‘I just want you to listen.’
In Bounty, we get to see (ex) President Sarcoff’s collection of 20th century artifacts. His library. His exhibition of 20th century Earth. I’ve always loved collections. I’m a sci-fi fan after all.
When I was 10 years old, I got hold of a copy of the BBC’s sound effects of ‘Death and Horror’ from my local library, and marveled at some of the gruesome titles of the tracks. Forward 28 years, and here I am looking at the catalogue listing for a subsequent BBC release ‘Even more Death and Horror’. It really does have the best track titles. So step forward:
‘The Gas Chamber – The Cyanide Tablets Drop Into The Acid Releasing The Deadly Fumes‘
‘Drilling Into The Head – Enough Said’
‘Fingernails Pulled Out – Assorted’
‘Whipping – A Touch Of The Lash Keeps You On Your Toes (Or Knees)’
‘Female Falling From A Height (Ladies First)’
A few years later, at the tail end of my teenage years, comfortable in the knowledge that I would never fit in with the majority of the rest of my peers, I feverishly got my hands on a well thumbed tape of BBC sci-fi sound effects, which included a whole host of Blake’s 7 noises. At the time time I decided that my favourite one was the sound effect made when Avon fired his gun at the alien in ‘Sarcophagus’ who promptly neutralised it. Even in its muddy cassette tape form, I loved it.
This was a pivotal moment in my understanding of the impact of sound in drama. Around this time I have a memory of (on more than one occasion) watching the 1978 remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ late at night, usually shown on a Friday night on the BBC. I always seemed to watch it in that little window between being just about awake, and sound asleep. The sonic characteristics of that movie were part of that almost altered state. It was such a sparse, stripped back movie. The dialogue was recorded so softly, the score was often reduced to a series of electronic tones, the outside world eerily still and quiet. The silence was just as profound as the sound that we could hear.
It’s just another element of the direction of sonic elements that I found so fascinating in 1970’s sci-fi and fantasy.
A series like Blake’s 7 frequently built up a fine collection of sound effects, but it used library tracks equally memorably. I don’t doubt that anyone reading this doesn’t know what a library track is, but here’s a condensed history.
‘Stock music’ or ‘library music’ is something that is created to be used or licensed in films, television series and other media, rather than material created specifically for a production. Its beginnings can be traced to the early days of cinema – the ‘talkie’. A key player in this area, is the De Wolfe library – a family run firm, recognised by many as starting up the industry.
‘It started really through the silent film days. At the time there wasn’t much music to work with these silent images. And so, my Grandfather started recording little sections of music, and then re-selling those sections of music. And basically it was all specially composed or original music that then became re-used.’
Warren De Wolf – Grandson of the founder. (1)
To this day De Wolf is responsible for many of the sounds that you hear in film and television. Take the chanting in ‘Cygnus Alpha’ and ‘Games’ – which can be found on the LP ‘Choral Masters’. http://www.dewolfemusic.com/search.php#!/?code=9VuIg0&id=8525051
Duel is notable for the Douglas Camfield’s use of library scores – something he uses to excellent effect in ‘Inferno’ (1970)
Take ‘Duet for Choir and Tunnel’ by Ron Geesin. Noted for his application of sound, Geesin has contributed to many areas since the 1970’s, from collaborations with David Gilmour and Roger Walters of Pink Floyd fame, to the compositions to many schools programmes of the 1970’s/80’s. Here we hear a memorable track from 1972, described as ‘Echoing empty sound in a repetitive sequence.’ Geesin himself memorably introduces the tracks on this album. “I present some tunes, untunes, anti-tunes, delightful and undelightful sounds for all sorts of purposes and state that: The pieces herein displayed may be combined with themselves (as much out of sync as possible) to achieve thicker diffuse atmosphere, and playing things at different speeds would not be wrong!” (2)
Camfield also chose Keith Mansfield’s ‘Suspended Animation’ taken from ‘Kpm 1000 Series: Olympiad 2000’ – you can take a listen here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N1PYSZQ/ref=dm_ws_tlw_trk23
This is the point that it is worth noting the other big player in the world of UK library scores – KPM (Keith-Prowse-Maurice.)
KPM often contained tracks from heavyweight British composers such as Alan ‘Countdown’ Hawkshaw, and Keith ‘Grandstand’ Mansfield, so to mention KPM, is the trigger signal for a ton of instantly recognisable theme tunes for UK television shows. Think of ‘This is Your Life’ (Gala Performance), or ‘Mastermind’ (Approaching menace.)
