The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Johnny Byrne

Working on Space: 1999

In 1970, the BBC asked me to do a Play For Today called "Season Of The Witch" and as a result of that producer Harry Salzman asked me to write and rewrite some scripts for him. Christopher Penfold then fetched me up to Gerry Anderson's place to talk about a planned second season of UFO which eventually turned into Space: 1999. I think Lew Grade, who was the big money man, would have gone to the next stage of UFO but he really wanted something that was going to have all the bells and whistles of a big international hit.

At first, I was brought in to do a rescue job on the second episode, The Siren Planet, in double quick time. I think I had about ten days to get something workable, I had to totally re-do it and in the end it was a different script to the one that Art Wallace had submitted long before the series became a reality. Since his work had been the originating source, I thought it was only fair to share the credit on Matter Of Life And Death.

Gerry and Sylvia offered me a job as the series script editor, largely I think to keep me writing for the show, although I did do some script editing functions. I did a lot of work with Gerry. He was excellent for a writer because he had a strong sense of story and trusted his instinct enormously. He was highly creative and could make those leaps of imagination, which is very rare in a producer.

I wasn't responsible for commissioning the writers - that was Chris' job - but I would consider and estimate the stories that were coming in. It wasn't an easy series to work on and at the rate we were getting through personnel I was amazed that any remained at the end of the first season. After the hiatus between seasons one and two I was the only survivor. I was somewhere in one of the back offices of another building so they couldn't really get at me!

The Mysterious Unknown Force

To my knowledge, the MUF element was never discussed or consciously developed in the sense that we've now come to understand it. As I mentioned earlier, the emphasis was on producing completely stand alone stories - the reason being commercial not creative. The operative word above is 'consciously'. As the stories began to explore the implications of what had happened to the Alphans, and the truly awesome nature of their plight, we, the writers, started to follow where it took us, one of the advantages of a format not unchallengeably carved in stone.

The sense that something greater than the sum of the events we were recording seems to have taken hold of us early on. It showed itself most clearly in those episodes where the MUF is presumed to be present, and looking back, it was also there in many others. But is was never the result of any form of preplanning. It seems to have been working itself out below the level of conscious intent.

Testament Of Arkadia was written completely blind to the knowledge that it was closing this kind of loop. All the more remarkable when you consider that it was never planned to be anything other than a stand alone Ep. It raises the interesting thought of how Space might have developed if this element had been preplanned. Speaking personally, I'm glad it wasn't. The fact that it revealed itself the way it did says far more about the series and its potential than a possibly mechanistic application of predigested muffery. In time, I'm sure it would have come together in a way understandable to the Alphans, but that's another story...

Celtic Myth

The themes underpinning many of them were universal, a reflection of the epic, if not mythic possibilities of the S99 I was writing for. I did speculate, for instance, on how Alphans thousands of years on might view themselves, what their origin legends might be and who would shape up as their epic/mythic heroes and villains. As for Testament, the origin legend of Adam and Eve, is perhaps one of the most universal legends still extant. A bit like Noah and his Ark, where apparently it features in the legends of some 500 different cultures.

I'm sure the spark for the stories concerning time are rooted in my Irish background, and the pervasive long lived effects of Celtic myth and legend in Ireland. Their strong hold on the imagination of the ancient pagan Gaels was already firmly in place long before the island was formally christianised in the early 5th century. It survived virtually intact until the end of the 17th century, and thereafter externally in fragmented form, and internally in the minds of our people until the present time.

Many of the surviving ancient tales deal with the manipulation of time - stories where a hero spend a day in the Otherworld and returns to discover that a century has passed, and vice versa. Timeless and eternity were qualities fundamental to the Irish conception of their spiritual cosmos. An example of how persistent these myths are can be found in the tales which relate to the truly astonishing Neolithic mounds in the Boyne valley, especially Dowth and Newgrange. No one is quite sure who built them, but the decoration is undoubtedly Celtic in origin. These mounds were apparently sealed shortly after they were built, circa 2000 BC, and contain no material remains of the Beaker people who occupied the site centuries later. They were only rediscovered around the end of the 17th century.

