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Terence Feely Interview

Terence Feely: Script Writing in the Sixties

TV Zone 46 p37-39

"My brain's always been slightly off key; I've always seen things that other people don't see "

So says writer Terence Feely when asked why his work on Fantasy television series has been so successful. Indeed, he has an impressive list of credits in the genre, which include Space: 1999, UFO, The Avengers, The Prisoner, The Protectors and The Saint.

Early Avengers

"I was in at the start of The Avengers with Honor Blackman, Patrick MacNee and Ian Hendry," Feely discloses. "Then we dropped Ian Hendry and left it to Honor and Pat."

The writer worked on the series twice during its first season in 1961. He provided the fourth episode, Nightmare, in which Dr Keel (Hendry) impersonates an eminent scientist, is shot in a kidnap attempt and nearly loses his life on the operating table; and Dragonsfield, in which Steed investigates sabotage at a research centre where scientists are attempting to perfect a radiation shield for space exploration.

"It' s interesting because people talk about the style of the filmed Avengers; those are the ones they remember because they were beautifully produced. However, that style wasn't invented for the film series, but grew out of the original series which was live. "Can you imagine an Avengers being done live? The sets shook, doors didn't open and people tripped over things, and the wise-cracking mode that the film series exploited developed from the awful mistakes and bloopers. If a door wouldn't open, instead of being phased, Pat would do something with his brolly or his bowler hat, or make some fast remark, and Honor would do the same. Writers recognized that talent, and began to write for it. It became a style which was too good to lose, and it was built into their characters that they were flip and quick and smart. Necessity really is the mother of invention. "Pat hasn't had enough recognition for that. He has a beautifully quick mind, The best kind of actor's mind. When you see these bloopers on television now the actors swear, knowing they could go again. On live television you couldn't do that."

Unfortunately, Feely's involvement with The Avengers was rather short lived: "I lost my connection with it after the live ones, as I was doing other things. I was working on Callan, I was story editing Armchair Theatre, and there was only so much I could do."

The Prisoner

With an agenda so full, how then did The writer come to apply his fertile mind to two episodes of the Sixties cult series The Prisoner? "I'd done something with Pat McGoohan, an idea for a movie that never came off, but when The Prisoner started he said 'Look, this is a series where you can do anything you like. I don't know what it's about. The writers will decide what it's about when they start writing'. I said 'Do you mean a kind of surrealistic television where we can get away with anything?' He said 'Yes, I reckon that is what I am talking about.' That interested me because it had never been done."

As a result of that initial conversation, McGoohan sent the series' script editor George Markstein to Terence Feely's house to discuss story submissions. "I hit him with an idea called The Schizoid Man, about a man who was programmed to be another man, and then a second man played him. That was the basic idea and George was instantly intrigued, said it was just the kind of thing they were looking for, and asked me to do it.

"It's one of the very few scripts I've ever done that never went into a second draught; I just wrote it straight off and it didn't need any revision. That was what was nice about The Prisoner, because you didn't have to go into nit-picking justifications. If the thing was exciting and if it worked as television theatre, then you did it."

Later in the series Feely provided a second script, even more bizarre than The first, called The Girl Who was Death. It found Number Six leaving the Village in pursuit of a young woman; by the end of the episode the audience discovers that The whole thing is bedtime story that he is reading to some children. "They had liked my first one so much that Pat asked me to do another from an idea by David Tomblin. David is a marvellous guy he's now the best first assistant director in The world, and is a man Steven Spielberg will not work without. David was co-producer with Pat, and thought that they had been locked into the Village up until that point and it was getting boring. He came up with the idea of Pat suddenly finding himself in Soho, and I developed that.

