Out of the Unknown: ‘The Fox and the Forest’ BBC2 22 November 1965

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Ray Bradbury

This is the first episode not to have survived (apart from its credits sequence). It is an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s 1950 story, originally published in Collier’s as ‘To the Future’ but collected in The Illustrated Man (1951) as ‘The Fox and the Forest’.

By 1965, Bradbury was already probably the sf writer most adapted for television, and he had begun to branch out into film and television writing: he wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick OOTU Fox LISTING(Huston 1956) and, uncredited, the narration for King of Kings (Ray 1961); and for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62) he adapted stories by himself and others and wrote an original script, too. This familiarity with the industry might explain why, in addition to the $1000 he was paid for rights to the story, his contract stipulated he would be paid the same every time it was repeated (typically, authors received only 50% for reruns). It might also explain why it was never repeated and thus, maybe, how it did not survive.

It was directed by Robin Midgley, primarily a stage director, although he had already notched up a number of television credits, including several episodes of Z Cars.

Irene Shubik initially commissioned a 75-minute adaptation for Story Parade, but struggled to find the right writer. It was offered to Ken Taylor, and then to Ilona Ference, who turned in an unusable script that had failed to take account of the economics and logistics of shooting a television drama. Next, Terry Nation produced a script that Shubik found vulgar. It was offered to Michael Simpson to revise, but he turned it down. Finally, Meade Roberts, who scripted the previous week’s ‘Sucker Bait’, shortened the teleplay to Out of the Unknown’s 60-minute run time and rewrote Nation’s dialogue.

Bradbury’s name was undoubtedly a draw, and Shubik even at one point considered ‘The Fox and the Forest’ as a potential season opener, but it is difficult to work out why she thought there was an hour of television drama in Bradbury’s story (let alone 75 minutes).

130438The story opens in Mexico in 1938. A tourist couple, William and Susan Travis, seem a little disoriented by it all. Which is not surprising because, it is quickly revealed, they are actually Ann and Roger Kristen, on the lam from an unbearable future. They were born in the middle of the 22nd century,

in a world that was evil. A world that was like a great black ship pulling away from the shore of sanity and civilization, roaring its black horn in the night, taking two billion people with it, whether they wanted to go or not, to death, to fall over the edge of the earth and the sea into radioactive flame and madness. (189)

A time-travel technology has been developed that allows inhabitants of this dismal world of the permanent warfare state to take holidays in the past. Ann and Roger, determined not to return, have gone into hiding. But a Searcher is on their trail. They evade him, and walk right into the rather obvious twist/trap laid for them.

43437By the standards of almost any other sf writer of the period, it is pretty slim. The opening is quite atmospheric, if in that rather vague way Bradbury has; the future world from which the protagonists are fleeing is every bit as vague, just a concatenation of phrases from Bradbury’s usual shorthand dystopianism (nuclear threat, totalitarianism, book-burning); the cat-and-mouse thriller element is not particularly suspenseful, and the action scenes no less perfunctory.  Apparently, the episode follows the story rather closely, but extends it by adding on an opening section in which the protagonists kill the first Searcher sent to track them down. According to the Guardian, the opening quarter of an hour was difficult to follow, while Television Today suggested it was ‘one of the most convincing produced plays in the series’ (Ward 110).

A pre-Alf Garnett Warren Mitchell is in it.

Previous episode, ‘Sucker Bait
Next episode, ‘Andover and the Android

Sources
Ray Bradbury, ‘The Fox and the Forest’, The Illustrated Man (London: Harper Voyager) 184-208.
Mark Ward, Out of the Unknown: A Guide to the Legendary Series (Bristol: Kaleidoscope, 2004)

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The first African science fiction short story? Leonard Flemming’s ‘And So It Came To Pass’ (full text)

I’ve had various queries about accessing some of the texts I mention in African SF 101; so here is the complete text of the earliest African sf short story I have been able to locate so far. It appeared in Flemming’s collection, A Crop of Chaff (Pietermaritzburg: Natal Witness 1924) pp. 26-31, which had an introduction by Jan Smuts. There was a second edition the following year, but neither it nor the story seem to have been reprinted since. As far as I know, it is out of copyright.

