Thursday, December 26, 2013

getting the future wrong, #3

[#2 was this post on the 1977 series 1990]

Television scholar Robin Carmody has recently been making available some marvellous archival material from the British 1970s and 1980s.

Including Stargazy on Zummerdown, which I had been searching in vain for on YouTube having come across a clipping about it in an old scrapbook of mine I'd recently got hold of, from when I was fifteen-sixteen and transitioning from old obsessions (Monty Python & diaspora; science fiction; futurology; surrealism) to new ones (music + music journalism).

 Originally broadcoast on 15th March 1978 as part of the BBC2 Play of the Week series, it's set in  a "23rd century, Britain (now called Albion)" which is "made up of two distinct communities - the Aggros (farm workers) and the Toonies (industrial workers). They meet at Zummerdown for the annual midsummer festival of Stargazy"

Well, I say "getting the future wrong" but I guess we won't know until we get to the 23rd Century, strictly speaking. However like Greatorex's 1990 and like Burgess's 1985, the play is much more a reflection of  mid-Seventies preoccupations than actual prognostication.

(C.f. this Guardian articleby Neil Clark on the 1978 Christmas edition of the Radio Times and UK TV "before Thatcherism ruined it")

Here's the play in five parts

Stargazy on Zummerdown 1

Stargazy on Zummerdown 2

Stargazy on Zummerdown 3

Stargazy on Zummerdown 4

Stargazy on Zummerdown 5

Commentary on Stargazy from Horror News

"Billed as a visionary fable of Britain in the 23rd century, this was an optimistic look at the future by a historian specialising in the 17th century. England, or rather Albion, has reverted to a country of peaceful rural communities and small towns in a happy balance of high technology, industry and nature, called the Commonwealth of New Harmony. At the Stargazy, the annual midsummer meeting of the agricultural folk (Aggros) and industrial workers (Toonies), among the megaliths on top of Zummerdown, the two communities come together to settle the terms for the following year’s exchange of products and know-how, and engage in the ritual discharge of mutual aggression. Under the amiable supervision of the Reformed Celtic Church, they enjoy themselves in dancing contests, onion tastings and a swearing contest of Chaucerian earthiness. Stargazy On Zummerdown was science fiction that drew heavily on history. Author John Fletcher called it “The Anglo-Saxon constitution plus industrialisation.” The talented cast included Roy Dotrice, Stephen Murray and John Gillbyrne."

Commentary on Stargazy on Zummerdown from You Can't Do That On TV Anymore blog:

"Nuzzling up to Stars of The Roller State Disco (1984) in any self-respecting apocalyptic telly fan's alphabetised collection is Stargazy on Zummerdown (1978), a slice of town and country ritual rivalry set in the 23rd century, in a society where urban and rural communities live uneasily side by side under the benign auspices of a retro-pagan church, and trade relations between the two are agreed at an annual festival wherein village fete meets wrestling smackdown. Oh, and an onion eating contest. If ...Disco was a prime example of hands-on-hips grimness, here's a future full of side-clutching whimsy.

"This is an odd little thing, even in the weirdo annals of 1970s BBC drama. Part of BBC2's prestigious Play of the Week slot usually reserved for the finely wrought likes of Langrishe, Go Down or Stoppard's Professional Foul, it's the work of John Fletcher, a historian with no previous dramatic convictions but a healthy interest in pre-industrial revolution England. As with Hastings's work, characters are schematic. Roy Dotrice plays a loopy, valve-soldering eccentric, while Peggy Mount gets to shout great rustic insults as one Opinionated Alice. But the majority of talk, as is the way with these things, gets put to use explaining and itemising the meticulously detailed future world and its workings. Delivered in sing-song west country burrs, this functional chat starts to sound like a lacklustre episode of The Archers, with the occasional reference to starships being built in Sheffield.

 "It's also a fine example of the studio countryside. Everything takes place indoors, with shrubbery wheeled in from the sides and lit with 5,000 watts in front of a sky blue backcloth. Only modern eyes, raised on years of hand-held, desaturated Cardiff street footage, have trouble taking stuff that looks like this seriously, but even at the time the effect must have smacked a bit of Play School. Not helping matters is the presence in the cast of Toni Arthur, though to be fair she does as spirited a saucy “I do declare” turn as the modest headroom of the script will allow. Perhaps as if to acknowledge this threadbare failing, director Michael Ferguson (a name to drop amongst psychedelic Whovians, should you find yourself in their company with no easy escape route) ends the final shouting scene with a pull-back to reveal the studio cameras and lighting gantry – a budgetary apology dressed up as entry-level Brecht. Still, Ferguson was a veteran of Churchill's People, so he knew a thing or two about the “cardboard spear” end of recession drama."

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