Literary papers of playwright and author Thomas Nigel Kneale including screenplays, scripts, correspondence and press reviews

Scope and Content

The content relates in great part to Kneale’s creative writing, providing a unique insight into how his works both unproduced and produced were developed. Many projects can be followed through from initial research, story outlines and treatments, to first drafts, subsequent drafts and amendments, rehearsal and production scripts and finally to documents relating to production and reception, including business correspondence, newspaper reviews, audience research reports and some contemporary advertisements of the production. Out of Kneale’s produced works the resources for Quatermass (1953-1996), The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), Kinvig (1981), Stanley and the Women (1991), Sharpe’s Gold (1995) and Kavanagh QC III: Ancient History (1997) are particularly notable. Regarding his unproduced work, The Big, Big Giggle (1965), Crow (1975-77), Non-Stop (1984-88), Gentry (1987-88) and Batavia (1990) are also noteworthy.

The deposit includes business documents and correspondence charting Kneale’s career with the BBC and other employers. Kneale’s papers not only give a general insight into the stages of screen production but are notable because he was an especially eccentric pioneer in the television and film world, particularly regarding the genre of science fiction. Additionally, much of his work has cultural significance because of the way he played on social anxieties of the time and often prophesised developments to come.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Nigel Kneale (1922-2006), an influential television, film and radio scriptwriter (known to his family as Tom), was born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to Manx parents William Thomas (known to his family as Tom) Kneale (1896-1963), a journalist and his wife Lilian née Kewley (1889-1979). The family returned to the Isle of Man in 1928 (Nigel’s father had gained the assistant editor position at the Isle of Man Examiner newspaper) and was extended in 1930 by the birth of a second son, Bryan, the renowned artist and sculptor. By 1931 W.T. Kneale had entered into a partnership with his brother Robert G. Kneale (c.1884-1942) and together they acquired the Mona’s Herald newspaper.

In his spare time Nigel Kneale enjoyed writing stories. In 1946, aged 24, Kneale made his first broadcast performing a live reading of his short story Tomato Cain on BBC Radio. In the same year he moved to London, England where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) followed by two years’ work at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. During this decade he made further broadcasts and published Tomato Cain and Other Stories in 1949 for which he won the Somerset Maugham Award the following year. Kneale’s first professional script was the radio drama The Long Stairs in 1950; in 1951 a chance meeting with Michael Barry (1910-1988), a former RADA tutor of his, now head of drama for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television service, led to Barry hiring Kneale as a staff writer. Kneale turned away from acting to write full time, remaining at the BBC until 1956 when his contract expired; thereafter he focused on writing film screen plays and conducted freelance work. In 1953 Kneale broke ground by writing The Quatermass Experiment, the first science-fiction television serial which was received with success. The lead character, Professor Bernard Quatermass, was reprised by Kneale in numerous televisions series, films and radio plays from 1953 until 1996: it is for these that Kneale is most generally known.

During the early 1950s Kneale met talented writer (Anne) Judith Kerr (b.1923), daughter of a refugee German theatre critic, Alfred Kerr (1867-1948) and composer Julia née Weismann (1898-1965). She is also sister to the prominent lawyer Sir Michael Kerr (1921-2002). Kneale and Kerr married on 8 May 1954 and had one daughter, Tacy (b.1958), an actress and painter and one son Matthew (b.1960), a writer. Kerr went on to become a hugely successful children’s author, publishing works such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968) and the Mog series (1970-2015). In 1962 the couple settled in Barnes, London, remaining there indefinitely.

Kneale was a prolific writer and wrote many other works of horror and science-fiction which went to production on film and TV such as The Year of the Sex Olympics (1967) and The Stone Tape (1972). He also adapted novels for the screen, for instance, George Orwell’s 1984 (1954) and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (1989). He was unafraid to experiment with many other genres as evidenced by Kinvig (1981) his sole attempt at a sitcom. After 1974 Kneale spent the rest of his television career mostly writing scripts for the TV network Independent Television (ITV), contributing to television series such as Sharpe (1993-1997) and Kavanagh QC (1995-2001). Kneale died in October 2006, aged 84 with his ashes scattered on Barnes Common, London.

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Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from MS 11631's deposit file and Philip Purser, ‘Kneale, (Thomas) Nigel (1922–2006)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2010; online edn, Sept 2010 [, accessed 15 Feb 2016].

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), February 2016.

Separated Material

Separated material held by Manx National Heritage includes photographs of Nigel Thomas Kneale and stills from productions of Nineteen Eighty Four (1984), 'Quatermass' (1953), 'Quatermass II' (1955) and 'Mrs Wickens in the Fall' (1957). Reference number: PG/13645.

Related Material

Related material held by Manx National Heritage includes numerous library resources connected to Nigel Kneale's work. Other material includes various library resources, photographs and artwork of his brother, artist Bryan Kneale.

Further related material held by Manx National Heritage includes papers (reference number: MS 12319) and photographs (reference number:PG/13541) belonging to his father, journalist William Thomas Kneale.