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Writer MARTIN WORTH

Martin Worth pictured from The Cult of... Doomwatch 2007
Interview with Doomwatch writer Martin Worth (2001)
by Tony Darbyshire

Martin, how did you get into script-writing?

“Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I sold two or three radio plays in my early twenties while working as a journalist. ITV started in 1956 and soon one of those companies, Associated Rediffusion (AR) advertised for ‘retainer trainee writers’. I sent them two unfinished TV plays, just the first ten minutes of each, pretending this was merely to save them the bother of reading a whole script when in fact ten minutes was all I had written and I had no idea how either play would end. They were sufficiently impressed (it’s so easy to write a good opening if you’re not bothered as to what will happen next) to give me a traineeship. At AR six of us chosen ones spent most of our time trying to adapt various old theatre plays for TV. I did a version of a football comedy called Shooting Star which AR later sold to Granada – for whom I did more work on it with director Silvio Narizzano, and it became the first ever drama produced by Granada. At about the same time I sold two original half-hour TV plays -  one to the American  series Douglas Fairbanks Presents, for which I was paid £250, and the other to BBC TV from whom I got £31.50 (a guinea a minute at the time being the going rate). The retainer writer scheme was soon abolished by AR and I found myself forced to freelance. After being called back to AR as script editor for their first Schools programmes, I continued to write in my spare time for different TV drama series and, in 1963, having established myself, became a full-time freelance writer.”

How did you come to Doomwatch?

“As an established drama series writer, I was simply asked one day by Gerry Davis, the script editor and joint creator if I’d write a script from someone else’s story. It was one he had devised himself. I happily agreed, discussed and much altered the story. The final script was produced under the title Invasion.”

The series required a very precise type of story. Where did the plot ideas come from and how much research did you do?

“It was easy to find ideas for Doomwatch, today it would be even easier. Always in the press there were references to possible threats to the environment, whether from the disposal of nuclear waste, use of insecticides, the irresponsibility of big businesses, biological warfare experiments, etc. I and other writers just collected them. New Scientist was always a good source, and so of course was Kit Pedler who had devised the series, a man of science who had this deep concern for the planet.

How much research did you do?

“I personally enjoyed research hugely. Once I’d put up on idea and the broad storyline was approved, I got on at once to the technical expert in this field (usually someone recommended by Kit). Scientists loved the series since it gave them a chance to try and put over to the layman in popular terms what hitherto they could only express to each other.  I remember a Professor of Nuclear Physics at Imperial College vividly demonstrating to me how exactly an able student could make a small atom bomb, given the chance to acquire a little nugget of Plutonium first (the ease of doing which was very much part of the story).”  

How exactly did you become the uncredited script editor?

“Simply because the producer Terry Dudley and editor/creators Davis and Pedler were by then not even on speaking terms. Head of Series, Andrew Osborn, sent for me because it seemed I was the only writer whose scripts for the series had been liked equally by both sides. So the unashamedly appointed me to keep the peace between them and somehow find a way forward – if only to stop the habit that each had got into of unilaterally commissioning scripts that the other side then refused to have anything to do with!

So as not to offend Gerry Davis, it was important I had no credit as a script editor; and I was very happy with anonymity since it meant I could go on writing for other series and for other companies at the same time. I did not even have an office at TV Centre. Each morning I would drop in first on Producer Dudley, who spent the next hour rubbishing that bastard Davis next door, often calling in his secretary to send him a furious memo he dictated to her. When I made my escape, I would then find Gerry Davis hanging about in the corridor knowing exactly who I’d been with and wanting a blow-by-blow on everything that bastard had said to me. This was usually interrupted by Dudley’s secretary (who was also Gerry’s) delivering the memo that had just been dictated to her and having to stay while Davis dictated an equally vitriolic reply. His office and Dudley’s were literally next door to each other.”

Kit Pedler told ‘New Scientist’ that he often argued with the production team’s decisions. How vocal were he and Davis in their criticisms?

“It infuriated Dudley that Pedler could air his views in ‘New Scientist’ where Dudley had no chance of reply. Basically Pedler’s objection was more interested in making dramatic programmes than properly airing the issues at stake. And he was right. It’s what made Dudley a good producer and the series itself so popular. Nevertheless, theirs was really more a clash of personalities than any difference in attitude to the subject.”

