company.

Gerry Davis went on to write Revenge of the Cybermen (1985) alone – the one where the Cyberman have guns in their head units and nearly rip off Tom Bakers head after he calls them “a bunch of pathetic tin soldiers.”

Post-Pedler and Davis Cyber-stories were often nostalgic retreads of old ideas. These include Earthshock (1982) – in which the Doctor’s companion Adric is killed and the Doctor crumples his gold star badge into the Cyber leader’s control unit, and Attack of the Cybermen (1985) – in which partly converted prisoners attempting to escape knock the head off a Cyberman. These stories were almost as confused as the 1988 Silver Nemesis, the one when the Cybermen fight Nazis and a living, screaming 17th century silver statue. A squad of Cybermen also has a very bad day when they stray into the Time Lord’s gladiatorial zone in The Five Doctors (1983). UPDATE - the revived Doctor Who had an alternative origin for the Cybermen on a parallel Earth. The latest outing from the Cybermen, Nightmare in Silver, scripted by Neill Gaiman, featured nano-technology Cybermites.

The now ubiquitous Cyber-prefix comes, via a very convoluted route, from Cybernetus, helmsman of the Styx ferry that carried the dead to the Greek underworld. Cybernetus’ steering to adjust for the strong River Styx current was a primitive ‘self-regulating control system.’ Mathematician Norbert Weiner’s 1948 book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine coined a new term, associated with the control of complex systems, both in the natural world and in machine networks. Weiner, like Kit, recognized the ethical implications of his work, and after World War Two refused to take on any US government contracts.

1960 saw cybernetics evolve the term ‘cyborg’ (cyber organism) with Manfred C. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline’s physiological research at Rockland State Hospital, New York. Clynes and Kline were looking at the interface between humans or animals operating machines in the harsh environment of space – possibly, though not necessarily, augmented by surgery, implants or drugs.

‘Cyborg’ was still a relatively novel term when Kit invented the Cybermen in 1966. But the increasing interaction between humans and machine systems – computers and the internet in particular, spawned a whole host of Cyber-terminology, helped along by sci-fi writer William Gibson, whose term ‘cyberpunk’ was joined by ‘cybersex,’ ‘cybercrime’, ’cyberconferencing,’ and so on – none of which involves creepy silver-suited spare part immortals with superhuman strength.


Fortean Times article, May 2006

1. Mind Over Matter – a scientist'sview of the paranormal , Kit Pedler, Eyre Methuen London 1981

2. Mind Over Matter – a scientist"s view of the paranormal, Kit Pedler, Eyre Methuen London 1981

3. Experimental Eye Research , volume 2 no 3, 3 July 1963, Academic Press, London and New York. Dr Pedler quoted on the International Vegetarian Union website, no date or source given.

4. The Long Term Residents in The Seventh Ghost Book, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1971, White Caucasian Male in The Ninth Ghost Book, ed. Rosemary Timperley, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1973. Kit's editor Rosemary Timperley was heavily into pure physics as an explanation for ghosts, suggesting that ghosts could be made of neutrinos.

5. The Quest for Gaia - A Book of Changes. Kit Pedler, Souvenir/Granada 1979

6. Memo from Gerry Davis, BBC Drama, referring to an earlier copyright brief of 18th May 1966, BBC Written Archives

7. Telephone interview with Tony Bastable, December 9th 2005. Margarette Driscoll on Mind Over Matter, TV Times May 16th 1981

8 Spare Part Surgery – The Science of the Future, Donald Longmore Aldus, London 1968

9. The Day a Cyberman went shopping in St. Pancras, Radio Times 23 November 1968 p. 39

10. "The honeymoon of science is over – and married life is not so rosy", Elizabeth Cowley, Radio Times Feb 5 1970 p 5. Doomwatch – Past Perfect, SFX magazine, September 2004, Future Publishing, Bristol. Mutant 59 The Plastic Eaters , Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Vector, London 1972, The Dynostar Menace, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Souvenir, London 1975, Brainrack, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Souvenir, London 1974.
A real-life African execution in the Sex and Violence episode of Doomwatch resulted in the BBC finally pulling the plug on it long after Kit had left the series. Its final episode in 1972 was about killer dolphins. Dr Quist and his team appeared as walk-ons in the 1972 Doomwatch feature film, and Trevor Eve played him in a one-off 1995 Channel 5 Doomwatch episode.
During filming of Mind Over Matter in 1981, Kit complained that he was still getting a considerable postbag of complaints about him killing off the dishy Tobias Wren character, played by Robert Powell, at the end of the third series, despite the fact that he had stopped writing for Doomwatch some years earlier. There was even a &rdquo:structural reader” abridged and edited for foreign students learning English who needed a bit of hard science in their studies - Doomwatch – The World in Danger, Longman 1975. This featured The Plastic Eaters, Red Sky (the sound from experimental rocket engines resonates a lighthouse like a giant clarinet reed and drives its occupants suicidal) and A Bomb is Missing (defusing a washed up nuke on a seaside pier.) There are "comprehension and structure" English exercises at the back.

