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Plot

Brother Amlodd, a monk who evidently has Arthur’s confidence, shows Arthur that Cerdig’s cattle are dying of a disease, and advises him that it could spread to the animals on which the Celts depend.

Arthur relays the information to his people, and tells them that he intends to offer a remedy Amlodd has devised to the Saxons. The news is not well-received.

He and some of his men capture a Saxon, and use him as a messenger to arrange a meeting with Cerdig. The meeting takes place at the Giant’s Dam. The Celts and Saxons exchange insults, then Arthur tells Cerdig that if he wants to stop the disease, he must kill all his animals and burn their byres.

Cerdig believes the disease will pass, and that Arthur is just trying to trick him. But the Saxons’ animals continue to succumb to the illness.

Arthur and Kai sneak into Cerdig’s village at night, to try to make him see sense. Arthur manages to convince him to do as Brother Amlodd suggested, by promising him half of the Celts’ animals. Cerdig demands that Kai remains behind as a hostage, to ensure that Arthur makes good on his promise. Arthur agrees, but threatens to cut out Cerdig’s heart, if Kai is harmed.

Cerdig speculates with his lieutenant, Ulm, as to whether Kai could be persuaded to stay on the Saxons’ side.

Meanwhile, Llud is very displeased with Arthur for leaving Kai in Cerdig’s hands, and warns him never to do it again.

Cerdig talks to Kai about his Saxon origins. He tries to convince Kai that his father might still be alive, but refusing to acknowledge “the Saxon who kills Saxons” as his son.

Arthur, Llud and Amlodd watch the Saxons burning their dead animals and their pens.

Cerdig and his men bring Kai to the Giant’s Dam to make the exchange – the animals for Kai. But Cerdig tries to persuade Kai to stay, offering to send out word asking his real father to come forward.

Kai sees Arthur’s horse through the trees on the opposite bank. He agrees to stay, so long as he does not have to fight Arthur or Llud. Cerdig agrees; Kai’s hands are untied, and Cerdig hugs him. Kai then attacks his guards, jumps off the Giant’s Dam, swims across the weir pool, and runs to Arthur.

Arthur is annoyed that Kai didn’t wait for the exchange to be completed as agreed. Kai says that Arthur need not now send the animals to Cerdig, but he looks back at an old Saxon who Cerdig suggested might be his father, then agrees that Arthur must keep his promise. Arthur thanks him, and they go home.

A few days later, Arthur’s people meet with Cerdig’s again, and Arthur tries to persuade Cerdig to put a stop to Saxon encroachments on Celt land. Cerdig says he will, but he has no intention of doing any such thing, and Arthur knows it.

A disease of cattle is an unusual plot element for a children’s TV show. Perhaps the writer, Michael J. Bird, had in mind the problems with foot-and-mouth disease during the late 1960s.


Timeline

"In Common Cause" is thought to have been filmed much earlier in the series than it was shown in the UK, probably just after "Enemies and Lovers."

Suggested shooting order so far

Arthur is Dead
Daughter of the King
The Challenge
The Gift of Life
Enemies and Lovers
In Common Cause


Locations

The village at Woollard, recently used by King Athel's people, to become a Saxon settlement once again. To help disguise this fact, most of the filming is done from inside the village, facing outwards, or towards temporary structures, and the actors; we don’t, this week, see the village from the perspective of someone outside it, coming in.

Cerdig and Ulm (4) Cerdig's ploy (26)

The Giant’s Dam is actually Woodborough Mill Dam, at Woodborough Mill Farm in the village of Woollard.

2a 3

Further details of the location can be found here.

All scenes set in Arthur’s village take place indoors, so these were probably filmed at Woollard as well.


Author note

Michael J. Bird wrote just this one episode of “Arthur of the Britons”, but it is perhaps one of the favourites. Details of his better-known work, including “The Lotus Eaters” and “Who Pays the Ferryman?” can be found at his tribute site, here.

His script is the only one in which a Saxon speaks any german; at the beginning of the second part, Ulm uses the german word for "king", addressing Cerdig, "My Lord Koenig".


Cast notes

Peter Stephens, who played Brother Amlodd, died on 17 September 1972, just over a month after giving what turned out to be his final performance, in “In Common Cause”, an episode which was not broadcast until 24 October 1973, more than a year after his death.

Peter had appeared with Michael Gothard before – in Michael’s first film, “Herostratus.”