Was the second series actually in front of the cameras when Davis and Pedler left? How did the cast and crew react to their jumping ship?

“Certainly Davis and Pedler were still around during the second series when I was working behind the scenes (and reporting regularly on the fray to Andrew Osborn); neither of them left until the start of series three. Frankly, I doubt if the crew even noticed, let alone cared, and the leading actors knew which side their bread was buttered so were careful not to talk out of turn to Dudley, whatever they may have said to Pedler privately.”

Did you stay on as script editor for the final season? Anna Kaliski was credited as script consultant.

“I certainly stayed on for a whole series after Gerry had gone, coming into my own at last as script editor. But it was not in my interest to have a credit on the screen, so Anna Kaliski (originally on the payroll as a researcher) took the title of script consultant. The third season was very different. It wad Dudley’s idea to make the Minister a regular and introduce Stafford as a kind of government mole. Dudley was always more interested by them (and I was too, I think) in the way government would try to muzzle and manipulate the organisation, this itself being the biggest environmental threat of all.”

Do you think Doomwatch still stands up well today?

“More than ever. Many of the issues we faced then are still around now in an even more alarming form. The reason it might not work so well now is for that very reason; its subject matter is too close to home. In the 70s it was mainly enjoyed as exciting science fiction: it couldn’t possibly really happen, of course not.”

With thanks to Tony Darbyshire


Martin Worth at Tachyon 1988
Martin Worth was also interviewed in Time Screen in September 1989 and had these additional items to say...

“In “DOOMWATCH” there was a very delicate balance between what I would call science-fiction and straight ecological issues. For instance, “Invasion” is certainly not science- fiction as that sort of thing had already in reality happened. But in the very first episode, by Kit and Gerry, “The Plastic Eaters” the plastic inside a ‘plane begins to melt as it is attacked by a ‘virus’. That was pure science-fiction because that could not possibly have happened. But it asked a very shrewd question - why should man be dependent on something as synthetic as plastic when we haven’t even bothered to examine the effect that such a dependence might have? Often in “DOOMWATCH” we took a science-fiction/fantasy idea, but used it to show our concern for the social implications of the subject.”

“There was an episode about genetic engineering, “You Killed Toby Wren”, with chickens going around with human heads. Absurd, but it raised important questions such as whether we have the right to experiment at all, and whether business, industry or scientists should carry out such experiments without any responsibility or accountability to society. That was the point of “DOOMWATCH” and I still see a need for that today.”

“Dennis Spooner did a script for the series, about a would-be Member of Parliament who through brain surgery had some form of bug inserted into his brain so that he could be manipulated by others! Absurd fantasy, though the theme and implied message were serious enough. More credible would have been a story about a doctor who suggests doing a brain operation on a violent prisoner to change him into someone placid (“Hair Trigger”) Do we have the right to change anyone, even a criminal, in this way? That was the question being asked.”

“Although “DOOMWATCH” introduced a new word into the English language, the series eventually ended because it suddenly looked as if we’d ‘done it all’. Yet these issues haven’t gone away. We still live under the shadow of the bomb and there are more ecological disasters threatening us now than there ever were when we were writing “DOOMWATCH”.”

Filmography

Writer

1. "Drummonds" (1 episode, 1987)

- Publish and Be Damned (1987) TV episode

2. "Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense" (1 episode, 1986)

... aka Fox Mystery Theater (International: English title)

- A Distant Scream (1984) TV episode

3. "C.A.T.S. Eyes" (1985) TV series

- Double Dutch Deal

4. "Into the Labyrinth" (Series 2, Episode 7, 1981)



- Succession (1981) TV episode

5. "Escape" (1 episode, 1980)

- Alfred Hinds (1980) TV episode (writer)

6. "Il signore di Ballantrae" (1979) TV mini-series

7. "The Onedin Line" (9 episodes, 1973-1977)

- Uncharted Waters (1977) TV episode - The Hostage (1977) TV episode (writer)

- The Stowaway (1977) TV episode

- Shipwreck (1976) TV episode (writer)

- Undercurrent (1976) TV episode

(4 more)

8. "Survivors" (7 episodes, 1976-1977)