The Lost Episode

"It worked so well that I remember being on holiday in Cannes, I'd handed the script in, and suddenly Pat and David arrived at the Carlton Hotel and said 'Listen, we want to make this into a feature length 90 minute story, and we think we can get Lew Grade to put up the money, can you extend it by another fifty minutes?' I said 'I think I can' , then spent half my holiday doing that. At the end of the day Lew Grade knocked it on the head and refused to put up the money, so that story is actually an amalgam of two scripts. I'm terribly sorry we never did the 90 minute story; what we got was a kind of compromise between the two scripts. However, it worked perfectly well."

Although Feely did not to write any further instalments for the series, it was not the end of his working relationship with Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin. "After that we formed a company called Everyman Films, which was designed to produce feature movies and we had two, and a commitment from Lew Grade. We had Ibsen's Brandt, with Pat playing the lead. It was in Brandt that Pat has made his name in the West End; he just knocked out London.

"We recced all the locations and were going to shoot it in Norway, but there was one stipulation that Lew would only finance that if we also gave him an action/adventure movie of the kind that Pat is so good at. "David and I wrote a script together, Lew loved it, Pat loved it, and then something went wrong and it never happened. Lew's money was withdrawn, and it's a great shame because I would have loved to have seen Pat' s performance in Brandt preserved on film. It would have been tremendous.

"Pat and I spent an afternoon together about six weeks ago and we talked about this, and we realized it was a big missed opportunity for all of us."

With countless hours of television output to his name, how does Feely apply himself to writing each new project? "You sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper and you make a pact with yourself that you are not going to get up until you've covered one sheet of A4 with words. Those words can be just ideas. You then put it away, you go and play squash or chess or a computer game, and the next day you read that piece of paper and if there' s something on it that is interesting, you isolate it and start working on that and developing it. If there's nothing interesting you scrub it and staff again with another blank sheet of paper. I find that everything I write comes from my subconscious, and once it's come, then I can use craftsmanship to develop it. I know other writers who work quite differently; they take cuttings out of newspapers and keep them in a file, and go back to them. I feel that stories in newspapers seem already spent."

David Richardson

(Next issue, in the second part of the interview, Terence Feely discusses his scripts for UFO and Space: 1999, and recalls the disastrous stage production of The Avengers)

Terence Feely: Script Writing in the Seventies

TV Zone 47 p31-32

We conclude our interview with The prolific scriptwriter.

In 1971 theatre producer John Mather successfully negotiated the rights to develop a stage version of The Avengers, which would star Simon Oates as John Steed and Sue Lloyd as his assistant Hannah Lloyd. Mather promised to 'Blast the British theatre into the Seventies', and approached Brian Clemens and Terence Feely to write the script.

A Disaster

Feely recalls that the show was an unmitigated disaster: "It didn't work because the producer said we could do the effects, and Brian and I suspected he couldn't. But The producer was so plausible and so persuasive that we thought that maybe he could. "He said he was a stage manager twenty years ago, and that modern stage managers didn't know how to do it. We had to make people disappear on stage in front of the audience, and he said he was going to get a real magician in. He said: 'It's done with mirrors'. There is an old Edwardian illusion that can make people disappear, but it's got to be very specially done. We didn't know that, we trusted the guy and it didn't work. In the end the back of a chair was made of slats, and she simply rolled through the back of it. You can't do that, audiences see it happen.

"We also wanted Steed's Bentley. He said 'Oh dear boys, you've got the Bentley'. And when we saw the Bentley it was a cardboard cut-out that was pushed on by two stagehands who just stopped before you see them. It was a mess, and such a shame because it was a great story."

When they came to write the stage play, Feely and Clemens were allowed to let their imaginations run free. "We had a wild story, far wilder than anything that appeared on television, because we said that if we were going to do it for theatre we had to be further out than anything the audience had seen on television otherwise why should they come to the theatre? Despite the show's failure in Britain, there are currently plans for a revival in Europe. "It's going to be done as a musical in Germany. If they get the effects right it will be marvellous. I don't know who is writing the songs or the lyrics as they won't let us near it, and personally I don't want anything to do with it, except for the royalties !"