Farson (72)

Stephens played advertising executive, Farson, and Gothard played Max, a young poet who offers to let his planned suicide be used for advertising. In “In Common Cause”, Michael Gothard’s character treats Peter Stephen’s with no more respect than during their first screen encounter; here is Kai, casually stuffing a plum in Brother Amlodd’s mouth!

levity Arthur's idea (8)


"By the Gods!"

During the 6th to the 9th centuries, monks and nuns were among the few people who could read and write, and were seen as guardians of knowledge, so it is not surprising that it is a monk who draws Arthur’s attention to the problem with the Saxon animals, and suggests a remedy.

The Saxons don’t appear to be Christians, as Cerdig asks Brother Amlodd: “What does your one god tell you, then?” and doesn’t immediately trust his advice.

In his rant at the Council meeting, Arthur says: “Fate has planned this for Cerdig, better than if he’d sacrificed his own son to the gods.” He may be referring obliquely to Abraham and his son Isaac (Genesis 22:5 and 22:8), but it is Llud who – without his consent – temporarily sacrifices his son to Cerdig.


Arthur’s wisdom

Arthur is quick to see the big picture when Brother Amlodd points out the danger of the spread of disease, and also reasons for himself that the Saxons will suffer less because they have an alternate food source which will be unaffected: wheat. His plan to beat the disease by sharing knowledge with the Saxons, though unpopular, makes perfect sense.

But his offer to Cerdig is not just a stop-gap measure – it is part of Arthur’s strategy of weaving alliances based on mutual defence and self-interest. He even tries to use it to gain a permanent ceasefire. But Cerdig does not play by the same rules as he does, and Arthur recognises that Cerdig’s agreement not to burn or pillage, nor to take any more of the Celts’ land, is worth very little.


The burden and loneliness of command

Arthur acts decisively, even though he knows his people, and even his own family, may hate him for it. The Celts are angry and confused when he suggests giving advice to the Saxons, but when he returns – having left Kai, and a promise of livestock, with Cerdig – you could cut the hostility with a knife. With even Llud, his adopted father, turning against him, Arthur must have felt very much alone.

The pledge fulfilled (29) The pledge fulfilled (57)

This is never more clear than in the penultimate scene, where Kai and Llud, occupying the high ground, greet each other joyfully, while Arthur waits below, excluded from the family moment, until Kai gives his seal of approval to Arthur’s bargain.

The pledge fulfilled (71) The pledge fulfilled (61)


Dark Age Men

Most of the macho posturing is confined to an exchange of insults at the Giant’s Dam.

Cerdig makes a slighting suggestion that the Celts have come to surrender to him, and in return, Kai suggests that he’s too old and deluded to fight.

Cerdig then reminds the Celts of their previous oppression by the Romans, implying that they were uncivilised before, and not much better now.

“Listen now to these Celts, who hunted and fought in their mud huts, until their lords and masters of Rome taught them to wipe their noses with leaves, and to be good servants. What did they learn from their masters? Nothing! Save to fight!”

It must have been a rare concession to the fact that this was children’s TV, that it was their noses Cerdig mentioned being wiped with leaves!


Family Ties

In this episode, the ties between Llud and Arthur, and Llud and Kai, are stated explicitly for the first time, by Llud himself, when giving Arthur a piece of his mind: “I’ll stand beside you against any threat, as I have done since you were a child. But never again put Kai, who is also as my son, at this risk to achieve your own ends.”

The fact that Llud is not Kai’s real father gives Cerdig the opportunity to plays on Kai’s insecurities about his origins. At their first meeting, he all but calls Kai a bastard: “Saxon puppy, who has all the Celts for his brothers, and no man for a father!” and when Cerdig has Kai in his hands, he offers to help find his real father – if he will join the Saxons’ side.

Cerdig's ploy (44) Cerdig's ploy (69)

At first, Kai seems sure his parents are dead, and gives a knowing look when Cerdig’s mind-games begin. Nevertheless, Cerdig’s suggestion that if his father lived, he might not acknowledge the “Saxon who kills Saxons” as his own, seems to disturb Kai. Perhaps his escape is partly motivated by the worry that he might be tempted by Cerdig’s offer.

When Kai gets away from the Saxons, Llud welcomes him with pride and delight; he is even happier when his two adopted sons resolve their quarrel.


I’m a man of my word

Arthur has already brought up the significance of giving one’s word, and keeping it. In “Daughter of the King” he says of Bavick: “He’s without honour ... If he made a pledge it would disappear on the wind the moment your back was turned. He would never keep his word.”

In the same episode, Arthur is angry when Llud immediately recaptures Eithna; he complains: “I promised a fair exchange!” And when Eithna refuses to go back to her father, he says, “Tomorrow morning at first light you will return to your home. That was the pact I made.” He even fights Kai, to try and get his way.