11. The Quest for Gaia – A Book of Changes. Kit Pedler, Souvenir/Granada, London 1979. Kit promised in The Quest For Gaia that he would produce a follow-up volume with "practical blueprints" for a Gaian society, but this new appeared. In 1969 he was working on a science fiction book that was to be a look back at human history from the viewpoint of the year 2016, but this remained unfinished. Although Kit was an ex-Catholic atheist, The Quest For Gaia still features in theological debate on the role of environmentalism in Christian ethics.

12. Mind Over Matter: a scientist's view of the paranormal, Eyre Methuen, London 1981. Author's telephone interview with Tony Bastable, December 9th 2005. Bastable admits that Kit and Mind Over Matter director Richard Mervyn (a veteran of The Tomorrow People) did most of the work. Margarette Driscoll on Mind Over Matter, TV Times May 16th 1981

13. Conjuring Up Philip, Owen and M. Sparrow, Harper and Row, New York, 1976, quoted in Mind Over Matter

14. Bastable felt that Mind Over Matter being mostly shot the then low-grade VHS videotape format (instead of film) hindered its chances of reaching a bigger audience, as it was not of sufficient quality to be sold to English-speaking TV networks abroad. The videos, stills and scripts for Mind Over Matter are now with Freemantle Media Archive Sales in London. Mind Over Matter feature including interviews with Alvin Stardust, Donald Sinden and Eurovision Song Contest winner Lindsay De Paul in TV Times, June 16th 1981.

UPDATE: Bastable died in 2007, making my interview with him one of the last ever. This article and my interview notes were quoted (with permission) in The Quest for Pedler by Michael Seely.

Front cover images for the purposes of a critique or review (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988)

words copyright © Matt Salusbury 2006

Thursday, 22 August 2013

On Schedule 7 - demand to be arrested

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been in the news a lot of late, what with the detention and interrogation of David Miranda, partner of the journalist Glenn Greenwald, at Heathrow under Schedule 7. Police and "officials" were interested in Greenwald's stories on NSA surveillance of absolutely everybody.(Nothing to do with "terrorism" of course, other than state terrorism on a huge scale.) Malcolm Rifkind was wheeled out to defend the use of Schedule 7 on a BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and appeared to dig himself a hole of Spycatcher proportions.

I came across Schedule 7 Terrorism Act before. it was the subject of a talk at a FITWATCH conference I attended back in 2011. Speakers told how people who were active in local community centres seemed to be singled out for intimidation under Schedule 7 based purely on their ethnicity (and the fact that British residents with family connections elsewhere tend to go abroad more.) What follows is an extract from my notes on that conference.

Zin Derfoufi of the Federation of Islamic Student Societies drew our attention to the little-known but frequently used Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. "They" can stop you without reasonable suspicion at ports and airports and the Eurostar international stations entering or leaving the UK, but it’s also been used on people stopped in the waiting areas who aren’t actually going abroad.

M15 have been approaching Somali people active with the Kentish Town Community Centre and who are going abroad, they’ve been doing this for a while. The people who stop them on their way out of the country tell them to be informers on others in the community, They are told that if they don’t inform for them, they will tell “other countries that they’re terrorists.”

The Kentish Town Community Centre people went public a few years ago, it was all over the Independent, and that made M15 (or whoever it really was) back off for a while, but some intimidation using Schedule 7 still continues.

Zin says that under Schedule 7 they can hold you for up to nine hours and take DNA samples, and you have no right to silence, you have to respond to your Schedule 7 interrogators. And they can question you while your lawyer is still on the way, they don’t have to wait from them to arrive. They can share the results of their interrogation with any agency, including law enforcement agencies abroad.

A (then) relatively recent FOIA request revealed that up till then, there had been over 10,000 Schedule 7 stops, resulting in only 43 convictions. Most people convicted after a Schedule 7 stop get three convictions on separate, technical offences, so that probably means they’ve convicted around 15 people based on such stops.

More confident and experienced activists, when told they had to respond to Schedule 7 interrogation and had no right to silence and very few other rights, challenged their captors to arrest them, which would then automatically confer Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1986) rights to silence and to a lawyer. This was usually enough to get them released immediately. (You are “detained” under Schedule 7, not yet arrested.) Zin has had so many stops at the hands of police for so many different things that he’s now an expert at dealing with it. When anti-terror police stop him these days, such stops result in the anti-terror police dropping him off where he wants to go, whereupon they say, “Please don’t sue me.”

