Friday, 17 August 2012

TV Novelisations

I was chatting on Twitter this morning with a few friends about TV novelisations something that’s been on my mind a lot of late, after I found the wonderful Open All Hours book from 1981 by Catherine Sparks (a writer, I’m informed by Stuart Douglas, who also penned one of The Good Life books – something I’m going to have to keep my eye out for!).

This find (in a little second hand book shop on the Yorkshire coast) was a complete surprise to me as until last Saturday I didn’t know it existed. This, naturally, got me wondering about all the other novelisations out there that I’ve no clue about.

Then, yesterday, I stumbled across news of a new Life On Mars novel being released as an eBook in September, and how brilliant it would have been had its cover been a parody of those fantastic 70s/80s paperback covers we used to see – especially those adorning the front of the TV tie-in novels I used to devour when I was growing up.

I’ve already spoken about the heaving book cupboard in our old house growing up which was full of my mother’s books (see here for more details), which became my training ground as both a reader and a writer. One of the things she used to have in there – besides a collection of wonderful old horror and SF titles – was almost the entire collection of James Blish penned Star Trek books and The Professionals series by Ken Blake.

I used to love those novelisations, not least because this was in the days when video hadn’t quite caught on and these books were the only way to relive your favourite TV shows. Even when we did get a video player*1 we only had a handful of The Professionals episodes on tape*2. So reading those books over and over was a good way of keeping the images of those episodes alive in my mind. Star Trek wasn’t as bad as it was repeated every Wednesday evening at 6pm on BBC 2 seemingly throughout the entire 1980s*3.

I guess you could say I caught the novelisation bug off my mother*4, and as I was growing up I used to read these books voraciously. I still remember quite vividly sitting in the living room of a top floor holiday flat in Bridlington during one particular two weeks' holiday, waiting for the rain to pass over; sitting next to my mother reading Star Trek 4 & 10 while she read the novelisation to series 1 of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. When we’d finished we swapped books.

Another time (in a different flat this time, round about 1983, as I remember seeing the trailer for the original V - mini series on the TV in the kitchen) I remember getting back to the flat after a day at the beach with a big bag of fish and chips and reading Terry Nation’s novel of Survivors for an hour or so before an episode of Tales of the Unexpected came on the TV (I was only 9 then and staying up this late was unusual for me, but as it was holiday I was allowed to stay up past 10 and watch it). I remember being creeped out by both the book and the Tales of the Unexpected episode and getting very little sleep that night.

These are all in my own collection now – either the above copies were given to me by my mother or I have replaced them as and when I’ve found them in bookshops.

I have gradually and lovingly built up a nice little collection over the years, scouring second hand and rare books shops for titles like The Sweeney 2: Regan & the Manhattan File by Ian Kennedy Martin, Robin of Sherwood & the Hounds of Lucifer by Robin May, Quatermass by Nigel Kneale (1979 series) and Sapphire & Steel by Peter J. Hammond (a novelisation of Assignment One).

I miss those times when a British TV series almost always used to get an accompanying novelisation, and so, it seems, do most of my writer friends on Twitter. It was a different time back then, when TV was much more than something you’d just sit and stare at, it was something you read about too - in books and comic strips and in the Radio Times. Something that was shown once, repeated, then seemingly gone forever.
I’m just glad that certain TV shows out there today have, or have had, their own range of novels for us to enjoy, such as Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval and Being Human, even some making a welcome come back, like Blake’s 7 and Life On Mars. It makes me feel like the tradition of an accompanying TV novelisations is continuing in some form or another.


*1 In 1985. The first thing we ever videoed was episode 4 of ‘V’ the series (actually shown as episode 3 as the real episode 3 was pulled because it was considered too violent – so now the character of Kyle Bates is introduced twice!)

*2 For anyone interested they were: Operation Suzie, Foxhole On The Roof, You’ll Be All Right and Spy Probe.

*3 Until possibly 1988/89, when it became The Invaders and Quantum Leap slot.
*4 Later, I rescued The Professionals books when my mother was throwing away a huge pile of books moving house. They now form part of my collection.


  1. In the 1960s, my TV tie-in addiction was "Dark Shadows" novelizations. Must've had 10 before I was 10.

  2. As a lover of "Dark Shadows" it'd be fantastic to stumble across those old DS tie-ins. They are something I'll definitely keep my eyes open for. I'm guessing you don't have them anymore?