By Alan French


The following has been edited/adapted from something that I have written for another project, which may or may not materialise. So if it seems a little odd and esoteric, you know why. I thought it would be of interest to our local history. So, here goes:-

THE ‘Q’ LINK.   by Alan French.                  

Hemel Hempstead lies approximately 36.1 kilometres north of central London. One of the town’s claim to fame, is the famous Buncefield Oil Depot explosion, which took place just after 6 am on December 11th 2005. It was, at the time, reputed to be the largest explosion of its kind in Europe since World War 2. It was even heard in the Netherlands . However, some people may be forgiven for thinking that the oil depot in question was utilised for film sequences regarding a science fiction adventure, presented originally for television, and subsequently the cinema. However, the story in question, was made during the 1950’s. According to local records, The Buncefield Oil Depot was not built until circa 1968. But it is a remarkable coincidence, that the Buncefield incident does bear some resemblance to an incident during this drama. Nor is it the only coincidence in Hemel Hempstead which liaises the story’s hero. Who is he? Professor Bernard Quatermass!  

There is more than one version of how his creator, the late Nigel Kneale, who originated from The Isle of Man, acquired this fictitious character’s name: Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, a nightwatchman, a telephone directory, and the name of a London East End family who ran a seafood stall. Well, it may not be exactly the same style of seafood, but by coincidence, in the Boxmoor Village area of Hemel Hempstead, there is another type of traditional seafood emporium. It is a fish and chip shop called Weston’s Fish Bar. But deep in antiquity, it was for a time, a shop called Quatermass!  

Oddly enough, not all that wonderfully far from this chippy, is a war monument. Further evidence that there was a family named Quatermass in the area is, in remembrance and respect, engraved upon this memorial. So again, we come across the name Quatermass! In this case, Robert Alfred Quatermass, who fought and died for his country during The First World War of 1914-1918. I understand that he lived in Berkhamsted High Street. 

Another version of this name, is that of Quartermass. Elsewhere in Hemel Hempstead, there is a housing estate called Warners End. It is here that two place names appear. Quartermass Road and Quartermass Close. Many people understandably believe that these addresses are named after Professor Quatermass, despite a slight difference in spelling and pronunciation. But in actual fact they are not. In this instance they are more likely to be named after twelve year old Katherine Mabel Quartermass, who according to local history, was brutally murdered on July 16th 1896. She had, apparently, left her home at Bods End for Boxted Farm. She never arrived at her destination. According to one report in The Hemel Hempstead Gazette regarding place names, Bods End, spelt with either a single or double ‘D’, lay somewhere in between Gadebridge and Warners End. (Fields End?)

This is very interesting.  

Near, or in this area, is a dip which we today tend to call The Warners End Valley. A road called Galley Hill not only traverses this dip, but also beyond. However, as far as The Warners End Valley segment is concerned, there is a certain degree of fame applicable. In the 1950s, part of the cinema version of the second Quatermass serial was made.  QUATERMASS 2. Other local spots seen in the film are, as far as that we are aware, the building at the entrance to the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle, The Watford By-Pass, and just over in one of the next counties, Buckinghamshire, Ivinghoe Beacon. These areas were used for the fictitious Winnerden Flats. Also used on location in both the television and film versions for Winnerden Flats was the Shell Haven Refinery in Essex. Horrible screams of pain can still be heard from the top of Galley Hill. It is here that the local dental surgery is located. A witness to the making of the Warners End and Gadebridge location segment to the film, a former film projectionist, an excellent musician, and briefly, a member of The Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, was Tony Rogers. I believe he was allowed to look down the camera lens in between shooting by the production crew.  

Looking across the valley from Warners End to what is now The Gadebridge Estate, a dome is seen by some cinematic jiggery pokery during the film. For locals, it could be easily imagined that this is where the present day Gadebridge Hall stands. Between 1965 and 1986, Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, formally Hemel Hempstead Cine Society and possibly Hemel Hempstead Cine Club, used to meet. I am a member of this organisation. Is this why they/we moved? This is not their/our only connection with Professor Bernard Quatermass. There are others. One of them concerns the first Quatermass story, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, first broadcast by the BBC in 1953 as a serial. It caused quite a sensation in its day. Subsequently it was made into a cinema film. But what of the cinema film? Honoury Member and former President of The Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, Alan Willmott, has personal associations with a special showing of this production. Note that a descendant from the poet, William Wordsworth, acquired the role of the doomed astronaut, Victor Caroon, in the cinema version. Richard Wordsworth arranged for a private screening of the film. Alan Willmott was the projectionist. 

Sometimes there have been friendly liaisons with fellow organisations who are cinematographers, such as the one based in Finchley, North London. In fact a member from Finchley Cinematograph Society, who was at the time a proof reader, named Kenneth Seeger, was approached to narrate some documentaries for us. Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that he had been a jobbing actor in programmes such as DIXON OF DOCK GREEN,  a cyberman opposite Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who in THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, and you have guessed it, a supporting role in the television version of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Some members of Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, including myself, once shared a lift with Kenneth Seeger. I can recall having a very interesting chat with him.  (Note that Kenneth originally was to be a sapper in the serial, but ended up as a Doctor Klein instead.)  

