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[January 20, 1963] The Big Freeze (news from a UK fan)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

The new year has brought snow. Lots of snow. So much snow that parts of Britain have been brought to a standstill. I thought last year was bad, but this year puts last years snow into perspective, in much the same way as downing a yard of ale as compared to a good old British pint of beer does.

And just to make things clear, when I say snow, I don’t mean a few fluffy flakes falling on London.

Parts of the country have been cut-off by the amount of snow that has fallen here. A blizzard left up to 20 feet of snow in some places. The BBC news shows images of the sort of thing one might see in some Hollywood extravaganza set in the Antarctic wastes.

One almost expects to see penguins or Polar bears. I could easily imagine Polar bears swimming here to enjoy our climate. It’s a snowpocalypse I tell you. Send food parcels now! 

OK, I jest, but not by much.

Really, it started snowing on Boxing Day and has continued to snow pretty much until now. A waterfall has frozen in Wales, I know Niagara Falls freezes, but this is Britain, we haven’t experienced these conditions for a very long time. How long ago you might ask? The Met Office says this has been the coldest January since 1814.

That’s a long time ago.

Also, the sea in Whitstable Bay froze. The sea water froze out to four miles at Dunkirk. I knew theoretically it can happen, but…

As I’m writing this, the forecast for tonight is for temperatures to drop to minus eight degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, I work and live in London. So I may moan and grumble, but I don’t have to face the hardships of those people living in the countryside cut-off by snow drifts.

But, there is a promise of a thaw in a few days time. I can only hope that the Met Office is correct in their prediction.

I’m sure they’re right, after all, Cliff Richard’s new musical film, Summer Holiday, premiered the other week in London. Surely this presages warmer weather to come? Cliff Richard and The Shadows are a popular young persons band, for those who have not heard of him or them.

This is, as always, only the backdrop to the wonderful world of the science fiction, like myself and my friends in The London Circle.

Oh, what jolly japes and fun were had as we sat drinking, discussing the mood of the general population. We fans talked about stories set in snowy wastelands. Frankenstein was mentioned as the prime setting. Lovecraft’s, At the Mountains of Madness, was also deemed germane.

And, of course, the horror of starvation as food ran out with the railways and roads snowbound. SF fans have a great imaginations, and the amazing ability to create stories from whole cloth. It was almost like we were re-enacting the Shelley, Byron, and Polidori’s competition to write a scary story. 

Then somebody mentioned we’d all have to live by eating pork pies supplied by Brian Burgess. That leavened the tone of the conversation, making everyone present burst out in laughter. A laughter with a slight hollow ring to it, as anyone who has survived the experience one of eating one of Brian’s famous pork pies can attest.

Brian, a rather large man, who can appear intimidating when you first meet him, can best be described as one of fandoms great eccentrics. Which is saying something when it comes to fandom. Though, after thinking about it for a moment, British people in general can be rather eccentric. Or so my American friends tell me.

I blame the war, but war stories will have to wait for another time.

Last month I mention That Was The Week That Was. This month, in a more serious vein, befitting the serious weather we’re facing, another news show I recommend people to try and catch, if they can. The commercial broadcaster, Grenada Television, launched The World in Action. An unorthodox current affairs programme that investigates more thoroughly what That Was The Week That Was mocks.

Already there are rumblings in the House as the news team’s probing into underhand dealing and corruption threaten to expose the great and the good. I shall be making time to watch The World in Action and report back.

And on another serious note, the leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell, died suddenly at the age of 56 from heart failure. His sudden passing has shocked the establishment, being labelled a national tragedy.

He was certainly a more moderate politician than some of his more left wing party colleagues, and I admired his appeals to reason. Though my psychological background always makes me doubt that such appeals will be effective. In the words taken from the short story collection, Assignment in Eternity, Robert Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So that’s it for another month. I promise to wrap up warm and stay safe. You do the same, please.

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




[December 19, 1962] That Was the Month that Was (Christmas Cheer from a UK fan)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

And another year draws to a close with what promises to be a White Christmas after a foggy start to the month.  December has been a bad month for people with breathing problems living in London as the smog has been terrible.  So bad that it has been mentioned as a topic not only on the BBC news, where you’d expect it to be, but mocked in their new satirical weekly news show, That Was The Week That Was. But, before I delve into that show, allow me a few lines to remind people how serious this problem is.

The smog of 1952, called the Great Smog of London (which should be a clue to how bad it was) killed an estimated 4000 people, and caused respiratory complaints in another 100,000 more.  At its worst one could only see a few yards ahead, and it shut down the London Ambulance Service, which forced people to make their own way to hospital.  This pea-souper, a euphemism for thick fog, was so serious it led directly to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1956.

This year’s smog has not been, on any scale, as bad, but 90 people have died.  As someone who has suffered from bronchial problems, this has been personally worrying.  However, a few days ago the weather changed, and we had snow.  We’ve also been told to expect more very cold winds arriving from the East — a present from Siberia that quite frankly I could do without, but there again, anything is better than more smog.

And, looking on the bright side, it means this year there’s a good chance of London having a White Christmas.

