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Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life Of Nigel Kneale
Andy Murray
Headpress paperback £12.99

review by Paul Higson

Given that authors invest great chunks of themselves into each new fiction it is odd that a writer might leave it to another to record his own life and times. As Andy Murray's Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life Of Nigel Kneale reveals, the renowned subject of this book was never comfortable with the big narrative write. Kneale had tales to tell and was impatient to tell them. Novels took time to compose and the riptide formats that were the radio script and television screenplay were perfect to purpose. Ramsay Campbell was the operational flipside of this, the writing of prose fiction of great satisfaction to him; it was the screenplay format that was too skeletally insufficient and robbed him of opportunities.

Murray does the job, the job that Kneale couldn't be bothered with. He accounts for Kneale's every engagement in the visual media, including the projects that slipped by the wayside or made it no further than treatments or restaurant table conversations. Kneale's limited adventures into short fiction and novelisation are covered, as are the writing careers of his wife and children. A lot is learned about the man and his work, but Into The Unknown is at best the groundwork for a more substantial work. Hopefully, it will come from Murray and he will meet the challenge, though what most might want is the depth of detail found in Andrew Pixley's 48-page fine print viewing notes booklet that accompanied the BBC's Quatermass collection DVD boxset in 2005.

Into The Unknown would stand as a very good introduction to Nigel Kneale were it not for the detracting and distracting botched presentation. The book would have benefited from a detailed filmography and an index. Typos, errors and filler haunt the book, the responsibility of which rests chiefly with Headpress. Murray must certainly have expected that the biography would have been submitted to a good editor, requesting changes or making them for him. Headpress have released two volumes of Creeping Flesh, writings on obscure fantasy and exploitation film and television, in a format that they promoted as a tribute to the era of the British fanzine, but that is looking increasingly more like an excuse in the wake of the appearance of Into The Unknown. The blips range from the simply clumsy to at least one amusing misspelling. Murray recalls how in the 1979 Quatermass the professor is assisted by a the "Jewish Kapp family" which is followed several pages on with Julian Petley's now contradictory statement that the series "was a little to sedate and gentile (sic!)."

The fandom hook may not, in truth, be that far from the mark. The book is cloyingly devotional, not just Murray but from a congregation of talent equally in awe genuflecting at the church of Kneale. Truth is that it is difficult to find complaint in the best-known Kneale scripts. I too am an admirer, particularly impressed with the Quatermass series, both at the BBC and Hammer, the remarkable Beasts and his television adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman In Black. He was a great conceptualist, his dramas populated by characters with real lives and intelligence.

The book, however, back-steps too often to table the views of the celebrity fans. It feels like and is filler. It is not as if Murray is trying to avoid bogging the end of the book down with examples of influence, inspiration and reverence, as the final chapter slips further still into his continuing appeal and effect, with the quote crew brought back for a final jam and Jerusalem. Some of the commentators have something to say, Mark Gattis, Jeremy Dyson and Kim Newman in particular. Much of the fan comment should not be there though, not when there are other interview subjects, people who worked on the television dramas, who could be speaking in their place. This is the story of a scriptwriter; if there is a shortfall of information and your research budget denies you access to archives and people, then - at least - strive to study the scripts. Include portions of the original scripts to the lost television drama, not the irrelevant waffle of others simply because they agreed to pass remarks.

In interviews taken with the author, transcribed from interviews conducted in person, or caught in live appearances or on radio shows, they are taken ad verbatim, making Kneale sound bumbling and boring. Murray has been afraid to waste anything personally or opportunely collated and the effect is quite horrible. As these combined problems worsen towards the end of the book so the lasting impression is worse. It really is a terrible pity as the meat of the book is the chronological relating of a man and his career and it is very informative. Even as a familiar name little or nothing is now known about many of Kneale's television thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s, and the accounts made on The Chopper, The Crunch, The Road, Wine Of India and many others are important.

The portrait of Kneale is a little unflattering. The un-doctored interviews put him as petty and the author is complicit. Murray pays too much attention on making comparisons between Kneale originals and the later filmed works of others, but fudges on possible influences by others to Kneale, outside of a safe nod to M.R. James and H.G. Wells that is, and that conceded by Kneale himself. When Kneale rips into the 1951 film The Thing From Another World, Murray fails to match the coincidences that the earlier film shared with Kneale's Quatermass series, though Murray will later draw on vague comparisons to be made with others on the same quasi-evidential points, in turn negating to mention other clearer influences on those films (for example, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, 1958, is not mentioned as the clear blueprint for Alien, 1979). It leaves the reader thinking that there is a reason for Kneale's animosity to the Christian Nyby/ Howard Hawks sci-fi classic. His denial of the genres for which he is best known and his derision of the fanbase are bravely included, but only add to an apparent unpleasantness which belies the mild-mannered and personable man that he actually was.

For all its faults it is a necessary read until, that is, someone else tackles the subject with more detail. The book is largely factually correct. In fact, I saw only one small blunder, a single misaligned date (today, by comparison, I saw a biography of Mia Farrow by two authors who when covering Blind Terror and The Haunting of Julia, managed an average of 1.4 mistakes per sentence). It is hoped that Murray, the devotee, will be give the opportunity to return to this book, upgrade it, with additional research, detailed filmographies, excluding the unnecessary filler, and resubmitting it to a publisher who will do a professional job with it next time. And I will entrust this review to my editor.
Into the Unknown

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