[June 28, 1962] A is for Armchair Theatre (Out of this World – UK’s new sff anthology)

By Ashley R. Pollard

It seems that television science fiction serials on British TV are like waiting at the bus stop for a London bus to arrive.  You don’t see one for ages, and when you do, three turn up at once. 

Therefore I am quite excited by the announcement of a new SF anthology series called Out of this World.  So excited in fact that when I heard the news, I had to sit down, and then have a nice cup of tea to calm down.  While it’s always good to see SF stories on television, the announcement of a series is also a portent of more to come.

As I understand it, Dumb Martian, which I saw this week, was going to be the story used to launch the new Out of this World series.  But, it was decided that instead it would be shown as part of the very popular Armchair Theatre series, as a way of advertising the new show.  The plan being to entice viewers who may not otherwise have switched on their television sets to watch science fiction to do so.

A sign that we still have a way to go before SF is seen as a genre that can stand on its own merits.

For those who don’t know, the Armchair Theatre is ITV’s prestigious long running series, which has been on air since 1956.  Part of this show’s remit has always been to bring quality “live drama” to the small screen.  Live drama is a euphemism for transmitting and recording a performance while it is being performed, rather than it being recorded and edited for transmission later on.  Currently Armchair Theatre is produced by Sydney Newman, a Canadian, who has taken the show into the top ten shows during his tenure.

The show has aired the occasional SF inspired story over the years like for example, The Omega Mystery, and The Ship That Couldn’t Stop.  Last December Armchair Theatre aired the Murder Club, which was an adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s short story The Seventh Victim.  It starred Richard Briers, an affable young actor, who first came to the public’s attention for starring in the sitcom Marriage Line.  I understand that the success of this adaptation led to the idea for an SF version of Armchair Theatre, which is good news indeed.

Also, as an aside, I have it on good authority that Sydney Newman has been head hunted by the BBC, which is also startling news.

To give some context for my American readers, the BBC is the state owned channel, while ITV is a commercial enterprise.  Usually ITV has more money to lure people away from our state run TV, so this is a coup for the BBC.  And for those avid followers of these reports, you may remember my article in April of last year where I mentioned a show called The Avengers, which Mr. Newman also produced.  With a second series of The Avengers coming in September his credentials for producing successful stories for television are solid.

So, please excuse my digression, but as I said I’m quite excited to be seeing SF on the small screen, having read so much about The Twilight Zone in this ‘zine.  Besides, it’s not everyday that a new SF TV series has a woman at the helm.  Irene Shubik is Out of this World’s story editor, who I know has approached John Carnell of New Worlds for ideas of stories to adapt.

Anyway, coming back to the Dumb Martian, this is a story about what happens when a spaceman purchases a Martian bride to accompany him on a five year tour of duty on a “wayload” station on the moon Callisto in Jupiter space.  He mistreats her, and we find out what happens when she turns out not to be so dumb as he had assumed.  The play ended with Boris Karloff introducing himself as the new host for Out of the World and setting the scene for Armchair Theatre’s spin-off series.

Also, what a coup to get Boris Karloff to act as the host.  His presence brings a certain quality to show, hinting that horror may be a theme, which should draw in his fans and open the show’s appeal to a wider audience.

Next week, we now have not one but two new SF series gracing the small screen.  The other being the much anticipated sequel to A for Andromeda called The Andromeda Breakthrough, I shall be reviewing them both next month.  Also, I will be giving my reaction to watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen too.

9 thoughts on “[June 28, 1962] A is for Armchair Theatre (Out of this World – UK’s new sff anthology)”

  1. Very interesting!  I suppose we Americans will have to wait a while for kinescopes of this series to show up over here, if they ever do.

  2. I hope Mr. Karloff has more success with this new show than he did with Thriller in the US. All right, two seasons and 60 or so episodes is nothing to sneeze at, but the show got little recognition and some stations didn’t even bother to show it, going with local programming instead.

  3. I gather “The Avengers” is a perfectly respectible and perhaps stylish television show, but that Mickey-Spillane-ish name certainly makes it sound as though it promises a constant violent battle-fest.  It almost sounds as though it would be more “natural” on some comic book!

  4. With the fancy window air conditioner we bought last year in use this summer, Mrs. TRX has taken to staying in the living room watching TV after I go to bed.  She says there are occasionally some odd British programs on before the stations go to their test patterns at 11:30, but she can never remember what the names of the programs were.  I suspect her “watching TV” is actually sleeping in the living room where it’s cool instead of coming back to the bedroom where there’s only a fan.  I’m expecting the demand for another window unit any way now…

  5. WHAT?!  A sequel to “A for Andromeda?!”

    I need to find a bookstore in England that’s willing to mail a copy across the Atlantic.  I don’t want to wait…

    The electronics course I took in school had a bit about Jansky and how his problem with static in radio telephone transmissions, and how he finally traced it to radio noise from the stars.  And being a science fiction reader, that naturally made me wonder if there might be something there besides noise…  “A for Andromeda” nailed that curiosity bump hard.  Sure, the computer stuff was pure fiction – a gigabyte of data, right! – but it was still a pretty good story.

  6. Didn’t Armchair Theater do a version of “Hoffman” (the Peter Sellers movie he tried to keep out of circulation)? I think it was with Donald Pleasance and known as “Call Me Daddy”. I’d love to see this one.

  7. ‘ITV’ is not one commercial enterprise, but a series of regional franchises all with their own identity (you can tell who has produced it by the opening ident), that share programming, although there is yet to be a regional franchise for North Wales and also the Channel Islands. For example in my home in south-west Essex, I get Associated-Rediffusion from London on weekdays and ATV London on weekends, but I can also pick up Anglia Television from Norwich in good weather.

    Armchair Theatre is produced by ABC, who do weekend services in the Midlands and the North of England; it is their ‘ident’ you will see at the start.

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