Alternative3 - Chapter 4
Science Report had a very successful thirteen-week trial on ITV in 1975. Ratings were good, surprisingly good for such a serious project, and Sceptre Television had little difficulty persuading the network to take a twenty-six week run in 1976.
That was tremendous for Chris Clements and his ego, for Science Report was his baby. He produced it and directed it. And he claimed, not without justification, to have originated most of its brightest ideas.
So the network's decision was a great compliment to him. It was also an enormous challenge. Keeping up that standard for twenty-six weeks in a row - it really was quite an order. Clements had no doubts, however, about his ability to meet that order. It merely got his adrenaline going.
He was a wiry little man who looked as if he might once have been a jockey, and he had sparse dark hair that always needed combing. He always spoke fast, in urgent staccato sentences, as if his tongue were in a permanent hurry. And he generated enthusiasm like Chris Clements.
They were going to stockpile at least a dozen programs. That was the plan. Then they'd do the last fourteen during the run.
By the middle of December 1975, they already had seven in the can - so they were comfortably ahead of schedule - and the production team was considering which subject to tackle net.
There were eight of them that day in Clement's office, which was across the corridor behind Studio B. He'd often protest that the office was too small to hold proper meetings and also that he disliked the cooking smells which drifted up from the canteen kitchen.
His protests had done no good. They'd merely brought curt little notes from Leonard Harman - Assistant Controller of Programs (Admin) - pointing out that space was at a premium, that Science Report didn't qualify for its own Production Office. Harman, of course, had a far bigger office. One with proper air-conditioning.
So there they were, the eight of them, in the office that was really too small. Clement's production assistant, Jean Baker, was at the desk. She usually sat at the desk during these meetings because she did most of the note taking and the referring to files, and because Clements liked to think on his feet. He paced back and forth, his hands and arms dancing expressively, as they bounced ideas around.
The others included former ITN newscaster Simon Butler, the program's anchorman, and reporters Katherine White and Colin Benson. Opposite them were the scientific advisers, Professor David Cowie and Dr. Patrick Snow, and in the corner nearest the door was researcher Terry Dickson.
"Wave-power," suggested Benson. "Energy from waves..."
"Been flogged to death, love," said Clements. "Didn't you watch BB-C2 either?" And, reckoning it a good subject, he'd been quietly researching wave-power. He'd have to scrap that now. Clements, despite his habit of calling everybody "love," was tough. When he said no he meant no.
"Newsweek have got an intriguing piece on robot servants," said Cowie. "They're now being built, it seems, to polish the floors and even make beds..."
"Now that I like!" said Clements gleefully. "Mechanical maids! Yes, we could really have fun with that one. Jean love...put that down as a possible...we'll come back on it."
"I think it's time we took a really close look at the Brain Drain," said Butler.
Clements stopped his pacing, looked at him doubtfully. "I don't know, Simon...strikes me as a bit heavy." He cupped his chin in his right hand. "Is it really us?"
"Well, if it isn't, I think it ought to be," said Butler. "We are a science program, and you consider the number of scientists who are leaving...and what it means to this country..." conceded Clements. "Maybe if we dressed it up with some good human stories..." He looked at Dickson. "How about it, Terry? Reckon you could dig up a lively selection of case histories?"
Dickson could see his workload growing fast. "It would take time," he said guardedly.
"Of course it would, love. Getting the right people...I can see that. But it doesn't have to be top priority. Say we were to think of it in terms of five programs from now...then you could plod along with it when you're not too hectic with the first four..."
It was as simple and as casual as that. None of them at that meeting had the slightest inkling that they were about to embark on the most astonishing television documentary ever produced - the one which was to explode the secrecy of Alternative 3.
Dickson knew there was only one satisfactory way to tackle this sort of problem - dozens of telephone calls. Probably scores of them, even. It was no use hoping to rely on local stringers because they never really came up with the goods. Not on this type of job.
