Friday, 4 May 2018


Somehow I managed to stagger through reading this in the latest podcast from Lisa and Andrew (available at ) - this is the text for anyone who couldn't understand my burbled nonsense...


In the late nineteen-fifties, Nigel Kneale wrote the third of his BBC “Quatermass” serials, “QUATERMASS AND THE PIT” which I consider to be a masterpiece of television storytelling, and a masterclass in how to build a sense of growing unease and menace from basically nothing whatsoever.

The characters he creates across those six half hours are all richly drawn and each, in their own small way, add to the jigsaw of telling an astonishingly complicated idea in an entertaining and terrifying way.

Nothing is superfluous.

Nothing is unnecessary.

Even though HAMMER FILMS were able to halve the running time it took to tell that story a decade later, somehow the movie version still manages to impress, despite losing those small character pieces. Yet the richness of the original is what makes it impress even today, despite being made almost live on a television budget in an age where cutting edge special effects might involve a wax effigy being melted by a hairdryer.

And I think it’s Nigel Kneale’s small character sketches – and the committed performances - that make the dialogue sing. Concentrating upon character is what makes Kneale’s television creations work, and, in most instances, work they indeed do.

More than twenty years after this triumph, after falling out with the BBC and working with Euston Films to allow “Little Johnny Mills” to give the venerable professor one last hurrah, Nigel Kneale turned his not inconsiderable talent towards creating a sitcom and the result was KINVIG, which is --- not “Quatermass” certainly --- but it is, very much, “something else…”

KINVIG was directed by Brian Simmons and broadcast over the unusual number of seven half hour episodes during ITV primetime in late 1981, before pretty much vanishing into obscurity.

It’s about a couple of UFO spotters, or enthusiasts of “Extra-Terrestrial Craft of Unknown Origin” as his friend Jim might say, and their discovery – or otherwise – of an actual UFO somewhere in the vicinity of Kinvig’s rather run down old repair shop and their relationship with the aliens that inhabit it.

Or maybe it’s all a dream…?

It’s no secret that Nigel Kneale could be something of an old curmudgeon in later years and wasn’t one to suffer fools gladly. Some see this series as Kneale kicking out at the world of Science-Fiction and its fans – his revenge upon them after what would then have been three decades of people associating him with Sci-Fi and Horror when he considered himself to be simply a writer of stories, and, as such, it seems that the series is neither generally all that well-regarded or fondly remembered.

And that’s something of a shame, because part one, despite a few shortcomings that I’ll come to, is all rather charming and lovely in its own sweet little way.

The programme stars Tony Haygarth who was one of those character actors who seem to turn up in just about everything, but I always remembered him for playing Des KINVIG. Whenever he appeared, I’d think “It’s Kinvig” although I sometimes suspect that I may have been the only one.

Here he’s playing him as a tubby, scruffy little middle-aged man with a slight Liverpudlian accent, which seems fair enough because, on the whole, that was what he was.

That, of course, is to underplay what is a very subtle performance of tired lives, lost hopes and unfulfilled dreams, and the things we do to compensate for our own little failures and disappointments.

Kinvig lives above the shop with his wife Netta and their dog Cuddly their mutual love of which seems to be compensating for some deeper personal lack of something else in their lives. Netta seems to love Des very much indeed, despite Des being somewhat frustrating.

If I know my Kneale, KINVIG is a good old Manx name and it is no coincidence that it is an anagram of “Viking” and the irony of our title character being almost the antithesis of a marauding barbarian adventurer is not lost on me.

Pressing “Play” we ought to take a moment to wallow in the nostalgia of that old LWT logo before it Quantels away – or whatever the ITV version was called – into the corner of our screen.

The episode itself opens with a fairly shonky – if typical of the time – “Sci-Fi” title sequence of a picture of some stars and the actor names TONY HAYGARTH, PATSY ROWLANDS, COLIN JEAVONS and PRUNELLA GEE popping up in a relatively understated space-age typeface, all backed by a portentous electronic score that screams that “great things” are indeed “afoot”.

A moving animated blob lasers out the title “KINVIG” and we’re off.

I don’t imagine it’s any coincidence that the episode starts with a close-up of Des Kinvig asleep and dreaming of rubbish-looking rubbery space aliens – space aliens, incidentally, that bear more than a passing resemblance to those seen in the “Wild Hunt” sequences in “QUATERMASS AND THE PIT”  - although I can’t imagine too many of the ITV audience of 1981 would have made that leap.

There are slightly embarrassed chuckles from the audience on the soundtrack which do kind of draw attention to themselves, not least because the laugh track for this entire episode seems strangely muted. It’s as if, despite the warm-up gags and free sherry, the crowd they got in to watch this were a particularly mirthless bunch.