Anyway, enough of the doom & gloom; there’s more entertaining things to talk about.  As I alluded to above, a new TV show aired at the end of November that, while not science fictional, I think will amuse and entertain SF fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  It’s called, That Was The Week That Was, fronted by David Frost.  It certainly seems to appeal to my acquaintances in London fandom.

The show is fearless, being outrageously funny, poking fun at the British establishment, satirising current political events and other relevant issues.  This is helped by having a very good cast.  I use the word “cast” advisedly.  While David Frost is a presenter, and Bernard Levine a journalist, and William Rushton a cartoonist, this is a news show that also features singers and actors, for example, Millicent Martin sings the opening theme tune, and David Kernan deliver witty musical interludes between the news.  The commentary on the news is also counterpointed through comedy sketches that send up British mores and social conventions using British actors like Lance Percival, Roy Kinnear, and Robert Lang.  I also recognized the American actor, Al Mancini, when he appeared, too.

I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that this show is ground breaking. 

Not only because it uses ironical humour to ridicule the stupidities and vices of the political establishment, but also because of the way format of the show and presentation is used to make the viewer feel part of the audience.  For example, the cameras are seen during the transmission of the programme, and are part of the presentation of the show.  It’s what might be called breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the viewer while still being framed within the context of a light entertainment show.

Psychologically it’s fascinating to see That Was The Week That Was breaking traditional TV conventions — this even extends to its running time, whose only constant seems to be that it runs to the length required to deliver show.  It must drive the people in charge of scheduling crazy. 

So, take a look at That Was The Week That Was if you get the chance.  It should be funny to folks on both sides of the Pond.  Certainly, some of the things it covers may go over American viewers’ heads, but if you want to understand Britain and our humour, it’s well worth catching this if you can.

Besides watching too much television recently (my only excuse being the weather as mentioned) I did manage to go and see David Lean’s new film, Lawrence of Arabia, on its opening night at the Odeon, Leicester Square.  I’ve been reliably informed it will be shown on American screens around the twentieth of this month.  There’s a lot of excitement over the film and the performance of Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. Many believe the film will be a strong contester in the next Oscar nominations.

Before I finish this month’s piece, because science is at the heart of science fiction, I want to congratulate the winners of two Nobel Prize science awards.

First, the British molecular biologists Dr. Francis Crick and Dr. Maurice Wilkins, who along with an American scientist Dr. James D. Watson, have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular structure of nucleic acids, and the significant role the unique double helix structure plays in the transfer of genetic information in living organisms.

Second, the British biochemists Dr. Max Perutz and Dr. John Cowdery Kendrew who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in investigating the structure of haem-containing proteins.  Well done to both teams.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Merry Christmas from me to all of you reading this.




[November 25, 1962] Great Balls of Fire!  (Gerry Anderson’s new series, Fireball XL5)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

One part of me wants to ask where has the year gone?  The other part of me say, what a year this has been for British science fiction.  A mere five years ago the idea of spaceship orbiting our world was the stuff of SF.  Sputnik changed all that.  Then Yuri Gagarin went into space in Vostok.  And, from that moment, the world of SF manifested into the minds of all mankind.  Not as some improbable fantasy, from starry eyed dreamers, but as reality arisen from technology; born of war, but turned into something greater.

Phew — and what a ride the last five years have been for SF.

I’ve mentioned in a past article that Britain has Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.  Now we also have Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol.  Not the hero of a comic strip, but rather of a children’s television show from Anderson Provis Films (APF), which you may all remember from when I talked about their production last year, Supercar.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are back with another Supermarionation series, Fireball XL5.  Supermarionation is their term to describe puppets that speak using electronic synchronization, and the Andersons have used it to great effect, creating a brand new medium for SF.

So far, I have managed to watch all four episodes of Fireball that have come out, while babysitting my friend’s six year-old, who sits entranced by the show.  And what a show it is.  Seeing my friend’s son swept up in the excitement of space has been an eye-opener for me.  I’m used to the idea that people don’t get SF, unless they’re fans.  But now I’m seeing the first of a new generation for whom space is the new frontier. This means all the excitement and expectations that go with it are just a normal part of their lives.

So, let me introduce you to the cast of characters.  Steve Zodiac I’ve already mentioned, and he leads a crew of three.  Doctor Venus is Fireball XL5’s resident space medic for when things go wrong.  Professor ‘Matt’ Mattic is the ship’s engineer and scientist.  And this being a show set in the future, the final member of the crew is Robert the Robot, invented/made by the aforementioned Professor Mattic.

As an aside, for those interested, Doctor Venus is voiced by Sylvia Anderson, and Robbie’s voice is artificially generated by Gerry Anderson using a ‘vibrator’ mechanism used for those unfortunates who have had throat cancer and have had their larynx removed.

In addition, Fireball XL5 acquires a pet/ship’s mascot in the form of Zoonie the Lazoon, who is mildly telepathic and can mimic human speech, which is played for comic relief.  Essentially an intelligent talking dog.  The young lad I watch over is totally immersed in the adventures that put the crew of Fireball XL5 into peril — a lesson that stories which provoke strong emotional reactions are engrossing.

In addition to the crew of Fireball XL5, there are two other regular supporting characters.  The first is Commander Wilbur Zero, Commander-in-Chief of the World Space Patrol, and Lieutenant Ninety, his assistant Space City controller.  That’s quite a cast of characters to remember, but my friend’s son seems to have their names down pat.

