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Michael J Bird's Contribution to
Out of the Unknown

Out of the Unknown

4 Series making up 49 (60 minute) episodes 1965-71.
Producer (1971) Alan Bromly
Script editor Roger Parkes

Michael J Bird had two stories produced in the fourth series.

Cover of Mark Ward's book

With Acknowledgement to

Out of the Unknown Episode Guide / Archive


and Mark Ward's excellent

OUT OF THE UNKNOWN SERIES GUIDE

published by Kaleidoscope

Thanks also to Colin Cutler


Screencap from the series' opening credits In the early 1970s the BBC's prestigious anthology series Out of the Unknown took a change in direction. Previously the series had been heavily sci-fi orientated and had attracted quite a following.. However at the end of the sixties producer Alan Bromly reasoned that for viewers who had witnessed actual moon landings and the near fatal Apollo 13 disaster "just setting a story somewhere in space is not the automatic thrill it once was." Bromly chose instead to shift the style of the series towards what he termed "plays of psychological suspense" with a heavy supernatural bias.

In January 1970 the production team began the search for suitable scripts for a fourth, and final, series. Though a relative newcomer to BBC drama, Bird's work on Journey to the Unknown must have stood him in good stead and he submitted several story outlines. "The Intrusion" concerned a young newly married couple who buy an old rectory which turns out to be haunted. It ultimately became "To Lay A Ghost". Another, called "Rampage", told of the crew of a helicopter forced to land in the grounds of a remote private clinic where the lunatics have literally taken over the asylum. The crew release two attractive young women locked in a room believing them to be members of staff - but there are some who are far too dangerous for even their fellow patients to consider allowing them to run free!

The record shows that in June 1970 Bird was commissioned to write a story called "Natural Break". Nothing more is known about it, but by the end of September he was completing "To Lay A Ghost", for which he received £650. (Around £5,000 at today's prices measured against the retail price index.)

The original storyline for Bird's later contribution, "The Uninvited", was briefed in February 1971, just a couple of months before the fourth series began transmission. At this stage it was entitled "The Vision", and described as "A woman has a terrifying experience anticipating the future".

A full scale script was then commissioned (then entitled "The Trunk") by which stage it was clear it would feature a "suburban couple". The script was accepted the following month (10th March) by which stage it was entitled 'The Uninvited". It was the last Out of the Unknown production to be recorded.

Original story-outlines can be downloaded here as PDF files.

"THE INTRUSION" xxxxxxx "RAMPAGE"


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TO LAY A GHOST
Screencap Screencap

28 April 1971
[12 September 1972 rpt.]

TO LAY A GHOST
by Michael J. Bird.
Directed by Ken Hannam.

Iain Gregory (Eric Carver) and Lesley-Anne Down (Diana)
Opens a blank mail message to enable you to e-mail for details
Cast:
Iain Gregory (Eric Carver) Lesley-Anne Down (Diana) Peter Barkworth (Dr. Phillimore) Clifford Cox (Ewan Mackenzie) Geoffrey Russell (Police Inspector) Walter Randall (Thomas Hobbs)

On the way home from school, fifteen-year-old Diana was attacked and raped. Five years later, after extensive therapy, she married a trendy young photographer, Eric Carver. The doctor told Eric not to hurry the consummation of the marriage, but to be patient and sympathetic.

It was not too hard; Eric would have done anything for his beautiful Diana. One of the things he did do for her was to buy a house. It was not a place he cared for much, and it cost a fortune to modernise. But from the moment they were first shown over it, Diana just knew she had to live there. Just like that - had to.

Their first sight of the ghost came when Eric developed some photographs he had taken of his wife in the garden. In every print a man could be seen standing in the garden. At first Eric rationalised it as some unnoticed Peeping-Tom. But when Diana started to sleep-walk, and the evil-looking ghost showed up in a lot more prints, Eric called in Dr. Phillimore of the National Psychical Research Association.

(Text of BBC Enterprises sales documentation)

Radio Times feature Radio Times credits for the episode


TO LAY A GHOST - PRODUCTION SCHEDULE
Producer - Alan Bromly
Director - Ken Hannam
Script Editor - Roger Parkes

Designer - Fanny Taylor

P.A. - John Bruce
A.F.M. - Chris Cameron
Assistant - Pat Carew

T.M.1 - John Treaye
T.M.2 - Ron Koplick
Sound Supervisor - John Staple

Costume Supervisor - Rita Reekie
Make-up Supervisor - Sandra Hurll

Vision Mixer - Leon Griffin
Grams Operator - Linton Howell-Hughes
Crew - Four
Senior Cameraman - Reg Poulter
Floor Assistant - Gerry Desmond
STUDIO SCHEDULE - PROJECT NO: 2150/3858