The Gaels, the last of the Celtic invaders, and from whom the modern Irish are descended, are thought to have arrived in Ireland circa 800/600 BC. Yet their oral myths which were later written up in early Christian times abound with references to the godlike like who resided inside these mounds. Most of the stories concern the manipulation of time, where a night could last for something like nine months - the time it took to conceive and give birth to a divine offspring. Bear in mind that these Celtic Gaels could have had no idea of what was inside the mounds. All the stranger then that when after they were opened up, it was discovered that an aperture was aligned to allow the entry of sunlight once every nine months - control of the rising and setting of the sun being at the heart of their manipulation of time.

As kids growing up, we knew endless places, churches, rocks, wells, where legend had it that walking around them anti-clockwise for a certain number of times, could result in meeting yourself, or even something nastier!

Revisions

On Space [the input of producer, director, cast, production, sfx] could be quite extensive. But in general, in my case, they never seriously affected what had been created in isolation.

On MOLD, Charles Crichton took me through an exhaustive process of detailed revision. But since it was my first script, and Charles was a film legend, the experience was a crash course in the art and craft of film-making. David Tomblin and Ray Austin were less demanding in detail, but almost inspirational in making a script work. That perhaps explains why the work I did with them on TS and FOL was so effective - where so much of the power of the stories was communicated visually. Writing in isolation the tendency is to over explain, say it when it can best be communicated by showing it.

With the exception of TS, Gerry was always deeply involved in the rewriting process, sometimes with Chris, sometimes alone. It was at this point that trade-offs would occur on line changes and story points. Some lines got through which I would not have chosen, one such being the end of FOL about it being 'the birth of a star, perhaps.' Other changes would occur when the cast became involved. Sometimes I would be present to deal with these, most often it was Chris, who was also responsible for putting the final draft into shooting script. And sometimes, changes would occur on the floor during shooting, at which time I or Chris would be called over to write amendments. I sometimes did this on other scripts, since the writers were now part of the working unit at Pinewood. One major post production event was the reshooting of parts of the story starring Caroline Mortimer. Editing machines had to be set up and complex moments rewritten and shot to fit in with the existing material. Dave Lane directed these reshoots.

The only time I was not allowed to revise, refine and develop what I had originally conceived happened when Freddie arrived. I had written the scripts before the changes and without the presence of Maya and Tony, and major rewrites were only to be expected. But unlike what had gone before, Fred wanted his episodes and the writer seemed to become a means to this end. It didn't surprise me when very much later I learned that he had been contributing scripts anonymously to the show. In some ways, I think Fred would have been only truly content if it had been possible for him to write the lot.

Fred Freiberger

My differences with him were entirely creative. We both had a different vision of how Space 199 should evolve, and Fred's was no less valid than mine. That being said, prior to his engagement, I had been informally offered the position Chris had previously occupied. Fred's appointment need not necessarily have made it redundant, but is was never formalised. I was more than happy to work with him, but it soon became obvious to me that we would always be pulling in different directions, so I never pursued it -always accepting that Fred would have wanted me around in the first place. Many of Fred's changes were indeed positive and I've spelled some of them out in interviews. But as time went on, it became very clear that we were never going to reconcile our fundamental differences about the kind of show we were making. They're were no stand up rows about this, but it was glaringly obvious in the script discussions we'd have. In the second season, my commitment was to provide 3 scripts. This I honoured and had no desire to extend for Y2. While I have said that Fred may have been writing a different show to me, I still saw Y2 as fundamentally S99. It was always possible that somewhere along the way Y1 and Y2 would eventually merge into something greater than the sum of their individual seasons. parts. Had there been a Y3, I would have been more than willing to consider if I could make a contribution - under Fred or anyone else. But had it not, I would have done exactly the same.

I may not have agreed with Fred about the creative direction of S99, but he was in the driving seat carrying the load, and at the time he had every right to pursue his vision of Space. At no time was there resentment or acrimony between us, and I always enjoyed his company. I consider Fred Freiburger a friend and as I've said before I found him to be a loyal and generous man. I still have the warmest feelings for him and respect for his achievements, even where the creative work was not to my personal liking. I'm sure Fred is the kind of man who would never allow creative differences of this kind shapeup as a attack on him personally. If it were not the case, I would never have spoken as honestly as I have -his feelings and dignity mean more to me than any clarity I can bring to Y2 discussions. Nor would I view his criticisms of my work and the direction I hoped to take S99 as personal. What I'm saying here, I've always said and believed. Hopefully this message will also get to Fred, with whom I hope to meet one day and renew our friendship.

