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the reader’s guide to
the DAY of the TRIFFIDS

The BBC Adaptation (1981)

The titles from the 1981 TV series
Adapted by Douglas Livingstone Produced by David Maloney
Directed by Ken Hannam  
Originally broadcast 10 September to 15 October 1981
Cast
Character Actor   Character Actor
Bill Masen John Duttine   Jo Playton Emma Relph
Michael Beadley David Swift   Coker Maurice Colbourne
Miss Durrant Perlita Neilson   Torrence Gary Olson
Dennis Brent Desmond Adams   Mary Brent Jenny Lipman
Susan (young) Emily Dean   Susan (older) Lorna Charles
John Stephen Yardley   Shirley Christina Schofield

Opinion

The BBC had already taken the book many times onto the radio as readings or dramatisations in 1953, 1957, 1968, 1971, 1973 and 1980. In 1979, it was decided to take it onto television and David Maloney was asked to produce the work, employing Douglas Livingstone to adapt the book into six 26 minute episodes. The series was broadcast in 1981 and is generally very close to the book. It is set in the then present day rather than the 1950s (although, as my timeline shows, the story could not really be set in the 1950s anyway). The triffids differ a little from the book's description with the three upright 'clatter sticks' being turned into claw-like limbs at the base and the three 'feet' virtually vanishing. The meeting with a drunken landlord early in the book becomes an encounter with a man and his daughter. The history of Josella (known as Jo in the series) is lessened, Coker changes from an orator to a history teacher, and Doctor Vorless changes sex, but the changes are generally minor and should not annoy anyone coming from reading the book.


Summary

Episode 1

Bill Masen wakes up in hospital, his eyes bandaged after a triffid sting. He recounts in his diary via a tape recorder of how the bandages are due to be removed that day and of his theories about the origins of triffids (which is shown in a dramatised sections). We see his childhood, early work with triffids and hear of the flashes in the sky the night before. Then he hears a clock strike eight and realises that the nurses are late. Hearing strange noises, he rises and looks for help but finds nobody. He removes the bandages. Looking around, he finds the hospital deserted except for his doctor who has gone blind.


Episode 2

Bill and JoWhile the doctor is in his office, Bill finds some other patients and staff and realises that they are blind as well. He returns to find that the doctor has killed himself.

Meanwhile Jo is driving through the streets, looking for help for her parents, when she runs out of petrol. She is captured by a blind man to use as his guide.

Out on the streets, Bill comes across a sighted girl and her blind parents. He finds out that everyone who saw the comet is blind and they discuss what will happen as society breaks down. Bill leaves them and finds people looting and fighting. He tries to rescue one woman but is attacked. Later, he hears Jo's screams and rescues her.

Recovering in a pub, they discuss their stories and then decide to carry on together. At Jo's house, they find triffids have killed her family. They drive away and find their car surrounded by a mob of blind people.


Episode 3

Bill and Jo escape from the mob and find their way to a show flat in a tower block where they consider their future. In the night, they spot a light from a distant building but decide not to attempt to reach it in the dark.

In the morning, they travel to the University of London, the source of the light. Outside the gates, there is a confrontation between a sighted man with some blind people, and the military within. The former try to break in but shots in the air scare them off. Later, Bill and Jo enter the building where a group of mainly sighted people are organising a group to leave the city and set up a community somewhere. The couple are sent out to gather supplies.

In the evening, there is a meeting in the University where the leaders outline their plans for the community they will set up, how the old rules of society will have to change. But, during the night, there appears to be a fire and Bill is knocked unconscious. He wakes up, alone and tied up in a strange room.


Episode 4

Bill and CokerBill finds he has been captured by Coker, the man who was arguing in front of the University. He had created the fire at the University and caught several sighted people. He plans to force them to help keep groups of blinded people alive until, as he believes, help comes. Bill finds himself forced to be the eyes for a group but they run into problems. First a disease hits some of the people and they have to be isolated; then they run into another group led by a sighted man who callously shoots one of Bill's party. They are also attacked by triffids.

Eventually, Bill's group succumbs to the disease and he goes off in search of Jo. He cannot find her so returns to the University where he sees a message with the location of the community's destination, Tynsham Manor.


Episode 5

Bill meets Coker at the University. The latter has realised that no help will come and the University group's ideas had been correct. They team up and drive to Tynsham.

There, they find that most of the University group had moved on and the Manor is being run by a religious woman who is intent on trying to look after as many blind people as possible. Bill moves on to find Jo and Coker comes along, realising that the Tynsham group are too inflexible to survive.

After a while, Coker decides to return to Tynsham, hoping to persuade them to change and adapt. Bill, still searching for Jo, rescues Susan, a young girl, from triffids. After a long search, the pair find Jo at her friends' converted farm.

They all settle down at the farm, Bill, Jo,Susan and the two blind owners. After a while, Bill visits Tynsham to find them all dead from a disease.


Episode 6

Bill and SusanSix years pass. The farm is hemmed in by triffids and they are constantly fighting to keep them out. After a break at the seaside, Bill and Jo return to find a helicopter at the farm, piloted by Coker. He had eventually found the University party and they had settled on the Isle of Wight, clearing it of triffids. He offers Bill and the others a new life there. They decide to finish the summer at the farm and travel there later.

Later on, Bill and Susan return after a trip to find an armoured car in the yard and a group of soldiers inside, led by the man who shot at Bill's party in London. They are from a self-appointed council that intends to appropriate the farm, allocating a certain number of blind people to Bill's care. They would also take Susan away. Realising that they have to flee, Bill and the others get the soldiers drunk before disabling their vehicle. Then they escape, heading for the Isle of Wight and vowing to return one day.


Trivia

Nearly all the incidental music was performed by a small group of musicians, which included Richard Rodney Bennett and Susan Bradshaw (pianos), Tristan Fry and Gary Kettel (percusssion), and Skaila Kanga (harp)

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