As part of the British Writer’s event at Manchester’s HOME cinema, Salford University lecturers Andy Willis and Andy Murray have hosted talks on the works of the late Nigel Kneale as well shown screenings of some of his most recognisable projects.
Many a prolific screenwriter has called the north of England their home over the years. From It’s A Sin’s Russell T Davies to The Royle Family’s Caroline Aherne, it is safe to say that some of the most well-known and much-loved television staples have come from the minds of great northern-based writers.
But, one name that might not be known to you is Nigel Kneale – the writer hailed by Sherlock‘s Mark Gatiss as being “the man who invented popular television”.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness in 1922, Kneale’s career of fifty years saw him doing everything; from causing controversy (and an alleged death) with his radical television adaptation of the George Orwell classic 1984, to clashing with Hollywood big-wigs over the treatment of his script for the third entry in the Halloween franchise.
However, it was his extremely popular BBC Quatermass serials that made him a household name during the 1950s and had kids cowering behind sofa’s long before a certain Timelord in a blue phonebox arrived on our screens.
But Kneale’s work is far more extensive and his impact on modern-day film and television writing is much larger than you may think and that is the message Salford University’s Andy Willis and Andy Murray are hoping to get across with the British Writers/Nigel Kneale: Into the Unknown event held at Manchester’s contemporary arts space, HOME.
The two Salford lecturers, who also work within HOME, have curated a month-long event celebrating the long legacy and work of Nigel Kneale. So far film fans have been treated to lectures and talks from Andy Murray and comic-actor Toby Hadoke who have discussed in-depth the life and works of Kneale, alongside screenings of some of his most well-known projects, including the infamous Quatermass.
Film Journalism lecturer Andy Murray (who also wrote Kneale’s biography Into the Unknown) explained that by today’s standards Kneale would be regarded as a science-fiction writer, but despite many of his works being within the realms of sci-fi, Kneale himself was not actually that much of a fan of the genre as a whole, he said:
“(Kneale) tends to get recognised as a genre writer, maybe as a sort of culty genre writer.”
“To say that he worked in sort of science-fiction and horror, he didn’t actually like a lot of science-fiction and horror. He was quite disparaging about a lot of it and I think that’s what makes him so interesting, he’s someone who comes to that with a view of “I don’t want to do it that way.””
Andy Willis, Film Studies Professor, stated that the work of Kneale means so much to him because his work is one of the earliest examples of a niche genre getting any serious recognition and being taken seriously, he said:
“What’s significant about Nigel Kneale is that his work is some of the earliest work in genre, recognisable genre’s, that are taken seriously… people would write about him in the way that they (would) write about other pieces of art.”
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He went on to say that Kneale’s work was groundbreaking, not only in terms of its content but in how it opened doors for others writing for popular television who were wanting to have their work taken seriously.
“That’s often overlooked… that part of the legacy of Nigel Kneale is not just his influence on other practitioners… but also, I think, his work from the outset has generated debate and discussion about the role of television, the role of popular types of television.”
“I think you can see, almost, the history of certainly television studies unfolding in the UK, from someone like Nigel Kneale.”
As well as this he said, during the planning of the event, the two lecturers found that a lot of aspects within screenwriting that Kneale is responsible for are taught in film studies departments across the UK, but are not attributed to him.
“In a sense, a lot of the work he produced is taught, but not taught in a sense that it is was an aspect that Nigel Kneale greatly contributed to.”
It was this factor that played into the curation of this particular British Writers season at HOME, and the choosing of Kneale as the subject. Both Murray and Willis expressed that they did not want to focus on the more popular pieces written by Kneale.
They instead wanted to celebrate his wide and varied career by looking at his adaptation work, both of previously written stageplays along with the adaptations of his own works for different mediums. And with a slot to fill for the upcoming January writers season, the perfect opportunity presented itself to celebrate Kneale’s legacy in conjunction with his centenary year.
Murray explained that Kneale’s work had a huge impact not only on his own life but it also greatly influenced the projects of some of Hollywoods most celebrated directors, including John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro and Edgar Wright to name a few.
“His influence is still there, people are still talking about his work, people are still citing his work.”
“The number of times I see a film or tv show and I think “these people either know Nigel Kneale’s work or they know someone’s work who knows Nigel Kneale” – and you see these tendrils reaching out and it’s still totally there.”
It is clear that Willis and Murray have put in a lot of time and passion into this Januarys writers season, not only as fans of Kneale’s work and his contributions to screenwriting but as fans of British cinema with a deep understanding of how vital a part Kneale played in its direction and how he impacted modern-day genre writing.
Fans of Kneale have also been told to watch out for more events at HOME celebrating him as we get closer to his 100th birthday on April 18th.
British Writers/Nigel Kneale: Into the Unknown will conclude on Tuesday 25th January at HOME with a screening of one of Kneale’s most beloved contributions, Quatermass and the Pit. For more information on the event itself and any further events, click here.