The conference also heard from Deniz Arbet of the Kurdish Federation. According to Deniz, since 2010 M15 has been targeting the management committee members of the community centre where he’s active. Members have been stopped at airports under Schedule 7 and held for longer and longer, first for an hour, now up to seven hours at a time. (Extract from my 2011 notes ends.)

* A citizen journalist returning to the UK from covering an international anarchist conference in Switzerland was also among those detained under Schedule 7 this August. The event in Switzerland had been "educational and festive" in nature, and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officers (SO15, the unit which has subsumed the "domestic extremism" units) were involved in the questioning, which was reportedly along the lines of, "What would you do if someone raped your mother?"

* The National Union of Journalists recently appealed for information from any journalists who had been stopped under Schedule 7 while going to do work abroad or returning from work abroad. The Freelance's appeal (linked above) repeated advice to demand "they" arrest you under a named charge.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Curse of the Daleks - "lost" Daleks matinee play

The Daleks’ “lost” stage play from 1965 – but don’t get too excited, it wasn’t very good. This first appeared in sci-fi fanzine This Way Up issue 18, way back in 2006. Bits of This Way Up are online here. I'm putting it back online to coincide with some of my more up-to-the-minute 50th Doctor Who anniversary Dalek tie-in articles whose publication is imminent. Wyndham's Theatre programme front cover image, copyright Wyndham's Theatres 1965 - reproduced under "fair dealing", Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, for the purposes of a critique or review

“Saturday teatime is sacred to the one-eyed monster” (Harold Jackson, Guardian, 22 December 1965)

In January 1966, the forgotten Dalek drama Curse of the Daleks ended its brief and only matinee run on the stage of London’s Wyndham Theatre after just one month. It was the first example of the anoraky obsessive Doctor Who continuity thing, linking the first The Daleks story with Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the first outing for the Daleks without the Doctor, as the Daleks' creator Terry Nation owned the copyright for the Daleks but not for Doctor Who.The Doctor is not even mentioned in Curse.

Curse is also notable for its absolutely mentalist programme notes by scriptwriter David Whitaker - about how Dalek creator Terry Nation rang him up in a tizzy and asked him to come over and look at a small opaque glass cube about the size of a sugar lump which he’d found in his garden. When he carefully drilled a hole in it, little slivers of metal fell out which turned out to contain microfilm, “these were Dalek history - the history of Skaro from the future. Had the peace-loving Thals sent them as a warning - or had a Dalek history library exploded, jettisoning debris through the universe?”

Whitaker would have the audience believe that Curse of the Daleks was based on such a capsule found in Kensington Gardens - ‘so keep your eyes and ears open when you’re out in the park’, children. The programme notes also stated that “In accordance with modern theatre practice, the National Anthem will only be played in the presence of Royalty’ - in the unlikely event of Her Majesty the Queen dropping in for the matinee performance of Curse of the Daleks.

Curse was an attempt to cash in on the Dalekmania phenomenon. The Telegraph’s critic commented of Curse that “as Mr Nation discovered a few thousand pounds ago, “The-Daleks-are-invincible!” The very proactive Walter Tucknell, in charge of Dalek licensing at the BBC in 1964, came up with wizard wheezes like adding the Anti-Dalek fluid neutraliser to a toy company’s range - it was really just a re-branded Dan Dare water pistol.

There were only a handful of Dalek toys in the shops for Christmas 1964 – TV21 comics, birthday cards and badges. By mid-1965, an 18-page advertorial in Games and Toys was running, showing the 80 Dalek items in production. Terry Nation told the Radio Times in 1973 that there were 132 Dalek products in all, from jelly babies to wallpaper to bedroom slippers, bringing him money ‘beyond the dreams of avarice. The programme for Curse includes the ‘Dalekode’ cut-out cryptography code wheel from the Dalek Pocket Book and Space Traveller’s Guide (Panther/Souvenir) and a shameless plug for the Dalek Painting Book. Daleks were the hottest property by Christmas 1965. But by the time of Curse, just after Christmas 1966, interest had already started to wane. The craze was over by 1967.

While the script bears the credit ‘Curse of the Daleks stage play by Terry Nation and David Whitaker,’ the agent for the Nation estate told me that Terry Nation’s widow Kate had never heard of the play and had no record of its existence, and asked me to send a copy if I come across one. It seems that the script was almost entirely written by Who’s original story editor David Whitaker, with elements ripped off from his scripts for TV21 comic’s Daleks strip. Whitters was an actor before he turned to scriptwriting and was comfortable writing for the stage.

