How Quatermass kicked off a race row in the Press

THANK YOU to Drone readers who dropped me emails following my item on the radio sci-fi series Journey into Space which I featured last week.

A couple of you reminded me of the hit sci-fi TV series later in the Fifties, Quatermass and the Pit. How could I forget it? Now that was scary, especially to the baby boomers like many of us. 

Television was still in its infancy, but it was a masterpiece of fear, and is today hailed as the forerunner of Dr Who. Actor Reginald Tate played the first Quatermass in 1953. I remember my grandmother ushering me up the stairs to bed every time it came on. (No, I wasn’t 18 then).

But what I never knew was that the Quatermass series kicked off something of a race row in the Press. One of its biggest media fans however was the Daily Express, which even ran it as a serialised novel.

Race row Aliens in Quatermass

Quatermass was written by BBC scriptwriter Nigel Neale featuring Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group. In one series he was asked to investigate strange meteorite showers, which he discovered was a conspiracy involving alien infiltration into the highest levels of our government. They were taking over the country.

When some of the professor’s closest colleagues fell victim to the alien influence, he was forced to use his own unsafe rocket prototype, which had caused a nuclear disaster at an Australian testing range, to prevent the aliens from taking over mankind.

Writing in The Times, sometime later, journalist Morgan Falconer claimed to find racist undertones in the serial: "Quatermass often seemed to have an unhealthy preoccupation with blackness, following racial change in Britain,” he said as more migrants came into the UK.

In one scene, the Professor stands outside a pub and watches the sky fill with dark asteroids. "They're coming in their thousands', he says, 'this is it!"

The whole series though was compulsive viewing, according to the British Film Institute, however. And has often been praised apparently for its concerns over the damaging effects of industrialisation and the corruption of big business. A bit like life today, eh?

Politics aside, I plan to watch it all over again. 


Has anyone else received one of these?

Internet pension message


Hard graft of newspapers

IT WAS good to hear from my old mate, journalist and entrepreneur Tony Boullemier following my piece about subs who had left the Black Lubyanka to start their own free newspaper back in the day.

Tony left us in the 1970s to launch the Northants Post with his lovely, zesty wife Marie. It was an enormous success but not easy. He tells of the blood, sweat and tears that went into it.

“The only way to make free newspapers successful was to employ enough people to actually sell the advertising,” he says. “Success didn’t come to our front door. We had to knock on doors or at least phone our customers. Then look after them. By the time I sold the Northants Post Group we employed 30 journos and more than 150 advertising reps.

“Whenever I tried to explain this to people in later years, they just didn’t get it! Then came the internet and the challenge changed completely.”

Well said Tony, I am sure you could teach Reach publishers a thing or two. And certainly so-called socialist peer Hollick.


Taking the money root

DENTISTRY seems to be on everyone’s lips these days, not least of all in Bristol where hundreds of people queued to try and sign on to an NHS practitioner last week.  Some hope.

So, I guess, Winston Churchill’s gold dentures he had made privately would be of little interest to them in their hour of need.

He wore them to enhance his lisp for speeches, and they were snapped up last week by 75-year-old re-cycling millionaire Geoff Thompson for £18,000, double the price expected. You will have read about them in most newspapers. But it is interesting to find how common these oral shubshitoots for teeth are.

Churchill’s gold dentures

Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck and Emma Watson wear full or part sets for example. So did Clark Gable and George Washington (he had wooden teeth made). None of them wore gold like Winnie of course. They wore plastic, nylon or metal. But when we use pictures of such star teeth flashers on the pages of our newspapers, you can bet your bottom dollar their teeth are just too perfect … and dentures are the reason. 

Apparently, dentures are nicknamed Waterloo teeth by cosmetic dentists … because they were once harvested from the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Soldiers who survived, yanked out the teeth of the dead to take home and sell or use as their own when they lost their rotting molars. Nice boys. I don’t think I could do it to a mate lying dead on the battlefield.

They were the first real teeth to be used as dentures and held in place with wire. There was a thriving market in them, especially among the rich in the 1800s, who also paid the poor to yank out their teeth so they could be used. 

Patriot and millionaire Geoff was determined to keep Churchill’s set of six upper gold teeth in Britain. The wartime leader always carried two sets and used them for his speeches, like ‘Fight them on the beaches’ so that his charming and distinctive lisp would be pronounced and loved. He was buried in one set. Now Geoff has the other.

They were made by his own private dentist, not that people queueing an NHS dentist in Bristol last week would have probably cared.

Geoff plans to pass Winnie’s teeth on to his granddaughter … along with the former PM’s last car, a 1964 Hillman Husky, and a hip flask.


Hungry for cash

For those who might follow Coronation St, I see Weatherfield Gazette reporter Suki Waters, played by TV actress Laura Littlewood, has returned to the cobbles desperate for money and doing a quick story for £200 for chat magazine on the Ryan Connor acid attack. 

Good luck to her … on getting the money I mean. Street producers obviously don’t know the world of the newspaper freelancers like Suki. It will take over a month, perhaps a lot more, for her to get paid at all. Publishing is the worst business for paying freelancers, as most of us hacks have found out.

Invoices from writers often stay in the bottom of the commissioning editor’s drawer or simply vanish into the ether. Suki, like many, will probably end up chasing accounts departments who have never heard of her. Many of them, I discovered, don’t even know the names of their own writers, never mind someone offering money on the whim of an idea.

Up to three months waiting for a cheque is not unusual … and I have waited up to six in some instances. Once, as editor, I had to face down nearly a dozen angry freelance journos who hadn’t been paid for a whole year. So good luck with the bills, Suki luv.


Lost in a dark space

Another anecdote from my favourite Harrogate hotel, The Cairn, known by many journalists far and wide and frequented by antique dealers and national exhibition hosts from the town’s popular Conference Centre and theatre. Jools Holland drinks there and our very own Expressman, late photographer Reg Lancaster, when he branched into film making.

One week, the painters and decorators were in and 20 or so rooms, toilets and bathroom suites were being installed. Toilets, taps and sinks were seen being carried here and there, up and down the corridors. While work was taking place, plumbers dumped the old stock in a disused cellar where an old, underground spa had once hosted rich Victorians. 

Downstairs in the ballroom and restaurant, preparations were being made to host the annual transgender ball that weekend, a fun event of all ages, but particularly transgender males and ladies in their 40s and upwards, Some even in their nineties.

As we were regular guests and friends of the management we were always invited to stay late for a drink at the bar and enjoyed saying hello to the ball guests going in and out of the dance hall. They were always kitted out in the most glittering ballgowns with stunning hairdos. Well over 200 of them.

The following Monday, while having a beer in the hotel, I asked wine waiter Kevin how the event had gone this year.

“It was great, the music and dancing went on until nearly 3am,” he said. “Everything was fine until breakfast later that morning when an awful smell wafted across the restaurant tables. It was really pungent.”

Apparently, many of the guests drunkenly took the wrong route to the toilets and followed the stairs down into the old spa cellar, where the plumbers had lined up the old toilets against the far wall. The lights didn’t work, and they used the toilets lit by a shaft of light in the doorway. They weren’t plumbed in.


What would Albert say?

That wonderful TV drama The Crown, a must watch for all hacks, is so well acted. I started to watch it again last week and still marvelled at the sets, costumes, and talent of the stars, especially Claire Foy, who plays the Queen in the first episodes.

But must the producers spoil the authentic feeling of the sets and situations by getting Claire to drink from empty tea cups? An old chestnut I know, but clearly there is nothing in the delicate Royal Albert teacups as she sips her way through the scenes. Thirsty work, eh?


12 February 2024