Broadcaster David Frost and his partner Hazel Adair, perhaps best known as the creator of the long-running soap opera Crossroads (1964–88), bought the rights to adapt The Drought aka The Burning World (1964) in the late 1960s.
Frost knew little if anything about science fiction, but Adair was no stranger to the genre. She was the author of one of the first sf television shows, Stranger from Space (1951–53), and of an ultimately unproduced Doctor Who serial, Hexagora. However, despite her many television successes, the state of the British film industry at the end of the sixties meant her career as a film producer had rather ignominious results: some sex comedies, a horror movie and a lethargic international adventure movie.
It remains unclear whether it was Adair or Frost who commissioned Ballard to script the adaptation himself, and it is possible it was actually intended for television rather than film. There is no copy of the script or the contract in the Ballard archive at the British Library, and Ballard’s scattered interview comments do not give a very clear picture. (In 1979, Adair commissioned Ballard to adapt his 1974 Concrete Island, although this too went unproduced.)
George Harrison was one of several producers to approach Frost over the rights to The Drought only to be put off by his extremely high price. In a famous prank, Peter Cook ‘let slip’ during a television interview with Frost that he was partway through filming the novel with himself in the lead role. For half a minute, the usually unflappable Frost became extremely flappable. Bizarrely, this incident brought the novel to the attention of Dino De Laurentiis, who hired Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct it – a doomed project, the story of which is told in Frank Pavich’s celebrated documentary Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Pavich 2013).
Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)