Eruditorum Press

Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

23 Comments

  1. Millennium Dome
    October 24, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    I'd better just say it before my other half has to: "The Avengers" was not produced by Lew Grade's ITC but by their great rival ABC (who eventually became Granada on one side of the Pennines and at the risk of re-opening fresh wounds Yorkshire Television on the other).

    Because "The Avengers" is so archetypical (and probably inspired all those ITC spy serials) it is often conflated with them.

    Meanwhile, I am very interested in what you say about the differences in UK v US acting.

    The distinction that I normally say is (and to be fair it's more to do with movies) that the UK produces actors and the US produces stars.

    By which I mean, it often seems that rather than asking an actor to produce a different character specific to the piece they're doing, they will often be playing variations on the same character (occasionally it is implied their own character) and the part will be tailored to the actor (i.e. you know exactly what I mean when I say a "Schwarzenegger role" or a "Cruise role" or, perhaps, a "Christopher Walken role" in a way that you wouldn't if I said a "Jaccobi role")

    A case in point would be De Niro who is famously very Method and yet always seems to be playing De Niro.

    Except in "Stardust", obviously.

    I'm not saying that's wrong: you could say that American actors are specialists where British counterparts are generalists (or jacks-of-all-trades, even).

    Or am I making sweeping generalisations? Probably.

    Oh and poor old Space:1999 – they tried their best. Mostly. But so hard to get past all the beige.

    Reply

  2. David
    October 24, 2011 @ 2:22 am

    Good Heavens I adore I, Claudius. Even wrote my dissertation on it (comparing it to ITV's The Caesars 10 years previously and to the original Tacitus / Suetonius / Dio source texts), though as a result I won't be going near it again until the horrors of dissertation writing are a dim memory.

    I was wondering if you were thinking of writing an entry that included Morecambe and Wise, who were around this period regarded as the funniest men on British Television. The 1977 Christmas special most notably got 21 million viewers (or 28 million, depending on the source). An entry on what made an iconic television figure during this time – as, after all, Tom Baker's Doctor became Doctor Who the Televisual Icon and remained so long after Tom had stopped doing it.

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  3. William Whyte
    October 24, 2011 @ 2:52 am

    We loved calling it "I, Clavdivs" too. Best joke ever!

    Reply

  4. Anton B
    October 24, 2011 @ 4:37 am

    Yes I Clavdivs – it never ceases to amuse me too. The difference between 'American Method' and 'British Classic' acting is ably demonstrated by the apocryphal anecdote that's beeen doing the rounds for years attributed to a spat between Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of the movie 'Marathon Man'. I won't bore you with the full version here, suffice to say it ends with Olivier saying to Hoffman – 'Dear boy, Have you tried acting?' Derek Jacobi is of course a National Treasure!and the best Master ever. Still really enjoying following this blog just been too busy to comment recently. Keep it going please.

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  5. Seeing_I
    October 24, 2011 @ 5:27 am

    I call the Claudian serial "I, Clavdivs" as well, pronouncing the V's anachronistically because I like the way it sounds. 😀

    Maybe 6 or 7 year ago Doctor Who was a fringe/cult thing at US conventions, but that is no longer the case – Dalek Girls, Amys, Tens and Elevens abound, and I can report that at this year's Dragon*Con, you had to line up 2 hours beforehand to get a seat in the panels & events.

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  6. Jesse
    October 24, 2011 @ 6:02 am

    the gist of it is straightforward: PBS realized that their upmarket viewers would probably enjoy British programming that felt British

    When I was 11 and my friends kept talking about some show on public television called Doctor Who, and I faced the task of persuading my TV-wary parents to let me check it out, I used the phrase "It's British" repeatedly, in hopes that this would be read as "It's a classy, quality show."

    Reply

  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 24, 2011 @ 6:04 am

    Oh, I am well aware of its increased popularity these days. I was the last person they let in to the Night Terrors screening at Dragon*Con. 🙂

    Buy yes. I should have made that clear in the post. I have now. 🙂

    Reply

  8. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    October 24, 2011 @ 6:27 am

    "I call the Claudian serial "I, Clavdivs" as well, pronouncing the V's anachronistically because I like the way it sounds."

    So…. as a 'w' sound, then? Given that Latin has no 'v' sound?