- Power (1977) TV episode

- Long Live the King (1977) TV episode

- Bridgehead (1977) TV episode

- Law of the Jungle (1977) TV episode

- New World (1976) TV episode

- By Bread Alone

9. "Poldark" (1975) TV series (unknown episodes)

10. The Master of Ballantrae (1975) (TV)

11. "Heidi" (6 episodes, 1974)

- Episode #1.6 (1974) TV episode

- Episode #1.5 (1974) TV episode

- Episode #1.4 (1974) TV episode

- Episode #1.3 (1974) TV episode

- Episode #1.2 (1974) TV episode

(1 more)

12. "Great Mysteries" (1973) TV series (unknown episodes)

... aka Orson Welles' Great Mysteries

13. "Warship" (1973) TV series (unknown episodes)

14. "Sutherland's Law" (1 episode, 1973)

- A Cry for Help (1973) TV episode

15. "The Regiment" (1 episode, 1973)

- Heat (1973) TV episode

16. "Emmerdale Farm" (1972) TV series (unknown episodes)

... aka Emmerdale (UK: new title)

17. "Doomwatch" (5 episodes, 1970-1972)

- Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow (1972)

- Say Knife, Fat Man (1972) TV episode

- High Mountain (1972) TV episode

- Flight Into Yesterday (1971) TV episode

- Invasion (1970) TV episode

18. "Trial" (1971) TV series (unknown episodes)

19. "Dr. Finlay's Casebook" (3 episodes, 1964-1970)

- A Question of Values (1970) TV episode (writer)

- The Builders (1970) TV episode (writer)

- A Call from Cogger (1964) TV episode (writer)

20. "Menace" (1 episode, 1970)

- Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1970) TV episode (writer)

21. "Ryan International" (1 episode, 1970)

- Not Wanted on Voyage (1970) TV episode (writer)

22. "Fraud Squad" (1969) TV series (unknown episodes)

23. "The Borderers" (1968) TV series (unknown episodes)

24. "City 68'" (2 episodes, 1968)

- The Jonah Site (1968) TV episode

- Who Pays? (1968) TV episode

25. "Public Eye" (4 episodes, 1965-1968)

- But What Good Will Truth Do? (1968) TV episode

- All the Black Dresses She Wants (1966) TV episode

- You Have to Draw the Line Somewhere (1965) TV episode

- They Go Off in the End, Like Fruit (1965) TV episode

26. "Champion House" (1967) TV series (unknown episodes)

27. "Mr. Rose" (1967) TV series (unknown episodes)

28. "Mrs Thursday" (1 episode, 1966)

- Hunter's Moon (1966) TV episode

29. "Out of the Unknown" (1965) TV series - The Last Witness

30. "The Sullavan Brothers" (4 episodes, 1964-1965)

- The Price of Justice (1965) TV episode

- You Can't Win (1965) TV episode (writer)

- A Face in the Doorway (1964) TV episode

- Public Mischief (????) TV episode

31. "No Hiding Place" (4 episodes, 1959-1965)

- The Hunted and the Hunters (1965) TV episode

- Bear with a Sore Head (1965) TV episode

- No Wreath for Clive (1959) TV episode

- Call Me a Killer (1959) TV episode

32. "Sergeant Cork" (1963) TV series (unknown episodes)

33. "Compact" (1962) TV series (unknown episodes)

34. "William Tell" (1 episode, 1958)

... aka The Adventures of William Tell

- The Magic Powder (1958) TV episode (teleplay)

35. "ITV Television Playhouse" (1 episode, 1957)

Saloon Bar (1957) TV episode (adaptation)

36. "Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents" (1 episode, 1956)

... aka Matinee (UK: informal short title)

... aka Rheingold Theatre (USA)

- Someone Outside (1956) TV episode (teleplay)



Miscellaneous Crew

1. "The Borderers" (1968) TV series (script editor) (unknown episodes)



Self

1. "The Cult of..." .... Himself (4 episodes, 2006-2008)

... aka The Cult of Sunday Night (UK: second season title)

- The Onedin Line (2008) TV episode .... Himself

- Poldark (2008) TV episode .... Himself

- Survivors (2006) TV episode .... Himself

- Doomwatch (2006) TV episode .... Himself