Sunday, 28th February 1971 (TK 35 17.00-19.00)
16.00-19.00 Camera rehearsal
19.00-20.00 DINNER
20.00-22.00 Camera rehearsal

Monday, 1st March 1971
11.00-12.00 Camera rehearsal
12.00-13.00 LUNCH
13.00-18.00 Camera rehearsal
18.00-19.00 DINNER
19.00-22.00 Camera rehearsal (TK 35 from 19.30)

Tuesday, 2nd March 1971
11.00-13.00 Camera rehearsal
13.00-14.00 LUNCH
14.00-14.30 Line up
14.30-16.45 VT RECORD (VTC/6HT65146)
16.45-17.45 Camera line-up
17.45-19.00 VT RECORD (VTC/6HT/65146)


TO LAY A GHOST - REVIEWS

This episode is reviewed (very unfavourably) on the web by Nick Cooper in a feature called Time in Advance.

Cooper grossly overstates a moderate point of criticism concluding " ... the subliminal message of this episode is so disgraceful that even for 1971 it seems incredible that anyone could have thought this nasty little piece of misogyny a fit subject for any form of dramatic presentation whatsoever ..."

Olive Bird believes the double-entendre in the title was almost certainly intentional (not that the BBC would have realised it!) But neither she nor Michael were aware of any controversy caused by the episode - in point of fact, in 1971 the episode was universally praised by the critics.

The BBC's Audience Research report contained very favourable reviews - many viewers felt it was a well developed and effectively "eerie" play which "gripped the attention" and "kept you on the edge all the way through". Others stated that it was one of the most enjoyable plays that they had seen. A minority found it somewhat "morbid", whilst a smaller sample disliked what was they described as "the unnecessary steamy bits". Some were unhappy regarding a climax that was "too vague and abrupt".

Peter Barkworth's performance as Dr Philimore was universally praised, and although Iain Gregory and Lesley Ann Down were viewed reasonably favourably, some thought that the couple should have appeared "more tense".The camerawork was also commended, particularly the then state of the art photography which realised the manifestation of the ghost at the end of the play. As with the newspaper reviews, the production standards throughout were viewed in very positive terms (bar one viewer who noted the way the banister wobbled as Eric Carver fled down the stairway towards the end of the story!).


John Lawrence reviewing the episode for "The Stage" on 6th May 1971 found it:

"... an entertaining and well written play"


Click for larger version of the full review.
(with thanks to Colin Cutler)



The Guardian's TV Critic, Peter Fiddick, wrote
"Not I imagine a good one for the beginning-middle-and-end brigade but Michael J. Bird's "to Lay a Ghost", second in the new "Out of the Unknowm" series, must have given some of us hope that this really will be a change from series bearing names like "Goose Pimples" or "Shudder" with which the old psychopath and creaking doors school of suspense still bog down the schedules.

This was less like a product of E.A Poe's off days, more like the experience of para-psychological phenomenon you read about in the newspapers - and in some cases, I suppose, actually live through. A young bride, raped as a schoolgirl, moves into a new home in an old house and there stirs up the wandering spirit of - we gathered in the end - a nineteenth century murderer and rapist who had killed there. It was her husband who was frightened, and called in the psychic research boffin with his cameras: she, increasingly, was far from repelled by what she alone could see.

Part good old-fashioned tingle, of course, but a good part seeming very real. You can't believe in ghosts any more. And this ghost-hunter - one of Peter Barkworth's jokey, affable impersonations - was a psychiatrist who saw little difference in principle between his patient's mind and haunted houses. We have had the documentary approach to this ESP business from time to time and if this is actually going to spin over into fiction it's long overdue.

The play was glossily set, a bit after Antonioni, and directed by Ken Hannam with relaxed precision and a nice willingness to have a go at stretching the visual bounds of the medium with technical effects. A bit undercast though: Ian Gregory and Lesley-Anne Down had the right innocence for the young beautiful people (he a photographer, natch) but, she especially, at the expense of a certain stiffness."


Michael Le Moignan wrote a lengthy review in "The Australian" on 27th November 1973:

"... Michael J Bird's tight economic script maintained a fine balance between the young couple's fear and love."

Review from 'The Australian' Click for a larger (more readable!) version


Click for larger version of the full review.
(with thanks to Colin Cutler)



POINTS OF INTEREST

Bird was to "recycle" the character name Dr Phillimore many years later in his BBC drama series The Dark Side of the Sun.