A "Complaints Manager Dalek" spotted in the window of a Hornsey Road hi-fi shop in North London. Photo by the author, Daleks copyright BBC/estate of Terry Nation

Under the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, all plays had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for censorship. When censorship of plays ended in 1968, the plays came to the Manuscript Collection of the British Library in London. The script for Curse of the Daleks is in the Library’s card index system in the Manuscript Collection as Play no 1965/50, Lord Chamberlain’s Licence no. 356, dated November 1965.

The sniffy Illustrated London News theatre critic compared Curse of the Daleks unfavourably with the robots from Karel Capek’s R.U.R., which is a bit like comparing Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space unfavourably with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sniffy Illustrated London News guy imagines that it must be some kind of panto because it’s for the kids at Xmas. Certainly all the Daleks silently trundling in and out of secret doors when the humans have their backs turned is reminiscent of the ‘Behind you!’ element of panto.

Curse was aimed more squarely at the kids than was the ‘family drama’ Doctor Who, and has the most basic of whodunit plots. It brought harsh words from the critics: “a false start depending too much on weak jokes” (The Times), “[while] little boys are fascinated by the ‘space dialogue’, little girls like it but can’t grasp the detail, male grown ups find it difficult to keep pace. Female grown-ups smile tolerably.” The first half seems to have been particularly pants, with rubbish dialogue for the human actors. As well as having no Doctor Who, the first half suffered from not much by way of Daleks either, nor were the Daleks on stage for very long in the second half. Everyone agreed that things improved when the Daleks showed up: “Until the Daleks massed appearance, the action seems somewhat tame. Then, with the first sign of a Dalek shuddering to life, the plot starts to grip…. an ultimately satisfying adventure.” (The Times) “Daleks possess a magnetism lacking in the flesh and blood characters….no less compelling on stage than on the TV screen.” (Illustrated London News “after tots have discussed the outlook learnedly over ice cream. things liven a lot as the Daleks act in close formation.” (Telegraph)

The play opens with a rhyme to the tune of "Remember, remember, the fifth of November": “When fears are abating/ Don’t try to forget them/The Daleks are waiting/Quietly planning and /Scheming and hating/Remember!”

Then we are in the bare, "curved ribbed storehold’ of the spaceship Starfinder. We see two prisoners. Harry Sline is under arrest for slave trading between Mars and Venus, and he’s looking at a 30-year prison sentence in The Deeps underwater prison in the Atlantic. Disgraced Commander John Ladiver’s many crimes include illegal sales of uranium to ‘the wrong people’, an act that almost led to war in space. He’s suspected of having ‘cached away about 30 million.’ Ladiver is facing execution. Both have just done eight days in a holding cell on Satellite Prison, and Sline is trying to file through the handcuffs chaining the pair together.

Food is brought by radio-pic (primitive ‘radio-picture’ communications device) operator and engineer Bob Slater, who’s armed with a “short stubbly” detonator handgun. Captain Steven Redway looks in on the prisoners. The crew’s “immaculate silver and grey uniform of the period” was off the peg from Nathans theatrical outfitters.

The Starfinder, travelling at light speed, runs into trouble as it hits a meteor storm, resulting in ‘programme circuits shorting.’ The ‘small and wiry’ Co-pilot Rocket Smith (‘Rock’ to his friends) enters to inform the Captain that there’s smoke coming out of the radio-pic set. Somebody sabotaged it by chucking iron filings in it.

Forced to land to make repairs, the crew choose the relatively quiet nearby planet of Skaro, even though the Unispace Police have declared Skaro ‘out of bounds.’ The human crew are dimly aware that the hot planet Skaro is the home of the now deactivated Daleks and the beautiful blonde “wandering” race of Thals.

The aloof ‘Little Miss Iceberg’ Marion Clements - dark, attractive, businesslike in her smart white lab technician’s costume, enters with her boss, the handsome and dignified fiftysomething Professor Vanderlyn. The prisoners are disembarked, still manacled together, along with Vanderlyn’s equipment, including refrigerated crates of biological specimens from around the universe, wheeled in on a trolley to keep them out of the oven-like heat on board the Starfinder.

Now we’re in a courtyard in the dead City of the Daleks on Skaro, all archways and ramps and secret doors. There’s a dormant Dalek standing in the courtyard, overgrown with vines and with its eyestalk and its suction pad arm pointing at the ground. Vanderlyn relates how the humans managed to switch off the Daleks power at the end of the Dalek war, and embraces the Skaro landing as an “opportunity to make notes, aha!” Rocket hangs his jacket over the Dalek’s eyestalk. Vanderlyn and Marion pull the creepers off the Dalek to examine it. Captain Redway’s pants attempt at flirty jokes and Rocket Smith’s awful-sub-comic argumentative banter with Marion Clements go down like a lead balloon.

