Bernard Quatermass

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Reginald Tate, the first actor to portray Professor Bernard Quatermass, in 1953's The Quatermass Experiment.
Professor Bernard Quatermass is a fictional character, created by the writer Nigel Kneale originally for BBC Television, who appeared in three influential BBC science fiction serials of the 1950s, and made his swansong in a final serial for Thames Television in 1979. A re-make of the first serial appeared on BBC Four in 2005. The character has also appeared in films, on the radio and in print over a fifty-year period. Kneale picked the character's unusual surname from a London telephone directory when stuck for an interesting name for the leading character in the script he was writing. Quatermass is an intelligent and highly moral British scientist, who continually finds himself confronting sinister alien forces that threaten to destroy humanity. In the initial three serials, he is a pioneer of the British space programme, heading up the British Experimental Rocket Group.


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John Robinson, who took on the role of Quatermass for Quatermass II (1955) following Tate's death.
Little is revealed of Quatermass's early life during the course of the films and television series in which he appears. In The Quatermass Experiment, he at one point despairs that he should have stuck to his original career of "mapping the tropics."

By 1953 he is the head of the British Experimental Rocket Group, which has a programme to launch a manned rocket into space from a base in Woomera, South Australia. Although Quatermass succeeds in launching a three-man crew, the rocket vastly overshoots its planned orbit and returns to Earth much later than planned, crash-landing in London.

Only one of the crew, Victor Carroon, remains, and he has been taken over by an alien presence, forcing Quatermass to eventually (in a climax set in Westminster Abbey) destroy him and the other two crewmembers who have been absorbed into him. Despite this trauma, Quatermass continues with his space programme, and by Quatermass II (1955) is actively planning the establishment of Moon bases. In this serial we see his daughter, Paula Quatermass, who works as an assistant at the Rocket Group, but there is no sign of a wife or other children.

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André Morell, the third actor to play the role on television, in Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59).
At the beginning of the third serial, Quatermass and the Pit in 1958, Quatermass's funding is being cut back and the Rocket Group is being handed over to military control, much to his disgust. Control is to be handed over to Colonel Breen and Quatermass senses that he is being forced out: however, after the events of the serial, Breen is dead, Quatermass has helped to save the world, and London is in chaos.

It is not clear what happens to the Rocket Group immediately after this: the next time Quatermass is seen on screen (Quatermass, 1979) he has long been retired, living in retreat in the Scottish Highlands. He has recently become the guardian of his granddaughter, Hettie, after her parents (presumably Paula Quatermass and her love interest John Dillon from Quatermass II, although this is never explicitly stated either on television or in the novelisation) were killed in a road accident in Germany. After Hettie runs away from home, he travels to London in search of her, and finds a dystopian world there. Quatermass and the scientist Joe Kapp establish that an alien force is causing the downturn of society and Quatermass forms a plan to force the intruder away by the detonation of a nuclear device: he presses the button to detonate it himself, and is killed in the blast as the planet is saved.


The character was originally created for the 1953 BBC Television serial The Quatermass Experiment. He was played by the experienced film and television actor Reginald Tate, and the character immediately became highly popular amongst a television audience who had not seen adult-orientated science-fiction on their screens before. The serial also benefitted from being transmitted only a short while after the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which had earned television its first mass audience and encouraged millions of households to purchase sets. The character of Quatermass quickly became one of television's first made-for-the-medium heroes and iconic characters.

Kneale was called up and happy to write a second serial, Quatermass II, in 1955. However, Tate died only shortly before production on the serial was due to begin, and he had to be replaced at short notice by John Robinson. Although the serial was again a success, neither Kneale nor director Rudolph Cartier were particularly happy with Robinson's performance, so for the third serial - Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59) they replaced him with André Morell.

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John Mills as the Professor in 1979's concluding serial Quatermass.
Quatermass and the Pit became an iconic piece of television science-fiction, pioneering many of the hidden alien legacy themes that would go on to inform such programmes as The X-Files many decades later - indeed, Kneale was even approached by producer Chris Carter to write for The X-Files in the 1990s, although he declined the offer. It was the final Quatermass serial to be broadcast by the BBC, although the character did return one final time over twenty years later in 1979, with a serial simply entitled Quatermass for ITV.

Here he was played by John Mills, and in this final, expensive serial Kneale brought the character's story to an end. An alternative TV movie version, titled The Quatermass Conclusion, was released to overseas markets.