There are other notable LP’s too. Studio G – who specialised in electronic scores, frequently delivered some big hitters in the library world. Check out Rhythm – Industrial Underscore (1976), which features work created by Doug Wood – responsible for the BBC theme tune for their Snooker coverage. Indeed the penultimate track ‘Cranes’ brilliantly evokes the sweaty atmosphere of a public house and the tension as players take to the ‘oche’ – it was theme tune to BBC’s World Championship Darts in the 1980’s – even though it wasn’t written for anything like that purpose.
Before my self indulgence turns you off completely, lets return to Blake’s 7. What other library music would appear in the proverbial mix-tape?
Outside of Dudley Simpson’s contributions for the show is some notable library music scores created by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Richard Yeoman-Clark composed some eerie and often sinister scores. Take the calming (and darkly manipulative) muzak for the pacified population on Earth, or the high pitched futuristic bleeps and atmospheres that accompany the pursuit ships in ‘Duel’. But it’s “Mysterioso (Blake’s Seven)” that perhaps gets the most exposure. It’s a score that features in various scenes set on Space Command Headquarters. ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Weapon’ springs to mind here. http://www.juno.co.uk/miniflashplayer/SF607140-01-01-32.mp3
Yeoman-Clark’s sucessor, Elizabeth Parker also gets in on the act, providing a hard rock/synth lick motif for ‘Gambit’, accompaniments for Cally in ‘Dawn of the Gods’ and some highly atmospheric moods for ‘Sarcophagus’ and ‘Warlord.’ And those are just the ones that stand out.
Outside of the BBC, there are other ingredients that contribute to the fabric of Blake’s sonic universe? This is the point where I must say a big thank you to Andrew Pixley for uncovering so much of the little details that I have fed on for the last 25 years or so. So what can be said to describe Skaila Kanga? She is perhaps the most significant harpist in the United Kingdom. If you need convincing check out her biography from the Royal Academy of Music. She really has done it all. http://www.ram.ac.uk/about-us/staff/skaila-kanga
In 1978 she performed Dudley Simpson’s ‘Dance Pavane’ on the Celtic Harp, for ‘The Keeper.’ Here’s a personal selection that sticks out in my mind.
With library music, there’s a certain mystery about these tracks. Often library tracks are produced by name unfamiliar to the wider audience, or totally anonymous.
But Blake’s 7 also featured it’s fare share of non library music scores. Take Vere Lorrimer’s ‘Convicts March’ in ‘Moloch’ or ‘Dayna’s Song’ in ‘Sarcophagus.’
But memorably it’s ‘Bounty,’ that sticks in the mind more than any other. Sarcoff’s collections includes a couple of noteworthy songs.
‘Singing the Blues’ – This song was written in 1956, and recorded by a great many artists. The Blake’s 7 production team decided to use Tommy Steele’s version which was a number 1 hit for him in the United Kingdom. Apparently it’s a relatively popular tune sung by supporters of many football clubs across the country.
Then there is ‘Blow the Wind Southerly.’ This is perhaps the most familiar version of the traditional folk song, sung by Kathleen Ferrier who achieved some significant critical and commercial success, collaborating with many singers, conductors and composers including Benjamin Britten before succumbing to cancer at the height of her career. It’s a beautiful rendition.
Elsewhere, there’s talk that, at some point around the beginning of season D, the composer Norrie Paramor – noted for many things, not least his scores for many film and television productions – was approached with the offer to arrange a new version of the theme tune. However he died in 1979, so whether this was actually ever on the cards is uncertain, But what is certain is that he could write some kick-ass tunes, such as this one for TV series ‘New Scotland Yard’ in 1972.
To 1989, and The Orb, release a single taken from a BBC LP BBC Sound Effects No. 26 – Sci-Fi Sound Effects entitled ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld.’ It’s quite a ride though dub/Brian Eno/Grace Jones/BBC sound – and many others. Apparently the inclusion of Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Loving You’ caused some trouble and had to be re-recorded soon after the single was released.
But let’s also take a moment to celebrate Dudley Simpson’s brilliant career. Take this – a great title tune from a great composer.
Or ‘City of Death’ – many Doctor Who fans love this score. I do too, but I also love it as it equally reminds me of Simpson’s equally melodramatic score for Project Avalon.
And lets not forget this fabulous piece of music that Simpson brought to us… (hats off to whoever is tinkling the ivories here.
…and the versions that it spawned. Nice one Geoff.
And whilst I seek to recognise Simpson’s contributions during each episode I review, it would be remiss of me not to pay homage to his ‘other’ orchestra, heard on many occasions during the series – the Yamaha EX-42 (1970.)