When Vanderlyn starts to unload his specimen cases from the trolley there’s one he doesn’t recognise - a large case with VENDERLYN on it, containing a dozen thick black discs - smooth bright metal base, metal without joins, in two sections with “some kind of barely visible pin sticking out of a hole in the base.” Before long, Rocket notices one of discs is missing. Seconds later it inevitably turns up stuck to the side of the overgrown Dalek, whose eyestalk twitches into life! “Slowly, its sucker stick starts to straighten up.”
It moves around and exits through the ramp.

The mystery black boxes turn out to be “flooding power into the Dalek like a blood transfusion,” and whispering recorded orders to the Daleks.

It is suggested “We could simply whistle up the space boys and that would be that” - presumably the Unispace security forces or the SSS (Space Security Service - they feature in The Dalek Master Planand in Nation’s treatment for a proposed Daleks TV series). Captain Redway takes command, while Vanderlyn goes into another tedious science lecture, this one on electricity. Sline files through his manacles and is felled by an anaesthetic bullet as he makes a break for it.

Three Daleks appear trundling down the ramp with a trolley on which is Vanderlyn’s crate, now containing the slumped body of Bob Slater. The black boxes are gone.

Now we’re in a rare scene with Daleks in it, in the Scanner room inside the City. “Black claw-equipped Daleks” are powering themselves up and plugging in a huge wide-screen telly on which they have the humans under surveillance. We hear a disembodied voice, called TANNOY DALEK in the script, who commands: “All-Daleks-not-on-patrol-duties-to-return -to-their-panels!” The Daleks have much better lines than the humans.

Redway goes missing with the only detonator gun, leaving Rocket Smith in charge. It turns out that Slater was not killed by Daleks, but poisoned by a hypodermic. The humans send up a flare to bring in the Thals, who reply by flashing a piece of polished metal.

An explosion heralds the appearance of the dignified, white haired Thal leader Dexion and his daughter Ijayna as they seal passages behind them. “Close the arches!” barks Ijayna. “It’s no good being afraid of them.” Thals are still a quite low-tech, wandering race like in the original The Daleks, but they are no longer the namby-pamby girly pacifist race of that story. They’re already established as the guerrilla race we won’t meet again until the Pertwee-era Planet of the Daleks. “You are badly prepared!” comments Ijayna, to which Dexion replies; “You must make allowances. These people have not lived in the shadow of the Daleks as we have, “ and so on.

Thal clothes are “simple and designed to suit Skaroan climate which is constantly hot…Every effort must be made by the designer to help us avoid making the Thals look like pantomime creatures. They are not. The Thals are graceful, attractive, people, the simpler their clothes the better.” So no silver-sprayed wellies as in the Doctor Who and the Daleks movie, then. One theatre critic (or newspaper sub-editor) confused ‘Thal’ with ‘Thai’

The “fair, tall and beautiful” female Thal “Ijayna wears a skirt…. a thin silver band around her forehead which enclosed the top of her hair, sleeved top fixed at the wrists with silver cuffs. Top’s neckline and backline square-cut. Neck and backline edged with silver.” She has a surprisingly accurate 21st century bare midriff. This obsessive attention to Ijyana’s appearance is known in the Christmas season plays for children trade as “something for the dads.”

These Thals and Commander Ladiver have met before. Ladiver led the regular five-yearly patrol of local stars three years before, and investigated Ijayna’s claim that someone had landed secretly on Skaro just before Ladiver’s last visit - possibly to test the black boxes, they now believe. Ladiver’s reports were ignored, and his subsequent uranium-smuggling career was a cover for routine flights across “the Skaro universe.”

Well, blow me! It turns out Ijayana and Ladiver are engaged to be married. The Thals set Ladiver free. Dexion refers to “my people waiting in the dead [vitrified] forest” which featured in The Daleks, set fifty years before, and close to the city of the Daleks then. So it’s presumably the same enclosed City of the Daleks now, with courtyards added.

A badly-wounded Redway stumbles in, and the Tannoy Dalek orders the humans to “Obey-the-Da-leks!” and hand over their radio. It seems whoever is controlling the Daleks plans to “rule the universe from Skaro.” Night is falling when a torch-equipped Dalek appears through a secret door. They exterminate Sline when he runs for it.