Of course intrepid heroes need villains.  The first ones we meet are the Subterrains introduced in the opening episode Planet 46, who have launched a ‘planetomic’ missile at Earth.  Boo, hiss.  And who we know are fiendish, because when they capture Doctor Venus they launch another missile with her aboard.  Fortunately, Zodiac, Robbie and the Professor save the day.

Episode two, The Doomed Planet, starts in media res with the crew avoiding a rogue planet that has been flung out of its orbit.  This planet is now on a collision course with another world, which the crew assumes is uninhabited.  It’s also the first time we see Zoonie, who is introduced as a pet Doctor Venus has had for three months, which I thought was a rather neat story telling trick.  No doubt that Zoonie will get more backstory later, as the series progresses.  The story continues with the reveal that a UFO, from said uninhabited planet, has followed them back to Earth.  After pursuing the UFO the crew of Fireball XL5 save the doomed planet by destroying the rogue one that we met at the beginning of the episode.  All very exciting.

The next episode, Space Immigrants, has a spaceship called the Mayflower III going to start a new colony that’s 236 light years away from Earth.  But the planet is occupied by the villainous Lillispatians, who consider humans beings savages, and who intend to enslave the colonists.  However, their name should be a clue to one part of the dénouement, which ends with Steve Zodiac using Zoonie to save the day, because to the Lillispatians, the cute Lazoon is a ferocious monster.

The most recent episode, Plant Man from Space, has Professor Matic’s old ‘friend’ Dr. Rootes attempt to take over the Earth with the eponymous plant man.  Which as you can imagine has a combination of excitement and comedy to entertain the younger viewer.

While one could criticize some of the dialogue and characterization of Fireball XL5 as, dare I say, wooden, there is a lot to commend about this show.  Steve Zodiac may be the hero with a robotic side-kick, but Doctor Venus, even though put upon by some of the supporting male characters, shows that she is a capable doctor and leader too.

There are more episodes to come, and the opening and closing music for Fireball XL5 is rather compelling.  The opening credit sequence has a rather nice dirty jazz saxophone, while the end theme song, Fireball sung by Don Spencer will (I have it on good authority) be released as a single.  Also, while talking about pop songs, or ‘pop-pickers’, I must draw your attention to a four piece beat combo called the Beatles, and their catchy new single Love me Do that I heard on the show Pick of the Pops presented by Alan Freeman.

And finally, to finish my piece this month, I would like to mention the introduction of the Ford Mark 1 Cortina, which is quite stunningly pretty.  Ford have managed to encapsulate the American penchant for futuristic looking fins into a car that suits British sensibilities.  If I had the need to buy a new vehicle, this would be on my list of cars to look at.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!




[Sep. 20, 1962] Out of this World (the British Summer SF hit!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

The end of summer has come, and autumn is upon us.  The result of the Earth’s journey around the sun, and as my esteemed colleague Mr. Mark Yon said, the weather here has been wet.  Sometimes we get good summers, but this year was not one of those, the icing on the cake being a miserable August Bank Holiday weekend after the weekend before’s promising sunny day.  But, Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, here on Galactic Journey we will weather the weather to bring you the latest Sci-Fi news from soggy Britain.

This coming Saturday will see the last episode of Out of this World, which has made staying in on a Saturday night something to look forward to, rather than something that indicates one has no friends or better things to do.  Though to be fair, I’ve been babysitting for my friend, which I enjoy doing.

As I mentioned before, this series was launched with Dumb Martian shown as part of the Armchair Theatre series.  The new series has a very spooky theme tune called The Concerto to the Stars, composed by Eric Siday, which plays against a background of moving microscopic tentacles that sets the tone for the show.  For those who are interested, Tony Hatch has expanded the theme tune into very catchy 45 record, available from all good record stores.

The format of the show has each episode introduced by Boris Karloff, who is disarmingly charming with his bon mots about the story to come.  There are two breaks for adverts, which is annoying, but this is commercial TV, so it is to be expected.  Then Mr. Karloff signs off the story with an announcement of the cast.

The first actual episode shown under the banner Out of this World was the Yellow Pill by Rog Phillips, which was a story that explored the nature of reality and delusions.  As someone who works in the field of mental health, this was of particular interest to me, and it was interesting to see an author’s take on the subject.  The paradoxical ending pulled the rug from underneath the viewers’ feet.  It launched the series, pulling in eleven million viewers, which placed it as the eleventh highest rated show of the week.

Remarkable for any first episode of a series, let alone one advertising itself as science fiction.

The second story was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Little Lost Robot, whose robot stories featuring Dr. Susan Calvin are some of my favourite SF reads.  While the adaptation is very good, it is a trifle over-cooked, and the ending of the story has been changed so that the robot kills the person who told it to get lost when it is found out.  This goes against Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and is a failure of Leo Lehman to understand the story.  Still, a compelling piece, despite this egregious ending.

The third episode is a much truer adaptation, based on the Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.  There’s not much I can tell you that you all don’t already know about this story of a spaceship with a stowaway.  The play has the rather suave Peter Wyngarde, who was seen earlier this year in the film Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch Burn, acting alongside a very young actress called Jane Asher.  Her biography mentions that when she was a child she appeared in The Quatermass Xperiment. This was the Hammer Films adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s story that I have mentioned on several previous occasions.

