The Quatermass Experiment 1953





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Published on Oct 27, 2008

All episodes were transmitted live—with a few pre-filmed 35mm film inserts shot before and during the rehearsal period—from Studio A of the BBC's original television studios at Alexandra Palace in London. It was one of the last major dramas to be broadcast from the Palace, as the majority of television production was soon to transfer to Lime Grove Studios, and it was made using the BBC's oldest television cameras, the Emitrons, installed with the opening of the Alexandra Palace studios in 1936. These cameras gave a poor-quality picture, with areas of black and white shading across portions of the image.

The Quatermass Experiment was transmitted weekly on Saturday night from 18 July to 22 August 1953. Episode one ("Contact Has Been Established") was scheduled from 8.15 to 8.45 p.m.; episode two ("Persons Reported Missing"), 8.25 to 8.55 p.m.; episodes three and four ("Very Special Knowledge" and "Believed to be Suffering"), 8.45 to 9.15 p.m.; and the final two episodes ("An Unidentified Species" and "State of Emergency") from 9.00 to 9.30 p.m. Due to the live performances, each episode overran its slot slightly, from two minutes (episode four) to six (episode six). The long overrun of the final episode was caused by a temporary break in transmission to replace a failing microphone. Kneale later claimed that the BBC's transmission controllers had threatened to take them off the air during one significant overrun, to which Cartier replied, "Just let them try!" Some BBC documentation suggests that at least one transmitter region did cut short the broadcast of the final episode.

The BBC intended that each episode be telerecorded onto 35mm film, a relatively new process that allowed for the preservation of live television broadcasts. Sale of the serial had been provisionally agreed with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Cartier wanted the material available to use in trailers and recaps. Only poor-quality copies of the first two episodes were recorded before the idea was abandoned, although the first of these was later shown in Canada. During the telerecording of the second episode, an insect landed on the screen being filmed, and can be seen on the image for several minutes. It is highly unlikely that material from the third to sixth episodes of the serial will ever be recovered to the BBC's archives. The two existing episodes are the oldest surviving examples of a multi-episodic British drama production, and some of the earliest existing examples of British television drama at all, with only a few earlier one-off plays surviving.

This film footage is from the Archive Collection held and administered by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.


~ APTS ~
Preserving the televisual past for the digital future

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