Two chimpanzees shot into space in 1964 as part of a NASA
capsule test return 35 years later, apparently unchanged,
but for exceptional intelligence, exceptional compassion and
a deep distrust of Man. Yet the Gemini Apes hold the key to
solving Western Medicine's most urgent problem antibiotic
resistant superbugs. Should they be sacrificed to save a child's
life? Ty Power met with writer producer Dirk Maggs and somebody
called Christopher Lee to find out more...
Gemini Apes, a 90 minute audio movie from popular writer/producer
Dirk Maggs aired at 4:00pm Christmas Day 1998 on BBC Radio
4. Dirk explains, the idea for The Gemini Apes is eight
did the Superman stories in the late eighties,"
said Maggs. "In it was a line from Jonathan Kent, when
he found the infant in the capsule, that went, 'They've been
sending up monkeys and dogs, so I guess they can send up babies
as well.' It planted the idea in my mind. They used chimps
on the Mercury program, and what happened is a kind of superchimp
arrived. That's where it came from. Instead of being E.T.ish
I thought it better to have two, so they were a little team.
I asked myself, if they were intelligent and came back 30
or 40 years later, what would they want to do, and the answer
is they'd want to release all the other animals to save them
from a similar fate, from the depravations of mankind.
I thought maybe they should be up there a long time and acquire
intelligence. Man isn't the hero of the piece, but he isn't
exactly the villain either. The fact is we've been so rotten
to the animal world that it doesn't really want to know us.
I thought that was an interesting idea.
decided maybe these chimps had been used for research into
the immune system to fight disease, and when they came back
they discovered, purely by chance, they contained the key
to antibiotic-resistant bugs. It's becoming a real threat
to western medicine. People are dying. In fact, one of our
actress' mother died of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis.
So it's become very timely.
"When I wrote it I described The Gemini Apes as a space
age fairy tale, but it's come true in all sorts of ways I
hadn't realised. The script was already written and I sent
it to Doctor Amy Parish, an expert on bonobo chimpanzees,
which our chimps are, and she said most of this stuff is accurate.
That was the really weird part. I was working on the principle
of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who'd written the Tarzan stories
when he'd never been to Africa. I wanted to tell a little
moral story. When Amy told me a temporary injunction had been
awarded against the US Airforce selling 115 space program
chimpanzees to a biomedical research firm with a terrible
record in animal care, you could have knocked me down with
a feather. I said to her, 'Forget the space age fairy tale;
I've now decided it's a work of investigative journalism!'
which was a joke. In fact, in the week of recording it there
was a documentary about the plight of chimps in the US airforce
(Thursday 1/10/98 BBC 2 Horizon). I had no idea about
how current an issue it is; it's quite astonishing. Without
meaning to it's turned into a topical item."
training as a drama teacher, Dirk Maggs was a studio manager
for BBC Radio, working mainly on comedy. In 1988 he became
producer in radio light entertainment. His first project,
Superman on Trial, a 50th anniversary docudrama, was
well received by Radio 4. After 1989's Batman - The Lazarus
Syndrome, Dirk returned to Superman. When Matthew
Bannister took over Radio 1 he approached Dirk for
a daytime serial and the excellent Batman - Knightfall
was born. The Amazing Spider-man and two Judge Dredd
tales were next, the first of which won the Talking
award 1995 for best production. Dirk joined forces with Paul
Deeley and Phil Horne at The Soundhouse to create Audio Movies
a Los Angeles set visit on the blockbuster movie Independence
Day, Dirk returned home to script and produce his own
60 minute audio version for Radio 1, starring Patrick Moore,
Colin Baker and Toyah Willcox, as before in superb Dolby Surround.
Independence Day - UK was Dirk's first foray into film-related
material and, aside from winning him the Talking Business
award for the second time, it made quite an impression when
released for sale. "It reached number 66 in the album chart,"
he confirms. "Quite an achievement for a radio production."
