THE TELEVISION and film producer Rudolph Cartier was one of the fathers of modern television drama. He won a deserved reputation for his ability to push the severe limitations of early television to the limit. His first production for the BBC was in 1952, in the days of tight budgets, severely limited cardboard sets and tiny television tubes on which to view them. Cartier suspended disbelief to the point of commanding the attention of the entire British viewing public. The screen may have been small but the scale of Cartier's imagination was immense.
Rudolph Cartier was born in Vienna in 1904. His first love had always been opera but he trained as an architect. In the late Twenties he worked in Berlin for the UFA studios in the Weimar Republic. When Hitler rose to power, Cartier left to return to Vienna where he began a career as a producer.
In 1948 he wrote and produced Corridor of Mirrors with Nigel Portman. A chance meeting with a literary agent resulted in Cartier's being interviewed by Michael Barry, the Head of Drama for BBC Television. Cartier's ideas on what television drama should really be about so impressed Barry that he was given the opportunity to make an adaptation of a German novel, Arrow to the Heart, after which Cartier was offered a staff job.
Genuinely original ideas in the universe of science fiction and the thriller are rare indeed. But during the 1950s, BBC Television Drama featured the work of a young staff writer, Nigel Kneale, whose scripts were extraordinarily innovative. His most famous character has since passed into Horror/
Fantasy history: Professor Bernard Quatermass, the rocket scientist. The partnership of Kneale and Cartier unleashed Quatermass on the viewing public.
A slot for a television serial appeared unexpectedly in 1953, and there was nothing available to fill it. Kneale wrote the script, and Rudolph Cartier produced The Quatermass Experiment live at Alexandra Palace between July and August. Cartier and Kneale wanted an inventive, creative production and shocked senior BBC staff when they announced that they wanted to build a space rocket at Alexandra Palace. The scale was beyond anything previously seen on the small screen, with a confrontational finale amongst the ceilings of Westminster Abbey.
The second Quatermass - Quatermass II - was shot at Lime Grove with more advanced equipment. Cartier used film inserts employing much footage shot at the Shell oil refinery, and the environs of the Thames Estuary. This was so effective that when Hammer Films remade the story, directed by Val Guest (as they had The Quatermass Experiment), they used the same locations. Quatermass II was one of the first television drama productions in which locations really mattered, as opposed to simply being link pieces.
Following the success of the Quatermass serials, Barry invited Cartier and Kneale to dramatise George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty- four for television. It had been a pet project of the BBC's for some time, but many producers claimed that it could not be done for a host of reasons, many technical.
The production went out one Sunday in 1954 and caused much controversy amongst the press and in Parliament for the scene featuring torture by rats (the rats were actually vegetarian pet rats). There were even plans to cancel the usual weekly repeat, but these were dropped when the Duke of Edinburgh made an approving reference to the production in a speech.
Another unusual feature was that the actors played their parts to the accompaniment of a live orchestra - based in an adjoining studio. 1984 is still held to be one of Cartier's greatest achievements, repeated at the National Film Theatre in 1984 and in 1990 as a retrospect of Cartier's work.
The best of the Quatermass serials was broadcast in 1958. Quatermass and the Pit fully utilised Kneale's unique style of SF/horror, with a scientific rationale to explain the fear and terror of the unknown and the apparently inexplicable. The film was shot mainly at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, and the climax involved the destruction of most of London, an ambitious consideration for the time. The production also highlighted Cartier's innovative use of music. The score was specially commissioned and worked brilliantly, almost operatically. Cartier's concern for music (he was a pioneer of opera production on television) really tells here, as it had in 1984.
During his time at the BBC - a total of 23 years - Cartier averaged around eight productions a year, plays and operas, finally realising 120. These included versions of Giancarlo's Menotti's opera The Saint of Bleecker Street, Verdi's Otello and Richard Strauss's Salome (1957), Carmen (1962) and commissions from Arthur Bliss. He even produced some episodes of Z Cars and Maigret. At the end of his time with the BBC he was able to experiment with colour and worked on several projects involving translation and dubbing, to promote the screening of Russian and German drama.
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