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Before Quatermass: The Neglected Beginnings of British TV SF
Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and its sequels are rightly lauded as effective and successful pieces of early television science fiction. However, they were not the first examples of British television science fiction, nor the first TV SF serials, nor the first original television science fiction, nor were they even Kneale’s first pieces of television sf, and these facts are frequently overlooked. This paper will take a brief overview of the British television science fiction before The Quatermass Experiment, demonstrating the diversity of approaches to the genre, which covered adult and children’s dramas, single plays and serials, adaptations and original material. In these early days of the medium of television, the genre also offered particular opportunities to attempt to expand the medium spatially and temporally beyond the small, live screen. The paper will also look at the science fiction adaptations that Kneale wrote for the BBC before creating The Quatermass Experiment, Mystery Story (1952) and Number Three (1953), and consider how they may have informed his ideas for his own creation. This paper thus proposes to act as a brief corrective to some of the received ideas about how British television science fiction began, and the role of Nigel Kneale and The Quatermass Experiment in those origins.