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Michael J Bird's Contribution to
Screencap from titles Screencap from titles
Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense
20th Century Fox Film Corporation and Hammer Film Productions Limited
13 x 70+ minutes / 1983/84 colour
Executive Producer: Brian Lawrence
Producer: Roy Skeggs
Executive Story Editor: Don Houghton
Story Editor: John Peacock
TV Times listing

TV Times listing
Writer: Michael J Bird
Director: Val Guest

Sylvia Daly: Carol Lynley.
Frank Daly: Christopher Cazenove.
Donald Prentice: Bernard Kay.
Jessica: Vivienne Burgess.
Betty Mervyn: Judy Loe.
Jack Mervyn: David Healey.
Paranormal Research Scientist: Brendan Price.
Policeman: Peter Bland.
Director: Hugh Sullivan.
Woman Downstairs: Marianne Stone.
Maitre D': Anthony Morton.
Estate Agent: John D Collins.
Hotel Manager: Carl Rigg.
Removal Man: David Auker.
Daughter: Sarah Porter.
Hotel Receptionist: Donna Scarf.

Stills courtesy of Werner Schmitz keeper of the excellent
Mediagems website

Still from the episode Still from the episode


Selection of screenshots

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The Hammer House of Horror TV anthology series in the early 1980s, credited with saving the ailing film company, had been a joint venture with Lew Grade's ITC. Keen to capitalise on its success, in 1983 Hammer's Brian Lawrence and Roy Skeggs struck a deal with Twentieth Century Fox to produce a second anthology series Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.

Fox insisted that none of the scripts be too explicit, placing the emphasis on the 'Mystery and Suspense'. "We had to give them all the Hammer content minus the blood and gore," said Roy Skeggs, "as near Hammer as possible without going all the way."

Story editor Don Houghton invited submissions and received over 250. Mindful of the need to satisfy Fox's producer, Ruth Slawson, as well as the Hammer hierarchy, Houghton opted for writers with a proven track record. Michael Bird had contributed to the previous Fox / Hammer television co-production Journey to the Unknown so he was an obvious choice. Bird provided a CV to Hammer's Press Officer in which he played up the supernatural tales he had scripted.
Download a copy of the CV and accompanying letter in a PDF* file.

At the time, Bird would have been busy writing Maelstrom but presumably he did not find the Hammer commission too onerous since all he appears to have done is re-title a twelve year old script "The Uninvited" from the BBC's Out of the Unknown series. He did not even bother to change the names of half the characters and, with the exception of the first fifteen minutes, the dialogue of "In Possession" is virtually identical. (Maybe Bird knew that the BBC had wiped his earlier story and saw it as a second chance to have his tale preserved for posterity. It was after all a cracking good yarn.)
Download a copy of the story outline for "In Possession" in a PDF* file.

The new introduction was almost certainly written by Don Houghton. Fox had decided to screen the series in the US under the title "Fox Mystery Theatre" and shortly before filming was due to start they told Hammer that 50 minutes was too short for the US network's TV movie slot. Each episode would have to be re-written adding approximately 20-25 minutes to its running time.

The additions to "In Possession" consist almost entirley of the first 15 minutes or so, before the action settles on the haunted apartment. On reflection, the new scenes make little sense, and towards the end of the tale - when the protagonists' world appears to be falling apart - the climactic race through the apartment was also padded in a way that serves only to lessen the tension and reduce it to near farce. These scenes were scripted by Bird early in January 1984 (after filming had started).
Download a copy of the additional script in a PDF* file.

Carol Lynley's stunning good looks

Filming began on 28 December 1983 in West London under veteran director Val Guest. Bird had written to Guest on 3 December with an outline of how he visualised the Daly's flat. Download a copy of the (brief) letter in a PDF* file.

As with Journey to the Unknown Fox insisted on a US guest star each episode to identify with the folks back home. Ironically Christopher Cazenove was soon to become well known in the US from his stint on Dynasty. For "In Possession" the "token" American was Carol Lynley in the female lead. In her youth Lynley's stunning good looks and air of innocence may have been enough to carry her through, but now in her forties, and starting to fade, her peformance is wooden DVD Release and she appears ill at ease. She had also served as the "token" American in an episode of Journey to the Unknown. In that story, called 'Eve', she starred alongside a very young Dennis Waterman and less was demanded of her acting skills since she played the part of a shop window dummy.

Unfortunately the ITV network appears not to have got the message about toning down the gore. They seemed almost embarrassed Opens a blank mail message to enable you to e-mail for details by the series and it was tucked away in the schedules into the wee small hours. Bird's segment was screened (at least in the UK's Granada ITV region) shortly after midnight on 4 January 1985.

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35mm colour transparency

Early in 2009 a guy in the Netherlands was selling on e-Bay items he said came ...

35mm colour transparency 35mm colour transparency

" ... from the files of a journalist who began covering Hollywood in 1945. The sources were many and varied - studios, networks, production companies, agencies, his own photographers and sometimes himself - and were used to illustrate his articles. These have just lately been rescued from badly deteriorating plastic sleeves and placed in archival quality poly. Original captions, photographer’s credits & production numbers still existing have been preserved, and are either attached to the outside of the archival poly or are tucked inside. In most cases, the quality is excellent with surprisingly minimal colour shift."

In amongst them were a couple of mounted 35mm colour transparencies from IN POSSESSION. I couldn't resist bidding and subsequently won them. They are original Twentieth Century Fox publicity stills. I can't display them to advantage here on the website, of course, though as you can see above they scan well enough, but they are a nice little momento.

He was also selling this booklet containing the storylines of all the episodes from the series. The title on the cover page reads FOX MYSTERY THEATRE -- the title for the US broadcast. Scans two, three and four are the first three pages inside the booklet which cover Bird's contribution.

For the technically minded, there are 34 pages inside two red covers, all the inside pages are printed on one side only and are standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper while the two red cover pages are the same size but slightly stiffer cardstock and the two fasteners are fairly typical brass-colored dealie-boos.

Fans of the series may be interested in the entire 34 page booklet covering all the episodes. Use the link below ...

Michael J Bird Tribute Website

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