Episode four’s story was Imposter by Philip K. Dick.  A famous piece that, again, should not need an introduction by me.  It’s a classic tale of paranoia adapted for television by Terry Nation, who I mention in passing because he contributes one of the two original stories for this series.  Judging by his story Botany Bay, which was transmitted the following week, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Botany Bay was a story with twists that were disturbing in their implication, set in a psychiatric institution.  The setting alone grabbed me from the start, and the central conceit of alien criminals transferring their minds into the minds of the patients in the asylum set the tone, making the sinister story feel like something from Philip K. Dick.  The denouement that this wasn’t Earth, and the intruders were from Earth, was shocking.

Medicine Show by Robert Moore Williams is a story about two doctors who are alien miracle workers who take payment from their patients in the form of seeds.  Again, this adaptation veers a little off course as it tonally makes it all rather more mystical than the original story, but it feels fresh, and I suspect it will appeal to younger people’s sensibilities.

Episode seven is an adaptation of Katherine Maclean’s, Pictures Don’t Lie.  I loved this story of aliens spaceship travelling here, peacefully announcing their intentions and talking to the people on Earth, which then goes all horribly wrong, because of scale.  They’re really, really tiny, and are lost after they land in what they describe as a marsh.  The humans who go out to search for them fail to see the microscopic alien ship and tragically destroy the visitors from another world when they step on them by accident.

Vanishing Act by Richard Waring, is an original play for Out of this World.  It turns down intensity of the previous week’s tragedy by presenting a comedy (if one may call it that?) The protagonist, a conjuror in search of the late magician Great Vorg’s lost vanishing-cabinet, finds himself getting far more than he bargained for.

The next episode goes back to the more paranoid-conspiracy tone with an adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s Divided We Fall.  I remember him as the author of This Island Earth — only from the film because I’ve not read any of his stories.  This play presents the intriguing problem of how to tell synthetic humans that are indistinguishable from everyone else.  It features the charming Ann Bell, an actress unknown to me, who I suspect will go far in her career.  Also, this story reminds me of the film The Creation of the Humanoids, reviewed here by fellow columnist Miss Rosemary Benton.

Episode ten, The Dark Star, by Frank Crisp was based on his novel Ape of London.  He’s better known for his children’s adventure books, but this is a credible story about what happens when people get superhuman strength from a disease that chooses its victims according to their standing in society.  I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t comment on how close to the original story this adaptation is.

Clifford D. Simak has not one, but two of his short stories adapted for Out of this World.  The first, Immigrant, is about the planet Kimon, a paradise where people go — never to return again.  A nice story that builds up the tension, ladles on despair, and finishes with an uplifting ending.

However, the second Simak story, Target Generation, based on his story Spacebred Generations, was my personal favourite.  It’s a generation-ship story where the descendants of the crew are ignorant of the fact that they are on a starship.  The hero has to figure what to do with a key that was handed down to him by father with the instructions “only to be used in an emergency.”  With the help of a forbidden dictionary he has to learn how to land the ship.  Gripping stuff, even if it’s a well-worn story; seeing it televised just made it better than it had any right to be.

The final story of the series is on this coming Saturday and titled, The Tycoons by Arthur Sellings.  This is a pseudonym of Arthur Gordon Ley, who is a former scientist turned author, and also known as a bookseller.  I’ve only read this weeks Radio Times blurb, so all I can tell you is that it’s a story of three aliens coming here to make a weapon to take over the Earth, billed as a comedy.

Well, this was an excellent summer-time show, but as you know Irene Shubik and Sydney Newman have gone to the BBC, so I fear we will not see a sequel, which is a shame because every Saturday night it managed to knock me Out of this World for the hour it was on.  Perhaps the American audience will be lucky to see it imported, as I understand Supercar was this Summer, and Danger Man the Summer before.




[August 20, 1962] A Galaxy of Choices (British TV: The Andromeda Breakthrough)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Science fiction on British television used to be one of those once-in-a-blue-moon events.  When it happened, what we got could often be very good.  Certainly Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series was compelling viewing, which drew in a large audience from the general population with millions tuning in each week to find out the fate of the infected astronauts.

The impact of Quatermass cannot be over stated, the name having taken root in the British public’s imagination.  And, now we have a sequel to A for Andromeda, which I reported on last year, to carry the torch for science fiction on British TV, which also looks like it will enter public’s lexicon.  With the additional transmission of the anthology show, Out of this World, we seem to be entering a golden age of science fiction on television.

For those unfamiliar with A for Andromeda, let me do a recap.  The first series, a story set in the future circa 1972, was about a group of scientists building a super computer for the military made from plans decoded from a signal sent from the Andromeda galaxy.  This signal is a Trojan horse designed to take over our planet by creating an artificial human called Andromeda that the computer can control.  It’s all very clever how this is revealed, and when the hero, Dr. Fleming, discovers that Andromeda is a slave of the computer he saves her by destroying the computer with an axe.  Andromeda then burns the plans for the computer, and together they try to make their escape.  Unfortunately, she falls into a pool and apparently dies, while Dr. Fleming is captured by Army personnel.