However, it is in “In Common Cause” that the notion that Arthur’s word is sacrosanct is first stated, when Cerdig tells Ulm, “to Arthur, the word that’s spoken cannot be recalled.” Kai later says, “He will come. Arthur keeps his bonds”, and finally Arthur himself confirms: “To Celt or Saxon, my word must stand.”

It must have been some reassurance to Kai, when he was being held captive, that Arthur would surely follow through on his promise to Cerdig: “Injure this man in any way, and there will be no place, here or across the sea, where you shall be safe. For I will hunt you down and cut out your heart.”

But after Kai’s rant: “There is no more sickness. Our animals are healthy, and the hunting will be good. With empty bellies, our enemies would soon be at our mercy. I say prepare for …” it looks as if Arthur might have been wondering whether the price for keeping his word is too high. It is only after Kai agrees, “Your word must stand” that Arthur tells the herdsmen to leave the animals, and Arthur’s thanks to Kai for supporting him is very sincere – as if he feared he might have been forced to break his word, in order to keep the backing of his father and brother.


The hot-headed side-kick

Kai is remarkably restrained under the circumstances; he may not agree with how Arthur does things, but though he questions orders, he allows Arthur to leave him as Cerdig’s hostage with only a sad lowering of his head.

On the other hand, he feels sufficiently strongly about being held hostage, to escape – even though he knows that Arthur has come to ransom him. But he also assumes that he will be saving the Celts from giving Cerdig their animals. And perhaps Kai considers escaping a challenge he can’t resist!

Understandably, Kai is angry when Arthur has the nerve to criticise him for his impatience, but when Arthur thanks him for supporting his pledge, that is all Kai needs to make him feel "himself again."


Celts and Saxons

Arthur says the cattle disease was not seen until the invading Saxons set up farming, and at first he is pleased to see Cerdig’s animals dying from the “Saxon Plague”, because: “Men with empty bellies have little heart for war.” He doesn’t necessarily want them dead – so long as they stop fighting.

But he comes to fear that the disease will see “the entire Celtic race … searching the forests in vain for the meat that is their life’s blood” while the Saxons “reap in their filthy wheat” and wait for the Celts to die of starvation.

Kai points out that the Celts are hunters, not farmers, but in fact, the differences between them don’t seem so great when faced with this common problem. The Celts hunt, and don’t grow wheat, but they still use milk and wool, and they are not the only ones who hunt; Cerdig thinks that other Saxons, overseas, will also be interested in the land’s “abundant game.”

The main difference between them seems to be their opposing philosophies. For Arthur “There is honour in battle.” Cerdig retorts: “There is greater honour to see that your family is fed. To do that, a man must till land, and pasture flocks.”

Kai sees the conflict more simply: “Among the Celts, I was a warrior among warriors. I cannot stay here to be a fool, among fools such as you!”


Don’t call me old!

Llud is growing old disgracefully – his table manners leave a great deal to be desired!

Arthur's idea (15)

But he shows his teeth in this episode; when Arthur returns alone from Cerdig’s village, leaving Kai in Cerdig’s hands, he tells him unequivocally, “never again put Kai, who is also as my son, at this risk to achieve your own ends.” He doesn’t specify what the consequences for Arthur will be, if his warning is ignored.

In council (29) In council (36)

What's Cerdig's game?

Cerdig’s actions and motivations are a bit of a mystery. He purports not to trust Arthur to send him half his animals – demanding Arthur leave Kai as a hostage, to make sure he keeps his word. But later, Cerdig tells Ulm that “to Arthur, the word that’s spoken cannot be recalled”, as if it were a fact of life.

And despite having told Arthur that he would kill Kai, if the ransom was not forthcoming, he evidently has no real intention of doing so, because he asks Ulm what Kai would do, if Arthur didn’t ransom him: whether he would try to return to Arthur, or fight on the Saxon side – neither of which would be possible if Cerdig had had him killed.

And the way Cerdig embraces Kai, when he thinks he has persuaded him to stay, seems a little overly affectionate.

Kai escapes (43)

So what is Cerdig’s game? He seems intent on getting Kai to come over to the Saxons’ side. But why? Perhaps he thinks it would damage the Celts’ morale – especially Arthur’s – or that Kai is such an exceptional fighter, his axe would make a significant contribution. Yet, even when Kai fools him, and escapes, he tells his men, “Hold your spears! Hold your spears, I say!”

Perhaps he is just afraid of Arthur’s retaliation if Kai is harmed. But it almost makes one suspect that the writer was allowing for an “I am your father” moment between Cerdig and Kai, in a subsequent episode.


