ack in the early '70s, before the final adventure of Prof. Bernard Quatermass, Nigel Kneale wrote a short series of feature length films for TV. I can only remember two of these. One, the title of which I can't recall, concerned a young supermarket shelf stacker, played by a very young Pauline Quirk, who is the focus of poltergeist activity outside of her control. The other was 'The Stone Tape'. The title and plot of which has stuck in my memory for 30 years...
As a 10 year old kid, I watched the original "Quatermass Experiment" on the 10 inch, 425 line screen of a neighbour's TV. I say watched, but if I'm to be truthful, I was probably hiding behind the sofa for most of the action. But I do remember the climax in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. That experience sold me for life on the writings of Nigel Kneale.
"The Stone Tape" concerns the efforts of a team of scientists lead by Peter Brock (Michael Bryant) to develop a new recording medium. In those days before CD or DVD, the only viable means of long term recording was on magnetic tape which, as Peter demonstrates, is not very durable. Eddie (Michael Bates), the chief scientist, has his pet project - a Digital Crystal. A bit of prescience on Kneale's part, foretelling the advent of digital recording?
The team move into larger premises in an old Gothic mansion called Taskerlands where they are joined by a lovely computer programer Jill (Jane Asher). Even before Jill, who turns out to be psychically sensitive, has entered the building she is disturbed by visions of a shapeless presence. Once installed in their new facility, the team discover that the room earmarked for storage of large quantities of data has not been refurbished. The builders have refused to work in this room. Behind crumbling wooden paneling the team discover a set of stone steps which now lead nowhere. Left alone in the room, Jill becomes aware of a sudden drop in temperature, and as she leaves she hears footsteps running up the stone steps. As she turns to look back into the room she sees a Victorian house-maid at the top of the steps. The maid covers her eyes and screams in terror at some unseen horror. From Parish records we subsequently discover that the maid has been found dead at the foot of the steps.
When the team are made aware of this they are encouraged by Peter to analyse the phenomenon. Recording equipment of various types is moved into the room and set up to try and capture images or sounds. Despite the fact that several of the team either hear the screams and/or see the maid, nothing is recorded on the equipment. During a team chat they formulate the idea that the stone fabric of the room is acting as the recording medium for the heightened emotions of the maid. If this is the case, they could be onto the new medium for which they are searching.
Susequent efforts to find a trigger for the playback of the recordings only serve to erase the most recent recording and Jill becomes aware of a much more ancient and terrifying recording beneath.
This discovery proves fatal to the luckless Jill but I won't reveal why...
Despite the passage of 30 years since I last watched this film and knowing the denoument, I still found it very disturbing and spooky. Nigel Kneale's writing, while deservedly gaining him the title of 'Father of British TV SciFi' often has an element of the occult.
Probably the best example of this was "Quatermass and the Pit" wherein we discover that we have some Martian ancestry. This, it is postulated, accounts for our ability to demonstrate inhumanity towards one another.
"The Stone Tape" has recently become available on DVD as part of the BFI's Archive Television. If you're a Nigel Kneale fan you really need to see this one.
Don't forget that The Stone Tape is now available to order on DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Chris Smith
Despite the very '70s clothing, hairstyles and, to a certain extent, acting, this is a classic of the genre executed with pace and style.
There is a, perhaps slightly unneccessary, sub-plot concerning the rivalry between team leaders. Crawshaw, wonderfully overacted by Reginal Marsh, is the head of a team developing a computer controlled washing machine. He wants more room for his team and coverts the facility at Taskerlands.
There is a commentary by Nigel Kneale in conversation with Kim Newman which explains some of the thinking behind the story. It also reveals some interesting bits of trivia.
I can't give this production 10 out of 10, but, for its period, it is an extremely good example of Nigel Kneale's writing brought to the small screen. If only there was more TV like it now.
the actor who plays the reception desk sergeant (Neil Wilson) also appeared as a police officer in the original 'Quatermass Experiment'.
Jill's computer, seen in the background of several scenes is, I believe, an old DEC PDP8. While I never actually worked on this particular piece of equipment I did spend several years writing software for the PDP11 and its successor the VAX-11.
know some The Stone Tape trivia that we could add? [Please
send it in]
The castle/mansion used for the production was somewhere in Surrey, UK and was previously owned by Lada Ava Lovelace, the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron. Can anyone help with the exact location?
Horsley Towers, East Horsley, Surrey (exterior): The style of the building is correct and the fact that access to the main entrance is via a tunnel, something that is unique to Horsley as far as I know. The brickwork is also very distintive. The building is now a management training centre and the tunnel has been closed as unsafe. All interiors were studio based and shot on video, exteriors were location and shot on film as per the BBC's normal practice at the time. [Thanks to Paul Holroyd]
Can you help? Do you know any of the SURREY, United Kingdom filming locations used for The Stone Tape, particularly the mansion/castle? [Please send them in]
Includes scripts. Part of the excellent BFI classic TV series of DVD's.|
Original production music was by Desmond Briscoe. It appears to be the only production music he wrote. If anyone has any further info, then please drop us a line.
I think this was video recorded rather than shot on film as there are places in the action where there is 'pre-echo' of very loud passages such as the house-maid's screams.
Pre-echo usually only occurs where the tape is left spooled for long periods and there is print-through of sound from one layer to another. Apart from that, the sound is good but not stereo.
Soundtrack Available: Never On Any Format
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"Help me, Peter"
|The floating spectre...|
|Analyse the spook|
|"We haven't enough data"|
Jane Asher, Iain Cuthbertson, Michael Bates
| || |
|Strong, gripping story line. Characterisation pretty strong with the possible exception of Crawshaw.|
|Understandably the special effects are weak. The idea that Jill is just a programer doesn't really gell. She is really a data analyst with programming skills - but that is me being pedantic. I'm not too sure that the idea of non-scientific team leaders who display an executive management style would have gone down any better in the '70s than it would now.|
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