Gemini Apes sees a new departure for Dirk, being the first
totally original project not based on a comic book or movie.
"That really is the point of this, that I was actually in
a position to not worry about it belonging to someone else,"
said Maggs. "As an idea of my own I was able to take
it wherever I wanted. It makes a change from having to deal
with people who own copyrights. It can get terribly difficult
- what you can and cannot do with their character. Quite understandable,
Radio were initially reluctant to take on an original story.
"Radio 1 were very happy to take Superman, Batman and
Judge Dredd, but never really interested in original
stuff. My whole idea was to move on to doing original material
in the style of the Radio 1 audio movies that we'd been doing.
Audio Movies is the name of the company, but it does describe
what we do. So many people will say we do radio versions of
films, which is absolutely not the case. We've only done that
once with An American Werewolf in London, which was
brought to me rather than me asking for it.
produce stuff in the style of cinema but without the pictures,
because we think it works just as well. It's not a radio play
as people understand it from the BBC. I'm not decrying radio
plays, but I absolutely believe that what people want nowadays
is much more to do with cinema and sounds from commercially
produced music. They want something big and exciting that
grabs them and sweeps them along, and most radio drama doesn't
world is run by marketing these days, and it doesn't like
anything new because it means you've got to acquaint people
I pitched it at James Boyle, the Controller of Radio 4; he
was 'umming' and 'ahhing' a bit because it was an American
subject, which is fair enough. But to his credit he decided
to take a chance, and we discussed that we might be able to
get a couple of British voice artists."
project collapsed at the eleventh hour through nobody's fault,
and Dirk was given just 24 hours to fill a slot on Christmas
Day for Radio 4. "Of course, that's good news and bad news.
It's a very hard day to attract people away from television
on, but it's also a prestigious day if we bring out something
that's very different. So it became a sort of millstone and
I was worried. But I'm pleased with the result and I think
it's going to be a great product. I'm hoping if it proves
popular, then we will get to have more on the radio.
actually written the idea of The Gemini Apes up as
a short novel/film treatment which I was trying to sell to
people. After we did Independence Day - UK I sent a
copy to Dean Devlin who said he would read it; then Dean and
Roland Emmerich went off to write Godzilla and they
didn't have time to read it, so it came back to me. It had
actually sat at the agents in Los Angeles for some time, and
to my horror about six months later I saw in, I think Daily
Variety Report, that there was a project being sold to Jerry
Weintraub in Hollywood, who just did The Avengers,
called The Mercury Effect. It was basically my plot.
had either amazingly come up with exactly the same story,
or worryingly had stolen my idea and adapted it to their own
purposes. So that completely crushed me; I thought that's
the end of that, it was a good story but what the heck. I
was trying this year to publish it as a children's book, but
of course English publishers aren't interested in American
subjects. Then this summer I thought I'll write it as a film
script and have my agent send it out, and maybe someone will
see the value, buy it, and it might just see the light of
day, in the shadow of this other film, if it ever happens.
Be the poor relation, but actually the original. I felt very
bitter; the best way to get out of this negative attitude
was to write the film script. I had literally just finished
it when this slot for Christmas Day came up, and James Boyle
rang up and said, 'I'm really sorry, we have a slot and I
want you to fill it.' I'm thrilled to bits really, because
it means, as should be the case, the original idea of The
Gemini Apes gets out before this movie, if this guy did
decide to appropriate my idea. If it's a coincidence then
good luck to him, but at least I've managed to make The
Gemini Apes public."
assembling the cast Dirk employed tried and trusted voice
artists, as well as introducing some which were new to his
work. "The part of Nadia, the granddaughter of a great Russian
geneticist who is involved with the apes, I was going to give
to Lorelei King, who I'd worked with on the comicbook stuff,
but in the end radio wanted an English actress. So I had the
invidious task of asking Lorelei if she'd mind not playing
the scientist, but play a chimp, which was an interesting
phone conversation! But she's a sport; she had a go and turned
in a brilliant performance. Gary Martin (also in Spider-Man
and Judge Dredd) did all the primate voices except
one. The man with the deepest voice in showbusiness, deeper
even than Christopher Lee. I was very pleased to get both
Gary and Lorelei. I was worried up to the first day of recording
that if you couldn't believe these chimps were talking, there
would be a big hole at the heart of the show. But with very
little treatment they came up with voices that were superb.
