I borrowed the DVD of this obscure Science Fiction TV show from my esteemed colleague and editor, Jay Eales a few weeks ago. So far, I have managed to hold on to it and see all seven episodes twice. I’ll have to return it soon, I suppose, but it will be a wrench to see it go. You see I remember watching the original series when first transmitted and for some reason, never forgot it. This fact is surprising to me. I have a memory like a sieve and Kinvig was only broadcast once in 1981. To date the series has never been repeated on any TV channel. Not ever.
An aura of failure has clung to the series. The programme itself comes from one of SF’s greatest TV writers. Nigel Kneale had already written Quatermass, The Road, the first version of Orwell’s 1984 and the play ‘Year of the Sex Olympics’. Kinvig is Kneale’s first sitcom and perhaps too full of ideas and lacking in a special effects budget to look anything but ridiculous. Perhaps that’s why it failed to get a second series. The TV station that commissioned it, LWT also churned out the execrable Metal Mickey which earned a place in British hearts just like you’d expect a cute robot with a catch-phrase to do. No taste or patience, these TV chaps.
Kinvig deals with the typical British TV staple, the abject failure. Des Kinvig (Tony Hagarth) has inherited a run-down electrical repair shop he runs with his wife Netta (Patsy Rolands). Des’s best friend Jim Piper (Colin Jeavons) is a UFO fanatic and collector of conspiracy theories. One day as Des walks Netta’s dog Cuddly late one night, he spots a spaceship. Inside he discovers that one of his most difficult customers, Miss Griffin (Prunella Gee) is in fact an agent from another planet. Miss Griffin gives Des the task of helping thwart an alien invasion of the Earth in a series of missions most of which involve plotting against the local borough council.
A strength (or perhaps a weakness in terms of a mainstream audience) is the ambiguity of the whole thing. One never knows whether Des is in fact mad or if the enigmatic Miss Griffin is really an alien agent. Jim and Des are pathetic characters with nothing going for them and are already prone to fantasize about alien abductions and government conspiracies. Des is also lazy, incompetent and his relationship with Miss Griffin is far from platonic.
Obviously a sitcom that deals with such unsympathetic leads (and possibly their erotic fantasies), will have a hard time in the world of commercial television – however well written it is. I, however, tip my hat to Mr Kneale and his cast. Kinvig is perhaps the best example (Dennis Potter notwithstanding) of magic realism in a TV comedy. Jim and Des have a world view that maybe skewed to believing in irrational or fantastical events, but this is a very human trait and it makes for a very human story. A bit like Billy Liar with space aliens. I loved it all those years ago (in 1981 I was starting to cram for my O-levels) and held it in my memory as an example of the thought-provoking Science Fiction I’ve always loved. The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy was also being broadcast at the time. No wonder I did so badly in my exams…