The Andromeda Breakthrough therefore has to square the circle of how to carry on the story without undermining the climax of the first series.

It should be noted that Andromeda was played by Julie Christie in the first series.  This was a breakout role for her, and as a result she was cast in the film Billy Liar, and was too busy to reprise her role.  So the role was recast, with Susan Hampshire playing Andromeda for the sequel, who is generally referred to as Andre during the story.

The opening episode, Cold Front, starts with a shot of Dr. Fleming being unceremoniously brought back to the base in the back of a British Army Land Rover.  From there we are given a précis of what happened before.  The reveal that Andromeda had not drowned in the pool comes after the Army reports that they dragged the pool and didn’t find a body.  This is quite an effective way of introducing Susan Hampshire playing a traumatized Andromeda.  From there the plot proceeds apace as Fleming absconds with Andromeda to a remote Scottish isle.  But, after some dramatic shenanigans with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, they are captured by the British government.

The second episode, Gale Warning, ramps up the tension with the shadowy Intel Consortium, a multi-national corporation with lots of fingers in many pots.  It is revealed they have copies of everything that our heroes assumed they destroyed, and their own version of the computer.  They now want Fleming and Andromeda to complete their package.

Amongst all the action, the main plot is revealed: the weather of the world is changing, and not for the better, with storms increasing in both number and intensity.  Skullduggery proceeds as the agents of the Intel Consortium, led by Mr. Kauffman from Dusseldorf, eliminates loose ends and brings Fleming and Andromeda to Intel’s facility based in the newly independent middle-eastern country of Azaran.

Episode three, Azaran Forecast, now has Andromeda talking to the new computer, and the plot thickens as Fleming and her are reunited with Dr. Madeleine Dawnay, the biochemist who helped create Andromeda.  The Intel Consortium want the three of them to work for them as part of a plan to feed the world. The strangeness of what is happening to the world’s weather comes to the fore, and we discover that Andromeda’s health is failing.  Fleming and Dawney race to develop a formula to restore Andromeda, who is deciphering the signals from the computer, to health — but can the Earth be saved from what is happening?

The fourth episode, Storm Centres, has the Intel Consortium backing a military coup in Azaran because they are evil, which we know because only an evil corporation would murder people to further its agenda.  We are also shown the world being ravaged by storms, as the weather creates chaos through starvation and droughts.  Conflicts over food become wars as governments try maintain order

Episode five, Hurricane, piles on the effects of the changing weather, and the destruction of the world as we know it.  The scientists realize that an alien enzyme released by accident, flushed down the sink by Fleming in the first series, is behind the Earth’s atmosphere becoming thinner, which is what is driving the climate change.  Intel use this to get our heroes to develop a solution, which can be marketed to make the consortium money.  However, these plans are hanging in the balance as a counter-revolution occurs that overthrows the Intel Consortium.

The final episode is called Roman Peace.  The episode title is a reference to the peace that comes after war.  The series denouement is that mankind must be free to make its own mistakes, if it wants to save itself, and not rely on the hidden message within the message from Andromeda, which turns out to be a cunning alien plan to socially engineer mankind’s survival.  I have to say that I was swept along by the story, and having to wait each week for the next episode kept me fully engaged with the plot.  However, on reflection, mostly from writing this piece in fact, I have to say it all feels a bit melodramatic.  But, still a lot of fun to watch.

Nevertheless, mustn’t grumble because there are still five more episodes of Out of this World to come, and I can say that so far, the standalone stories have been well worth viewing.  Next month I will write up my thoughts for you all to read.  Until then, keep watching the skies.




[July 16, 1962] Vegetating at the Movies (Day of the Triffids)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I’m just back from watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen.  You may remember I wrote about Wyndham’s work for the Galactic Journey last year, now I get the chance to discuss the film adaptation too.  As I said in my previous article, Wyndham is widely known over here because of the success of his novel The Day of the Triffids, which was first published in 1951.

But first let me mention that this is not the first time his story has been adapted for another medium.  While I missed the broadcast, it completely escaped me for reasons outside of my control, the British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted in 1957 a six-part radio dramatization of Wyndham’s story, presented by the BBC’s Light programme.  I was able to find out that it had Patrick Barr voicing the roll of Bill Masen, and I really wish I had been able to listen to the production.

Also, while I was compiling my notes for this article, I discovered that in 1953 the BBC Home Service transmitted Frank Duncan reading the novel that was serialized in fifteen parts, each episode being fifteen minutes long.  I mention this in part to emphasize both the importance of the story, and the impact it has had on the British public’s imagination.  It cannot be stressed too highly that Wyndham’s standing is on par with H. G. Wells.

A brief reminder that the story centres on how people survive in a world where most have been blinded and who now have to deal with triffids, which were originally bred to produce oil using genetically modified seeds that may have come from space.  These plants can move, and have stingers to attack prey.  Yes, they’re alien vegetables from space that eat meat.  From this premise Wyndham weaves a very British disaster story set in our green and pleasant land that grips one from beginning to end.

So how does this latest film adaptation fare?