Writing Year Two

[At the end of Year One] I was asked to prepare and do a whole breakdown of the twenty-four episodes of the first season and give them all a rating from five stars to no stars. I was very hard, even on myself. Then I was offered the job of preparing the new season. At the end of the first season, Gerry and Sylvia had parted and it was a very traumatic business. The series became very different in the second year, obviously. I didn't wish to be story editor as I felt my life would have become impossible working next to Freddie Freiberger - as much as I liked him as a person.

I told them I didn't want to be story editor and said I would write just three stories for the next season, the first ofwhich was called The Biological Soul and was roughly what later became The Metamorph except that there was no Maya in it. I had reservations about Maya, because I thought she was making it all too easy. If you have characters who are virtually invulnerable you lose out in terms of drama. You need your people to be in jeopardy and if she can turn into a beetle and crawl under a force field, that eliminates a lot of the difficulties.

The second script I wrote for the second series was The Face Of Eden which eventually became The Immunity Syndrome, and the third was The Last Of The Psychons which was made as The Dorcons. But I also did a story called Children Of The Gods which I wrote before Freddie arrived. I think this was probably the best script I wrote but it harked back to the first series and it was junked. Freddie didn't like it but Gerry said it was the best script he'd ever read,

I rewrote Metamorph while still in place at Pinewood. Immunity was half and half, with me living in the country part of the time. Both of these were written early on, while Fred was getting into his stride. I was not consulted at any stage on the stories or writers who were being commissioned to write the rest of the Y2 scripts. The Dorcons was written, after an interval in which I moved home, towards the end of the series.

It's hard to seperate retrospective wisdom now from how I felt S99 should develop then. But I always believed that Y1 was a testing of the waters for the overall concept, with a result that demonstrated it could intrigue, mystify and entertain. A direct follow on Y2 would have been based on the enhanced awareness of the Alphans to their situation, leading to a greater ability to cope with it, not least philosophically, metaphysically and spiritually. It would also have shown in part a coming to terms with the knowledge that something greater than the random forces of space and time - the MUF, if you like - was an active player in their destiny. If one accepted the epic/mythic potential of the series, which I always did, then the Alphans were in the process of not just surviving and questing for a new home, but also creating their own origin legend.

That being said, in some ways Fred returned the show to the basic mechanistic format concept of the moon blown out of orbit by purely random natural forces. It was the writers of Y1, initially Chris and myself, then others, who read into it the metaphysical and philosophical implications for the Alphans, an Earth in miniature, suddenly and catastrophically plunged down the snake to square one. I'm not sure Fred grasped this aspect of S99 and its potential to lend enduring context to stories that would otherwise feature as 'what you see is all you get.'

And to be fair to Fred, words like metaphysics and philosophy in the context of a show written for a mass audience, send all the wrong signals to those paying the piper. They conjure up images of talking heads and static cameras - something he had been brought in to eliminate. I still believe that Fred's changes and priorities could have been reconciled with the S99 we had established in Y1. This might have been easier had he arrived at the end of a Y2, but coming when he did, along with the abruptness and totality of the changes, left both seasons floundering, I feel.

This thought may also be at the heart of the doubt I have about Maya. Contact with aliens had occurred in Y1, but always from the viewpoint of Earth people who'd view them as strange and incomprehensible as the rest of phenomena they encountered in their journey. Now suddenly we have an alien as part of the community, one whose differences were rarely if ever examined in any serious way. Sure, she could change shape, but in all other respects she was one of the gang, right down to her affair with Tony.

Nothing wrong with that in principle, but it arguably shifted our perceptions of the Alphans. Metamorphosis not only applied to Maya. Overnight it also transposed the Alphans from Earth people into Space people, a community to whom the limitations of present time was intrinsic to the concept, to one reflecting a community set in future time. My feeling is that, great character though she was, Maya's insertion into Moonbase Alpha at the time it happened, might have been premature.

