Michael J Bird Tribute Website

Unproduced Projects
the Michael J Bird creations we never saw ...

Television series regularly generate more stories than they eventually need. Scripts may be commissioned, written and paid for and yet never see the light of day. Writers may be involved at the planning stage, perhaps contributing ideas, and then, for one reason or another, their association with the show ends.

My research uncovered dozens of Bird's ideas that never made it to the screen.

MAN IN A SUITCASE

Olive Bird recalls that Michael was involved in discussions on the 1967 ITC adventure series Man in a Suitcase starring Richard Bradford as ex CIA agent McGill. Bird's involvement almost certainly followed on from his debut Dangerman story. When Sidney Cole joined Man in a Suitcase as Producer he reportedly brought a number of the old Dangerman crew with him.

RYAN INTERNATIONAL

Olive Bird also recalls her husband contributed at least two scripts to a short-lived adventure series, called Ryan International, which starred Kieron Moore and aired on BBC in the Autumn of 1970. She adds "I can't remember if they were ever made as there were quite a few problems with the show," and again I can find no episode credited to Bird.

Writing for Action TV Matthew Lee noted that "the production of the series had been plagued with problems, most notably the lack of workable storylines ... This is in part due to the fact that the series had a particularly vague concept and a leading character for whom writers and audiences were unable to latch onto any firm characteristics, foibles or traits with which they could identify or sympathise with."

PAUL TEMPLE

With a series as long running as Paul Temple it seemed odd that Bird should have written only one episode. It came as no great surprise, therefore, when I discovered that he scripted at least one other: a story called "Cue Credits, Cue Grams, Cue Murder".

Bird's script was reworked by Temple's producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Martin Hall (writing pseudonymously as David Simon), which led to Bird removing his name completely. The episode was screened in Temple's third season as "Cue Murder".

My good friend Werner Schmitz who runs MEDIA Gems excellent Paul Temple Website has penned a detailed comparison of Bird's script and the filmed story, which features on the Paul Temple page of this site.

UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS

Olive has no recollection of her husband having been involved with London Weekend Television's Upstairs Downstairs, but over at the Upstairs, Downstairs Tribute Website it is said that the first season episode "A Suitable Marriage" (which had a working title of The Foreign Gentleman) was largely based on a outline by Michael J. Bird.

Richard Marson's book on the series notes that apart from commissioning writers to provide the actual scripts, Upstairs Downstairs script editor Alfred Shaughnessy also toyed for a time with the idea of paying writers for storylines. This had proved a successful source of inspiration the previous autumn, when he had been editing the first series of Yorkshire TV's Hadleigh.

It presumably would have been sometime in 1970 when

"he approached Michael J. Bird, "a very inventive, clever writer" who'd worked for him on Hadleigh, gave him a run-down on the new show and asked him for suggestions. "It sounded fascinating," says Bird. "The two sides of the family. It was a very good idea and very exciting. Those were the days when people used to come up with ideas that were exciting. I thought, 'What could we introduce into the family which would cause something of a stir?' And at the time there was a very close relationship between this country and Germany and I just took it from there."

Shaughnessy was pleased and he asked Bird to write the script for Episode Five, on the basis of this idea, but Bird was too busy writing for the BBC (he would presumably have been working on The Lotus Eaters at the time) and had to refuse. He was paid for his storyline, which was eventually taken over and written by Jeremy Paul, who had written for both Hawkesworth and Shaughnessy on series like The Informer and The Gold Robbers. This was the only time that Shaughnessy bought an idea for Upstairs Downstairs, and Jeremy Paul went on to adapt Bird's original thoughts into something all his own.

COLDITZ

Bird often claimed, and his agents included on his CV, that he had contributed to the series and Olive recalls him working on it but his involvement must have been little more than with Upstairs Downstairs - suggesting story outlines. Colditz was transmitted 1972-74. The development period would have coincided in large part with the development of The Lotus Eaters and it is hard to imagine Bird having much time for anything outside of his own creation. Producer Gerard Glaister did use contributions from Bird in three other 1970's BBC drama series - The Expert, Secret Army and The Fourth Arm.