In 1970 Terence Feely began a successful working relationship with Gerry Anderson, on the live action adventure series UFO. It was a perfect outlet for his talents. "I loved that series," the writer enthuses. "I had a very good agent, and as I was established he put me up for it. My agent rang Gerry and told him I would be good for UFO, and Gerry and I happened to get on very well and I wrote a couple of scripts.

"Would you believe that those scripts are still earning today? It's staggering that every few months money comes in from all over the place, and it must be at least 25 years since I did them." In The Man Who Came Back a space pilot who has been missing for two months returns to Earth, but he is being controlled by the aliens. "That was basically a murder mystery. I remember liking it very much, and Gerry liked it too."

His second script was the bizarre Timelash, in which the aliens manipulate Time. "Everything froze in that episode and I believe that can happen. I believed in the theory of parallel Universes long before the academics were writing about it; it seemed to me perfectly obvious.

"They're now talking in technology terms about feeding five hundred signals down one optical fibre; if you can feed five hundred television signals down one piece of flbre, why the hell shouldn't there be five hundred Universes streaming out along one stretch of space continuum? It sounds like rubbish when you talk about it, but in my head I know that could be true. I'm quite prepared to believe it's happening. "My brain has always worked like this, and I've always thought of Time in a different way, so UFO was just absolute meat and drink to me. I could have gone on writing them until the cows came home. I've had experiences that I don't talk about, and I work them into my scripts."

A Drugs Problem

Timelash was viewed by the television schedulers as too adult, and was generally confined to late night showings. Their concerns derived from Ed Straker's use of drugs to speed up his body' s metabolism; was Feely apprehensive about using drugs as a theme in his script? "It was written during the drugs culture, but they were there purely as a story device. They were not important to that story; what was important was Time could be manipulated so that when the hero is trying to nail the villain, one second he's in one place, then he' s in another, then another. I've never taken drugs, and I'm very anti-drugs. I didn't realize I was so subversive!"

It was on the strength of his two UFO scripts that Terence Feely was invited to write for the second series of Space: 1999. "Inevitably you form a relationship with somebody who likes what you do; when Gerry did Space: 1999 it was natural that he should call me and say 'Listen, I'm doing this thing, are you interested?' It was as simple as that just one phone call. He brought over [Producer] Freddie Freiberger, who I got on with like a house on fire, he was a lovely guy a real old frazzled-up Hollywood pro. There was nothing he hadn't seen, nothing he hadn't heard, no joke you could tell him that he couldn't give you the punchline to. I adored old Freddie."

God and Globs

"I had a very good experience with the first one [New Adam, New Eve], where God appeared in the sky, but he was a phoney who relied on some kind of nuclear power to produce his effects. I loved that idea." Later he would contribute The Bringers of Wonder, in which friends from Earth on Moonbase but are revealed to be hideous aliens who are controlling the Alphans' minds. It was to be the only two-part story in the series' run. "That second one we called 'The Globs'. They got the script and liked it so much they decided to make a feature length story, and asked me to double the length of it. I thought: 'I've been here before', but I did it, and they loved it.' Was he given a brief to write the show for an American audience? "No. Freddie said very early on, after the first draught of the first episode, 'You could write for any American show. You would have Network Credibility'. Terrible phrase! I didn't write it for the Americans, I don't think that is possible, you can only write the way that you can write. I happen to be a naturally commercial writer, which is what they like in the States.

"In a two-hour show you have to cater for seven breaks. All that does is test your craftsmanship; instead of two cliffhangers you've got to provide seven, and that's not a bad thing for a show anyway. Even if you're writing for the BBC, with no breaks, ifs a very good exercise to imagine that you-re writing it for American television and finding seven cliffhangers. A two hour show that takes itself at a leisurely pace is the one that goes down the tube; you've got to keep people interested.

"I'm glad I wrote so much for American television because it's helped my craft."

David Richardson