Gerry Cullen, who was employed as an extra on "Arthur of the Britons", offered these insights to the filming of the series.

By a series of total coincidences, I was running low on money in Bristol when I heard that Harlech TV was having open casting sessions, to find extras for "Arthur of the Britons." I was hired, and worked until the end of the series. I remember often being there six days a week. Extras were only used when they need villagers to “fill in” of course, but I was very lucky; I seemed to get most work, probably because I looked the most scruffy.

When I came in, I was told they were making some changes (I don’t know what they were) and the series was half done. When I watched the DVDs, I saw that I was in some of “Season Two” and not in any of “Season One.”

Gerry centre

In this scene from "Rowena", Gerry is the person in the middle, standing next to Arthur.

For me, it was paid graduate school. The demanding schedule called for rotating directors, so I was able to observe their different styles and methods, and how they interacted with the actors. Most of the talk that I had access to was about blocking, director/DP discussions on camera placement, and lighting. I also got to see some of the very good character actors who bolstered the roster. That experience gave me solid confidence throughout my modest career as a camera production person.

The set was always very calm and orderly; very professional. It seemed to me that they were trying to keep to filming one episode per week, so there was a lot of pressure to hit the short deadlines for a quick turn-around; the actors and crew had a lot to do to make a half hour weekly action show. We worked long days; the extras would meet early, often about dawn, or before, at HTV Bristol, and usually come back late in the day, sometimes in the dark. The filming was extremely well organized and all the crew and actors created a friendly, but always moving forward, atmosphere.

Shooting wasn’t always in sequence; there was definitely some overlap between one episode and another. I remember hearing sometimes that a B crew was shooting cutaways and other footage at different locations, to help keep things moving.

Since it was all 16 mm film back then, all the good takes would have to be developed, and the dailies would have to be looked over. Film editing was very time consuming back then; the editor was dealing with many, many, short clips of film that would need to be physically spliced together, then the music mixed in the audio department, and titles added in the lab. I would guess a month at least from shoot week to air. If I remember rightly, it was airing during production, but I didn’t have a TV, and I only saw one broadcast episode while I was there.

Back then it was a big deal to have Arthur in the more primitive environment, rather than the glossy concept of shining armour and big gleaming castles and such.

I remember two main buildings, and some smaller ones to make the village for the Celts. The make-up area was in a tent; wardrobe was in there too. The Celts main building was often converted back and forth between sleeping quarters and also used for inside banquets. The series won some awards for the location set designs and costumes. The food was real, but no alcohol; the wine was grape juice. As I recall the boars were real but don't remember anyone eating them. I was a strict vegetarian for the about 5 years back then so I didn't pay to much attention to them even though I sat right near them in some scenes!

Speaking of the dining tent, the food was great but what I found intriguing was the afternoon tea break, where everyone had banana sandwiches; I had never heard of such a thing but they were very good.

With regard to stunts – from what I observed it was always Oliver and Michael doing everything; I don't recall any stuntmen standing in for either of them. When there was a group of riders I believe some of those were stuntmen. Oliver and Michael always did their own riding, and they both were very good at it.

Extras would get an additional £2 per day if they were involved in any stunts, or got pummelled. They probably don’t allow that today – too many lawyers – but it was fun then. In one episode, “The Marriage Feast”, a scene called for Mark of Cornwall (Brian Blessed) to storm off, mad because Arthur had just embarrassed him. It must have been my turn that day, as the director picked me to be thrown over Brian Blessed’s shoulder as he rampaged through the village, knocking people out of his way. We did at least 5 takes where Blessed literally threw me over his shoulder and into the air; he was a strong guy. Lucky for me, I studied jiu-jitsu in high school, so I knew how to land in hard falls, but it was still somewhat rough. I was disappointed when I watched the DVD; the take they used was the only one where he did not do that; instead, they used the one take where he just throws me down.

The Fight (143) The Fight (145)

I was involved in inside banquet scenes in two different shows. One was “The Marriage Feast”; I am sitting next to Brian Blessed, on his right. You can only see me in a quick wide shot at 14:45, and some back and forth over the shoulder shots in that scene, one is at 16:15.

The Feast (18)

In the other, I sit next to Arthur in a scene where Arthur and an opposing group, I cannot remember which one, decided to make a treaty and be peaceful with each other, so they hold a feast to celebrate.1

While Arthur and the leaders of the opposing group are inside at the banquet, some of the villagers from both sides have a knife throwing contest at a target. There is an accidental death when a knife misses the target and kills one of the villagers, and things get tense. A messenger rushes into the banquet to tell everyone, and things get tense. I remember that one well. It was shot of course out of sequence. In the filming of it, first the outdoor scene was shot, in that shot I am standing near the target when the man next to me gets killed by the stray knife. Later the banquet scene is shot and the messenger comes in and tells Arthur what happened, when he does everyone gets tense and I was told by the director to slowly start pulling out my knife as if a fight was about to happen. Normally I wouldn’t say anything to the director but I thought I better tell him I was in the previous outside shot and he might have a continuity problem if I was noticeable. But he wasn’t worried so he probably had plenty of coverage. 2

At an outside feast in “Rowena” at 19:48 I am sitting down in front of the table and throw wine at a villager, who falls down.