[26]

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS

A distinguished scientist has made the startling statement that mankind will soon be extinct – that there will not be a single human being left in any part of the world. I was in the middle of my tree-planting when I read this, and it almost made me decide to stop planting trees altogether. What’s the use of it all, I thought, if mankind is to be blotted out of existence soon? But I went on with the job, reckoning that they’d be useful for the monkeys to climb up, anyhow.

No human beings on earth . . . nothing but wild animals . . . . wild life.

*            *            *            *

One day in the future, something like this will be written about the past:-

“The last historians of that period state that the beginning of the end of mankind came when the White races were completely exterminated and the Black and Yellow races ruled.

“Of events in other parts of the world outside South Africa this article is not dealing. The over-running of Europe, Australia, and America by Coloured people, and the total annihilation of the

[27]

Whites is to be read of elsewhere; and though the exact year of the last sign of a White man in South Africa is not certain – some stating it to be 150 years after a fight in Europe in 1914-18; and others believing it to be 250 years after, there is sufficient evidence to show that towards the end of the era of man, the Native races in that country made short work of their one-time White rulers.

“From the meagre information available it would seem that events moved along smoothly enough, even during that epoch, when 50 per cent. of the members of Parliament were Blacks; but when the Native races reached that point where they outnumbered the Whites by 47 to 1, it is said that the White races made a final desperate effort to pull together to save themselves and the country.

“This attempt at unity seems to have failed. The Bill for the Employment of Poor Whites on the Mars air route was apparently the stumbling block. That all the Whites were in a poor way at this time does not seem to have occurred to the majority of the politicians, but it is evident that the pushing of this Bill meant a certain number of votes to one section of the White members of Parliament; and the Native menace, which throughout the years had been put aside in favour of Bills like this, very quietly and quickly sprang into a terrible reality. . . .

“One reads of the marvellous efficiency of the Blacks, their organisation and endurance – the overthrow of the Whites – the Black monarchy – the well-trained armies of countless millions, and so, in the eternal efflux of time, we find history repeating itself,

[28]

and discords and dissension taking place amongst the now ruling Black race, eventually terminating in the Great Black War.

“Before this, conditions, compared to the previous “White” era, appear somewhat extraordinary. Courts were abolished, large distilleries erected, nine-tenths of the arable land of the Union was under Kaffir corn, and every riem had disappeared as if by magic.

“Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Practically the whole of mankind was made by 1924. There is a mass of evidence on the truth of this statement (see Vol. VI., pages 47 to 598). One of the most famous and historical instances, of course, was the objection, by a section of the Whites, to the initiation of a broad, bold, emigration scheme, which might quite easily have been the salvation of South Africa.

“Under the rule of the Blacks, Dingaan’s Day became a day of mourning with trained weepers in every market place, and a great annual festival appears to have taken place in the Government Buildings, Pretoria, on July 27, the date of the massacre of the last White man in South Africa – a one-time prohibitionist member of Parliament who was found hiding in an ant-bear hole.”

It was about this time that I was given a day’s leave from – from the place where I was spending eternity. An excellent arrangement this, giving odd residents 24 hours’ leave on earth at the end of a century or two.

I had chosen a day in midsummer as being one in which I stood less chance of catching cold. A

[29]

private Glidoplane had been put at my disposal – motors had long been obsolete.

I landed in Bloemfontein eventually, feeling very depressed at the sight of thousands of black, and brown, and yellow faces, when, to my joy, I caught sight of a white face inside a funny-looking sort of hut, which on closer examination turned out to be one of the old trackless tramcars.

The man inside proved to be a descendant of my old friend Brones. He wasn’t quite white, but at least he was not so “nativey” as the rest of the inhabitants.

