And now for something completely different

By Steve Montgomery

One of my other hobbies is cheap television thrillers and S.F., preferably British, because we really seem to excel at shaky scenery.

Radio and Optical Telescopes and Observatories turned up in a number of high profile, high rating shows and the following home grown examples are available on video and on re-run T.V. channels.

Among my favourite shows, "The Avengers" ranks very highly. Transmitted in February 1963, the Honor Blackman story, "The White Dwarf", contained number of scenes set in an Observatory and the telescope is used by Blackman's character, Cathy Gale, as a master part of the plot. The White Dwarf of the title is a non-existent threat from space, being used as part of an elaborate financial scam.

Then in January 1967 the Diana Rigg adventure," From Venice With Love", was aired, featuring some of the odd, quirky type of characters peculiar to the Avengers of the time. The story centred on amateur observations of Venus and the deaths of Astronomers while observing. Speculations about life on Venus are also included.

Another venerable British T.V. institution is Dr. Who. This show has had a few stories featuring telescopes, the most famous, perhaps, being "Logopolis", which was broadcast in four parts during February and March 1981. Its claim to fame is the fourth doctor played by Tom Baker, falls from the gantry of a radio telescope on Earth and regenerates as the Peter Davidson version. The radio telescope is a major part of the plot, as a perfect copy of it is discovered on the planet Logopolis and the mystery deepens.

Back in season eight of Doctor Who, with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor a story called "Terror of the Autons" featured a radio telescope being used by the Master (a recurring villain). There is a lot of daft, so-called science as you might expect, but the telescope is a featured part of the action. The location used in the story is the radio telescope at the Ministry of Technology Beacon Hill Research Establishment.

And now to true classic of British television, the Quatermass series. In the mid 1950's Quatermass II was screened in which some of the action takes place in observatory 3 at the Rocket Centre, somewhere in England. The radio telescope is used to find the source of the objects coming in from space and falling around the secret establishment at Winnerton Flats. This is a chilling piece of entertainment that was later filmed with Brian Donlevy as Quatermass.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. In the 1970's a children serial called "Children of the Stones", with Iain Cuthbertson as a mad astronomer who discovers a black hole, which he uses to mentally enslave the population of the village of Millbury.

There are more adventurous out there and you may find them entertaining enough to occupy you on overcast nights when you can't be out there.