    Reply

  9. Millennium Dome
    October 24, 2011 @ 6:56 am

    Should anyone reading this be wondering why my first comment mentions "The Avengers", it's because the article originally and incorrectly referred to "The Avengers" as one of Lew Grade's serials from ITC.

    And now it doesn't.

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 24, 2011 @ 6:58 am

    Yeah, I should really formalize the blog's corrections policy of "I fix errors of both fact and judgment." 🙂

    Reply

  11. WGPJosh
    October 24, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    Fantastic look at the differences between UK and US television: I think you're dead-on about the British theatrical tradition and all the repercussions it has for how acting is treated and I think it also has a great deal to do with the infamous BBC archival policy (or lack thereof) during the 1960s which (if I recall correctly) you also touched on.

    I'm really interested to see how you elaborate on this thread, especially once we get to the 1980s and early 1990s when Paramount goes out of its way to hire British theatrical actors to play huge lead roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

    By the way, I found your explanation of PBS to be absolutely hilarious and so, so true. Another great read!

    Reply

  12. Millennium Dome
    October 25, 2011 @ 12:24 am

    Hi Philip, it's good that you take on board people's comments and corrections. I think all you need is a brief acknowledgement in the comments so that people don't end up up looking silly for commenting on things that are no longer in the article.

    Reply

  13. Gnaeus
    October 25, 2011 @ 12:25 am

    I, Clavdivs (another pispronouncer here) I think was the model British export. Then Brideshead got filmed and the focus shifted to nostalgia and large houses. See also most of Julian Fellowes' writing career.

    Also, Thunderbirds is, despite being the most famous supermarionation production, also achingly slow and not the key or most interesting one. Captain Scarlet is the one you should have watched!

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  14. Wm Keith
    October 25, 2011 @ 2:07 am

    Millennium Dome, I disagree. If we point out errors and Phil takes them on board, then there has to be a transference of silliness from Phil to us. Blogging is a zero-sum game.

    Reply

  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 25, 2011 @ 4:57 am

    While I am sorely tempted to agree with the idea that error correction is a zero-sum game, I usually do remember to make a comment acknowledging the correction, and apologize for forgetting in this instance.

    Reply

  16. William Whyte
    October 26, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

    I love what you did in bringing this in here and then using the ideas in your Brain of Morbius review.

    Reply

  17. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 6, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

    A couple of points: Philadelphia's independant UHF station Channel 17 was the one that got Jon Pertwee in 1972, not PBS. And they only ran 2 years' worth of episodes, rather than the full 3 seasons syndicated– except what they ran was "THE SILURIANS" to "DAY OF THE DALEKS". And they were all cut for commercial time. This means the "pilot" which set up the entire run was missing, and in the 1st episode I saw, for example, the only light-hearted scene– the one where The Doctor shows off Bessie to Liz Shaw– was missing. They ran it 5 times a week, one episode each day at 7:30 PM, until the 4th Dalek episode, which they ran that Friday at 10 PM (having run part 3 earlier the same day at 7:30). About a year later they reran them, one episode PER WEEK, Saturday mornings at 11: 30 AM. Go figure.

    I'm a huge Gerry Anderson fan, but it seems there was a major rift between him and his wife Sylvia. Gerry loved vehicles and machines; Sylvia was interested in people. With THUNDERBIRDS, Gerry "won". Each show got more cold-blooded and removed from all form of humanity, until, by the time SPACE:1999 came along, I used to joke it would have worked better with puppets. "1999" was abominable– bad concept, bad design, bad writing, bad directing. How so many immensely talented people like writers, designers, actors could ALL do such HORRIBLE work is a mystery for the ages. By the way, I learned a few years ago it started life as the proposed 2nd season of "UFO", which would have jumped ahead from the future of 1980 to 1999, with an expanded moonbase and presumably better equipment to fight the aliens, maybe even take it back to their home world. UFO did actually get better writing and more human in its last 8 or so episodes, but Lew Grade objected to the change, he preferred the more "space" stories to Earthbound ones with humans.

    An interesting phenomena I observed… after Gerry & Sylvia got divorced, something must have happened to Gerry. Because his NEXT series– TERRAHAWKS– was the most "human" and the BEST-WRITTEN he'd done since FIREBALL XL5. It's also funny as hell, once you get past the pilot. Amazing that a puppet show should be so much better on every level than an expensive live-action one.

