Facebook is full of random stuff, isn’t it? Last week, for no apparent reason, I saw two references to a TV series from 1970 that I used to be a big fan of: UFO. This prompted me to share one of the posts with Hugh, who I had previously discovered to be something of a Space 1999 fan. The connection between those two programmes will become clear in time, but before I get even close to that, I need to explain what made me think I should write about it.
I’ve made comments in the past about my TV viewing as a child. And the relevance of that is the influence it had on me as a writer.
In the UK at least, I suspect I was part of the first TV generation of kids. There was TV before the ‘60s, but it was limited both in when it was shown and the range of viewing available. Any shows from the ‘50s were usually American – Casey Jones, The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse. I’m sure there would have been some British series, they just didn’t seem to warrant being repeated, or maybe they didn’t keep the tapes.
My mum used to berate herself as I got older for having used the TV as a babysitter. Apparently, I was as good as gold when I was sitting in front of that little black and white set, so with three sisters following me in quick succession, it was probably a relief for her to keep me occupied. Still, she felt my obsession with the TV was unhealthy. I’d rather come in from school and turn it on than go out and play with my mates.
On the face of it, that’s an understandable assumption to make, and one I appreciated even then. But who knows how things will turn out?
After all, I didn’t just watch any old thing on TV. When The Magic Roundabout finished and the news came on, I was off like a shot. And documentaries didn’t interest me, or even Blue Peter, Magpie or How!. No, I was interested in action and adventure, something with a story to it.
To be fair, as we headed into the ‘70s, I was prepared to watch Clapperboard, but only because it was about movies, and let’s face it, movies were just stories on a grander scale.
At the same time, I loved books, so although my mum might have been concerned about the amount of time I spent in front of the gogglebox, she couldn’t complain I didn’t like reading. When I was eight, school assessed my reading age to be 11. When I was ten, I was reading my first James Bond book, and becoming aware of authors like Alistair McLean and Desmond Bagley.
So the prompt may have come from TV, but the underlying fascination was with storytelling.
The variety of stories I watched, though, has meant I’m not satisfied with just one genre. There will be viewers and readers who are only interested in Westerns – from Bonanza to Alias Smith and Jones – or Sci-Fi – Star Trek, Time Tunnel, Buck Rogers, etc. I liked both, but I also liked Batman, Thunderbirds, and The Saint. My point is, as a viewer I was interested in the story, characters and situations, not in whether it fit a specific genre.
During that period, I also got the impression there was no restriction on the creativity of the writers. Terry Nation, for example, is probably best known as the creator of the Daleks, and wrote many episodes of Doctor Who in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But he was also a big contributor to series like The Persuaders and The Protectors – both of which were more mainstream action series. Another hero of mine was Brian Clemens, creator of The Avengers, which blurred genres on a regular basis, but who also wrote for a wide range of other TV series as well as films and plays in the UK and US.
Ultimately, these writers (and their peers), and the wide range of TV shows they created during those formative years of mine have contributed to my enthusiasm for writing entertaining stories. Because, ultimately, that’s all they are – entertainment. I’m never going to produce a piece of great literature (I wouldn’t enjoy reading it, so why would I write it?), but over the next few years you will see action and adventure, fantasy and horror, and probably the odd bit of humour thrown in for good measure.
Seeing these posts about UFO reminded me of how important those early influences have been for me, so over the coming months I’ll share the occasional memory of these old TV series. It may prompt some of you to look them up and experience them for yourselves, and for others it might be a trip down memory lane.
Obviously, I’m going to start with Gerry Anderson’s first TV series with real people in it, but it’ll have to wait until next time. For now, here’s a trailer