This space age beast of a machine would often be responsible for some of the finest moments in Blake. Take the suspenseful grating sounds in ‘Time Squad’, the twangy synth that accompanies Avon’s isolation on the flight deck in ‘Horizon’, the stringed instrument that features in ‘Sarcophagus’, the electronic space effects behind ‘The Keeper’ and ‘Star One’, and of course almost any moment a model shot of the Liberator appears. Oh, and lets not forget those two wonderful long notes that end the title music.
So music – in all it’s forms and contexts – is a vital component of the Blake’s 7 universe, perhaps more so than it’s BBC sci-fi stablemate at the time. It’s part of the narrative and scene building, it adds mood and texture to the episodes, and of course, the incidental music is a critical component to helping the drama along. So if you’re ever passing a library, whether it’s ‘bricks and mortar’ or something you can access though other means, dip in. You’ll always find something new.
I’ve always felt that Bounty’ the episode is a parallel to ‘Bounty’ the storyline. It might be the most ‘meta’ episode of all. Its sits in it’s own little world – in isolation – just like Sarcoff himself. On his own with a collection of things that bring him pleasure, just as the episode contains all the key ingredients that bring me pleasure as a viewer. It’s not perfect – but many of the characteristics that is part of the DNA of Blake’s 7 is here.
It’s a tricky point in the series these later stages. We’ve not reached the final storylines. We’ve seen the battle with Travis reach a kind of result – for now. But we’re not quite done. So Bounty sits on it’s own. In fact it kind of harks back to earlier episodes that focus on the chipping away of the Federation. After only a few scenes I was wondering whether this belonged earlier on. Perhaps a swap with ‘Mission to Destiny’ in running order? Changing the running order of episode is something I always enjoy doing. In my head, season A would had some heavy Federation based storylines up until ‘Project Avalon’ then a bit of a fallow period before we return to the battle against Servalan and Travis in the final two stories.
I find it interesting how we go straight into the action as Cally skulks around some woodland. No establishing shot, or introductions. It’s like we’ve come late to the party. And then we see Blake with his picnic box. I’m sure I’m just another in a long line of people to mention the picnic box. Even rebels get hungry.
What I do love about these early scenes, is the moment when, from afar, we see four Federation guards have a natter, then run in wonderful formation. This is like the deluxe version of supporting actor technique. The gesticulations are elaborated, and the running somewhat skew-if.
Actually these early scenes remind me of many episodes of ‘The Avengers’ where we see Steed, instead of Sarcoff drive down a country road in a vintage car, rushing towards the next adventure.
We then welcome Sub Commander Cheney. One of the finest sub commanders to ever grace the series. His curt, and very pronounced delivery, means he loses all sense of authority. Red standby alert, becomes Red Mobilisation, which becomes Blue Mobilisation. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but them I’m probably being far too insular. Oh, and the guards follow the pattern established in ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’ – generally stupid and bumbling – which is a pity as it shatters the threat that any appearance of a guard can convey. It made me think this was not only a ‘prison’ for ex-presidents, but a punishment for incompetent Federation officers and commanders. I wonder if Cheney rubbed shoulders with Keera from ‘Duel’ or rubbed eyes with Leylan, following the ‘London affair.’
Actually, on the subject of pronounced delivery, I love the way actors perform lines where there character is not actually their character. For example David Jackson delivers the lines ‘I’ve got all the details, bring me back’ as ‘I’ve…got…all the details. Brringg. Mee. Back!’
Later in season C, Jan Chappell delivers ‘Help me, help me. I don’t know where I am’ in ‘Ultraworld’ as though she has just woken up.
Finally Steven Pacey perhaps delivers the most subtle of all in ‘Moloch’ – ‘Cally…this is Tarrant. Ready for telepor-tut.‘ Mind you I doubt no one was paying attention there, as we were all studying Jan Chappell’s face to see if there were any signs of a smirk.
On the unnamed planet, a car trundles along a road, and out steps the key characters of Tyce and Sarcoff. They are a great paring, with a chemistry that is very pronounced, but subtly played. In T.P Mckenna’s hands there is a real presence without resorting to booming voices, or exaggeration. Their open exchanges are intriguing, and suggest a deep backstory which needs to be unpeeled. The fact that their relationship isn’t clearly defined at this point adds to the intrigue.
A good chunk of episode passes before we finally reach the Liberator – another sign that the production team are happy to expand ideas about how the narrative unfolds within an episode. Here we are witness to a funny and very changeable dynamic between the crew – snapping, agreeing, disagreeing, even appearing physically close at times – Vila’s reflections to himself, and Jenna’s closeness with Avon stick out for me. There are some interesting discussions between Jenna, Avon and Gan about the drive to help, and Gan’s sacrificial bent. Through it all there is the feeling that without Blake’s direction, the group can’t really make considered decisive decisions, it’s like they are a bit lost. And that is perhaps proven by the ease in which they fall into the trap. As Avon would comment later ‘None of us showed conspicuous intelligence on this occasion.’ At the end of it all its the gooey dialogue between Blake and Jenna over the communicator which sticks out sorely.