There’s a distinctly undalek-like interest shown in rounding up the ladies, which is a clue to the plans of whoever the human traitor is: “The two females are to be given food and drink and also water in containers and pieces of fibre cloth. I shall order it! …Our master has ordered that we begin to prepare for the invasion of the planet earth!” By then, it looks as if whoever’s running the Daleks is probably male. Suspicion falls on Vanderlyn or Rocket Smith.

Now we’re in the Control room, which is the “redressed” courtyard set made to look like it’s underground. “Panels with switches and dials either side, glowing bulbs, recorded tape spools spin.” There’s a whole array of tripods and rostrums, bars and looped cables and big chunky Dalek six-pin electrical sockets with ‘holes in it, the size of a telephone dial.’ The male prisoners are drugged and propped up on a bench; the ladies are “secured to floor by magnets.”

It was Bob Slater all along! (Which I guessed.) He wasn’t really dead. He’d just injected something to freeze his heart. He put the detonator guns out of action. And he went off to see the Thals and smash their radio. And he’s NUTS! “I’ll show you how mad I am! Daleks, we will connect the power!”

It turns out the whole elaborate plan to take over the universe arose because he couldn’t get laid. Rather than put an ad in the “men seeking women” section of the local paper, he resolves to use the Daleks to take over earth. “The Daleks obey me!” Bob has already got his eye on the two girls, and goes on and on about how they’re going to be his playthings when he rules “all the universes” and how he will finally be able to pick up chicks.

Ladiver thwarts the Dalek powering-up by clinging to the underside of a trolley full of power cells pushed by a trolley Dalek.

When Daleks get full power, their black boxes fall off and they’re free of Bob Slater’s hair-brained scheme. They immediately turn on Slater (“You-are-no-longer-our-mas-ter!!) and exterminate him. In these pre-‘exterminate’ days, they just say “Die!” It isn’t related how the exterminate effect is done on stage. (Apparently, the catch-phrase "Exterminate!" didn't talk hold until the later TV Doctor Who story The Dalek Masterplan.)

But Ladiver has been busy pulling stronger-than-the-sun power cells out of their sockets all this time, and generally putting the boot into Dalek electrical engineering. No sooner are the Daleks all independently powered up, than the Black Dalek is begging the humans to “Turn on our power… again” As he shuts down, Black Dalek warns, “Tell your people on earth……that the Daleks are waiting … One day… we will… rise again… one day…”

“Tell them the Daleks are finished.” Says Ladiver.
“Are they?” replies Rocket, “Marvellous!”

The curtain falls on an interracial human-Thal snog between Ladiver and Ijanya. Hurrah!

The author with an Ecclestone/Tennant-era gold Dalek at the Doctor Who Experience, London, in 2011. Daleks copyright BBC/estate of Terry Nation.

“Too much space jargon” was the complaint of the Telegraph’s critic, while The Times said, “though the period is the 21st century, the dialogue is initially strangely reminiscent of British war films with the upper lip being kept resolutely stiff.” The cast had to “cope with lines that come straight from a Victorian novel, according to the Guardian. It is the dreadfulness of the dialogue that makes Curse really stand out:

“Nor me skipper.”
“I’ve had to deploy my men on various essential duties.”
“Apparently, they don’t teach you manners at flight school, captain.”
“The fool! The blind, stupid fool!”
“I’m forcing myself to put aside personal considerations.”
“Think what you’re doing man!”
“Our own power repels your controls, earthman!”

As Vanderlyn reminds us, “A Dalek, you must remember, needs no rest. He is a brilliant scientist, soldier and electronics engineer. He works 24 hours a day everyday, to see his race conquer and succeed in everything… Death has no terror for them. As you destroy a Dalek, so another takes its place….simply because Daleks only understand success or destruction.”

Sad Dalek-spotting nerds with no friends will be excited to hear that - alongside all the flame-thrower Daleks, oxyacetylene cutter-equipped Daleks, heavy weapons Daleks, sieve-armed embryo-handling hatchery Daleks, machine-gun equipped Exxilon expedition Daleks, left-handed Daleks, the more recent Tennant-era German-speaking Daleks(!) and other specialist Daleks that cropped up in various series, Curse has a unique Dalek variant all of its own. It’s a torch-equipped Dalek that has the normal exterminator but a suction arm replaced by a torch. The torch is used to activate concealed light-sensitive sensors that open secret doors out of the City of the Daleks courtyard, and it’s also handy for intimidating humans by shining it in their eyes. Curse is also the only occasion we see trolley dolly Daleks pushing trolleys. There’s even a trolley fight as humans shove trolleys up against Daleks.