He'd have to call headhunting firms and the major professional organizations...universities and research establishments. He'd get told that people didn't want to appear on the program or he'd find that they were too damned dull to be allowed on the program. And if he worked at it hard enough - and had a bit of luck - he'd finish up with a good varied collection. Of people who mattered and who could talk.
He got lucky, as it happened, quite soon. One of his first telephone calls - made purely on spec - was to a complex of research laboratories. A helpful man in the Public Relations department told him that one of their solar-energy experts would soon be leaving for America. Her name was Ann Clark and she was aged 29. The PR man pointed out that naturally he couldn't say if Dr. Clark would agree to take part in the program. If she did agree, however, there would be no objection from the management. He also told Dickson that Dr. Clark was "a real cracker," but quickly added that that was background information and that he did not wish to be quoted.
Ann Clark, to Dickson's relief, said she'd be pleased to appear in Science Report. In fact, she was delighted that a television company should be planning to show the disgusting conditions in which British scientists were expected to work. She was, quite obviously, a very fluent speaker.
Clements usually liked to see a photograph and a biographical breakdown of people before committing himself to putting them on his program. He'd made that rule, years before, after bling-booking an expert on beauty aids - only to find that she looked and sounded like the worst of the Macbeth witches. He'd had to record her, of course, and they'd junked the recording after she'd left the studio. And Harman had raised hell about the waste of valuable studio time.
Now Clements played safe. He had this rule. So Dickson arranged for a Norwich news agency to call on Ann Clark. This agency came back with the whisper that she wasn't going to America purely because of working conditions. The conditions were bad, very bad, but she'd also had some sort of romantic bust-up...
Dickson decided to forget the whisper. It only complicated matters. Clements approved the photograph. And Colin Benson, the young colored reporter, set off with a film unit for Norwich.
Later there were suspicions that the assignment was sabotaged by somebody at Sceptre. Those suspicions could never be proved. So we can merely record that something happened to the film after it was taken back for processing - and that only a fraction of it could be used in the transmitted program.
At the time, however, it seemed like a routine job. Benson says: "Dr. Clark was not only extremely articulate and eager to cooperate, but she had obviously also done a great deal of useful home-work on emigration. She pointed out that, apart from the frustrations facing her at the laboratory, there were many ways in which initiative and flair were being stifled in Britain.
"I remember her talking about how a man called Marcus Samuel started the Shell organization - in 1830, I think she said - as a small private company selling varnished seashells. Men of his caliber, she said, were now being positively discouraged in Britain - and that was another reason she was glad to be off to America.
"She was, in fact, a really good interviewee, a television natural. And I was delighted with what we'd got in the can."
His delight died abruptly when they got back to the studios and the film was processed. Most of it - sound and vision - was completely blank. It had never happened before, and there was no logical explanation for it having happened now. There had been more than forty-five minutes of interview that, after editing, would have provided about twelve minutes of screen time. All they could salvage was a fifteen-second segment.
Clements, naturally, was fuming. Sending a unit all the way to Norwich was damned expensive - and he knew how Harman would squeal about him going over budget. He quizzed Benson at length. "You're really sure that she is that good? That it's really worth going there again?"
"It was a hell of a good interview," insisted Benson. "I say we should go back." He telephoned Ann Clark, explained the situation, and fixed a new appointment. He takes up the story from there: "She was very sympathetic and she agreed quite willingly to see us again. But two days later, when we got to Norwich, it was all very different...
"She wasn't at her flat where we'd arranged to meet her, but after quite a lot of trouble we did find her at another address. She looked flustered and - I don't think I was imagining this - a bit frightened. It seemed quite clear that, for some reason or another, she'd been hoping to give us the slip.
"She certainly didn't want to talk, didn't want to know at all. Later we discovered she'd even told the security people at the laboratories that we were pestering her and that they shouldn't let us in. It was just a crazy situation.
"I did manage to grab a few words with her at the gate the next morning - although she tried to duck away when she spotted us waiting there - and I asked her what was wrong.
"You know what she replied? She just looked at me sort of queer and said, `I'm sorry...I can't finish the film...I'm going away.'