It’s hard not to see Chris Boucher’s hand in these scenes. Each character is well sketched, and it’s interesting to see Jenna pretty much running the show on the ship. It would have been nice to see more of this, following on from her assertiveness in dealing with the ‘wildcard’ Avon in ‘Cygnus Alpha.’ The closest we have after this point is ‘Trial’, where Jenna is demanding some decisions from the more liazie faire Avon and company, and there is a wider sense that nothing is confirmed without Jenna’s agreement. But in ‘Bounty’ it feels like it’s Jenna’s last hurrah, as in the following two episodes it’s Avon who starts to call the shots on Cephlon, and later back on the Liberator whilst waiting for Blake to deliver the radiation drugs. Also I love Avon’s reaction to Gan’s acknowledgment that he would willingly order his own death. No words. Just bewilderment. Avon rarely shows this type of reaction, and it is interesting to see how he processes such an decision as this.
Back at Sarcoff’s pad, a guard wanders too close to Blake and Cally, who jumps off the high wall to knock out the trouper. At least that was the plan. Apparently the stunt artist (Roberta Gibbs) mistimed the jump, injuring herself in the process. It’s a strange fascination when you know these facts, making me not really pay any kind of attention to the narrative, but solely concentrate on the moment of impact.
Back on the increasingly wonky flight deck (check out the state of Cally’s control position), Vila is all on on his own, listening in as things slowly start to unravel. It’s a nice little character moment as he deals with a range of emotions, all of them panicked. As he gets up to take some kind of action there is an interesting choice of music from Dudley Simpson which sounds like the kind of tune you would hear in some kind of sitcom like ‘The Good Life’ where we might see Tom Good dealing with various shenanigans in his garden in Serbiton.
Back on the unnamed planet there is an interesting, and somewhat melancholic oboe driven music score, when we are introduced to Sarcoff’s collection room. It’s almost mournful, lamenting the loss of his power, and ego.
Despite this loss, the resulting scenes with Blake are great, and use some excellent dialogue to convey each others point as two stubborn-as-a-mule mindsets clash. The use of English language is in keeping with the the Presidents sophisticated collection, full of pleasantries and bygone structure. The way the dialogue is constructed has elements of Nation, but it feels like it has been given a little nudge – again Boucher’s involvement would appear to be evident here.
The Lindor strategy is a great storyline, and really adds to the excellent dialogue in these scenes. It one of those moments, that I’m more than happy to simply hear about events that the Blake’s 7 budget simply cannot afford.
It did leave me just as interested in the nameless planet as much as Lindor itself. What else is actually there? Tyce mentions deserted mine workings, so presumably there was/is some kind of population there.
A clearly troubled Sarcoff is left alone in his palace for what seems like an eternity – but it’s a brilliant scene. I remember watching it for the first, as it felt that it was the first time Blake’s 7 had stopped and paused for breath, after such a frenetic first series so far. I think it was really well directed moment.
Blake turns nasty, as he starts to smash Sarcoff’s collection piece by piece. It’s a great scene, as we are reminded of his determination to succeed, and the lengths he will go to to ensure his aims are met in time sensitive situations. It’s a nice follow on from the previous episode when he threatens to destroy Klyn’s hand unless he operates on Gan promptly. It’s an important reminder that Blake isn’t a conventional hero – every episode runs the risk of reminding the audience that he is – even the title of the series suggests that. It’s the first seeds of his series two persona – increasingly driven and obsessive, and a reminder that this isn’t a show about black and whites.
From his control of a situation, to the things outside of his control – I love Blake’s increasing panic as he struggles to make contact. In a number of episodes we hear Blake trying to get though to the ship, and nine times out of ten we cut to the speaker in the teleport bay. I’ve always found these moments really funny, as Gareth Thomas’s studio voice rarely matches up to the location footage.
The vintage car (a 1925 Morris Cowley ‘Bullnose’ – fact fans) gets one last on screen runaround. I was impressed that Blake’s Alpha grade education extended to how to start a classic vehicle. (3)
So on to the Amagons. Hmmm – I’m going to skip past some of the outdated representations, this is a series of its time, just as the things we watch today will no doubt be outdated. But it is there. What I was struck by was Marc Zubar’s performance of Tarvin. I felt he found the perfect balance of ruthless, cruel, and calculating to charismatic, humourous, and witty. Take the scene where he talks about selling his Grandmother – it’s a really nice balance of jeopardy and humour, that Blake’s 7 gets right so often. His appearance as Tarvin would appear to be one of his biggest TV roles.