In 2005, a real live Quatermass experiment was broadcast. Adjustments and adaptions were made for the story to be performed as a one off play. As a broadcasting exercise, it was performed live on BBC Four. Jason Flemyng starred as Quatermass.

Apart from the 2005 interpretation, we have heard about the cinema production, with Brian Donlevy, but what about the original ‘proper’ version, broadcast as a serial consisiting of six parts in 1953, starring Reginald Tate?

In those days many dramas went out live. Video recording arrived a few years later. A method which we called tele-recording was occasionally utilised to record some programmes. In lay-man’s terms, the basic idea was to film the programme from a television screen whilst it was being broadcast. Up to a point this method was applied to the original QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. There is talk of quality, an industrial dispute and even a fly upsetting the tele-recording. Episodes 1 & 2 definitely exist. But what of the rest of the serial? According to some research, the BBC claim that 3, 4 & 5 were tele-recorded by BBC Presentation, although some may dispute this. Episode 6 was not recorded. A question mark shaped grey cloud has also been placed concerning all this. It is too intricate to go into detail.  

There is some very contradictory evidence. I am a Warners End location resident, Hemel Hempstead Movie Maker member, and frustrated rock ‘n’ roller. I gave some of my enquiries on this subject a temporary rest. But in 2010, I returned to them as a result of a rumour that some missing episodes were found. Again, I have hit my head against a metaphoric brick wall. Why am I frustrated? It is because of the following, which I advise to read slowly :-  

A lady named Jacqueline Mackenzie, who had conducted some television journalism on the old TONIGHT programme, had an idea for a programme which, in a light hearted way, took a nostalgic look at the television scene of the 1950s. It was broadcast one bank holiday evening during 1969, 1970 or possibly 1971. Very briefly, for x amount of seconds, moving film was shown of the unidentified species of plant, growing upward toward the ceiling of Westminster Abbey. A voice over was naming programmes. It said,”We had Quatermass.” I was watching the programme with my parents in the room. My mother said, “Ah! That is what he (meaning Victor Caroon) turned into.” The images did not match the still photograph that exists of the special realistic glove puppet, which Nigel Kneale operated when an unidentified alien species is first spotted in The Poets’ Corner segment of Westminster Abbey, at the end of episode 5. This photo appears in numerous places, both on The Internet and books. What I witnessed, matches the written description, given in the Penguin paperback of the script, regarding episode 6. And yet it is not supposed to exist. I can think of explainations, but I would like to know what the BBC says. But unfortunately it has not been as easy as you may think.

During 1996, BBC Radio 3 first broadcast the 5th and last Quatermass serial, THE QUATERMASS MEMOIRS. This included sound extracts from the first 3 serials, including some from the Westminster Abbey sequence. Does this mean that the original QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT exists solely, or partially, in sound? Or are there any other explainations? The only information that the BBC could give me concerned the title music MARS: BRINGER OF WAR, from THE PLANET SUITE by Gustav Holst.

There is certainly a mystery concerning the original QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. What I do know is this. That somewhere, the truth is out there! Whether I find it or not is another matter.

For reference:-    

1953. THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. Starring Reginald Tate. (BBC TV serial.)  

1955. cinema release. THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT. Starring Brian Donlevy. (Hammer Films.) (Above is correct spelling for cinema version) 

1955. QUATERMASS 2. Starring John Robinson. (BBC TV serial.)  

1957. cinema release . QUATERMASS 2. Starring Brian Donlevy. (Hammer Films.)  

1958-59. QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Starring Andre Morell. (BBC TV serial. Also repeated  approximately a year later,  as a two part omnibus edition. Plans for a radio version were dropped.)  

1967. cinema release. QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Starring Andrew Kier. (Hammer Films.)  

1979. QUATERMASS aka THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION. Starring (Sir) John Mills. (Euston Films. Subsidiary of Thames Television. Serial.)  

1996 . THE QUATERMASS MEMOIRS. Starring Andrew Kier. (BBC Radio serial.)  

2005. THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. Starring Jason Flemyng. BBC TV play.


Alan French. Copyright August 2010.

Submitted in its present adapted form, March 2011.  

Since writing the above, some interesting information has come to light.

Robert Alfred Quatermass also appears on at least two other memorials, but as Quartermass. The memorials are at Berkhamsted and Theipval in the Somme. I gather he may have married someone from Berkhamsted and lived in its High Street.

The other concerns the film made in Hemel Hempstead. The Warners End housing estate was still under construction when it was used for location work for the film Quatermass 2. In converstion with someone who was an apprentice gas fitter, I have learned that during their work, Brian Donlevy, the famous Hollywood actor chosen to act as Quatermass, entered the house, and asked if they had a toilet, and if he could use it? Unfortunately, one had not been istalled and, so he had to use his own resources.

Copyright Alan French. October 7th 2011.

This page was added on 09/03/2011.

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  • Hi – interesting research. I have a family tree and the story behind how Quatermass got its name, if you are interested. I will try and find the person you mentioned (on the war memorial) on the family tree. You can contact me if you would like any more information about this.

    By Claire Quatermass (03/09/2020)
  • Since the original writing of this article; Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers have started another website:-

    By Alan French (26/07/2016)