Quatermass returned to the BBC on April 2 2005, when digital channel BBC Four broadcast a new live adaptation of the original 1953 scripts. Adapted by Richard Fell and directed by Sam Miller, with Nigel Kneale acting as a consultant, the production was the BBC's first live drama for over twenty years (not counting a 2003 broadcast of Shakespeare's Richard II, which was a televised stage play rather than a made-for-TV drama). The climax was shifted from Westminster Abbey to the Tate Modern. In this production, the Professor was played by Jason Flemyng, portraying a slightly younger interpretation of the character than had previously been the case.


Hammer Films adapted the first three serials as feature films for the cinema, buying the rights to The Quatermass Experiment soon after transmission. The first two films, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957), were directed by Val Guest and starred American actor Brian Donlevy, the only man to play the character twice on screen. Hammer had also intended to use the character in another film made between the two adaptations, X the Unknown, but Kneale refused them permission to use the character.

Kneale was not particularly happy with Donlevy's performance, nor with the screenplay for the first film, which he had not been able to work on as he was still a BBC staff writer. By the time of the second film, however, he had left the BBC and was able to write the screenplay himself, which he also did for the third and final film version, 1967's Quatermass and the Pit.

Quatermass and the Pit was the only one of the films and the first Quatermass production of any kind to be made in colour. Starring Scottish actor Andrew Keir, it is generally regarded as being the most faithful of the film adaptations, with whole scenes from the original reproduced verbatim. However, it was not a particular success at the box office, and no further Quatermass films were made, although since the 1980s rumours have surfaced at various times of possible remakes exploiting the rights Hammer held in the films as they variously changed hands after the company's dissolution.

In the USA, the three films were retitled The Creeping Unknown, Enemy From Space and Five Million Years to Earth respectively.


Finally, in 1996 a radio drama/documentary called The Quatermass Memoirs was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Written by Kneale, it mixed the fiction of the character writing his memoirs with the reality of the history of the series. Andrew Keir - star of the Hammer version of Quatermass and the Pit - played the Professor, thus becoming the second actor to play the role twice.

Kneale had previously scripted a potential radio version of Quatermass and the Pit for the BBC in the 1960s, but this was not eventually produced.


In 1959, Penguin Books published the television scripts of the three BBC serials as paperbacks. These were re-released by Arrow Books in new editions in 1979 to coincide with the final television serial. This production, Quatermass, was novelised by Kneale, with some additional material added featuring scenes not broadcast on television.


In 1997, with the permission of Nigel Kneale a company called Creation Productions Limited adapted Quatermass and the Pit for the stage. The production took place in the open air in a specially-adapted area of a quarry in Nottinghamshire.


Quatermass became an iconic television hero during the 1950s, becoming a well-remembered part of British popular culture for many years afterwards. At the time of Quatermass and the Pit, the character's reach was such that the two most popular comedy programmes of the day, radio's The Goon Show and television's Hancock's Half Hour, both parodied the serial in episodes of their programmes.

The Quatermass themes of alien take-over of the human body, an alien invasion by stealth and conspiracy and alien influences dragging the human race into a dystopic future have influenced generations of science-fiction productions on television. The most popular British television science-fiction programme ever screened, Doctor Who, often produced serials that appeared to be heavily influenced by the Quatermass serials, much to Kneale's distaste as he was always a harsh critic of that particular programme.

In particular, the 1971 Doctor Who serial The Dĉmons uses concepts remarkably similar to Quatermass and the Pit. Also, in the 1988 serial Remembrance of the Daleks, in the midst of the storyline (set in 1963) the military scientific advisor Dr Rachel Jensen remarks to her colleague Alison, "I wish Bernard was here." Alison replies, "British Rocket Group's got its own problems..."

The previous year, 1987, the film director John Carpenter had released the film Prince of Darkness. Carpenter was a long-established Quatermass fan, and had previously commissioned Kneale to write the screenplays for the films Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which Kneale had his name removed from as he was displeased at the almost total re-writing of the script by Carpenter) and a re-make of Creature from the Black Lagoon (which was never made). In Prince of Darkness, Carpenter not only features a 'Kneale University', but also credits his screenplay to 'Martin Quatermass'. The film's press and publicity information took the joke even further, claiming that Martin was the brother of the famous scientist Bernard Quatermass of the British Rocket Group. Kneale did not appreciate the joke, however: he was concerned that the Quatermass name may lead audiences to believe that he had some connection with the making of the film.

Overall, Quatermass has either directly or indirectly influenced many science-fiction and horror films and television programmes, particularly in the UK but also in the USA and other parts of the world as well.

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