Nigel Kneale, RIP

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 by

Nigel Kneale, 1922-2006

Nigel Kneale, 1922-2006

OTT was very sad to learn of the death of one of television’s true greats – Nigel Kneale. Three years ago this month, we were lucky enough to run an interview with the man himself, and I was particularly lucky in that it was me putting the questions to him. All of this came about when our friends at BBC4′s Timeshift contacted us to let us know they had a documentary on his life and times in the works. Being the impudent souls we are, we harassed Timeshift‘s Tom Ware into agreeing to take part in an interview with us. But in the course of our finagling, Tom let it be known Kneale himself might even spare us a few minutes for a chat over the telephone.

After a convoluted process that, if I recall correctly, required us to send various faxes to Kneale to advise him of our intentions, a date and time was arranged. Having interviewed him already, Tom advised us that due to advancing years, we shouldn’t expect too much, either in terms of time or anecdotage. Thus, with expectations of a brief chat in mind, I placed the call. Upon getting connected, I explained who I was and why I was ringing and Nigel responded, “Yes. Of course you see they’ve got a new one opening up the road now so that’s fine.” If truth be told, my heart sank a little and my expectations dipped.

However with that curious false start out of the way (I later managed to ascertain that Nigel was referring to a new cinema that had opened nearby – I think perhaps he had been expecting a call from someone else on that subject), he proved to be an utterly enthralling chap. Admittedly, at times you had to be quick to follow the route of his train of thought, but he was fascinating, open and welcome to talk about anything I cared to mention.

Over the years he developed a reputation for being something of a spiky interviewee, but although I found him to be forthright (he didn’t much care for my assertion that his body of work suggested an interest in the paranormal), all he was doing was exercising his formidable ability to verbalise his thoughts in a clear and concise manner. This, to me, is a long way from being rude or difficult, and actually I felt rather flattered that he thought he didn’t need to soft soap his opinions for my benefit.

Anyway, having estimated a chat of about 10 minutes or so, I found myself still sitting there caught up in our conversation an hour later. At the end of the interview he asked various questions about OTT – not that he was seeking reassurances as to how and where his words might be used – he was just interested in what it was all about. I suppose you can’t really tell that much about someone from just a one hour phone call, but I did get the sense that this summed him up pretty well – an insatiable curiosity and interest in things simply for their own sake.

His clear thinking and ability to take a premise on a fascinating “what if” walk, marked him out as one of our most visionary television screenwriters. Here’s hoping that television marks his passing in an appropriate manner.


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