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Magnet Memories - The Story of a Secret Series 1977-1987

Hidden Tiger recently sat down for a chat with Nick Goodman, the co-author of Magnet Memories to discuss the book, his series The Magnet Editor, its origins and, bluntly, to have him explain what it's like to have been the creator of a forty-year-old series that is only just being made public!

Hello, Nick! If you had to describe The Magnet Editor to someone who had never heard of it (and let’s be honest, that’s 99.9% of people!), what would you say?

NICK GOODMAN: Hello! Essentially, it's about a man called Cabin Relese – a scientific adventurer and agent of a top secret organisation, who possesses alien-awarded special powers. He travels the universe on missions or private journeys, fighting evil and righting wrongs with his own craft and with the help of his crew of fellow travellers.

In 'behind-the-camera' terms, The Magnet Editor is a home-grown science-fiction adventure series that I created and wrote in my childhood and teens. It evolved from a playtime whim to a series that was as real to myself and my friends as anything on the telly. It survived because of the time we took to build it up, to establish the world of the series. It's the toy in my toy box that keeps coming out. It kept me entertained in my pre-teens and sane in my teens. And in my middle age? Who knows where we are going with it now!

You started making up the Magnet Editor stories in 1977. What led you to create the character of Cabin Relese and to start telling stories about his adventures?

I needed a hero, quick. In those days, the games I played were largely ephemeral and involved grabbing any toy within reach. Action Man was available that morning and was duly volunteered. Cabin didn't get a name for a few days. The whole character and all that we know about him was added to day-by-day. It constantly evolved. It was as on the hoof as you can imagine. What made a difference was the episodic storytelling that I hit upon. My best friend David, who had left my street two months earlier, and I used to competitively write mini-books and we were experimenting with episodic games. Doctor Who did this of course. It was an attractive idea. Cabin began life simply as a nameless action hero.

How did The Magnet Editor grow from these humble beginnings into such a long running secret series?

An ongoing need to be a storyteller; a need to have a foot in the action / fantasy camp. As a child I was quite a fantasist and I saw myself as a TV producer with an ongoing TV output to maintain. The Magnet Editor was only one such show I had boiling. From a really thrown together start, I knew I had some things I could play with further. After a while it had its own continuity, too, which helped. It grew and grew. I also knew I had something worth continuing because I tried to kill it off several times – and failed! It was like getting bored of friends when you are little. Then you miss them. The mini-fanbase in the playground also helped. My sitcoms also went down well and they lasted for a while. But Jo is the reason it all went on beyond 1980, for sure. His enthusiasm and persistence with it all cannot be underestimated (and I have done so many times). If I wrote a closure, he would pick up the gauntlet as a challenge. I was the grumpy git who wanted to stop and move on all the time.

How did things change when Jo came onboard – and how did the partnership work on a nuts and bolts level?

Shakily, at first. Jo has always been the most intelligent and amusing company, but communication is not his strong point! We had a meeting in the school holidays, where we pooled our ideas. At first, he had carte blanche to construct seasons and write stories and then I later returned to contribute some more of my own. We then decided between us the running order. So that I could experience his stories, I needed to record them. He used to narrate them from notes and I would record these on tape. I would then type them up. Things became better documented because they had to. It gave it much more of structure and meant for the first time that we could clearly read the stories rather than talk about them or enact them. It made the process a whole lot easier. At that time (early 80s) I started going back and writing up the storylines of older tales to preserve them. In 1986, we teamed up for the first time on a joint story, pulling respective notes together and constructing the story. We did this three times with The Magnet Editor and twice more with Life After... its offspring series. On a nuts and bolts level, I provided the discipline of the partnership and he the ballsy enthusiasm. I cringe when I think of the lectures I gave him on plot and character. We were only kids!

And what were the things that were inspiring you and, in turn, influencing the adventures? What was the nine-year-old you into?

Doctor Who and The New Avengers were the tops in November 1977. I had been interested in Who for several years, but was just coming up from behind the sofa and really taking it to my heart. The New Avengers was a delight to me. Action, humour, eccentric characters!! I liked action shows. The Six Million Dollar Man (though the Look-In comic strips were a greater inspiration than the show!), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond were big influences, too. The Spy Who Loved Me had just been in the cinema. I think You Only Live Twice had just been re-shown, too. I loved gadgetry and robots. Star Wars, Blake's 7 and The Professionals were just weeks away from starting and they too ticked my boxes. It was an exciting world and I wanted to make my mark with my own version of it all.

What elements of The Magnet Editor would you say owe the most to Doctor Who, and, looking back, what strikes you as having been unique to your series?

The time travel element is the most obvious steal. The TACTON is a blatant TARDIS rip-off, though it's not bigger inside than out (even though its interior was copied from elements of other shows). The reliance on monsters. Some plot elements were lazily cribbed from Who. Also, it was never intended to be, but the organisation that Cabin works for, Base Security, comes to resemble UNIT; indeed it could be seen as predicting Torchwood! There were even plans for a centre in Cardiff!

