Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

horsell common, sandpits, h g wells, the war of the worlds

Map of Horsell Common. The common also has three Bronze Age barrows which are scheduled ancient monuments protected by law, as well as a Muslim Burial Ground which dates back to the First World War. In the 1890s, Horsell, in the lower left, was a small village of no more than 50 houses.

To the north of the modern town of Woking in Surrey, England, is the village of Horsell, and to the north of Horsell is Horsell Common. The common, which is mainly heathland with many areas of woodland, 355 hectares (880 acres) in area, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Horsell Common Preservation Society has owned the common since 1966 and it is one of only a handful of privately owned areas of common land in England with public access.

In 1895, the writer H G Wells, Herbert George Wells, moved with his wife to nearby Maybury Road in Woking, and there he wrote his classic science fiction novel The Wars of the Worlds. With his brother Frank, Wells had explored the lanes and paths of the surrounding countryside either walking or on their bicycles. The original idea for The War of the Worlds came from his brother during one of their outings, who pondered on what it might be like if alien beings were suddenly to descend on the scene and start attacking its inhabitants. The Wars of the Worlds was first serialised in 1897 and then published in book form in 1898. The novel tells of the landing of spacecraft from Mars and the wholesale destruction of London, and much of the countryside to the south, by Martians in heat-ray emitting tripod machines. The unnamed narrator, a middle class writer of philosophical papers, lives in Maybury, and a sandpit on Horsell Common is used as the landing site for the Martian space craft.

horsell common, sandpits, h g wells, the war of the worlds

Horsell Common. Sand and gravel were extracted from the woodland areas of Horsell Common for many centuries, much of it used in the construction of local houses. Sand extraction ended in the 1960’s and the remains of old sandpits, roughly in the centre of the common, can be seen today.

Chapter 1, The Eve of the War, starts:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. …

At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

horsell common, h g wells, the war of the worlds, henrique alvim corrêa

This illustration of the first Martian to emerge from the cylinder that had landed on Horsell Common, was one of 30 drawn by Henrique Alvim Corrêa and which appeared in the 1906 French translation of The War of the Worlds.

In Chapter Two, The Falling Star, the Martians land:

But the very early in the morning poor Ogilvy [a well-known astronomer], who had seen the shooting-star and who was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw [a village to the north of the common], and Woking, rose early with the idea of finding it. Find it he did, soon after dawn, and not far from the sand-pits. An enormous hole had been made by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently in every direction over the heath, forming heaps visible a mile and a half away. The heather was on fire eastward, and a thin blue smoke rose against the dawn.

Today science fiction fans visit the sandpits on Horsell Common where H G Wells’ Martian spacecraft landed. In nearby Woking, a 23-foot tall Martian tripod, designed by Michael Condron, was erected in 1998 to mark the centenary of the publication of The War of the Worlds.

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r u r, karel capek, bbc, robot, science fiction

The BBC screened adaptations of the 1920 play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek in 1938 & 1948. The word ‘robot’ was originally coined in this play.

Doctor Who may well be the longest-running science-fiction television series in the UK, having been broadcast for 33 seasons since 1963, but it wasn’t the first science-fiction programme. That distinction belongs to a 35-minute abridged adaptation of a 1920 play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek, called R.U.R. (sub-titled Rossum’s Universal Robots) which presents a world which first exploits its new servile creations, robots, and is then dominated by them. It was produced by the BBC on 11 February 1938, and it is the first known piece of television science fiction anywhere in the world. A full ninety-minute live production of R U R was produced on 4 March 1948.

quatermass experiment, bbc, 1953, science fiction

The Quatermass Experiment was made by the BBC in 1953. It was Britain’s first science fiction TV programme aimed at an adult audience

In the summer of 1953, BBC staff writer Nigel Kneale created, together with director and producer Rudolph Cartier, the six-part serial The Quatermass Experiment, the first of several Quatermass serials. It was Britain’s first science fiction television programme aimed at an adult audience. Only the first two episodes were recorded, and these only as poor-quality tele-recordings. These are the oldest BBC recordings of any fictional series today. Note that as colour television was only introduced in the UK in July 1967, all programmes up to then were in black and white.

On 12 December 1954, a live adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, produced by the BBC’s Quatermass team, achieved the highest television ratings since the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It was so controversial that it was debated in Parliament, and campaigners tried unsuccessfully to have the second performance the following Thursday banned.

Britain’s first commercial television network, Independent Television, was launched in September 1955 as a competitor to the BBC. According to most buffs and compilers of TV history, commercial television’s first science-fiction serial was Pathfinders In Space, produced by ABC, a network licensee, in 1960. This was followed by the sequels Pathfinders to Mars (1960) and Pathfinders to Venus (1961). However this was not the first. Several science-fiction serials were in fact produced not long after the launch of commercial television, but if any recordings of them were made, they have been lost.

the strange world of planet x, film, tv serial, science fiction

The title still from the film version of The Strange World of Planet X released in 1958. No recordings of the earlier TV serial made in 1956 are believed to exist

In September 1956, ATV (Associated Television), the licensee for London weekend television, produced The Strange World of Planet X, shown in six 25-minute episodes as part of its Saturday Serial anthology series. Scientists discover a formula giving access to the fourth dimension – the  unification of time and space – and, with others, are transported to the abstractly arid Planet X. It presented the fairly cerebral concept of the fourth dimension and time travel in an engrossing way that held the attention of audiences for nearly two months on the fledgling network, this at a time when there were only a relatively small number of television sets in England. I can remember watching the programme and feeling scared as the scientists stared through a screen into a dark experimental chamber where some frightening transformation was taking place.

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