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…
No-one remembers now how The War began; a conflict that swept through the multiverse all those aeons ago.
What madness could overtake both people and Gods in such a way? Who indeed started the whole thing off? Did Fantasy turn on Science Fiction –or Scyfy launch an attack on their fellow travellers in the Fantastic… What old and ancient enmity could give rise to such antipathy? Still it continues. A struggle without end; a war where no quarter was given, no peace declared, no coherent argument marshalled. They fought on, over a dwindling readership, as two bald men over a comb.
The 21st century had reached its second decade and it was the turn of the Fantasy camp to be jubilant. Their fortifications were impressive; walls buttressed by seemingly endless vampire novels, boy wizards and door-stop trilogies. They jeered at their opponents from their high ground, watching their enemy destroy itself from within.
“Come and have a go, muggles!” they shouted.
“Not another f#@?ing elf!” came the expected retort.
Despite their bravado, the SciFi camp was in a desperate state. Already their more capable commanders (Ballard, Vonnegut, Atwood) had defected to the mainstream. The rest of the troops were coalescing into factions: Hard SF boys were engaged in a battle for control with the partisans of Soft and Fuzzy. In a corner of the camp –rusting– the Steampunk engines lay, waiting for a decision to be made. Trekkies sulked. Every year their ranks dwindled even as the number of fan events and conventions rose.
“But it is all about the science, it’s even in the bloody title!”
“No! How can you be so witless? It’s all about characters and emotions and…”
“Piss off and write romance stories for Woman’s Realm, then!”
“Ooh! That’s just typical that is! You and your endless regurgitations of quantum theory, mundane science and global bleeding, bloody warming. Why can’t you just dream a dream?”
“I almost did, because you’re sending me to sleep.”
In the middle distance the neutrals prepared for the battle to come. They were the mercenaries, belonging to both camps and none: The Warhammer 40,000 novels, the Young Adult Fiction and the other shiftless flotsam of the continent of Literata. It was a land with no Borders, a voracious Amazon and a lot of tumbling Waterstones.
“Will they ever sort out these pointless arguments about the nature and intrinsic character of their genres, daddy?” said a cute little blonde-headed child, looking with big, saucer-like eyes at her genetically designated adult. Some distance away, the battle raged.
“No, kid. I don’t think so. Not until the fantasy camp realise they’re just peddling magic realism with it’s brains kicked out and the SciFi gangs find a way to be friends again.”
“Oh. And daddy, does Pukka Tukka: Jamie Oliver’s Story go with the cookbooks or the biographies?”
“Now, let’s not start that one again…”
TO BE CONTINUED (ad nauseam)