originally had in mind William Hootkins (Lex Luthor in the
Superman stories) as Drake. But he was not available
because he was working on a film. I was left with the problem
of who to get, and somewhere in the back of my mind was Christopher
when Bill Hootkins was suddenly unavailable I rushed off to
find out if Christopher was free. Thank God he was and he
liked the script. I was very pleased; he turned in a wonderful
performance. The character of Professor Drake is a villain
up to a point, but a practical man who is trying to survive
in his own world.
Lee needs no introduction, but it's worth pointing out that
he's been in the acting business for 52 years, and is still
going strong. What appealed to Christopher about the script?
story is set in the US," said Lee. "I play an English
businessman, an immensely powerful tycoon, who has got involved
in this strange experimental world where the genetic make-up
of animals is transferred to humans. Not only is it a fascinating
story, but it's almost the truth. It's the sort of thing that's
actually happening in the US today. They're experimenting
with combinations. To me, this is tampering with nature. If
it's for the benefit of humans there's a lot to be said for
it, but not if it's misused for the sake of money. In this
case, as a typical businessman, my character's ultimate aim
is money. But it just so happens that if the experiments work
out, and this particular one child who is terminally sick
is cured, that gives him public persona. So
he covers up the fact he's in it for the money by appearing,
in terms of public relations, to be a great benefactor. These
apes are sent into space and return years later, almost humanised
in terms of intelligence; this man and others want to use
these genetic qualities.
got on to my agent, and I said I would do it. It was all rather
at the last minute. It was only a go project two or three
weeks before recording. I never do anything without reading
the script; in many ways it's the most important thing. I
look at what I'm asked to say and decide whether it's worth
doing, and if I can make a contribution to the story. I judge
every film on that too."
is there any room for character development in radio? "Yes,
but it's extremely difficult," said Lee. "You're
working in one medium: orally; at the same time, through the
ears of the listeners, you've got to make that character visual.
They've got to hear you and say, 'I know that man: this is
his age, his shape, these are the clothes he wears.' Unless
it's specifically said, you've got to create a realistic character.
It's the same as if you're giving a performance in a film
or a play, but acting with only your voice. When you're doing
it you've got to think that you're acting for an audience,
only they can't see you."
Lee is still regarded by many to be an icon of horror. Has
he ever felt restricted by this? "Well, people make this statement;
it's not true," he said. "I haven't done a film
like that in 26 years. Maybe it was because of the impact
of the pictures when they came out, which are remembered by
my generation and others. But the only reason people still
connect me with those films and characters is television and
they're not even aware of the fact some were made 40 years
ago. I'm practically never approached as a horror actor anywhere
in the world. I don't know if people are prepared to believe
it or not, but it's the truth. When people come up to me,
and I'm glad that they do, it's usually the same conversation:
'Can I shake your hand?' and then quite simply, 'I do enjoy
your movies very much.' In fact, now I'm getting more fan
mail than I've ever had in my entire career. It's becoming
a bit of a problem, actually. And I'm being offered more work
than ever. I have to say that I'm saying 'no' to a good eighty
percent, but I say to people I'm doing something I haven't
done before. What's the point of repeating it? I had to do
that at the time, but it was a very long time ago."
to Dirk Maggs and Christopher Lee for their time.
Dirk would like it known that he has recently (April 2002)
received correspondence from a close friend of The Mercury
Effect screenwriter, who has assured him there was no connection
between the two projects. Coincidences do happen, and Dirk
is happy to accept the man at his word.
full interviews can be seen by visiting Ty