Look at her (14) Look at her (15)

In "Some Saxon Women" I am in quite a few shots but more interestingly there are good shots of the young woman that Michael Gothard was seeing. She is most easily seen in the scene starting at 7:00 where the two men look over the Saxon women who are chained up. In the shot where the two men stop and shake hands “to make the deal” was Michael’s girlfriend; she was German, and had a young child.



On set, Oliver was always the quietest of the three main actors, and was always very courteous to everyone. He was the youngest, and – as the lead – he had the biggest responsibility. While waiting, he seemed to keep it very serious. He was perfect for the role of Arthur, and he did a great job, even though he was not that experienced.

Jack Watson was the most laid back. Having previously worked on TV productions in New York, I already knew never to bother the actors; always wait until spoken to, and stay on business unless someone else brings up a topic, because they need their space to think about their lines, and get into the character, but while waiting for his part, Jack would often stand on the side among the extras, chatting amiably. He usually had fewer lines to deliver than the others, so I would think that made it easier to be relaxed, plus he had the most experience.

The most serious I ever saw him was on the occasion when, in a nice manner, he scolded me. It was very cold on some of the early mornings, so I had gone to a second-hand shop and bought the warmest overcoat I could find: a long dark blue wool coat, that only cost three pounds.

While we were watching a scene being prepared, Jack, who was standing next to me, said, “Are you a medic?” I answered, “No. What makes you think I would be?”

He explained that I was wearing a Navy medic’s coat; it still had the patch on it.

I told him I didn’t know what it meant, I just bought it because I was trying to keep warm.

He wasn’t mad or anything; he was just very worried that if there was an emergency, it would cause confusion. I couldn’t imagine anyone would think I was a medic, since – other than the coat – my clothes were those of an impoverished medieval Celt, but I realized later that he was a WW2 Navy man, so I could understand his concern.

Michael Gothard was probably the most physical actor. Even standing still, the man seemed to be moving. I noticed that whenever he was in a scene that was being shot, the energy on the set went up; I think he was the sort of actor who made everyone rise up without their even realizing it. Somehow, Michael began talking with me, and found out I had just been travelling about Europe, much as he did some years earlier. During that period, we hit the pubs a few times.

Whoever cast this series really knew what they were doing. The contrast between Oliver and Michael made for good interplay between the two. Oliver was sturdy, emanated inner strength, and kept his cards close, while Michael was lanky, had his energy “out there”, and was often edgy.

It was my impression that the three lead actors liked each other very much.

It is amazing how popular and long-lasting Arthur of the Britons has been. Many of the Brits and Aussies that I have known here in the US remember the show very fondly and vividly. It is an incredible testament to everyone involved.

1 “The Treaty.”

2 This indoor scene, where a messenger comes in to tell the assembled chiefs about the death, does not appear in the episode as shown on TV; the footage must have been discarded.
Back to school for King Arthur’s knights

Stars of stage and screen have been going back to school in Stroud over the past few weeks, to polish up their riding skills.

They have been going to a riding school in Beeches Green to become accomplished horsemen for a TV film about the legendary King Arthur.

Involved

Among well-known actors involved are Jack Watson, who lives in Biddestone, near Chippenham; Rupert (Maigret) Davies and Oliver Tobias1, who takes the name role in the commercial TV film.

Also very much involved is Mr. Bernard Ford2, who owns the carriage museum and stables.

He has been recruited as horse master in charge of 22 horses required for various battle scenes.

His niece, 21-year-old Maria Tolwinska, has also been riding, and acting as serving wench during filming in the West Country.

Battle

Mr Ford’s sister, Mrs. Dorothy Tolwinska, told me the horses are changed most evenings.

“If they get supposedly hurt in a battle scene, or wet in the water, the television people have to use new ones in the next scene or they would be recognised,” she said.3

Work in the 24 episodes continues until December.


1 This is probably inaccurate. As the Saxon leader, Cerdig, Rupert Davies is never seen on horseback in the series, and Oliver Tobias was already an accomplished horseman, as seen in the film, “Romance of a Horsethief.”