Or maybe, just maybe it’s… just… not…?

No, let’s be kind.

Patsy Rowlands appears playing Netta rather beautifully as a vision of sweet innocence and devotion despite her own lost hopes waking our hero with a cup of tea, and a slight admonishment, telling him he’s a naughty boy for having a nap.

On the bed, their dog and – it is implied - possible child substitute Cuddly – called that because he once was - possibly has fleas, which does not perturb either of them too much.

Des Kinvig’s rather oddly childlike relationship with Netta is a highlight of the programme, and they seem happily sweet and tickly as we find out Des has “A lot to do” - preventing him from fixing things at home - in his job running “Daddy’s shop” another fine example of Nigel Kneale painting in a rich and colourful back story with the minimum of paint strokes.

We cut to a location, the rather beautiful realization of the run-down shop that they have both just been discussing.

Inside, later on that same morning, an elderly lady Mrs Snell, played with suitable dignity by Betty Hardy, is in discussion with Des as to why her ancient and presumably much loved wireless set is still not fixed, which tells us an awful lot about the feckless Des and his lazy ways.

Whilst he laments the passing of old technologies and struggles to find the parts, his suggestion that she might take it somewhere else comes with a huge slab of reality biting, as Mrs Snell replies “There is only you!”

A world has passed. Repairmen cannot be found in this brave, thrusting technological age of 1981.

Des, we now discover, is also a kind man, and offers to keep on trying to fix the wireless, after all, he might be able to fix it “You never know…”

As Mrs Snell forlornly departs, Prunella Gee bursts in as a human hurricane of youthful eighties energy, and a television ideal of supposed loveliness, demanding the door keys she ordered, and giving Des what can only be describes as a right good telling off.

This is “Miss Griffin” who has a mysterious double life, about which we will find out more later. We also begin to suspect that Des is stringing her along just so that he can see more of her because, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and despite the fact that Netta is lovely, it becomes increasingly apparent that Des is smitten.

Miss Griffin’s life seems to be blighted by men bothering her, which is why her need for new keys is so very urgent it seems, and, with demands that he ought to hurry, and with a flurry of rather worrying insight about snoopers in her flat, she departs, promising to be back at quarter past five.

Shortly afterwards, Colin Jeavons appears playing Des’s friend Jim, greeting Des with an incredulous “You’re working…!!!” which says it all.

Jim is Des’s fellow UFO enthusiast, and, despite spending his life looking out for strange and mysterious things, totally failed to see the girl Des tells him about. In a cruel piece of observation by Kneale, Jim is far more excited by his stack of copies of the Galactic Newsletter – a UFO newspaper of 1953 vintage which he has acquired from Neville, especially in reference to the article on the mothership in the June edition.

At this point in my notes I can’t read my own handwriting, so I’ll assume that “Loudersumptin” probably means something exotic and alien*.

Or something.

There now follows a scene which is chock full of the kind of Nigel Kneale precience for which he has become rather well regarded in recent years, as Jim and Des, with occasional interruptions from Netta and Cuddly with Netta spelling out words in front of the dog so as not to upset it, discuss various matters that nowadays we might think of as FAKE NEWS.

They address the alien landing site known as the Great Pyramid and more thoughts – the “Pointy bit” line is very good, as well as the observations that a spacecraft would slide down the sides.

Colin Jeavons is totally mesmerizing throughout this, with those bright belief-fuelled eyes – giving - as he always does – a lovely performance as they tackle the knotty problems of “human hands” and the magazine story of  Kerensky/Adamski – although Kerensky was a butcher – Entities, Valves,how they both disagree over versions of the truth, and Jim’s particular scorn about “official” cameras covering – or covering up - such things.

There’s also that Buckingham Palace UFO that “everybody knows” about, which sounds very Twitteresque.

Jim wants to make contact with a UFO. In fact he’s desperate to see one, – any kind – not for proof, you understand, but just for himself. This brings us to another little moment of Knealian Prescience, our modern fascination with the FEAR OF MISSING OUT.

And with that, off he goes to do that terribly eighties thing of signing on.

In the shop, another disappointed customer departs, possibly to join a spinoff called “The disappointed customers of Kinvig” which we might want to see developed some day.

We find Des soldering at (as it turns out) 5:25 that afternoon. Miss Griffin returns to discover to her utter exasperation that there are still no keys. Des’s excuse that he’s got a “rush on” is funny – and whilst Miss Griffin angrily (and without subtlety) points out his lies, he finally starts to cut those keys. He’s also terribly clumsy around her, as his efforts to actually start making the keys immediately suggest, although these efforts immediately stop once she leaves.

There’s a clock screenwipe (urk) back to Des lying in bed.