    Then again… I've been watching him since SUPERCAR, and in my view, THE best-written series he's done, bar none, was SPACE PRECINCT. When it debuted here, around the time of ST:TNG and ST:DS9, I found it blew BOTH of those shows totally out of the water. BETTER writing, BETTER characters, BETTER actors, BETTER imaginative use of sci-fi ideas. ALL OF THE ABOVE. I can barely stand ST:TNG. But I LOVE every frame of film of EVERY episode of SPACE PRECINCT. That show made Ted Shackleford one of my heroes.

    Reply

  18. GarrettCRW
    April 22, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    There's also another nail in Space: 1999's coffin not mentioned here: it was one of the shows that made the horrid decision to hire Fred Freiberger as its producer in its last season.

    Reply

  19. GeneralNerd
    November 29, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    I would say De Niro is still playing De Niro in Stardust. It's just De Niro if he happened to be a gay transvestite masquerading as a pirate.

    Reply

  20. David Gerard
    November 29, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

    I remember when Space 1999 made it to Australia first time round. It was way hyped up as an exciting new space series. British-quality scripts and American-quality effects! Instead, we got American-quality scripts and British-quality effects. It could have survived every other problem you note … except that it was, in fact, rubbish.

    Reply

  21. Craig
    August 6, 2015 @ 2:28 am

    As an Australian (no allegiance to either British or American styles or formats here), I have to admit to having never watched either Space 1999 or I, Claudius. (Incidentally, if you search YouTube for "I, Clavdivs", it brings up Episode 1 of I, Claudius)
    So I took a break from reading this entry to enjoy an ep or 2 of Space 1999 on YouTube, and I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it. Straight away I noticed the quality of its looks (it was prettier and glossier than Dr Who ever was, at least up until the 1996 movie). It was a little silly (I'm not sure how an explosion on the side of the moon away from the Earth would make the moon travel backwards and further away from Earth), and Barbara Bain's acting was as wooden as my kitchen table, but now that I've found all 45 episodes on YouTube, I think I'll make my way through them. Or at least until some shape shifting alien joins the cast, as I believe happens at some stage.

    Reply

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  23. Ashley Pomeroy
    October 3, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

    It’s fascinating to compare Space: 1999 with Blakes Seven, which began a couple of years later and was firmly aimed at the domestic British audience. The total budget of Blakes Seven from beginning to end was probably less than a single episode of Space: 1999, but the writing was much better. It had characterisation!

    It also had Brian Blessed, but he died. He died in Space: 1999 as well – in fact he died twice. The first time was surprisingly gory for a mainstream mid-70s TV show.

    In its favour Space: 1999 had about three or four moments that terrified me as a small child. The tentacle monster. The man trapped in a casket. Martin Landau’s face. The general gloomy air. The Eagle spacecraft was an excellent design that deserved a better show. Also on the positive side the technical aspects were terrific for the time. Compare the general look of the thing with pre-Star Wars films such as Logan’s Run or the later Planet of the Apes films; it’s at least as good. The lighting and set design – with ceilings, proper sets, selective focus, camera moves, decent blocking – had a cinematic quality that Doctor Who didn’t capture until the modern era.

    I think the fundamental problem was the writing. Too many of the stories were just a series of events one after the other followed by a perfunctory conclusion, or the revelation that it was a dream. Time and again Moonbase Alpha was threatened with something that caused a series of minor catastrophes, and then Barry Morse came up with a solution that almost failed because something blew up, but it was okay in the end. It was as if the writers were copying the basic, highly linear structure of 2001 without understanding that 2001 was more a thesis than a drama.

    And I suppose the fundamental-fundamental problem was Gerry Anderson, because he in theory hired the writers. They all seemed to be jobbing former Z-Cars writers who ended their careers working on Heartbeat and Bergerac. Anderson was an assembler, a kit-basher. An engineer. Unlike Jim Henson or Gene Roddenberry he didn’t have any kind of dramatic vision or knack for characterisation. The characters were just components. My recollection is that Barry Morse had a couple of good moments but apart from that it was a dramatic wasteland. A couple of episodes had the germ of a good idea but went nowhere with it. It’s frustrating because it had potential.

    As a kid growing up in the UK in the former TVS region I don’t think the second series was ever broadcast. To this day I haven’t seen a single episode with Maya in it. There is an apparently terrific Blu-Ray restoration of the show, which was show on 35mm, but I’m not tempted to seek it out.

    Reply

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