Freddie's priority was to make it more American, more pacey. He kept saying, "Above all, it needs more humour," but what that reduced itself to was a crass line at the end of a scene with fixed smiles coming on the faces of the unfortunates who had to endure it on the screen. The characters became a bit too knowing, they understood too much; they were up against the odds but they were there to kick ass. Nonetheless, we had a very fine cast, we had the best technical people working with us and I don't think that there will ever be another series like it. No one could afford the money it cost to do it!

Stars and characters

They brought in some very expensive people from America and you had this pecking order - there pretty much had to be 80% of episode with John Koenig on screen and this quickly became an unofficial bible. You had an expensive star there and he had a function, but in trying to keep to those artificial restraints Commander Koenig was frequently trying to do the sort of things that he had no business doing. If there was a dangerous mission to be flown in an Eagle, he would insist on doing it whereas Alan Carter couldn't.

Barbara was different off camera - witty, great sense of fun, incredibly kind and caring... Martin and Barbara were highly intelligent, invariably courteous to all and generous to a fault. They were a joy to work with.

[on Bergman] There were times when his human weakness, or scientific hubris could have been explored. One such example in my own work are the human/philosophical implications of the scientific means he devised to exorcise the para-normal Mateo in Troubled Spirit. I'm sure there are others. In general though, Bergman combined something of the scientist, philosopher, mystic, a steady presence and essential counterweight to the more visceral, upfront principled Koenig. In time, I think this aspect of his presence on Alpha might have taken on greater significance. He could have proved to be the human personification of the MUF driving the Alphans spiritual odyssey.

Names

In S99, many of the major and minor names I used were drawn from people I knew. Regina (pro; Reh-geen-a) is the name of Thom Keyes; German wife. A bunch of us, including Thom and Regina, were living together first in London, then in the country where we shared a large rented house owned by one of the Bloomsbury writers. We were still living together at the time I joined Space. Zoref is the name of a late sixties friend. He and his friend, Christian Marquand, the actor, spent time in London. Thom had met them in Hollywood, along with Roger Vadim, after whom Regina named her cat. If anyone has seen the fun, but disastrous film version of Terry Southern's comic sex epic, Candy, you'll see Thom Keyes make a brief appearance in a long tan leather overcoat. Christian had been setting this film up in London, and Brando appeared in it because he and Christian were friends from way back - Brando named one of his sons after Christian.

Other names I used like Abrams and Haines were all people I know/knew - I think Jim, an American who helped establish the Traverse Theatre in '60's Edinburgh and later the Arts Lab in London, might be a Sorbonne professor these days. My friend Steve Abrams, also an American, was one of the first western students to study paranormal sciences in the Soviet Union - we met him when he took up a Fellowship at Oxford Univ. His skills would come in very useful sometimes - once he hypnotised Thom, a dedicated enemy of exercise, to walk four miles to get cigarettes from a machine in the centre of Oxford. Steve also organised the infamous pro pot ad. in The Times, signed by Lennon and many others. Even more interesting was the very long correspondence he'd conducted with Jung at age seventeen - Jung stated that Steve was the only one who understood his theories on Synchronicity. Mark/Dominix are the name of my nephews and so on...

Dragon's Domain

I was very impressed by DD, particularly the means by which Chris unfolded the story. It added an epic dimension to a tale that is in itself epic in origin - notably in the Beowulf legend. As for using the Octopus monster as a dog toilet - the prop had ended up on the back lot. I often took my two lurcher hounds to Pinewood and exercised them off the lead on the extensive back lot. One was a male hound. As such any standing object was sprayed, not as a sign of his master's disapproval of a particular episode, because he was marking out his territory. Gerry's Roller was also another favourite target of his - but don't tell him that.:)

[On revisions after Penfold left] . I'm sure it was down to Chris and Charles - with input from all the usual suspects.

Episodes

Comments by Johnny Byrne, abridged from online comments, an interview with Tim Mallett and Glenn Pearce and a 1982 interview with Carsten Andresen.


Copyright Martin Willey