The film is 93 minutes long, and as such the story is both compressed and changed, which is ironic because I was told that the film ran short and they had to add extra scenes to pad out the length of the film.  While the overall outline of people blinded and marauding carnivorous plants remains, liberties are taken.

First, the main protagonist Bill Masen is changed from being a biologist in the book into an American seaman for the film.  The journey from London to the Sussex Downs becomes instead a journey to Gibraltar, which if you read my previous article is a bit of a switch because at its core The Day of the Triffids is a very British catastrophe.  Arguably one could make the case that the film has to appeal to a wider audience, and setting it Europe opens the story, and of course provides nice shots of exotic scenery.

I can all well imagine a sequel being set in America to make it appeal more to an American audience, but I think would do a disservice to both the original novel and Americans.

Also, the backstory for the triffids changes their genesis to plants mutated by the light of the comet.  Colour me unimpressed.  There is also the deletion of the character Josella Playton, who Masen rescues in the book from a blind man who is using her to find food.

Nicole Maurey, a French actress, is cast in a role as Miss Durrant who becomes a Frenchwoman, which is understandable, but would it not have been easier to make Josella French rather than write a new character?  I’m also perplexed at the changes made to the character of Wilfred Coker, who in transposing the story as a journey from England to Gibraltar, has become a tourist caught up the catastrophe, which undermines his whole story arc.

What is even less understandable was the need to add a sub-plot set in a lighthouse.  These scenes were shot because after the film was finished being shot it was found to be too short.  This is really a poor show on the part of the person who wrote the screenplay, because there was clearly enough original source material to work from had they hewn closer to the story in the book.

The worst part is the denouement where the world is saved when it’s discovered that salt water dissolves triffids, and the religious overtones are in my mind a little at odds with Wyndham’s story. 

However, all that said, viewed on its own terms as an SF monster movie, this film is quite entertaining for what it is: 93 minutes of being chased by man-eating plants.

[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.

[May 21, 1962] Old AND New (UK’s New Worlds Magazine)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Here, as I sit writing in May 1962, I’m contemplating change.  The change that occurs when the old is phased out, and new things are built that replace the familiar.  What spurred this moment of reflection was the news of the last trolley bus run in London which, as fate would have it, happened on the eighth of May in my manor—London slang for my local area.  The irony is that the trolley buses were built to replace the old trams, but have now themselves fallen to the same fate of being old, and no longer appreciated for the modern convenience they once were.

Science fiction is arguably about change, hopefully not in the didactic way of, say, the classroom lecture, but rather through exploring the changes that comes from the introduction of the new.  While I’m sure that some of the Galactic Journey’s readers may consider American SF stories to be the wellspring of all that the future holds, Britain does have magazines of its own to bring stories to aficionados of the genre on this side of the Atlantic.

One of them is called New Worlds.

I will say that the history of this magazine is rather complex, and presented me with a Gordian Knot to unravel; unlike Alexander the Great, I’m not able to slice through it with a sword as the popular legend has it.  Instead I shall unravel the story by starting at the beginning, and work through to the end.  As an aside, I understand this is a better fit for what Alexander actually did, which was to pull pole pin out of the knot and unravel the loose ends, but I digress.

The roots of New Worlds lies in science fiction fandom, which in 1934 was being actively promoted by Hugo Gernsback and Charles D. Hornig at Wonder Stories, who had created the Science Fiction League as an association to further the growth of fandom.  People from around the world could apply to form an SFL chapter, and in 1935 Maurice K. Hanson and Dennis A. Jacques formed Chapter 22 of the SFL in Nuneaton, near Leicester for those who’ve never heard of the place.


Hanson, in 1937

Chapter 22 was the third of five SFL chapters formed on this side of the Atlantic: the other four being in Leeds, Belfast, Glasgow, and Barnsley.  And while they may have been the third chapter, Hanson and Jacques produced in 1936 the first fanzine published in the United Kingdom called Novae Terrae.

A total of twenty-nine issues of this British fanzine were produced between 1936 and January 1939.  I understand the workload associated with producing it eventually became too much for Hanson, and he handed it over to John Carnell, who renamed it New Worlds: a translation of the Latin title into plain English.  However, Carnell only produced four issues before the war started in 1939 and paper rationing came into effect.


Carnell, in 1936

But, when production started again in 1946, New Worlds had been transformed into a professional magazine produced by Pendulum Publications.  The first issue didn’t sell very well, but the second did, which was attributed to the cover art being very eye catching.  As a result, Carnell had all the covers stripped off the unsold copies of issue one, and reissued the magazine with the same cover art as issue two, but without the content lettering—see the illustrations for comparison.  With the new cover issue one also sold well, and things looked promising.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the publisher went bankrupt.

However, a group of passionate science fiction fans came together and formed Nova Publications Limited to keep New Worlds on the newsstands.  The publication schedule was what I would describe as irregular, some might say sporadic, but New Worlds thrived and went from two issues in 1949, rising to three in 1950 and four in 1951, up to six issues in 1952 before falling back to three in 1953.  Then there was a nine month hiatus, due to problems with the printer, but regular monthly issues in a new digest format appeared after Nova Publications was taken over by Maclaren & Sons.