Neither the Dalek operators nor the ‘Tannoy Dalek’ voice are credited, but the programme credits AARU - suppliers of the movie Daleks with the claws, for providing the Daleks. “Black claw-equipped Daleks” feature in the script turning on the big telly, plugging in power and starting up the generator at the end, but the technical rehearsal photo and publicity shots show the Shawcraft Daleks from the TV show. It looks like both were used. The Daleks in these photos don’t yet have the receptor dish on the back out of Dalek Invasion of Earth, or the solar panel slats around their mid-section, which did not become standard until The Chase in 1966.

The presence in Curse of Daleks without receptor dishes - apparently 29 years after Roy Castle turned off the power in Doctor Who and the Daleks proves beyond reasonable doubt that, when the First Doctor in The Dalek Invasion of Earth met receptor-dish equipped Daleks and said they must have been from an earlier period of Dalek history, he was talking out of his arse.

How the Daleks could have demolished London and Paris - as alluded to in the rhyme at the beginning - if they were unable to get off the floor of their spaceships from which they got their power is hard to imagine. There are outdoor scenes with a Dalek on the firing range in Genesis of the Daleks and they go on an exterminating trip into the Thal city, so we can assume that early Daleks did have a very limited range capacity to go out and about on reserve power for a short while, a bit like the old Sinclair C5 Galaxy electric cars.

Noooooo! Don’t get me started on Dalek chronology! It’s complicated by the Fourth Doctor’s statement that he “only held up Dalek development by 800 years or so.” Then there’s The Day of the Daleks, which turns out never to have happened because the Doctor prevented it. The tendency of the recent Ecclestone era’s surviving Daleks to “fall through time” after the Great Time War confuses things even more. A quantum physics doctorate awaits anyone who can unscramble Dalek chronology.

Curse doesn’t simplify things very much either. Curse makes no mention of the Doctor at all, as Nation had no licence to use him, and the shutting down the power on Skaro incident at the end of The Daleks is attributed to a human army at the end of the (brief) Dalek war 50 years earlier, or the Daleks must be assumed to have already been revived all over again after Roy Castle turned the power off, only to then be shut down all over again by the Earth forces. “Nobody’s seen a dalek for years,” as one character comments in Curse.

Curse seems to introduce another Dalek invasion that preceded the one in The Dalek Invasion of Earth but this one is ended when the humans get to Skaro and shut down the central power source, transmitting power through space to the invasion fleets. In which case The Dalek Invasion of Earth would occur sometime after Curse, after yet another dick-for-brains had gone and turned the Dalek’s power back on again.

Curse is supposedly set 50 years after the original Daleks series, which tends to wee all over Dalek chronology (as usual), because the script gives a date of 2179 AD and says it’s Monday(!) If it really is 50 years after Daleks Invade Earth 2150 AD (the movie version of the TV series), then it should be 2200.

Unless this is the same invasion as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and the thwarting of the Dalek invasion by detonating a magnetic bomb and setting off a volcano in Berkshire was just the first battle in a long war against Daleks all powered from a central source, including the satellite dish power receptor Daleks of Invasion. Except that the Daleks in Curse don’t have the power receptor dishes on their backs like they do in Invasion.

There is also universal confusion about “universes”. Curse is set in “the Skaro universe … in the next universe but one.” ” Our enemy plans to rule the Universe from Skaro. All the universes in fact,” and bonkers Bob Slater promises to rule “all the universes.” Maybe scriptwriter Whitters is confusing universes with galaxies. Could the meaning have changed by 2179?

There are some hilarious anachronisms in the 2179 of Curse. “About a year ago, girls were supposed to be gentle creatures - very much the weaker sex and happy to be so.” Sunday Joints for dinner (meat, not cannabis) have survived, and “a ten shilling watch can tell the time as well as Big Ben.” The survival of the quaint custom of engagements could be a Thal cultural thing.

When the Guardian’s critic talked about “a troupe of wooden figures” he was talking about the human actors not the Daleks, although The Times said the “actors play with all possible conviction.” The curse in Curse of the Daleks - apart from their inability to go up the stairs - seems to have been the curse on its actors’ careers. A life of walk-on parts in single episodes of undistinguished TV series awaited most of them as they finished work on Curse. You certainly never hear thesps on Radio 4 with their witty reminiscences about how “ I was third radio operator with Sir Richard Burton in Curse of the Daleks in matinee at the Wyndham back in ’66, don’t you know, luvvie?”