"Then she scuttled inside and that was the last we ever saw of her."
Benson, although he did not realize it at that stage, was just starting to get enmeshed in Alternative 3...
Benson and the film team were travelling dejectedly from Norwich when Terry Dickson noticed the paragraph about Robert Patterson in the Guardian.
Dickson knew that this time he wouldn't need to worry about getting a picture and a biography for Patterson, apart from being a leading mathematician, often appeared on television as a taxation expert. He was a fluent and impressive performer.
At first Patterson seemed uncharacteristically reluctant. He had a lot to do. He wasn't sure if he could spare time for an interview. But finally Dickson persuaded him. They agreed that the unit should be at Patterson's home at 11:00 a.m. the following Tuesday.
"Let's hope we have a bit more luck than at Norwich," said Clements sourly. "I've never known such a run of disaster..."
In fact, of course, it was even worse than at Norwich. Benson got no reply when he arrived at the house in Scotland. The downstairs curtains were partially drawn and, peeping through the gaps, he could see that the rooms were untidy. There were bits of food and dirty dishes in the kitchen and on the dining room table...books and oddments of clothing strewn across the floors. There were six pints of milk outside the front door and the garage was empty. The whole place looked as if it had been abandoned in a hurry.
Benson checked with the neighbors. The Pattersons, he was told, had left three days earlier. They had driven off at speed on the Saturday and they had not been seen since.
Benson went to the University of St. Andrews, and there he was told by the vice-chancellor that Patterson had already gone to America. He'd had to go, apparently, a little earlier than he'd originally intended.
"He told me that they wanted him more urgently than he'd realized," said the vice-chancellor. "I'm terribly sorry you've had this wasted journey...and I must say it's not like him at all...breaking an appointment like this. I can only assume that, in the rush, he completely forgot..."
They? Who were they?
The vice-chancellor shook his head apologetically. "Can't help you there either, I'm afraid. Patterson was rather mysterious about what he was going to do - and about exactly where he was going. Somewhere in America... that's as much as he ever said."
We have now checked with every university in America. Not one of them has any knowledge of any post having been offered to Robert Patterson. And no one can suggest where he might possibly be.
We have also checked with the American company that Dr. Ann Clark was due to join - the one that was "in a hurry to have her."
They have confirmed that they did offer her a job at more than double her Norwich salary. They have also told us that they received a brief letter from her - regretting that, for personal reasons, she would not be able to go to America.
Simon Butler, you may recall, explained the next step in the mystery during that television documentary. He went with a camera-crew to the car park of Number Three Terminal, Heathrow Airport, and pointed out the car that had been hired in Norwich by Ann Clark.
We quote the exact words he used in that program: "Whatever was going on brought Ann Clark here...she had told friends that she was flying to New York. And yet there is no record of Ann Clark leaving this airport on that or any other day. The only evidence that she was here at all is her abandoned car. Beyond that - nothing."
There was another abandoned car nearby in the same park. A blue Rover. It belonged to Robert Patterson.
It was some time, however, before the television team found those cars. Months, in fact, after Benson's return, and the Alternative 3 program might never have been produced - if it hadn't been for the bizarre business of Brian Pendlebury.
By April 1976, the Brain Drain project had been almost completed. Dickson had found another batch of interviewees and work had progressed in double-harness with work on other subjects - including a revolutionary new method for "stretching" petrol consumption and the Mechanical Maids.
Butler merely had to do a couple of final studio links and the Brain Drain would be ready for transmission.
They were, of course, baffled by the strange behavior of Ann Clark and Robert Patterson - and there'd been some caustic memoranda from Harman about the "reckless waste of film facilities" - but they were a science program. And runaway people were hardly their concern.
So that's how it would have been...if Chris Clements, in his local one evening, hadn't heard and oddly disturbing story from one of his neighbors.
This neighbor had relatives called Pendlebury who lived in Manchester. And it appeared that the Pendleburys' son - an electronics expert - had completely vanished in Australia.
And, even stranger, it seemed that he's been writing to his parents for months - from an address where he was not even known.