OUT OF THE UNKNOWN

During my research I came across a short story-outline called "Rampage", which Bird appears to have written for Out of the Unknown. I can't be sure since it was never produced but you can take a look for yourself by downloading a copy here as a PDF file.

Download story outline "RAMPAGE"


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THE BROTHERS

Bird's name has often been linked with The Brothers, indeed his agent 'Peters, Fraser and Dunlop' listed the series on his web CV for many years, but two afternoons at the local reference library pouring over back issues of Radio Times tracing the show through all six series failed to reveal a single episode credited to him. The resulting episode listing for The Brothers seems too good to discard - if anyone is interested it can be downloaded as a PDF file: Download The Brothers Episode Listing

The Brothers was yet another Gerard Glaister production and Bird may well have pitched in ideas and/or storylines.

SURVIVORS

In November 1973 Bird was asked to develop scripts for the first season of Terry Nation's Survivors. Olive recalls he did some work on the series, and invented a character called Jordan Neve. "However it came to nothing. I think because he didn't like the way the series was to be developed."

I am grateful to fellow TV scribes Andy Priestner and Andrew Pixley who, in researching the Survivors series at the BBC, discovered that Bird was commissioned on 2nd November 1973 to write an as yet untitled script for the series, the second to be commissioned (2243/0629). The target date was the end of November 1973.

Bird was then commissioned for three further scripts on 18 March 1974 which formed the sixth, seventh and eighth commissions for the series, still at that time entitled The Survivors. The first was Episode 4: “Enter the Soldier” (2244/0457) to be delivered by 22 April 1974. The second was Episode 5 and entitled “Requiem” (2244/0458) to be delivered by 20 May 1974. The third was Episode 6 and entitled “Flight From Tyranny” (2244/0459) to be delivered by 17 June 1974. On 1 July 1974, producer Terence Dudley noted that he was rejecting “Enter the Soldier”, and that prior to delivery of this script, Bird had withdrawn “by mutual consent” from the other commissions.

“Enter the Soldier” was later either abandoned or adapted by Terry Nation to form the 6th episode Garland's War.

KRASAKIS

By the end of the second series of The Lotus Eaters the character of Michael Krasakis, played by Stefan Gryff, had become so well defined, and so popular with the viewers, that Bird's next project was to be "Krasakis" - a series based around the Greek policeman.

Regrettably the BBC's Alistair Milne vetoed the idea, saying that it would be too expensive and in any case the BBC "had enough cop shows". In retaliation Bird wrote the character into Who Pays the Ferryman? On screen he is referred to only as "The Major" - and no longer sports his trademark moustache and sunglasses - but the viewers all knew who he was. When Bird came to write the novelisation of Who Pays the Ferryman? he reverted to the name Krasakis.

SPECIAL BRANCH

Bird scripted at least one other story "One of the Family" in which he killed off semi-regular character Det Sergeant Maguire (Paul Antrim) but the story was not produced.

You can, however, read Bird's script here on the website on the Special Branch page.

QUILLER

From July to September 1975 Bird's script "Cloak and Dagger" alternated between a one and two-part story and was eventually held over for inclusion an a second series, which never materialised.

WARSHIP

Bird wrote at least two further scripts, "Rendezvous" and "Deep Water".

RETURN TO ITHICA

Following the success of Who Pays the Ferryman?, at the height of his Greek island period Bird devised a series Return to Ithica about which he said in a letter to his agent in November 1978 "If ATV are looking for another Ferryman then here it is in spades." Since they did not take him up on it, presumably they weren't. Two months later Bird was pitching the idea at the Greek National Tourist Organisation (NTOG)as an alternative to the troubled Hotel Armageddon. He described the series as "a romantic adventure". NTOG didn't take it up either, and Return to Ithica bit the dust.

THE GUARDIAN

Towards the end of 1978 and early 1979 Bird was in correspondence with the BBC's Head of Series Drama, Ronnie Marsh, about scripts he was writing for a planned series The Guardian. It was an idea he had been kicking around for some time.