Ever since then New Worlds has graced the newsstands across the country, and for a short time even America.  The magazine provides a source of science fiction to British readers who may not have easy access to the American magazines that Galactic Journey reviews each month.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to read May’s issue, which contains the following stories: Terminal by Lee Harding; Think of a Number by Steve Hall; Dictator Bait by Philip E. High; The Analyser by Bill Spencer; and the concluding part of a serial called The Dawson Diaries by John Rackham.  However, I will say that I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve read by Philip E. High and the tease for the story is intriguing, “Finding an alien who could change shape at will would be harder than finding the proverbial needle. There is one way, however, of flushing him out of hiding, given time and the necessary will-power.” Colour me interested.

In addition, this month’s issue of New Worlds features section has a guest editorial by J. G. Ballard, in addition to the regular readers letters page called Postmortem, a section called The Literary Line-Up, and Book Reviews by Leslie Flood.

And to end this month’s column, I would like to point to something new.  In a few days time the Coventry Cathedral will be consecrated.  The old one was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe during the second world war.  The design for the replacement building was the winner of a competition held in 1950, but the foundation stone wasn’t laid until 1956.  Now the building is finished the consecration of the cathedral will take place on May the 25th and is remarkable for being so modern—dare I say a science fictional church for a better tomorrow?

[April 22, 1962] “To ride on the curl’d clouds” (ARIEL ONE)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Looking back to October the 4th 1957 when Sputnik was launched, it’s hard to believe that only five years have passed since that fateful day when Russia beat Britain and America into space (perhaps my American readers will say that Britain had no realistic chance of getting into space first, which I would agree with, but for the Western nations to be beaten by the Russians – now that’s the thing.)

With Sputnik, humanity transitioned from flying through the air to moving through the vacuum of space, where no living animal can survive without a pressure suit. The only other time that I can think of when a paradigm shift of this nature took place would be back when the first hot-air balloons were invented. This provoked the discussion, at the time, that this was the invention of travelling through the air.

As I read the history of hot-air balloons, the idea of travelling through air as an invention seems odd to me. But as language evolves over time, so do concepts like invention, which has moved from the original Latin meaning of discovery to the more modern meaning of a process or device. Though by modern I should clarify that I mean “from the fifteenth century,” which is not surprising given the changes that arose from the Renaissance, and everything that came out of rediscovery of the knowledge of the ancient Greeks.

For those who look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses I will remind my readers that the times I’m writing about were surrounded by their own troubles. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, for example, which led to a westward exodus of Greek scholars that fuelled the rediscovery of ancient thinking. One can argue that today’s troubles, with West and East facing off against each other, is just part of the story of humanity’s struggle between its biological drives versus its intellectual aspirations.

Almost equidistant (physically, though not ideologically) from the Free and Communist worlds, Britain is about to become Earth’s third nation to practice the “invention” of travelling through space. Admittedly this puts us behind America and Russia, but as the Yanks are wont to say, this still makes us a contender. We are calling our satellite Ariel One, more prosaically referred to as UK-1 or S-55. This program grew out of proposal by the British National Committee on Space Research to NASA that came from a discussion at a meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to study the Earth’s ionosphere.

What is the ionosphere? It is that layer high up in the Earth’s atmosphere where the sun’s energy strips the thin air of its electrons, creating a charged barrier to radio waves. It is this layer that allows British and American “Hams” to talk to each other across thousands of miles of ocean. Understanding how the ionosphere works not only has practical implications for engineers, but is also vital to modelling the atmosphere as a whole. The rewards to science will be tremendous.

I must confess that while Ariel One may be a British satellite, it was made in America for us by the NASA Goddard Flight Center. Our satellite will launched atop a Thor-Delta rocket aka Delta DM-19, which is a variant of the Thor-Able booster that launched some of America’s first satellites, and is due to be launched on the 26th of April from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Launch Complex 17A.

The Thor rockets were designed for the United States Air Force as intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM), which became redundant for purpose after the introduction of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). So arguably this is a case of swords being turned into plowshares for science. The Thor-Delta uses a Delta rocket as its upper stage, which has the new AJ10-118 engine, and the upper stage also has cold gas attitude control jets. This allows rockets to be stabilized, and the motors can also be stopped and restarted for more precise orbital insertions than were previously possible.

The Ariel One satellite has six experiments onboard, five of which will examine the relationship between two types of solar radiation and changes in the Earth’s ionosphere, and the other cosmic rays. University College London has two ionospheric experiments aboard Ariel; a Langmuir probe for measuring of electron temperature and density; and a spherical probe for measurement of ion mass composition and temperature. The University of Birmingham has a plasma dielectric constant measurement of ionospheric electron density device, which uses a different method to measure electron density that complements the Langmuir probe.

In addition, University College London has two solar radiation experiments; one will measure Lyman-Alpha ultra-violet emissions; the other will measure X-Ray emissions from the Sun in the 3 to 12A band. The sixth experiment, provided Imperial College London, is a Cerenkov detector, which will measure primary cosmic ray energy spectrum, and the impact of interplanetary magnetic field modulation on this spectrum.

You may be thinking, “These experiments sound familiar. I know that NASA’s Orbiting Solar Observatory, for example has similar detectors. Why do we need another satellite that does the same thing?”