THE UNINVITED

23 June 1971
15 August 1972 (r)
Radio Times credits for the episode THE UNINVITED
by Michael J. Bird.
Directed by Eric Mills

Cast:
John Nettleton (George Pattison) June Ellis (Millicent Pattison) Brian Wilde (Donald Ramsey) Shirley Cain (Frances Mervyn) Geoffrey Palmer (Jack Mervyn) Hilary Mason (Jessica Ramsey) Bobbie Oswald (Blonde Woman) David Sinclair (PC Wheeler) David Allister (Fuller)

George Pattison and his wife are middle people - income, age and class. Their imaginations are as conformist and limited as their daily lives. The one thing they have found that they can hold onto in this shifting world is each other; indeed their closeness even extends to a sort of mental telepathy.

It came as a considerable blow when George's company decided to give him a three-years overseas posting - a blow climaxing in their last night in the flat. All their furniture is in store, apart from a divan; both of them are nervous about the long journey ahead; their neighbours are insisting on wishing them luck with indigestible Spanish champagne.....

It is George who has the first hallucination: one moment the flat is bare, the next full of strange, out-moded furniture, then empty again. He tries to ignore it. But then Millie pops along to make sure they have cleared every last thing out of the hall cupboard only to come back half fainting because of the odd trunk in there - a trunk in which she had found the body of a dead woman. Then, when George runs to look, the cupboard is empty again.

They do their best to reasure [sic] each other, agree they are both imagining things. They get into bed but neither can sleep. Before long Millie is up for some water. Her scream brings George running to the sitting room - where all that strange furniture is suddenly back again and with daylight suddenly streaming in through the windows. And worse, an ill-tempered and frightening man emerges from the shadows to talk to them. At least, it seems that way until he calls them by other names and they realise that they are caught up in some terrifying dream. And then the poor woman whom Millie had seen dead in the trunk walks into the room.

(Text of BBC Enterprises sales documentation)
POINTS OF INTEREST

  • Although this episode is listed as "lost" fortunately for us a young man by the name
  • of Martin Townley had a reel to reel tape recorder which his Dad bought in October of 1971. Martin, who was 11 years old, started to tape all of his favourite shows on reel to reel. He was a huge fan of 'Out Of The Unknown' and many other (now) cult tv shows. Martin had seen the first transmission of "The Uninvited" in 1971 and he was overjoyed when the series was repeated and he recorded the soundtrack. Many years later a friend asked Martin for a copy, on the understanding that he wouldn't spread it around. The friend sent a copy to someone in Oz and the 'secret' was out. (I have a copy on CD and the sound quality is perfect.) Martin says he is lucky to have a photographic memory so he can listen to the audio and still visualise all the shots in his head.

  • Bird shamelessly recycled the script and submitted it to Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense in the mid 80s. (Naughty!)

  • Hilary Mason in 'Don't Look Now'
  • Hilary Mason is probably best remembered on screen as the blind, psychic Heather in Nicolas Roeg's supernatural thriller "Don't Look Now". Bird was clearly impressed by Mason's performance as the unfortunate Jessica Ramsey in 'The Uninvited'. When they were casting The Lotus Eaters later that year he suggested her for the role of Mrs Wooley, which ultimately went to Sylvia Coleridge.

THE UNINVITED - PRODUCTION SCHEDULE

Producer - Alan Bromly
Director - Eric Hills
Script Editor - Roger Parkes
Designer - John Burrowes
P.A. - Jenny Macarthur
A.F.M. - Jean Esslemont
Assistant - Joan Elliott
Floor Assistant - Gerry Desmond

T.M.1 - Nigel Wright
T.M.2 - Jack Walsh
Sound Supervisor - Colin Dixon
Grams Operator - Nick Jones
Vision Mixer - Fred Law
Crew - 4

Costume Supervisor - Rupert Jarvis
Make-up Supervisor - Cecile Hay-Arthur

Visual Effects - Jim Ward
Graphics - Charles McGhie
Props - Magda Olendar

Film Cameraman - Peter Sargent
Film Editor - Bob Ryner
STUDIO T.C.3
SATURDAY, 22ND MAY 1971 (rehearse)
16.00-19.00 Camera rehearsal
19.00-20.00 DINNER
20.00-22.00 Camera rehearsal

SUNDAY, 23RD MAY 1971 (rehearse)
14.30-18.45 Camera rehearsal
18.45-19.45 DINNER
19.45-22.00 Camera rehearsal (with TK.41)

MONDAY, 24TH MAY 1971 (rehearse/record)
10.30-13.30 Camera rehearsal (with TK.37 from 11.00)
13.30-14.30 LUNCH
14.30-15.00 Sound and vision line up
15.00-19.00 Telerecord VTC/6HT/66676

VT EDITING: C900-16.00 on 27th/28th May
TRANSMISSION; (Wk.25) Wednesday, 23rd June 1971 9.20pm


Michael J Bird Tribute Website

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