Funny things, those screenwipes. I remember once, back at the dawn of time, I spent a term at the film school trying to create tasteful video graphics and constantly having to stop the engineers from using ghastly wipes instead of fades. I think they were shiny and new back then, and got the technicians terribly excited, whilst those of us trying to be all artistic were less so.

Still, what do I know? The thirties “Flash Gordon” series are full of such exotic ways of leaping from scene to scene – presumably referencing the comics – so maybe, as this is supposed to be Sci-Fi, it’s some sort of post-modern semiotic homage…?

Back in bed, Des dreams of Miss Griffin – so IS ALL OF WHAT FOLLOWS JUST A DREAM? Certainly there’s something resembling “Regeneration FX” over Des’s slumbers, which might imply strange and mysterious goings on, but he apparently wakes up to find the dog on the bed, and so he goes out into the darkness of an actual night shoot to walk the dog wearing a rather horrid coat that has seen far better days and is therefore entirely appropriate.

This street, with its dilapidation and knackered old fencing has a VERY Quatermass film look about it, and the green lights that shine onto the close-up of his face through a hole in corrugated iron fence only serve to enhance this feeling.

Through this hole in the fence he sees – da-da-DAH!!! - a Perspex UFO with loads of flashing lights parked on a piece of wasteground, looking for all the world like the low budget Close Encounters it’s supposed to be.

With suitable drama, a door in the spaceship opens and, with the sort of smoke and laser effects that would make certain Ultimate Adventure stage shows possible, a Space-suited figure emerges and points aboard, and Des wades through the dry ice and walks up the ramp to…

Well, the sort of shoddy spaceship set that rather reminded me of The Horns of Nimon, much of the same bits it may very well have been built from. The set is enhanced by some huge valves which actually show off some rather impressive production design.

We then see Miss Griffin. Not the “real world” shouting machine from the shop, but the dreamy, spacewoman version of her, all dressed down in her revealing pulpy “space” gear being assisted by three proper bonkers-looking old aliens.

Miss Griffin now has ridiculously over the top conical space hair, and her costume has collars that have a very slight Gallifreyan air.

Crikey, Mr Kneale really didn’t like “Doctor Who” at all, did he?

Anyway, she greets Des with a suitably portentous “Mr Kinvig, welcome…” which acts as a cliffhanger of a sort, as it’s the end of part one.

Not the end of episode one, dear listener (Be honest, you thought you’d got off lightly, didn’t you?) but because this is I – T – V, we have to have an advert break.

Listen to Round the Archives –
(Tell your friends)
And make them
Listen to Round the Archives –
You know that it makes sense

Part two begins with a different wider view and we get to see Prunella Gee in all her space-costumed magnificence and get a far better view of her… silver space boots.


We might want to pause for a moment here and ponder upon the costuming of women in 1940s and 1950s pulp science-fiction, and how it’s being referenced here in a totally non-gratuitous way, but I begin to suspect that this is just how the audience might expect a woman from outer space might probably dress.

Or maybe that’s just Des.

Satire, eh? Ain’t it grand…?

You do start to think that this must, indeed, be all a dream; the strange manifestations of Des Kinvig’s bizarre fantasies, a belief that is supported by all those sequences of Des asleep. Certainly, when his own words – from his earlier conversation with Jim - about Venus being “too hot” to live on - are echoed back at him by the space aliens as they explain where they’ve come from, and when Miss Griffin compliments him upon his “exceptional brain” we do start to believe that there’s been some kind of reality leap.

Or maybe that’s what Kneale WANTS us to think…

I’m sure the average viewer back then might have been wondering just what the hell was going on…

Or maybe that’s what Kneale WANTS us to think…

Anyway, the three rubbery aliens supporting Miss Griffin – they may have been called Loon Dat Sake** (my notes become a little too scribbly at this point and their habit of splitting their sentences between the three of them gets a little indecipherable to my aging ears) – ultimately explain that they come from the hollow interior of Mercury – which would also be too hot otherwise.

Miss Griffin, to baffle us further, is emphatic. This dream-like scenario is definitely not a dream, it was her way of bringing Des to her because they need help and Des Kinvig has – hilariously - passed their test.

Des is suitably impressed that these space-travelling super-beings still use valves because he’s always thought that transistors were a passing phase, which is a nice nod back to the seed planted in his discussion with Mrs Snell at the start of the episode.

Languages – Happily, and once again adding to the sense of being in a dream, Des has brought his soldering iron along with him and he produces it, sonic screwdriver-like from his pocket, and proceeds to set about fixing the spaceship despite the fact that it’s one of those electric soldering irons with a lead which remains NOT PLUGGED IN whilst he does so.

