Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.1 The Campus Architecture

It has been noted that parts of the University of Leeds – the buildings constructed in the 1960s and 70s by architects Chamberlin Powell and Bon, many of which are now listed – have a futuristic look and would indeed form a suitable setting for science fiction dramatisations. Outlandish claims have been made for the use of the campus in Star Wars and Logan’s Run, which don’t stand up to even cursory examination, though definitive information about locations is difficult to find at first glance. I have also seen Doctor Who mentioned, but can’t verify that either. Despite rumours that scenes from both A Clockwork Orange and, perhaps less excitingly, Blake’s Seven were filmed on campus, these have proved to be urban myths. A Clockwork Orange apparently used underpasses at the then newly-built Brunel University, Middlesex. While resisting the temptation to actually watch Blake’s Seven as part of my research (best left as dim childhood memories), the Internet reliably revealed that at least one episode featured the Brunswick Building, part of the Leeds Met – then Leeds Poly – campus on Merrion Way. Though the building was demolished in 2009, this image from the Leodis site captures its science fictional spirit.

Incidentally, that part of the City Centre, including the Merrion Centre itself, features more of the same combination of imposing architecture and pioneering underpasses which are somewhere between Soviet and science fiction in style. Much of this being now discredited, the underpasses are boarded-up and the whole area is seemingly being prepared for regeneration around the forthcoming Leeds Arena, which is effectively on the site of the Brunswick Building.

So the University of Leeds campus remains an unused set, at least for sci-fi purposes, having last featured in an episode of Raffles (the gentleman thief) in the heady days of the 1970s. However, another Yorkshire Television production, a 1979 adaptation of the M.R. James story Casting the Runes, used the University’s Brotherton Library. It had first been filmed under the title Night of the Demon, in 1957, when the corresponding – and original – scene took place in the British Library. My own images, taken recently around the landmark Roger Stevens Building (completed in 1970), and featuring the walkway which connects to the enigmatically named Red Route – allegedly the longest corridor in Europe, unless that is of course another urban myth – attempt to suggest locations for a script yet to be written. Taking these photographs, speculating about the films which weren’t filmed here after all, and ones which might still be, also enlivened the monotony of the daily walk to work.

Watch the trailer for the 1979 TV adaptation of M.R. James' Casting the Runes on Youtube: (featuring the Brotherton Library)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Brave New World…

A suitable opening, since this is entirely new territory for me. So first things first, welcome to the SF Forward blog, a forum for thoughts that find form through broadly science fictional themes.

The idea for the blog developed out of conversations with a friend and colleague of mine after we were involved in organising a science fiction exhibition at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery (University of Leeds). Drawing from material in the Library’s Science Fiction collection, the ‘Visions of the Future’ (4 April - 11 June 2011) exhibition explored the history of science fiction artwork, and when it finished we started thinking about ways to promote and provide access to the collection (more on this to follow). While not the largest or rarest in the country, the collection at Leeds is nevertheless an incredibly interesting resource. To give you a quick overview, it comprises over one thousand works, published from the nineteenth century onwards, representing the history and development of the SF genre.

I hope this blog will be a starting point for thinking about works in the collection but will ultimately develop beyond the collection too. So there you have it, my SF Foreword; roll on brave new worlds!