"Brian always was a selfish little sod, only interested in what was in something for himself, but this is just plain daft, isn't it," said the neighbor. "You know, he even sent them pictures and everything, but now it seems he wasn't even there..."
It certainly didn't make sense to Clements. He mulled it over that night and mentioned it the next day to Colin Benson. "Seems to be the season for disappearing boffins," he said. "Or, on the other hand, maybe he's just playing some prank on his folks."
"What if he isn't?" Benson asked suddenly.
"Well, what else could it be?"
"What if there's some pattern here? What if Clark and Patterson, and now this Pendlebury...what if they're all connected in some way?"
"I fail to see how they could be..."
"Let me go up to Manchester and see the parents..."
"Look, love, please...we're already a week behind schedule and we can't afford to go bouncing off at tangents."
"Chris, I've got a feeling...don't ask me why...but I've got a feeling we're on the edge of something big here."
Clements shook his head. "We've got a show to do. I know you're still sore, Colin, over what happened in Norwich and Scotland...but nobody blamed you for those cock-ups...so do me a favor and relax."
"Harman blamed me..."
"Harman blames everybody for everything. That's the way Harman's made. And, anyway, it was me that got the kicking - not you."
"I'll go on my day off," said Benson. "And I'll pay my own damned expenses."
"Waste of time, love," said Clements. "And don't imagine I'm having the train fare swung on to my budget."
"Couldn't I put it down as entertaining contacts?"
Clements grinned. "I don't think I've ever met anybody quite as persistent as you. All right - go ahead and do a bit of entertaining."
We have presented that conversation exactly as it took place, with the help of the two men, because it emphasizes how there was nearly no further investigation...how Sceptre Television almost veered away from Alternative 3.
Benson's decision to go to Manchester was the turning point. It culminated in Sceptre Television abandoning a thoughtfully balanced but unspectacular program on the Brain Drain - and replacing it with one that was to startle the world.
Dennis Pendlebury was a milkman until his retirement in 1976. He and his wife Alice live in a terraced house in one of the shabby suburbs of Manchester. They are, as they say themselves, a very ordinary couple. They have never had much money and they made many sacrifices to get their son Brian through university.
Mrs. Pendlebury, in fact, worked as a charwoman - to help pay for extras - until Brian joined the RAF.
Benson was in their front room, the one reserved for visitors and special occasions, looking through the colored photographs that appeared to show their son in Australia.
He recorded the entire conversation, with the Pendlebury's permission, and they have agreed to us making use of the transcript in this book.
The Pendleburys were together on the sofa, facing him over the teacups and cakes. "So we were a bit disappointed, of course, when he stopped writing, but we didn't give it too much thought at first," said Mr. Pendlebury. He re-lit his pipe, took a couple of reflective puffs. "Our Brian, he never was much of a one for writing."
"So how did you find out?" asked Benson. "I mean, about him not being there..."
"It was Mrs. Prescott over at number nine," said Pendlebury. "She was the one who found out. Her daughter Beryl emigrated out there...what would it be...five years ago now?"
"Six years," said Mrs. Pendlebury. "Seven come September."
"Well, anyway, five or six...makes no odds. Her daughter's living out there...that's what I'm saying...and Mrs. Prescott was going to visit her, see. So we said to her...why don't you look up out Brian? We thought it would be a nice surprise for him. You know...someone from home. She'd known him, you see, since he was knee-high to that table..."
"Tell the man what she said..."
"That's what I'm doing, woman...I am telling him." There was a trace of irritation in Pendlebury's tone. His pipe had gone out again and there was a pause while he struck another match. "So she went to the address - the one on the letters and that - but the man there reckoned he'd never heard of him."
"Who was this man?" asked Benson.
"What beats me is that we wrote to him there," said Pendlebury. "And we know he had the letters because we got replies."
"This man," persisted Benson. "What did Mrs. Prescott say about him?"
"He was an American, I think she said," said Pendlebury. "I don't think she said any more than that."
"Perhaps he was the new tenant? Perhaps your son had just moved out?"