Brones and Mrs. Brones were employed by a Mr. Mopilo Thlatyane as cook and gardener.

“It’s a good job as jobs go for one whose ancestors were white,” said Brones. He talked English with difficulty and with a strong accent of Buzuluto – the universal language now – a sort of native Esperanto.

“Do you mean to say that you and Mrs. Brones are working for a native family?”

“We are,” said Brones, “and very glad of the job too; we have this old tramcar for a house, we spent our spare time during the first six months screwing up the loose nuts, we get enough to eat, Thlatyane gives me his old boots and trousers, and Mrs. Thlatyane gives the wife quite a number of old dresses and things. We’re alright. The people I am sorry for are the descendants of those who were connected with the Police Courts – they have a fiendish time of it – always being run in for something or other and tried by the King – of course you know we have

[30]

a monarchy now with a black King at the head. Only yesterday there was a strong leading article suggesting that the authorities go in more for the death penalty with a lingering kind of death.”

“This particular writer is a chap named P. Pombulo Menletyohae – his grandfather’s name was ‘Sixpence,’ I believe. Of course you know that sending these chaps to English Universities was the beginning of the mischief.”

I listened in horror to the details of life as it was to-day. The native police force was kept solely to deal with the descendants of the Whites. Natives were rarely punished. Sheep stealing was encouraged in order that the old traditional cunning and characteristics of the race should not be entirely lost.

“When a native stole a sheep he at once reported the matter to the police, who, after, satisfying themselves that it was a genuine theft, gave the thief a metal disc. At the end of the year the native who had stolen most sheep was given a Diploma of Merit and a sum of money.”

It was with a feeling of relief that I returned to – to where I was spending eternity. It may be warm, but at least my own race are there and – one does feel safe. . . . .

There came in the course of time the inevitable. Jealousies, spite, hatred, disruption, disunion. Just as these had in another era undermined the power of the White man so did they begin to eat in the power of the Black.

The split occurred when a section of the people headed by one Bolohlomo, a noted psychologist of his

[31]

day, started the “No Education” campaign. It was one of the greatest reforms for the betterment of mankind that had ever been known.

They quoted the downfall of the White man as their chief argument for the abolition of education. “If that is where education brings you,” they said, “we don’t want it.”

So came into being the Pro and the Anti-Education parties. There followed feuds and fights and wars until there came the culminating Great War of the Blacks, in which was used every diabolical means of destruction known to science. Until . . . . man existed no more . . . . there was not one human being on earth . . . . as it was in the beginning. . . .

*            *            *            *

A cold wind swept its way around the world. It was the poor old earth singing, “Thank goodness – relief at last.”

Mutant Chronicles (Simon Hunter 2008)

The_Mutant_Chroniclesand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Mutant Chronicles (2008) is not Ron Perlman’s Oirish accent (to be sure), nor is it the film’s unwillingness to leave any cliché unturned in the pursuit of mediocrity; no, the best thing about Mutant Chronicles is Sean Pertwee, for it is one of the fundamental laws of cinema that, regardless of the thing he is in, Sean Pertwee will be the best thing in the thing he is in…and that he will die more horribly and with greater inevitability than Sean Bean…

Solving Jeremy Clarkson

jeremy-clarkson-cartoonApparently Danny Cohen, the BBC Director of Television, is struggling to work out the fate of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. He has already described those defending Clarkson as being like those who covered up Jimmy Savile’s paedophilic predations. The Mail, in its typically confused manner, has implied today that Cohen accused Clarkson of paedophilia.

Obviously, this cannot go on.

It is tedious beyond belief, and Clarkson should have been sacked years ago.

But Top Gear is ‘the most-watched “factual” programme in the world’, and a huge money-spinner. No wonder Cohen knows what to do but cannot manage to do it.

It seems to me the answer is clear.

The BBC should take Clarkson back, but return Top Gear to the format originally proposed by JG Ballard.crashbangwallop