It’s funny what was believable to viewers electronically back then. If it had been cordless, a 1980s viewer would have been screaming “where would you put the batteries?” at the screen in a way that a modern viewer, so used to gadgets that are wafer thin, rechargeable and wi-fi enabled, simply wouldn’t care about if they’d hacked off the lead.

Mind you, if they had done that, I’m sure the props department would have had their hides.

Anyway, whilst all of this repair shop magic is going on, we learn of the aliens ancestors and their escape from Atlantis, and how they went to Mercury, taking a chunk of our ocean with them to form their inland sea which is quite poetic in its way, and achingly evocative of the other forms of science-fantasy that I suspect several viewers might prefer to be watching.

Anyway, with the ship all fixed in an unlikely manner, a comedy car starting noise restores it to life, and Miss Griffin kisses Des, who asks, not unreasonably under the circumstances I suppose, whether he will ever see Miss Griffin again.

She explains that there is much for him to do, and that she has many – well, ultimately only six more, dangerous tasks for him to perform, none of which seems to phase our Des, thinking, we suspect, in a not very reconstructed way, with other things other than his brain.

Certainly the fact that he must keep all this “A secret from his wife” raises an arch titter from the audience (“Nudge, nudge - say no more!”) – but he does seem rather more concerned as to whether he can tell Jim, which is even funnier, apparently.

The past is another country, etc. etc.

Nevertheless, as the romance theme builds behind him, Des leaves the ship –  wading through more smoke and laser FX (well, they had paid for them so they might as well use them) and, with a red light shining onto his face in a very Quatermass and the Pit movie way, the flying saucer departs backed by some suitably naff “wonder” music and dodgy video effects.

After which there’s another one of those dodgy video screen wipes back to Des daydreaming in the shop, presumably sometime the following day.

Jim has acquired what he refers to as a “scientific calculator” several years later than everyone else did to help him to calculate stuff, but Des can’t wait to tell him in a very matter-of-fact way about last night and how he found a spaceship.

Jim is all rather nonplussed by this and, despite the cross cutting to close ups of Cuddly – presumably confirming Des’s stories – Jim’s face is a picture as Des explains that he went inside and explains to him about the Friendly entities he met.

Much of this is interspersed with cuts to Netta, presumably to emphasise his guilty little secret and why he’s scared of being overheard.

Jim of course is crestfallen “Why couldn’t it have been me?” me bellows, jealous as hell, although when Des explains about the colossal valves he is far more supportive, as it’s “Just like he always said!”

In the midst of all this, another disappointed customer (tick) is told to “Get out!” and, as she departs to a location not far away, this elderly woman collides with the earthbound version of Miss Griffin, who then bursts into the shop in a whirlwind of ghastly pink top and waving her broken shoe heel at Des with an angry demand that he should “fix it” otherwise “terrible things” will be done to him.

Given his new insider knowledge, Jim’s face is a picture, and a masterclass of subtly brilliant acting for television.

Meanwhile, as Miss Griffin - in extreme close-up - leaps to the dubious defence of poor old biddies everywhere, we see Kinvig’s point of view as  “real world” Miss Griffin becomes Space Miss Griffin, explaining that they will both have dangerous tasks to do together, and Miss Griffin, to Des’s absolute joy, will continue to be Miss Griffin with the awful temper to mask her true identity.


The episode ends with an oddly jubilant end theme which, again, sort of smacks of how “people” might think “Scienty-Fiction” music might sound.

What this all says about male/female relationships, fidelity, and the fantasies of middle-aged men in the early nineteen-eighties is anybody’s guess, but, despite being surprisingly low key, the first episode of KINVIG really is a rather lovely half hour of television in all honesty, even though nothing very much actually happens, and some of the execution is slightly lousy in a “Goodies moving to ITV” sort of a way.

The problem is, I suppose that, as sitcoms go, it’s not actually all that funny. It’s a character piece, and, as that, it does stand up rather well. All those lovely bits and pieces that make Kneale’s characters resonate are there in abundance.

Maybe it’s the nature of the characters. They’re hopeless dreamers, “losers” in some eyes, nutters, eccentrics, and possibly just the sort of people ordinary ITV viewers might go out of their way to avoid, which is, I imagine, why Nigel Kneale’s KINVIG has rather been consigned to the dustbin of forgotten television and never became another “Hitch-hiker’s Guide”, “Red Dwarf”, or “Only Fools and Horses” and, to be honest, I guess that’s not really any surprise.

And that’s rather a shame, I think. Because the hopeless dreamers, “losers”, nutters and eccentrics are actually people that need to be seen and heard more of in popular culture.

Well, I hope so, anyway.

*Wolverhampton - oh.
** Loon, Bat and Sagga (thanks L&A)

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