Great moments

The moment when Arthur tells the Celts he will give Cerdig advice on how to get rid of the illness.
The scene in Cerdig’s bedroom, where Arthur makes his deal, then utters his threat to Cerdig.
Llud’s reaction when Arthur returns home, alone.
Kai’s escape, and his struggle to accept Arthur’s decision.


Quote/unquote

Arthur: Men with empty bellies have little heart for war.

Arthur: There is honour in battle.
Cerdig: There is greater honour to see that your family is fed.

Cerdig: There is self-interest in what you propose, so I believe you are in earnest

Kai: Among the Celts, I was a warrior among warriors. I cannot stay here to be a fool, among fools such as you!


‘A man on a horse is worth ten on foot'

Arthur rides Skyline throughout this episode – possibly because this horse’s very white coat made him more visible behind the trees near the Giant’s Dam. Skyline looks in a bit of a lather at the start of the episode, and Peter Stephens seems to be steadying him.

Cattle diseased Cattle diseased (3)

When the Celts arrive to round up their Saxon messenger, Merlin, Blondie and Flame can be identified, as well as two bay horses, possibly James and Charlie.

An appointment (9) The pledge fulfilled (57)

Llud, as usual, rides Curly, and Kai, as in “The Penitent Invader”, rides Pythagoras.

See this post for further details of the horses of "Arthur of the Britons."


Dressed to kill?

For some of the episode, Arthur is wearing a brown suede tunic that looks as if he stitched it himself – by candlelight.

home-made An appointment (22)

For the rest, he wears a white tunic or coat, with a blue lace-up shirt underneath; the shirt looks rather like the blue shirt Kai wears in the scene in "Daughter of the King" which was to be filmed in November.

Blue shirt, white tunic Longhouse scene (42)

Llud wears his usual white under-shirt, to which he adds his brown suede jerkin for formal meetings with Cerdig and with the Council. Kai wears his usual studded tunic, to which he adds a big fur sash when meeting Cerdig, along with his furry boot-covers, which also go with the “stripped to the waist” look.

formal string, shirtless

Cerdig is clad in his usual big furry tunic, and has a man-bag tied to his belt – presumably containing the kinds of things the Celts would keep in their saddlebags. Like Kai, he has furry boot covers, so this is presumably a Saxon fashion which Kai affects.

Cerdig string

Many of the other Saxons wear sheepskins, tied on with string; these seem to serve little purpose other than to identify them as Saxons!


‘That is bloody dangerous!’

During the first meeting at the Giant’s Dam, Arthur throws down his spears to blunt them, metaphorically and possibly literally as well, to show he hasn’t come to kill Saxons. The Saxons throw down their axes and spears in response.

Except at this meeting, Kai doesn’t have his usual axe with him. When he and Arthur go to Cerdig’s bedroom at night, Kai uses one of the smaller Saxon axes to threaten Cerdig. Presumably, his own was too large and unwieldy to hold over Cerdig for the close-up; it would have completely hidden Cerdig’s face!

A pact is made (20)

When Kai escapes, he picks up the axe that Cerdig, in his excitement, threw down, and gives it to the old man Cerdig was trying to persuade him might be his father. The old Saxon is later seen returning the axe to Cerdig!

In this episode, we see one of the very rare uses of a stuntman for one of the principals. When Kai jumps off the Giant’s Dam, he is portrayed not by Michael Gothard, but by a stuntman in a bad wig.

Kai escapes (66) Kai escapes (89)

We know, from interviews with people involved in “Herostratus”, that Michael Gothard didn’t like heights; also, the water in the pool below the dam is not very deep, so the director can be excused for not wanting to risk letting one of the stars jump into it from the top of the dam. But it is clearly Michael Gothard who swims across.


On the table

This is the main question in the episode: what will be left on the table when the disease has taken its toll? But at the Celt meal pictured early in the episode, food seems plentiful.

Later, Arthur brandishes a rather revolting bit of meat at Llud and the rest of the Council to make a point. Both Arthur and Cerdig eat apples while they are talking.

Dead turkeys hang in Cerdig’s village.


Extra! Extra!

The Saxon guard who was killed by Kai in “The Gift of Life” has been resurrected to work for Cerdig.

In the hut (54) An appointment (24)

To add insult to injury, Kai kills him again!

extra 2 extra


Honourable mention

This goes to the Saxon fellow with the lovely long hair, whom Cerdig is trying to pretend might be Kai’s old dad.

Cerdig's ploy (59) The pledge fulfilled (49)


What’s going on here?