2 This probably refers to Ben Ford.

3 In fact, this happened on just one occasion: in “Rowena”, when horses ridden by Arthur and Kai have supposedly been stolen in an ambush, Arthur is seen riding a dark horse for the only time in the series, as well as a white horse who is never seen again in the series. There are other occasions, such as in, “The Gift of Life”, when Kai is seen riding two different horses, when he should have been on the same one throughout the episode.

Further details on the Equine stars of "Arthur of the Britons" can be found here.
TV Today 17 August 1972

This photo in this news article giving advance publicity for the series, shows the heroes wearing a prototype costume, some elements of which were abandoned before filming began. For example, Llud is never seen wearing a jacket like this in the series, and - in colour versions of this picture - Arthur and Kai are shown cross-gartered, whereas in the series, this is an element of the Saxon and Jute costumes.

costume clip
This article appeared on page 3, about halfway down on the right, on Thursday 17 August 1972.

Stunt is a hair-raiser

Stuntman, Peter Brayham lost an £80 long blonde Saxon wig in the River Chew, in Woollard, near Pensford, yesterday.

He was fighting with Bath actor Jack Watson in a scene from HTV’s £500,000 Arthur series, which is being filmed on location throughout the West.


There are very few scenes in which Jack Watson, as Llud, is seen fighting in or near water, and in none of those is he fighting a Saxon.

In “The Penitent Invader”, which was filmed during early August, he fights some Picts by the side of the River Chew, but their wigs are curly black ones.

In “Go Warily”, he fights the giant Brosk (played by Dave Prowse), who is not a Saxon, and who, in any case, is wearing a helmet, not a wig. The episode is thought to have been filmed in September, and so post-dates this article.

In “Rolf the Penitent”, Brian Blessed, playing Mark of Cornwall, throws a Saxon wearing a long blond wig into the River Chew, but this particular episode is thought to have been filmed in early October.

Given the date of the article, it seems most likely that the loss of a blond wig – if it happened at all - occurred during the filming of "In Common Cause", during which a stuntman, doubling for Michael Gothard, jumps into Woodborough Mill Dam, while wearing such a wig. However, the dam is not very big, so if his wig had fallen off, it should have easily been retrieved.

A cynical person might suspect that this article was a complete work of fiction, devised as a way of keeping the project in the news, or perhaps simply to fill a couple of column inches on a slow news day during the silly season!


Stunt is a hair-raiser

Advertising poster

Sunday, 13 August 1972 08:00 pm
This poster must have been made up after the filming of "The Penitent Invader", which took place during the second week in August.

HTV publicity 3 small

Featured scenes, left to right are from "Daughter of the King" (two scenes), "The Penitent Invader", "The Gift of Life", "Arthur is Dead", and "The Challenge."
This call sheet, kindly provided by Mrs Barbara Hatherall, establishes the date on which the two main battles scenes for The Penitent Invader were filmed: 10 August 1972.

Scenes of general melée were filmed first, at 6:30, while the main actors were in make-up. Some of the Celts and Picts were played by stuntmen; presumably they were involved in fights, or had to fall in the river.

Someone called “Maria” is listed among Arthur’s Cavalry, though there doesn’t appear to be a woman among them. This is thought to refer to Maria Tolwinska, the niece of Ben Ford, who supplied the horses.1

Artists from the Animation department, a chestpad, blood and a knife were needed to simulate Arthur’s knife wound.

Call sheet Penitent Invader 10 Aug 1972 small

For the scenes filmed at 11:00 – the fight between Rolf and the Picts – a total of 16 horses are needed. Also listed, and underlined, as if they were of high importance, are towels – presumably to dry off the extras or stuntmen who had been in the river – and brandy, which the wisdom of the time said would warm them up afterwards!

At 12:30, the scene where the abbot goes about the battlefield, blessing the dead, was filmed.

Jack Watson only took half an hour in make-up, as did Michael Gothard, but it took 45 minutes to make up Oliver Tobias; Michael Graham-Cox, and Hedley Goodall, who played the abbot, took an hour and a half.

Oliver Tobias was staying at St Mary’s House, Wrington, and was brought to the location in a taxi. Once again, George Cook supplied the catering, but for this day’s shoot, there would be about 110 people.

1 See this article from the Western Daily Press, 11 September 1972: "Back to school for King Arthur’s knights"
This call sheet, kindly provided by Mrs Barbara Hatherall, provides a fascinating insight into the filming process, and also establishes the date particular scenes were filmed: 9 August 1972.

The scenes being shot on this date were some of those which take place at Rolf’s settlement, where Llud is engaged in trying to cure Rolf of his rapacious appetites, using a hide shirt with studs on the inside, made by Rolf’s blacksmith.