Nicholas Hawtrey, Curse’s Captain Redway, appeared as a guest star in an episode of Danger Man and the highlight of his career was probably the butler in Dangerous Liasons with John Malkovich. He pretty much reprised his Curse role in the 1966 Troughton-era David Whitaker-scripted TV Doctor Who series The Power of the Daleks as Examiner Quinn. Power recycled a lot of Curse ideas like (doh!) turning the Dalek’s power on again. Hawtrey seems to have been a fluent French speaker, appearing in French films or playing Frenchie characters in films with names like French Kiss in a TV series on General De Gaulle and had a regular stint on Victorian below stairs melodrama The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He played Abbe Pierre in a French movie on the founder of the Emmaus movement.

Hilary Tindall, who played Marion Clemens, ‘one of those hardish girls of the 21st century,’ seems to have escaped the curse of the Curse of the Daleks, finding fame with her “dark good looks and seductive glamour [which] made her the ideal other woman …in the still shockable 1970s” when she featured in 50 episodes of The Brothers, as the wife of a haulage business owner who was in and out of bed with a lot of married men. Sad Doctor Who geeks will get excited by a Doctor Who connection - Sixth Doctor Colin Baker also starred in The Brothers. Tindall was a mezzo-soprano singer and appeared in musicals like South Pacific. The Swedes were so taken by The Brothers they brought her over to star in a Scandinavian remake.

Other Tindall appearances were in the TV movie of Max Headroom - 20 minutes into the future, and as Deborah Swaffham, putting married relations in jeopardy in Reginald Perrin’s commune in the third series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. She even has a topless scene in 1980s ITV series A Kind of Loving.

She also ‘starred’ in the instantly forgettable 1980s Granada kitchen utensil factory office sitcom Nice Work. In the original Randell and Hopkirk series, Hilary Tindall smiles behind her veil in the episode ‘The Smile Behind The Veil’. In the 1960s superhero Tibetan lost civilization nonsense sci-fi secret agent series The Champions, by Terry Nation’s co-writer on The Dalek Master Plan, Dennis Spooner, Hilary featured in one episode as a scientist’s fiancee who discovers he is selling high-speed planes to China. Nation contributed scripts to The Champions, series.

David Ashford, who played engineer, ‘radio-pic’ operator and bonkers megalomaniac Bob Slater, was in BBC2’s murder series Malice Aforethought and one of the Quatermass films. All the other actors disappeared off the theatrical radar screen shortly after appearing in Curse.

So obscure were the cast that set designer Jay Hutchinson Scott was perhaps the most famous one who outshone them all. He had designed for Glyndebourne and the National Theatre of the Netherlands, for TV and films, but is best known for the set design of No Sex Please, We’re British. He was more at home with intimate, realistic drawing room interiors with a sofa in the middle for half naked dolly birds to chase Ronnie Corbett around in his vest and spotted boxer shorts than with scanner rooms on Skaro.

Kenneth Williams in The Platinum Cat played in the evenings on the same stage after the Daleks had gone home, with the same producer as Curse, so it must have been a set that was easy to take down and put up again. Williams’ autobiography does not mention whether he tripped over the set for Skaro during his “Oooh, Matron!” routine.

Maybe the real curse in Curse of the Daleks is the tendency of not very far-sighted people throughout future history to go and bloody well turn the Dalek’s power on again. I blame the public information advertisements, which clearly aren’t scary enough. We’ve got some truly horrific ‘don’t drink and drive’ and teenage roadkill public information ads at cinemas these days, but what we really need is something like ‘Think once, think twice, think don’t go and turn the Dalek’s power back on again.’

© Copyright Matt Salusbury 2006, 2013

UPDATE (August 2013): The article above first appeared in This Way Up fanzine in January 2006, on the 40th anniversary of Curse of the Daleks. This Way Up has since succumbed to a bizarre national shortage of A5 envelopes, but the fanzines Live On Mars and Fringeworld have risen to take its place. (See the link at the top of this page.) My other articles for This Way Up/Fringeworld/Live On Mars/whatever it's called this week include How TV's greatest playwright Dennis Potter almost worked for Doctor Who

Since the article first appeared, the wonderful Theatre Museum’s library in London’s Covent Garden, where I did the initial research, has sadly closed. The revival of Doctor Who has also seen a revival of wall-to-wall Dalek-related merchandising. Dalek-human hybrid voice-changing masks, bubble bath, sticker books, limited edition Woolworth’s special model sets featuring Daleks in Manhattan “panel-damaged Daleks” and Marks and Spencers Dalek keyrings and two pages of Daleks in the Asda catalogue have taken Dalekmania well beyond the range of its previous 1965 zenith.

Altered Vistas - a non-profit one-man labour of love by Stuart Palmer - used to do an animated version of Curse of the Daleks which would be sent out for the price of postage. They stopped for copyright reasons when Big Finish's audio CD production of Curse of the Daleks came along. Yes, Big Finish thought Curse of the Daleks was actually good enough to spend money on!