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This article appeared on page 6 of Wednesday 19 July's Western Daily Press.

Is this the real court of King Arthur?
by Nicholas Walker


The wattle and daub village rising among the trees in Woodchester Park is very definitely NOT Camelot. And the Arthur who lives there is no king.

He is an ale-drinking, wench-chasing warrior who’s not on very good terms with the Church.

In fact, he lacks all the traditional Arthurian equipment: Shining armour, Guenevere and the Round Table.

Generations of children have listened with awe to the mysterious tales of Avalon, the Holy Grail, Excalibur and Sir Lancelot.

Now HTV is trying to shatter the myth with a new television series about the great Briton.

Clobbered

Called Arthur, it is being shot on location around Bristol.

The new-look Arthur is being played by Oliver Tobias, fresh from a leading role in the London production of Hair.

Gone are the castles, plumes and Medieval trapping of Tennyson and Swinburne. HTV’s Arthur lives in a hut and wears drab, Celtic clothing. This breakaway from the established Arthurian image is much nearer the historic truth.

But realism can go too far. In a battle scene shot in Compton Dando last week Arthur was clobbered in the back of the head by a spear. Celtic remedies for the wound were dismissed and Oliver Tobias spent two days in the Bristol Royal Infirmary recovering.

Arthur was soon back in charge of his warriors, and next time the battle scene was shot he won.1

“I think Arthur was a gutsy young man, a battle leader and a tactician. The legend is rubbish,” said producer Peter Miller. “We have tried to rationalise the legend. Take Excalibur – of course there was no magic in the sword. It’s just Arthur had a long sword and the Saxons had short axes so he always won his fights.”

“We’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to create a factual setting for the series,” he explained. “A hell of a lot of money has been spent providing the right farm animals for the village.”

Museum

“Some long-horn cows were sent to the highlands of Scotland to grow the shaggy coats typical of the cattle of the period.” A herd of near-extinct sheep are also getting star treatment. They share a special field with the cattle not far from Arthur’s camp. “You see, it has to be real. All the animals came from a cattle museum about 20 miles from Woodchester.2 So far they’ve cost us £600,” said Mr Miller.

Arthur’s camp is near Woodchester Park’s lake. A small sapling3 had to be cut down before work started on the camp – and HTV had to get special permission from the Forestry Commission before it was removed.

A Saxon settlement is being built on the gentle slopes of north Mendip. The Saxons were farmers, so wooded Woodchester would not suit them.

All the legend bashing has left Merlin intact4 – but not as a potion-brewing wizard. He is now Arthur’s political adviser.

Peter Miller: “A Saxon warship is being built in the Bristol studios. It’s based on a real Saxon ship discovered preserved in a swamp in Norway. A special crew of forty oarsmen have been trained to sail it on the lake and in the sea. We plan to stage some battle scenes on West Country beaches.5 But Arthur won the land battles because his men had horses and he understood cavalry techniques. The only thing the Saxons did with horses was eat them. We’re producing fiction based on fact. Educationally it’s as accurate as we can make it – but it’s still a drama.”

The theme of the £500,000 colour production is Arthur’s struggle to unite the warring Celtic chieftains against the invading Saxon hordes.

The 24 episodes will be screened early next year.6

Is this the real court of King Arthur sharp

The captions to the pictures read as follows:

HTV’s log cabin Camelot: Gone is the legendary splendour and the Round Table
Oliver Tobias: King Arthur from Hair
A ragged, rugged funeral procession from Arthur’s woodland camp

1 This is not very accurate. See this entry.

2 This may have been what is now known as, "Cattle Country Adventure Park", situated in Berkley, near Stroud.

3 According to the Director of the first two episodes, "a small sapling" is a considerable understatement. He remembers: "on arriving in Bristol and being taken to see this village set, all I’ve seen in the middle of the forest were a great number of trees with big chalk marks and numbers on them. "That’s where the village WILL BE BUILT!" I was informed."

4 It is interesting to see that at this late stage, when three episodes had already been filmed, Merlin was still meant to feature in the series.

5 It's a shame these ambitious plans never came to fruition; budgetary constraints may have got in the way.

6 The 24 episodes were eventually split into two blocks of 12 for UK airing.

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