When Arthur and his men capture the Saxon to arrange a meeting with Cerdig, he says "Tell Cerdig that I would meet with him at dawn tomorrow." But how did Cerdig know where they were supposed to meet?

And why is Merlin, just visible to the right of Arthur, Kai and Llud, wandering about on his own, during the first meeting?

Meeting at the dam (12)

Is this the Celts holding Council, as spoken of in “The Gift of Life”?

In council

If so, they don’t have much – or indeed, anything – to say for themselves, and Arthur evidently doesn’t seem to care much for their opinion. He didn’t bother consulting them before making the pact with Cerdig, and he told Kai, “Such decisions are mine.”

vlcsnap-2014-10-26-00h39m23s171 vlcsnap-2014-10-26-00h39m25s188

And where does the Saxon – on Kai’s left – go off to in such a hurry? It looks as if he’s remembered he was supposed to feed the chickens. Or perhaps he is just walking off in disgust, at his leader’s emotional display!

In the final scene, when Arthur rides into view, he is wearing the brown tunic, but for the rest of the scene, he is wearing the blue shirt and white tunic. They seem to have just re-used the footage from the first meeting.

No explanation is given as to why, during his stay in the Saxon camp, Kai has been deprived of his tunic, and is walking around stripped to the waist with his hands tied behind his back. Some might suggest this needs no explanation, but presumably it was part of Cerdig’s attempt to soften him up, and make him feel vulnerable. Judging by the way Kai drinks so eagerly when Cerdig’s goblet his held to his lips, the Saxons may have been depriving him of fluids as part of the same process: not enough to give Arthur the excuse to take revenge, but enough to make Kai’s stay with them unpleasant.

Nevertheless, after his escape, Kai, rather bizarrely, turns to wave to the Saxons, before rushing off to meet Arthur!

The pledge fulfilled The pledge fulfilled (8)

The other question that has to be asked is: what is Arthur thinking? His unilateral decision to offer Cerdig half the Celts’ livestock seems arrogant, but you can understand the logic.

But his agreement to leave Kai in Cerdig’s camp as a hostage without even asking Kai seems unnecessarily harsh, and Kai, though not wholly surprised, is clearly upset. Evidently, Rex Edwards, who wrote the novelisation of the series, felt the same way, because in his version, Arthur initially rejects Cerdig’s demand, and offers to stay as a hostage himself; Kai then volunteers to stay. This makes Arthur seem much less cruel.

But when Kai manages to escape, and comes running happily to join Arthur and Llud, rather than congratulating him on getting away, Arthur greets him with a rebuke: “Could you not wait?”

What is wrong with him?

One can only imagine that it has taken Arthur a lot of threats, arm-twisting, and cajolery to persuade his people to surrender half their animals, and that this, along with Llud’s intense disapproval of everything he has done over these last few days, has made him very tired and irritable!


Music

Some of the 34 tracks of incidental music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, used in this episode, were:

22. Revelry: The Celts capture a Saxon.
11. Desolation and Despair: The Celts and Saxons meet at the Giant’s Dam.
18. Celtic Girl: The Saxons mourn their dying animals.
11. Desolation and Despair: Arthur and Kai meet Cerdig in his room.
20. The Fair Rowena: Cerdig discusses Kai’s parents.
16. Danger Mounts: Kai makes his escape.
20. The Fair Rowena: Kai considers his decision.
1. Flourish for a Hero: Arthur concludes his business with Cerdig.

The whole suite of music is available on CD.


Cast

Arthur …………….... Oliver Tobias
Kai ……………….… Michael Gothard
Llud ………………... Jack Watson
Brother Amlodd …… Peter Stephens
Cerdig ……….…….. Rupert Davies
Ulm …..………….… Kenneth Ives

Crew

Director ………….…. Patrick Dromgoole
Story ………………... Michael J Bird
Executive Producer …. Patrick Dromgoole
Producer …………….. Peter Miller
Associate Producer …. John Peverall
Production Manager … Keith Evans
Post-production …….. Barry Peters
Fight Arranger ……… Peter Brayham
Cameraman ………… Tony Impey
Camera Operator …… Brian Morgan
Editor ……………….. Alex Kirby
Sound recordist ……... Bob Stokes
Dubbing mixer ……… John Cross
Art Director …………. Doug James
Assistant Director …… Dennis Elliott
Production Assistant … Ann Rees
Costume Design .……. Audrey MacLeod
Make-up …………….. Christine Penwarden
Incidental music …….. Paul Lewis
Theme music ………... Elmer Bernstein
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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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