Nigel Kneale died today, at the age of 84. Best known for his creation of the four QUATERMASS serials, Nigel Kneale, along with producer Rudolph Cartier, essentially invented adult science fiction and horror on television. He was also a clever and sensitive adapter of other works for tv, such as 1984 and LOOK BACK IN ANGER, and a brutal and pioneering satirist in his plays for television, perhaps most famously for his YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS, predicting the “Big Brother” shows from 1968.
Kneale was one of my great influences; as a kid in the 1970s, before the fourth and final QUATERMASS starring Sir John Mills, my father bought me the paperback scriptbooks of the original three QUATERMASS serials (which you can still find on eBay). I was obsessed with those things for years, and have them still. They taught me untold amounts about dialogue, pacing, and the grounding of the unreal in the real.
It’s hard to imagine, now, the impact that the first three QUATERMASS stories had. For six weeks, the country would go home on QUATERMASS night. Pubs would empty out. In those early days of television, an unapologetically adult, complex and weird piece of speculative fiction was common culture. When tv people in the States tell me that the masses “just don’t get” science fiction, this is what I tell them: that before the cast of THE X-FILES was even born, Britain used to shut down on QUATERMASS night, and it’s all people would talk about the next day.
And that was down to Nigel Kneale, last of a generation of writers for British television who were determined that this common culture should always be entertaining, intelligent, challenging and groundbreaking.