"No, I don't think so. He'd been there for years, judging by what he said to Mrs. Prescott."
"Well, that was it, wasn't it. They said exactly the same...that they'd never heard of him."
Mrs. Pendlebury prodded him with her elbow. "Show the man the letter," she said.
"Oh yes, you've got to see the letter," said Pendlebury. "It's in the other room, mother - behind the clock on the mantelpiece." He leaned forward and lowered his voice confidentially as his wife left the room. "It's getting her down something awful," he said. "The worry of not knowing."
He offered Benson another cup of tea, which Benson refused, and poured one for himself. "We wrote to this firm to try finding out what was going on and...ah, here's their reply. You just take a look at that."
Benson accepted the letter from Mrs. Pendlebury and saw from the letter heading that it was from the Sydney office of an internationally known electronics company. It was signed by the Personnel Director, and it was addressed to Mr. Pendlebury. It read:
Thank you for your letter that has been passed to me by the Managing Director. I am afraid that you have been misinformed, for I have checked our personnel records for the past five years and I have established that at no time has the company employed, nor offered employment to, anyone by the name of B. D. Pendlebury.
I can only suggest that you are confusing us with some other organization and I regret that I cannot help you further in this matter.
Benson read the letter twice and frowned thoughtfully. "And you're sure you're not confusing them with another outfit?"
"Positive," said Pendlebury. "Pass me that wallet, mother..." From the wallet he took a slip of paper bearing the name and address of the firm in Sydney. "See...there it is...in Brian's own writing."
Mrs. Prescott from number nine, a widow with a shrewd and agile mind, confirmed their story but had little to add. She picked her words carefully, obviously not wishing to hurt the Pendleburys, but she gave Benson the impression that she'd never really approved of Brian. It was all in her tone rather than in what she actually said. Benson remembered what Clements had been told by his neighbor...about Brian Pendlebury having been a "selfish little sod"...and he wondered if Brian might be playing some cruel trick on his parents. Then he dismissed the thought. It was too ridiculous.
Benson borrowed the letter from the electronics company, together with the photographs, and Mrs. Prescott offered to show him a short cut to the stop for the station bus.
As they turned the corner she suddenly spoke with quiet vehemence: "You see...that's the thanks they get for spoiling him."
He glanced at her in surprise. "How do you mean?"
"He looks down on them, does Brian. Bit ashamed of them, if you ask me. Going to university...it gave him big ideas..."
"You surely don't think he's disappeared on purpose?"
She pursed her lips. "Not my place to say, she said. "Look...there's your bus coming...you'll have to run if you're going to catch it."
He didn't take her implied opinion at all seriously - not until months later. It seemed to him then, as the bus trundled through Manchester, that she'd merely been trying to squeeze the last ounce of drama from the situation.
He spent a long time on the train studying the photographs, particularly those taken in the open. There was one detail in them that intrigued him, which didn't seem quite right. And yet he could not be sure...
Back at the studios he sought the help of a stills photographer who was attached to the graphics department. This man made copy-negatives of the outdoor photographs and then re-printed them as large blow-ups.
Benson was not concerned with the one which appeared to have been taken in a nightclub, for that, he reasoned, could have been posed almost anywhere. In London. In Manchester even. And, anyway, it didn't contain that one off-key detail...
He waited impatiently until the blow-ups were ready. Then he saw, quite clearly, that he'd been right. In every picture - including the one of Brian Pendlebury surfing, and the one of him by the Sydney Harbor Bridge - there were three birds in the sky. Those birds were identical in every picture - and so were their positions.
There was also something else, something that had not struck him before: the pattern-formations of the wispy clouds were exactly the same in each picture.
The explanation was startlingly obvious: The "Australian" snaps of Brian Pendlebury had been taken against a painted backdrop. They were, without question, "studio jobs."
He scooped them up, raced along to Clement's office behind Studio B. "We've stumbled on one hell of a Brain Drain story here," he said. "I can't start to understand it yet, but...Chris...we've just got to do some digging..."
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