However, I do think that we had a very human hero. Despite super-powers and the dealing of death over and over again, he was a family man. We see him get married and have children. On more than one occasion we see stress levels break him. Things stop for Christmas and family. Unlike Who, it was not afraid to change the rules with or even polish off long established monsters and villains in the name of moving on. There is a knowing acknowledgement of its Salisbury roots, which becomes quite surreal. Doctor Who lessens its grip increasingly towards the end.

The Magnet Editor spans the time in your life and Jo’s where you both went from childhood through your teenage years. How well do you think The Magnet Editor developed as you were both growing up?

It helped us both practice and learn stuff like plot development and honing character. It kept us going during hard times. It didn't win us any girls, mind you. But when you had hateful days at school or your heart was breaking because of a girl, there was a universe to save. We were running a much more thoughtful and rounded show by 1987, which led us to the next series. The idea that it had to end in 1987 made us up the game all the time and keep it fresh.

Your many years writing adventures for Cabin and his friends must have stood you in good stead when you came to write scripts for video productions – and later, the stage. Perhaps you could tell us about your work in these areas?

In the early 90s some of my friends bought video cameras. Thoughts turned to productions we could put on. I was keen as mustard to write and produce scripts; I had been for years. After some tentative experiments, I co-wrote and recorded Sutton Park - Prison in the Sun with Paul Chandler. As shambolic as it was, we went on from there and I did 18 in the end. It kind of took over as my main creative output. It was the next stage if you like. I was done with sci-fi and, after 17 years writing for Cabin, I wanted to come back down to Earth. I wrote my last adventure for Cabin - The Nazi Hunters - in September 1994. In the event of the films, Cabin had become like Peter Pan or Puff the Magic Dragon, that ageless childhood friend who always seemed to be saying, "Come on, just one more adventure!" I was nearly 26!

In 1995, I was asked to write a one-act play that was performed at Salisbury's Arts Centre as part of a competition. It was very daring piece about a lesbian relationship. On and off, I've been asked to write stage pieces ever since, albeit on more restrained subjects! My most recent was a disability awareness piece for Girl Guiding.

And now, some forty years later, you are returning to The Magnet Editor and finally introducing it to the wider world. What were your motivations in deciding to write the Magnet Memories book?

To be honest, a brutal realisation that I had no future in writing (Hidden Tiger disagrees - Ed). I was approaching my mid-forties, crushed by indifference and fed up. In 2011, one project I was asked to do was left hanging in the air and I have still yet to find out if it was ever used. Another project fell through when I had a painful falling out with a close friend, which left me feeling very low. I started to realise that I wasn't anywhere near as good a writer as I'd always imagined and maybe people were trying to tell me that all along. In short, my nerve had gone. All I had was my past writing. Various other horrible things happened around that time and I thought, "Life's too short". I had toyed with trying to introduce the world to The Magnet Editor, but just did not know how to go about doing so.

My original idea was an anecdotal book. But in 2012 or 2013 I thought, "Lets go for broke and tell the whole thing, good stuff and bad stuff." When all is said and done, I wanted people to experience the journey. It was something I wanted to share with people. It was a bucket list project come early.

Something that people might not be expecting are illustrations, which I'm pleased to say pop up regularly in Magnet Memories. What was the thinking behind designing monsters, sets and costumes – and do you look back on them with fondness or embarrassment?


Design drawing of a Pheldephin

I used to sketch designs and monsters from Doctor Who (before the video years), so it came from that. I had always tried to visualize the creatures, even in the early days (when I even made some of them), and with Jo on board that became more important than ever. Fondness or embarrassment? Both! I wish I hadn't thrown so much away. I never thought this kind of book was ever going to be made. An original Mantoea drawing would have been fun. Jo was the better artist by far!

What do you think that newbies to The Magnet Editor will gain from reading the book?

I hope they will enjoy it, first and foremost. I hope they will identify with the essence of childhood games and the influences. I'm sure I was not the only one with a series all of my own. Maybe it lasted longer than most? People may get thinking, "What shows floated my boat?" – so, I hope there will be some knowing smiles. I hope they will be amused, stimulated and maybe even excited by the adventures. Most of all, I hope they have a ball and a riotous laugh exploring this childhood world of ours through the pages of Magnet Memories. I will be even more interested to know what a younger generation than ours might make of it – our world of play before computer games.

And where to now? Is there more to look forward to from you?

Jo Bunsell and I decided not to pull the plug on Cabin and his friends when The Magnet Editor ended in 1987 and we wrote a spin-off series, which we called Life After... – the complete guide to which is currently being worked on. This is a different, more mature series. Just as much adventure, but darker. Less space gadabout, more scares and intentionally thought-provoking. It ran from 1988 to 1994. It also features stories from prolific writer Paul Chandler.

And now that Magnet Memories is finally published, are you happy with the book?

I'm delighted with it. It was a long job, but I think it came out really well. Hidden Tiger have given it some essential TLC and I'm so grateful. I've had a lot more fun with it than I thought I would.

And so did we, Nick. Thanks for your answers and we at Hidden Tiger look forward to the Life After... book!

© Hidden Tiger / Nick Goodman, 2018

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