Saturday, 1 January 1972

Patrick Dromgoole, the Executive Producer of "Arthur of the Britons", was kind enough to answer some questions about the show. Here is what he remembered.

Arthur: a fresh take on the legend

You ask where the idea to do a realistic series about Arthur came from – I think probably Geoffrey Ashe the historian was one of our main influences. I read his books before we set about putting it together and although I was working with an American co-producer who wanted shining armour and galloping horses along with the Malory version, I stuck to my guns and insisted we would have something more original if we set it where it belonged – in the 5th century with Arthur, as a Dux Bellorum but not as an actual king. That's actually why we called it "Arthur of the Britons" – when it went out in America they renamed it "King Arthur", despite the fact none of the stories bore the title out.

We tried to take a lot of the main incidents from the romantic history of Arthur and turn them into realistic occurrences that could have created a myth. You may remember that the myth of Arthur being the only person who could pull a sword from a stone was re-interpreted in our version as his inviting all the competing and disputing chiefs and kings to pull a sword from under a huge rock and then persuading them all to push the rock while he pulled it out himself – neatly emphasising his point that they must all band together to keep the Saxons at bay. Corin was an echo of the evil Mordred, underlined by the choice of his father’s name. The jealousy of Arthur and Kai over Eithna is a common dramatic triangle, as in the original Malory.

It was difficult to stick to a realistic theme of an available gang of pro-British professional soldiers available where needed, without losing the mystical aspects of Merlin.

Scripting

Putting the brief together for the writers would have been done by myself and Peter Miller the producer, after a great deal of discussion. Ideas grow in lengthy conversations with authors.

The scripts were not written before filming started. We had enough to start filming, but made a lot of changes according to the performances of the actors and what seemed to make a successful episode as we went along.

Characterisation would have been maintained by the editing of the series in Peter Miller’s office and in mine, and I think most of the episodes fitted in pretty well. Any leader at any time will be likely to rival President Bush in his use of the phrase "for the greater good" and this might well have been Arthur’s justification when putting Kai at risk. [In the episode, "In Common Cause."]

The Actors

Oliver was a good friend, and a splendid star to work with.1 I had seen Michael in "The Last Valley"; he was an artist of high standards. Jack Watson was the most cooperative man you could ever wish to work with. Brian Blessed I knew well.

Practicalities

Most of our costumes were made by our own wardrobe department, and although some were hired, probably from Berman’s most of them were made to our requirements; nearly all our photographs were taken by a staff photographer.

Most of the accommodation found for the actors would have been in Bristol. They would have stayed in hotels or indeed apartments leased for them for the duration. I don’t think anyone has ever spent the night in the location caravan. Not officially anyway.

Filming

We shot the episodes out of sequence, and the B unit would have been working on any filming or re-filming necessary from previous or future episodes as well as on the episode currently being filmed by the A unit.

Filming all the episodes of Rowena and Yorath would probably have been "bunched", as a result of the artists’ availability. Gila [von Weitershausen] was only available for a limited time, as far as I can remember; that may well have influenced our looking elsewhere. [for new love interest: Catherine Schell as Benedicta in "A Girl from Rome.”]

I think any of those directing could have handled any of the episodes – I don’t think we chose directors on any grounds other than availability once we had settled on our teams.

As far as I can remember there was a break between the two series, and certainly the long house that we built and used was adapted for a number of different episodes.

[In the episodes filmed later on] the village was the same, but in deference to their architectural taste we shot it from two different points of view in long shot according to whether it was Jute, Saxon etc. or Brit – the Germans favoured, as far as I can remember, a rather longer roof than the Brits did. I believe Brandreth’s camp [in "Go Warily"] was in the Blackdown Hills.

Incidents

Funny stories – well. I don't remember many. Oliver's spear injury terrified the life out of us, and might have been quite serious although he tended to play it down and got out of hospital and back to work as fast as he possibly could. One particularly touching scene I remember was where Gila von Weitershausen was emphasising her maidenhood in a love scene when we had to stop shooting because her baby started squalling in the background.

At the risk of sounding cruel, one of my happiest memories is of a particularly pompous German actor who was taking part2 (mainly because of the co-production arrangements) who usually spent an incredibly long time in make up and one occasion after keeping us waiting a long while, arrived looking quite splendid and fell flat on his face in the mud. We lost even more time as a result while his costume, make up and persona were repaired, but it was worth it.

Dubbing

When the series was sold to a new market the dubbing would be left to them – or indeed, the subtitling, if that was what they preferred. The German market was a slightly different situation as we were working in co-production with them, and some moments were actually filmed in German as well as English.

Tales not told

In the manner of our kind we probably hoped for another series – and of course we were in a good position to proceed from where we left off. But there was never a third, fourth, fifth series made simply because the competitive difficulty of scheduling one drove the series out of existence. Dozens of scenes must have ended up on the cutting room floor, but I gravely doubt if any record of them remains.

~~

1 In a magazine interview, Patrick was to say of Oliver: "He has about him an atmosphere of brooding power. He is dangerously quick in his movements, an expert horseman and sword fighter, with the added qualities of charm, humour and wit. If we'd searched the world we couldn't have found a better actor to play King Arthur."

2 This was presumably either have been Georg Marischka, who played Yorath the Jute in a number of epsiodes, or Ferdie Mayne, who played the Greek trader in "Some Saxon Women."

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