Olive recalls it was a series about a senior police officer (possibly retired) who has a criminal brother who has died and in his will has named the brother as guardian to his three daughters who live abroad but are returning to this country. The policeman thinks of them as children but they turn out to be three lively girls in their late teens, early twenties who lead him a merry dance as they have little respect for the law.

Bird had pictured William Mervyn, of Mr Rose, in the title role but sadly Mervyn had died shortly before.

DODGER

During the making of The Aphrodite Inheritance Bird became friendly with actor William Wilde, and early in 1979 the pair corresponded almost daily about an idea of Wilde's for a series Dodger based on the Oliver Twist character - the Artful Dodger.

HOTEL ARMAGEDDON

Viktors Ritelis, who directed both The Lotus Eaters and The Aphrodite Inheritance, says that the BBC had a way of putting stumbling blocks in Bird's path. "As an example, Michael had written another series set in Palestine (I think) about modern spying. The opening scene was mind blowing: a charge of white stallions, strapped with explosives, racing to a hotel in the desert where the main character is held against his will. It was wild, it was riveting - Michael at his best. The BBC encountered a problem with servicing wardrobe needs, and instead of solving the problem by hiring one extra person they took a stand and axed the series."

It was true that Bird had worked for a time on a story about terrorists hijacking a luxury Greek hotel on its opening night - a precursor to Die Hard. Richard Wakeley, Bird's agent and friend for 15 years, flew with the writer to northern Greece to see the General in command of Greek forces about borrowing tanks and a regiment of infantrymen. Olive confirms that the story was set in Northern Greece. "We had in fact done the recce and fixed on a rather splendid new hotel which was being built."

Bird even contacted Herbert von Karajan to discuss having the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra play at the hotel. Sadly Hotel Armageddon, as the project was called, came to nought.

As it grew, the estimated cost escalated (there was even talk of a submarine) and alarm bells sounded at the BBC. There was also a lot of real terrorist activity around that time, including the Iranian embassy siege in London and the prolonged hijacking of the US embassy in Tehran. There were concerns that the story might give the bad guys ideas and although Bird had scripted a number of episodes the BBC failed to commission the series.

THE MACHIAVELLI FACTOR

The cancellation of Bird's proposed series Hotel Armageddon left a gap in the BBC's production schedule the following year. In May 1979 they commissioned Bird to devise a new drama about a kidnapping, to be screened in three 104 minute segments. The new series, to be produced by BBC veteran Andrew Osborn, was called The Machiavelli Factor.

Bird devised the format and submitted the storyline. Graeme McDonald, the BBC's Head of Drama Serials, initially had some concerns in case the project clashed with another planned BBC series - Ransom (later renamed Blood Money) devised by Arden Winch.

Bird was given the go-ahead and had written two scripts and mapped out the third when in August 1979 he was told that Graeme McDonald now felt that The Machiavelli Factor was not a suitable replacement for Hotel Armageddon.

DEAD ON TIME

A Play in Two Acts - the "final version" of a Michael Bird script was found amongst the papers of the late Vere Lorrimer (producer of Bird's last two BBC creations The Dark Side of the Sun and Maelstrom ). It is clearly written as a stage play and the plot reminds me of a book called 'She Who Was No More' by Boileua-Narcejac - the French crime writing duo who wrote the novel 'Vertigo' which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a film. It has the same basic premise as that book but twists about in different ways.

THE QUEST

In December 1980 Bird floated an idea he called The Quest, with NTOG. He offered to write them six scripts at the specially reduced rate of £3,000 per script so that they could get on with the business of costing the production. When NTOG declined Bird offered instead to script a pilot episode for £3,000 and for a detailed story synopsis for a further £1,500. The Quest was never heard of again, although the plot may well have been recycled into The Eye of the Wind (see below). Bird wasted nothing.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE SUN II

Peter Egan confidently believed that the ambiguous ending to Dark Side of the Sun was to pave the way for a sequel. Bird had done it before with The Lotus Eaters and Olive confirms that he did have plans to continue the story but the BBC failed to commission a second series.