That’s an excellent question. There are three answers:

1) Just as more eyewitnesses create a stronger legal case or journalistic report, so do multiple satellites give a broader, mutually verifiable view of the same phenomena;

2) Different laboratories create subtly different experiment types. Thus, Ariel will look at the Sun with slightly different eyes than OSO;

3) Ariel represents an important first step in British space science, one that lays the foundation for future successes.

To finish this months article I must comment on the name Ariel, which is an interesting choice. Ariel is a Hebrew word found in the Bible. I understand it means either the Lion of God or Hearth of God, depending on interpretation. It is also the name of one of the moons of Uranus (recently visited by other members of the Journey).

But, one can’t help but think of Milton’s Paradise Lost or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and my guess would be that it’s an allusion to the latter because Ariel was the servant of Prospero – and I have the highest hopes that Ariel One shall be successful in serving British science equally well.

[March 19, 1962] A convention of a different colour (Eastercon in the UK)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month I said I would talk about science fiction fan activity in Britain.  I think it only fair to say that my involvement with British science fiction fandom is peripatetic, as in unsettled, as I lack the stamina to be fully involved with fannish behaviour.  Not a bad thing per se, but not my cup of tea.  As such, I’m all too aware that my account of British Eastercons is rather secondhand, as I haven’t been to one for several years.

Furthermore, I’m not a Big Name Fan, because I stand at a distance from the core of those who move and shake the mores of fandom.  One could argue that I’m an old time fan who has gafiated from fandom, getting away from it all, since I rarely participate in fannish activities per se.  Before you jump to the conclusion that I therefore must be a sercon fan, serious and constructive, I should add I’m not that either.  For me the word FIJAGH says it all: fandom is just a goddam hobby.  It sums up my position perfectly

With those caveats in place let me talk about the British national science fiction convention.

The first thing I should state is that Eastercons are a relatively recent thing, which started seven years ago in 1955.  How time flies.  The first national SF convention was held in London in 1948, and called Whitcon, because it was held over the three-day weekend of Whitsun. 

For my American readers who may be unfamiliar with British Bank Holidays, Whitsun takes place seven weekends after Easter, my understanding is that in America it comes under the Pentecostal tradition.  You’ll excuse me if I’m a bit vague about Christian practices; they’re not my thing despite being brought up in a nominally Christian family.  We were what might be called Christians by default.  A very British thing that may not be fully understandable to those looking from outside of British culture.

The next four national SF conventions were also held in London before the convention moved in 1954 to Manchester.  By this time the number of people attending had started to drop precipitously, which caused quite a furore within fandom about what must be done?  With, people like Ken Slater and Vince Clarke, arguing that British fandom needed reinvigorating.

Resulting, though that implies far more causation for something that is mostly a loosely correlated series of events, in the formation of the BSFA in 1958 with Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves as joint secretaries.  So in 1959 the newly formed British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) took over running the national convention, which now takes place over the four-day Easter weekend.

This years Eastercon will happen on April 22nd, and is being held in Harrogate, which is in North Yorkshire.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, due to the combination of a lack of time and money preventing me from doing so.

The official name is the rather prosaic The 1962 BSFA Easter Convention, the committee running the convention is made up of Ron Bennett and Phil Rogers.  They are the ones in charge of organizing the events during the weekend.  The fans are calling it Ronvention.

I’m told there are 94 fans going to Ronvention, which is split between the West Park and Clarendon hotels.  The West Park will be the venue for the Fancy Dress party, the theme being favourite characters from SF &F books; the BSFA will hold its AGM there to discuss what to do with the money raised for the Doc Weir Memorial Fund to honour him; and finally there will be a film shown there too.  Meanwhile everything else, like quizzes, an auction and a talk on the development of British fandom by Mike Rosenblum will take place at the Clarendon hotel.

Mr. Tom Boardman, of Boardman Books, is the Guest of Honour.  He edits the popular Mayflower SF series, which was one of the earliest publishers of SF in post-war Britain.  And, in addition to his work as editor and publisher, he also reviews SF for Books & Bookmen, a magazine published by Hansom Books.

Also attending is Ron Ellik, travelling from the USA courtesy of the Trans Atlantic Fan Fund.  This is a fan fund whose title says exactly what it does.  The roots of the fund lay in Forrest J Ackerman’s idea called the Big Pond Fund that eventually brought John Carnell to the American Worldcon in 1949.  This morphed into what is now known as TAFF when Walt Willis went to the 1953 Worldcon, and wrote a report about his travelling around America, which he published in his fanzine, Hyphen.

In addition to an American presence at Ronvention, I’m told that German fans Tom Schluck, Rolf Gindorf, Wolfgang Thadewald, Thea Grade, Horst Margeit, and Guntrum Ohmacht will be coming to demonstrate that the best way to get into a Britain is to come to as fans.

And lest you find yourself wondering if UK conventions be greatly different from American ones, fear not.  You will still encounter the masquerade balls, the awards ceremonies, the huckster sales, the vociferous fannish debates, and yes, the debauchery (though such entertainments lie in my past).

Before finishing this month’s article I must thank my good friend Rob Hansen for his help with collating all the fannish information I’ve shared with you.  I would have been lost without his sterling work in recording the goings-on in fandom.  That is it for now, which just leaves me to say goodbye, and see you all again next month.