A large roast boar is listed among the props, so evidently the banquet scenes, featuring folk singer Fred Wedlock as Rolf’s minstrel - playing a dulcimer covered in animal skins - was filmed on this date. The scenes in Rolf’s bedroom were also on the schedule, as the blacksmith, and Herward’s messenger, who appear in those scenes, are required for the shoot.

Call Sheet Penitent Invader 9 Aug 72 small

There are no horses listed among the requirements, so the scenes where Llud and Rolf ride around the countryside together must have been filmed on a different day.

Oliver Tobias and Michael Gothard were not needed for filming on these two days, but Clive Revill, who played Rolf, had to be collected from the Unicorn Hotel.

George Cook supplied the catering for the 75 – 80 people needed on location.
This fascinating glimpse into the early planning stages of "Arthur of the Britons" was kindly supplied by Paul Lewis, who preserved the article.

HTV to spend £1/2 m on King Arthur series

HTV West is to spend more than £500,000 one a new adventure series, a 24-part saga devoted to the exploits of King Arthur.

The story of the West Country’s own legendary hero will be filmed on the locations actually associated with Arthur, among them Cadbury Camp, the reputed site of Camelot, and holy Glastonbury.

Filming will begin in June.

“This is a very exciting project by any standards and reflects our confidence in the production team, led by Patrick Dromgoole, we have created at Bristol,” said managing director Tony Gorard last week.

The series will be done by the same team who produced the 13-part series, Pretenders, and the play Thick as Thieves, which was the winner of the Royal Television Society’s “Pye Oscar” as the best regional production of the year.

HTV has found an American distributor, Heritage Enterprises, for the new series. Mr Arthur Steloff, of Heritage, said, “There is enormous interest in a programme based on King Arthur and I am confident we can achieve world-wide sales.”

Lord Harlech, Chairman of HTV said, “The series will be as historically authentic as we can make it. Arthur was a young and powerful fighter who fought savagely and successfully to defend the remnants of Roman Britain against the invading Saxons.”

“We are tearing up the cosy Victorian water-colour picture of Arthur and showing instead the hard tough cavalry leader he must really have been,” he added.

The series will show how Arthur moulded the splintered British tribes into the force that repelled barbarian invaders bent on conquest, and moulded still more – the shape of a kingdom to come.

The role of Arthur will be played by Oliver Tobias, star of the London production of Hair. Michael Gothard, well-known for his appearance in The Last Valley and in Ken Russell’s The Devils plays Kai, a loyal follower of the King.

Jack Watson who starred in Pretenders is cast as Ludd The Silver Handed, a powerful Celtic warrior who rides as Arthur’s right hand. Merlin will be played by Maurice Evans.

Peter Miller is the producer and his team includes Roy Baird, the executive producer for Women In Love, Henry VIII and If.

Writers engaged include Terence Feely, Robert Banks Stewart, Jack Seddon, David Purcell, Stuart Douglas and Bob Baker and Dave Martin the Bristol playwrights responsible for both Pretender and Thick As Thieves.


It is interesting that at this stage, they were still referring to Arthur as "King Arthur", though he is never referred to as such in the series. Also interesting is the fact that nowhere is it stated that the series is for children, though in the UK, it was shown late afternoon, when children would be watching after school.

Early plans to film at sites connected with the little we know, or think we know, of the historical Arthur - including Cadbury Camp and Glastonbury - must have been abandoned at an early stage.

Also abandoned was Merlin, whom the article says was to be played by Maurice Evans - Dr Zaius in "Planet of the Apes"(1968). As Patrick Dromgoole has said: "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."

£500,000 was a great deal of money to spend on such a series at the time, so it isn't surprising that selling it to foreign networks was a high priority. This plan came to fruition, with "Arthur of the Britons" being shown, in various forms, sometimes under a different name, and either dubbed or subtitled, in France ("Arthur, Roi des Celtes"), Germany ("Konig Arthur"), Spain ("Arturo de Bretaña"), many Eastern European countries, Australia, the USA ("King Arthur") and South America ("El Rey de los Guerreros").



TV Today 15 June 1972 small

Early drawing

Thursday, 1 June 1972 02:00 pm
HTV publicity 1 small

This early piece of artwork was preserved by the series' composer, Paul Lewis. It appears to have been produced before filming began, though clearly the main characters had been cast. Also, it had already been decided that Arthur should ride a white horse, and the font used in the series had been designed.

Arthur is seen carrying a shield of a type he only uses in the first episode - a round shield with a boss, which he later identifies as being of Saxon design. Also, we never see a Saxon longboat as shown in the poster - in full sail - in the series.

The picture of Kai - with a stubbly beard, which he doesn't wear in "Arthur of the Britons" - must have been drawn from stills of Michael Gothard playing Hansen in "The Last Valley", with which the producers were familiar.

The Last Valley 16
Michael Gothard as Hansen

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