THE
OUTSIDER II

Joanna Dunham, who played Sylvia Harper in Bird's YTV series The Outsider says that "Yorkshire television seemed very pleased with the way the series was shaping up, so much so that they altered the last episode so that it was overtly open-ended and the story line could continue through to a second series. It seemed that all the cast were pleased at the news but later John Duttine through his agent decided not to go for the second series, and instead went into a BBC comedy series which didn't last for very long."

The sitcom was presumably Lame Ducks which ran for 12 episodes in 1984/85. And so sadly, once again, we never got to see what Bird might have done with a sequel.



Olive tells me that there were at least two other series which Bird was paid for but which were never made. His friend, the producer David Cunliffe, still has the scripts for both of them and intends that one day they should be filmed.

The Eye of the Wind

The story was set in Tunisia and concerned an English artist living and working in Tunis who is contacted by his ex-wife because their son has left home and may be on his way to Tunisia. The son does contact his father and tells him he is going into the desert with a German friend to look for the friend's father's plane which crashed during the war while carrying a very valuable cargo.

The artist tells the boy he must not do it as it is far too dangerous for anyone without experience of the desert. Of course he ignores this and takes off with his friend. The father seeks the help of a close friend, who is a Bedouin chief, and the story is the search for the boys with the usual romantic and dramatic happenings.

The Viking Run

The second story concerned a Norwegian boy who manages to sail a fishing boat to England during the war and joins the British forces as a special agent. David Cunliffe says it was based on a real life incident, and Bente Saxon thinks she may even have a copy of an early draft script ...



The Olympians

Most writers harbour at least one cherished, unachieved ambition: a pet project they always intend to write, and talk about a great deal, but never seem to get around to. Michael Bird was no exception. He too had a particular idea that he carried with him throughout his entire career but it never took any real shape, was never committed to paper and he never submitted it anywhere. He called it The Olympians.

Bird talked to both the BBC and the Greeks about it from the early days of The Lotus Eaters and he carried on thinking and talking about it with anyone who would listen for years after. It was ambitious, of course, and imaginative, naturally, and featured the immortals on Olympus directing the affairs of mortal men. Bird wanted stars like Elizabeth Taylor to play the gods.

Michael Bird's The Aphrodite Inheritance

The concept was not new. It had been used to great effect by Ray Harryhousen in the 1963 epic Jason and the Argonauts. That film featured the gods on Mount Olympus toying with the lives of men represented by pieces on a chess-like board game. In his autobiography, An Animated Life, Harryhousen said:

We … wanted to have a physical means by which the gods are seen to play with the fates of mankind. We accomplished this with a chess-like board game played by Hera (Honor Blackman) and Zeus (Nial Macginnis) and which reflected the events on earth.

The nearest Bird came to realising The Olympians would have been his series The Aphrodite Inheritance in which three of the gods, Aphrodite, Bacchus and Pan, take on human form to interact with the chief protagonists. The opening credits to that series also featured a chessboard with figures moved by an elegant female hand - presumably that of Aphrodite.

Babis Spiridakis Calibos

Coincidentally at the same time that Bird and the BBC were filming for The Aphrodite Inheritance on Cyprus Ray Harryhousen was location hunting for the setting of his second visit to Mount Olympus: Clash of the Titans. Harryhousen began in April 1978, visiting Sicily, Greece, Italy and Turkey seeking suitable locations.

The imaginative worlds of Michael Bird and Ray Harryhousen were to touch one further time. Actor Neil McCarthy had starred as Babis Spiridakis in Bird's series Who Pays the Ferryman? A couple of years later McCarthy died from Motor Neuron disease, but before his death the actor appeared in Ray Harryhousen's Clash of the Titans. McCarthy gave a fine performance as the wretched Calibos, turned into a monster by a vindictive Zeus.


Michael J Bird Tribute Website

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