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Low Culture Podcast: The Stone Tape

In this month's subscriber podcast, Luke and John go back to 1972 and Nigel Kneale's cult BBC horror play, The Stone Tape

After kicking off with a discussion about the deep-lying political undertows and at times misanthropic brutality of Rev W Awdry’s Thomas The Tank Engine books and a chat about the curiously pro-drugs stance of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin novels, Luke Turner and John Doran head back half a century to a classic of BBC horror. We discuss Nigel Kneale’s 1972 telly play The Stone Tape, in which a scientific unit trying to find a new recording medium stumble across an unearthly presence in a musty cellar.

We examine the play’s roots in the studies of Charles Babbage into the duration of human voices and how it fits with the tradition of MR James’ ghost story adaptations, but also takes the genre somewhere new. Yet it’s a film very much of its time, with Jane Asher’s computer programmer Jill Greeley having to battle the sexism of alpha vs beta team of male scientists, and struggling to get her interpretations of the sinister goings-on taken seriously.

The Stone Tape’s low budget effects has an odd echo in the aesthetics of modern ghost hunting programmes, and the fantastic work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop drives the unnerving atmosphere of the programme. Yet this isn’t just a cult programme that slots easily into your local folk horror fan’s moth-eared DVD collection, but increasingly has a contemporary resonance too. We discuss how it messes up the boundaries between the metaphysical and the scientific, and how it manifests in our modern concerns about AI and machine sentience.

To listen to The Quietus’ new Low Culture podcast, you’ll need to become a subscriber and sign up to the Low Culture or Sound & Vision tiers. You can find out everything you get for your coin here and sign up below:

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