Sunday, 27 April 2014

Richard Rohmer’s Triad begins:

“In this sequel to Periscope Red, I have elected to use sections of the closing pages of that book.  I have done so instead of attempting to condense and summarize because so much of the flow and facts of the critical, key events would be lost…”

… and what the hell, it’s already typed and everything, and I’m late to get a medal from somebody.

In that spirit, Brian and Stan, I’m moving a couple of our private emails to this forum.

To: Brian; Stan
From: CK
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2014 23:04:13 -0400

Did you know (I only learned from the new People magazine) that Benedict Cumberbatch's mother was on UFO?  Also that every episode of UFO is on YouTube?  Also that they're awful?

(Brian, don't go to the IMDB page on UFO, it objects to the Dinky version of the Interceptors being green.)

I've watched a couple of episodes and they're almost Rohmer-like in their total lack of humanity or drama.  They're more like those videos of construction sites for babies.  Starker hears the UFOs may be up to something.  (Women in purple wigs say "condition yellow repeat condition yellow" while tapes spin in computers.)  He has a meeting about it.  Decides to build something.  They build it.  It shoots at the UFOs.  The end. 

I confound you to watch one.

And I won't tell you which episodes contain Kronstein.

To: CK, Brian
From: Stan
Date: Sun, Apr 27, 2014 8:54 AM

Kronstein? Really? Now I'm intrigued.

The first thing I ever read about Benedict Cumberbatch said his parents were actors but I didn't recognize their names. 

I think at the time people were so happy there was a science fiction TV show named UFO that they would forgive anything.

Now you've got me imagining what a Rohmer science fiction novel would be like...
To: CK, Stan
From: Brian
Date: Sun, Apr 27, 2014 7:50 am

The thing with UFO is like so much of the television we saw as kids. It was on once - then never again. All we were left with were memories of Straker's car, SHADO's armoured vehicles and (mostly) those sexy moon women. 

(I remembered the Interceptors as white, but accepted that there might be variations.)

Really, it was all about imagining yourself in that future world - one in which you got to jump down a slide on the moon. Did we play attention to the plot? I think Stan is right that we were thrilled by the simple fact that there was a science fiction show on TV.

It's like Logan's Run. Fantastic at age 13… and at seventeen, 'cause it never played on TV and all you could remember was Jenny Agutter's legs and how much you loved it back then. The romance of dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse was to come. The horror of same was very far off.

YouTube follows Beta, VHS and DVDs in spoiling everything. 

I don't dare watch Night Stalker.  

Rohmer as science fiction author? Starmaggedon, perhaps?

Here’s the thing that we didn’t understand about shows like UFO when we were children: They weren’t telling the best stories they could tell; they were telling the best stories they could tell for the money.  (There are lots of other reasons old TV shows are slow: They were written so they could be followed by all kinds of people, some of them vacuuming.  Unlike today’s quality television, which is written like every hidden Easter egg and background reference to Thundercats is going to be on the goddamn test.)  The opening credits of each episode of UFO run almost two minutes.  Because they look great and sound great, and because that’s two minutes the producers don’t have to fill that week.

“I have done so instead of attempting to condense and summarize because so much of the flow and facts of the critical, key events would be lost…”

Thus the free market becomes an experiment in figuring out how little the consumer will accept.

Brian, I was thinking about this in re the new book on The Dusty Bookcase, Too Many Women.  Why is the copy on the back cover selling a book that has nothing at all to do with the book inside?  It wouldn’t cost more to write that other book.  But is the problem that writers wanted to write one book – a boring one about a writer who almost has an affair – and publishers and readers wanted to read a different book – man shoots tramp?  And the economic trap was that writers would write the first book for less money than the second?  Because they enjoyed writing it?

You see what I mean?  The customer will pay X for book Y, but the only book an author will write for that kind of money is Z. 

The first mismatch comes from poverty – the UFO viewer wants an hour of explosions but Gerry Anderson can only afford three per episode – the second mismatch comes from stubbornness – the author of Too Many Women imagines the reader gives a shit about the time he almost got laid.  By a woman who wasn’t even armed.

This problem solves itself with fan fiction.  Where the internet lets authors write genre fiction for free.  Because the free market works!

I’d be really interested to know what Rohmer thought he was doing in 1981.  How were sales?

About Kronstein: Stan, in UFO, Vladek Sheybel plays Dr. Doug Jackson.  One of the greatest names for a character ever.  (3 AM in the writers room: "What do you want to call the doctor?" "I don't have a shit.  Call him Doug Jackson for all I care."  And then cast a Polish guy who looks like Goebbels.)  Other Bond actors standing around in UFO like they're waiting for a bus: Lois Maxwell, Steven Berkoff, Tracy Reed (Miss Foreign Affairs!) and Shane Rimmer.

About Jenny Agutter:  Brian, you’ll be delighted, as I was, to see Jenny Agutter for five (inexplicable) seconds in The Avengers and for 30 (pivotal) seconds in Captain America: Winter Soldier.  A subtle piece of casting that takes two years to pay off.  I can say no more.

Easter eggs! Yay!


  1. There should be some sort of indication of where Brian's funny email ends and my overthinking of UFO begins. It's after "Starmaggedon, perhaps." Suddenly it's all clear.

    1. Some good soul has provided a break between.

      "Well, I guess we could all do with a bit of action."

  2. And that's THE PILOT. That's the wall-to-wall action episode where they kick out the jams.

    I never realized until watching a couple this week, that the gag is Battle of Britain in Space. The pilots scrambling to their fighters; the women pushing the markers around on the big map. This premise falls apart when all they can afford is one UFO a week. Makes them less like The Few and more like border guards at a not-very-busy crossing.

  3. You're right, of course, they were telling the best stories they could tell. And we never noticed that the UFO blown up in the first scene was the same that was blown up two episodes ago because, again, we only got to see it once.

    Odd to think that opening credits no longer open a show. Imagine a whole scene played out in the WJM newsroom - then eight seconds in which Mary throws her hat in the air - and we're back with scene two.

    Too Many Women was put out there by News Stand Library, which would publish anything. Bash out a book in ten days, as Hugh Garner did with Waste No Tears , and get paid $400 ($4,125 today). In some cases, it just wasn't spicy enough, so you'd only focus on the good stuff. The cover of Too Many Women has a woman pointing a gun at a man, which lasts all of a paragraph or two and is entirely inconsequential to the plot. It's just like old TV promos. Sure, UFO had explosions and The Rockford Files had car chases, but there was a lot less exciting stuff in-between.

    I have more to say, but I'm off to rent The Avengers.