An Interview with Fred Bronson, Part 1: Robert April
One of the characters in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is Admiral Robert April, played by Adrian Holmes. I recently interviewed Fred Bronson, who wrote for Star Trek: The Animated Series and The Next Generation. In this first of our three-part story, we discuss the origins and legacy of the character. Bronson introduced Robert April into Star Trek canon in the series finale of The Animated Series – “The Counter-Clock Incident”.
Firstly, congratulations on having a character (namely, Robert April) that you wrote for in an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series finally appear in live action. You’ve been pretty vocal on Twitter about your feelings regarding this. But just so our readers are aware of your reaction, how do you feel about April being in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds?
I’ve waited forty-eight years for a live-action version of Robert April, so it feels surreal that we are actually going to see him finally portrayed by a human being instead of being illustrated.
As I understand it, the character was originally conceived by Gene Roddenberry, proposed in his 1964 document “Star Trek is…“. However, you’ve recently made claims that you were the person who created Robert April. How so?
It’s true that Gene‘s first choice for the name of the captain of the Enterprise was “Robert April”, a name he had previously used when he wrote for Have Gun, Will Travel, although in 1974 – before the Internet and the availability of every fact known to man at the tips of our fingers (or thumbs) – neither fact was generally known. The Captain Robert April that Gene wrote about in that 1964 document was not the in-universe predecessor to Captains Pike and Kirk because there was no Pike and Kirk yet. And as we all know, the name of the captain of the Enterprise in the first pilot was “Christopher Pike”. And we wouldn’t have even known that in 1966 if “The Menagerie” didn’t use footage from “The Cage” and thus give Captain James Kirk a predecessor.
When I was writing “The Counter-Clock Incident”, I thought that having an older person on the bridge would allow for that person to regress to young adulthood while the other younger crew members regressed to childhood. Then I pondered who that older person could be, and then I thought, we know that Pike came before Kirk, but was there ever a reference that Pike was the first captain of the Enterprise? I rewatched “The Menagerie” and discovered that Pike was never referred to as the first captain of the Enterprise. That’s why I felt safe in introducing this character, who did not have a name yet.
To find a name, I remembered that – in the book The Making of Star Trek, written by Stephen E. Whitfield (and Gene) in 1968 – there was a list of names that Gene had considered for the captain’s name. “Pike” and “Kirk” were on the list, and so was “Robert April”. And I thought, since that was a name Gene had already considered, why not use that name for my character. There were other unused names I could have chosen, but I liked “Robert April” best. When I picked that name, I did not know about the character from Have Gun, Will Travel. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know about that 1964 document either, unless it was in Whitfield’s book. I honestly don’t remember.
In the 1964 pitch document, April has the middle initial “M”. Various other sources refer to him as having the middle initial “T”. Do you have a preference?
No. My Robert April has no middle initial. (By the way, was the “M” for March?)
April, as portrayed in “The Counter-Clock Incident”, seems significantly different from the April in Strange New Worlds. Not only is his appearance obviously different but he’s referred to as “Bob” in Strange New Worlds but not in “The Counter-Clock Incident”, and he’s a commodore in that episode but an admiral in Strange New Worlds. How would you account for all these differences?
As Star Trek has continued for almost sixty years now, a lot of things that are canon have changed, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. I have come to accept that, although in the 2009 film I was unhappy they referred to a drink as being “Cardassian” when we hadn’t met them yet (yes, I know, alternate timeline, yada yada). You know, the Enterprise in Strange New Worlds doesn’t look like the Enterprise in “The Cage” or TOS, nor should it. So, the changes don’t bother me. I’m too busy being grateful that we are seeing a live-action Robert April at long last.
In the lead-up to the release of the film Star Trek Into Darkness, Robert April was rumoured to appear in the film. Would you have liked that to happen?
In a word, yes. So, short story long: in 2009, I was on the lot and happened to meet J.J. Abrams and was introduced to him as someone who had written an animated episode and two episodes of TNG. He said, “Have you seen our new set?” I said, “No, the security is kind of high.” He laughed and said, “Would you like to?“
Next thing I knew, I was wearing a wristband and signing an NDA! I was ushered onto the set and J.J. was standing near me. I couldn’t resist: I went over to him and said, “I understand Captain Pike is in the movie.” He said yes. I said, “Well, in my animated episode, I introduced his predecessor, Robert April.” And he very quickly said, “Yeah, he’s not in the script.” And we laughed again.
Fast forward to 2013: there was a lot of secrecy around the plot of Into Darkness, but finally there was a press day at J.J.’s office and I’m reading a reporter’s story that says, “Based on what I saw and heard today at J.J. Abrams’ office, I think one of the major characters in the new movie is Robert April from the animated series.” I plotzed! I called the reporter and he explained that he happened to see a storyboard on a desk that featured Robert April. So, I was convinced that I was going to see a live-action Robert April at last. We all know how that worked out! Turns out that the storyboard was from the prequel comic book, which was all about April.
In the second part of my interview with Fred Bronson, we will discuss his experiences with working on Star Trek in the 1970s.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Also known as “The Scotch Trekker”, Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course run at Glasgow Clyde College, and ran The Scotch Trekker YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.