Jenna’s relationship with Tarvin, like much of this episode, is something that is left to the imagination. From time to time, all Blake’s 7 has to resort to the unseen and that is sometimes fine and sometimes frustrating. There is much in Bounty that relies on this. I think the descriptions of off-screen events are well handled, from the detail that informs Blake’s persuasion of Sarcoff, to the more vague description of what went on between Tarvin and Jenna.
It’s interesting to see how the crew deal with being completely duped in a way we’ve not really seen. It’s perhaps their first real taste of defeat. They are cross with each other. I love the line between Gan and Cally – ‘Companions for our death.’ David Jackson really gets to deliver that with some relish, as Gan vents his frustration.
Jenna gets a chance to play poker face – something she gets a chance to do from time to time. As mentioned earlier it’s a shame that this is the peak of her characterisation, with perhaps only ‘The Keeper’ displaying her true wiliness and intelligence.
So we reach the conclusion. Sarcoff regains his fire, and the relationship with Tyce is clarified. It’s generally well played, apart from the a little moment where we see Blake or Jenna waiting in the wings during the stand off between Tarvin and Sarcoff. ‘Orac’ will suffer the same problem in a couple of episodes time, as Vila awaits his cue in the teleport section.
And I’m sure there are many who interpreted a nod to ‘The Graduate’ as Tyce reveals the hidden weapon.
We end with some playful banter between Blake, Cally and Jenna, following Tyce and Sarcoff’s farewell. But perhaps any attraction displayed by Tyce towards Blake was slightly too underplayed, and for a long time I didn’t quite get the end scene, and even today, it doesn’t quite get it’s point across clearly. But it matters not, as – like many end scenes in Blake’s 7 episodes – it sucks anyway.
As for the guest cast – I found the episode to be quite notable, because I had never seen any of them in anything else. Cue some snooping into their creative careers. Around the time of ‘Bounty’ the late Marc Zuber played a Doctor in ‘The Sweeny’ and featured in many small film and TV roles, but was a bigger presence in Bollywood movies. Carinthia West was and is a very notable photographer – I didn’t know that, and her work was a fascinating discovery, Mark York has appeared from everything from UFO to The Bill, and the cameo appearance from Derrick Branche is a footnote in a career ranging from My Beautiful Launderette to Father Ted, and he even formed a band with a pre Queen Freddy Mercury. All in all – quite a range!
Finally it’s worth recognising the location they used – Waterloo Tower in Quex Park, Kent. A great find. http://www.visitthanet.co.uk/attractions/quex-park/203095
So that’s ‘Bounty.’ It’s not the most sophisticated Blake’s 7 episode of all, but it contains the essential ingredients of the show, along with some of the things that we recognise as being of its era. It is also, in the style of the dialogue as written, a pre-cursor for what is to come, as Nation gradually reduces his involvement in the show, and Boucher really starts to make his mark.
Lots going on here. Early on we heve timpani and flute to build up the skulking in the woodland. In fact there’s lots of flute in this one. If there is a instrument that fits film scenes perfectly it’s the flute. It just doesn’t have the same effect when accompanying studio scenes shot on video. Film is it’s natural home – take the similar clues to when Avon and Tarrant are skulking around in the Liberator in ‘Powerplay,’ or even in Doctor Who’s forray into film ‘Spearhead from Space’ where Simpson uses the instrument very effectively. I’ve mentioned some of the other musical motifs elsewhere, but there is a lot of ‘spangly’, almost Harpsichord style synth in the background.
The stand out set is Sarcoff’s museum. It’s a striking design, but what really struck me is the depth of the set, and through some clever camera angles we also see a room in the background, giving the museum a scale rarely seen in other sets. The positioning of the President’s desk slap bang in the middle also gives some dramatic weight as he sits alone thinking ahead, and contemplating his past. It’s clearly where the budget went. Meanwhile on the Liberator, we are treated to a more functional affair in an unnamed ‘power’ room containing what looks like some kind of generator. It economically re-uses that wall mounted control panel seen in ‘Time Squad’, subsequently blown up in ‘The Web.’
HOW TO SELL THIS TO A NON-BELIEVER
From a historical perspective, both in terms of the relics contained and the representations within.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
Avon and Gan’s discussion about ‘giving the order.’
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Cheney talking to himself about ‘the rodent.’
VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY
This is meta. A curio, featuring a number of curio’s.