I arrived at the building where Sean works for our 3 o’clock meeting, and he came down to meet me. On the way up to his office, he asked why I was so into “Arthur of the Britons”: was it Oliver? I said, no it was Michael. “Even then?” he said. Perhaps he thought a teenager would be more likely to fall for Oliver, though he did think that Michael was a very attractive man.

By way of background, Sean said that in the early 1970s, the smaller TV companies like HTV weren’t expected to do drama, especially on this scale, but Sean’s father, Patrick Dromgoole, decided that they should start. They had two crews, which produced a lot of great drama over the next 20 years, including "Children of the Stones" and “Robin of Sherwood.” “Arthur of the Britons” - along with “Pretenders”1 - was the start of this in many ways.

The story of Arthur, and the conflict between the Celts of Wales and Cornwall, and the Saxons in Wessex, was a natural choice for Harlech TV, which was based in the middle of those territories.

As we settled down to watch “The Gift of Life” together, Sean proved himself a man after my own heart by expressing approval for the 4:3 aspect ratio! He also said he loved Elmer Bernstein’s epic theme music.

Every now and then, as we watched the episode, he would press ‘pause’, and tell me something he remembered about what had just transpired.

The first thing he commented on was the horse Michael was riding. He said that either Michael wasn’t a natural rider, or the horses he’d been given weren’t up to the task, because he had been through about 3 horses without finding one that suited him. The horse wrangler, Ben Ford of Stroud, brought in the big dark horse with the wide irregular blaze, and named it Merlin because “if this works it will be a miracle.”

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As it turned out, this horse did suit Michael, and was very … stable.

As Krist and Elka stick their heads up on the boat, Sean drew his colleague’s attention to his first appearance: “I’m in show business!”

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He then pointed out that much of the conversation between Arthur and Kai about what to do with the Saxon children – nearly a whole minute – was filmed in one take.

Then when Kai is getting ready to leave the village with the children, he drew my attention to a great shot of Michael.

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He said there would have been huge polystyrene reflectors just out of shot, directing bright lights at Michael’s face; he would have been bravely keeping his eyes wide open to avoid squinting.

The riding scenes were filmed near Woodchester. Sean could ride already, as his mother had been very keen that he and his siblings should learn. It was alright for Tamzin riding in front of Michael, but very uncomfortable for him, riding at the back, where there was no saddle. Bumping along when they were cantering was agony!

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The conversation between Krist and Kai about the scar on Kai’s neck would have been filmed by a tracking camera mounted on a vehicle, driven alongside the horse.

I mentioned how tall the bracken was, in the scene where Krist and Elka go missing. Sean said the problem was, trying to make sure the crew didn’t trample it all down!

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When Kai was calling for the children, Sean said, “I did find Michael slightly scary – there was a threat about him. He was tall, distant, and rather magnificent.” He was also “moody” but Sean also recalled that he was “very kind, very patient.” He and Tamzin often screwed up a shot by, for example, looking straight into camera, but Michael understood that they were just learning. “In dealing with me and Tamzin, he was brilliant.”

When Kai teaches the children the secret whistle, Sean admitted that he couldn’t do it; that was the only part of the sound that wasn’t recorded live on location, but looped in a sound studio. The sound recordist, Mike Davey, a close friend of Sean’s, is deaf in one ear!

During the next scene where they were riding, Sean pointed out the vehicle tracks where the horse was trotting. I protested that they were cart tracks, but he said carts didn’t make tracks like that!

Where the children are sleeping, he said he remembered the feel of the sheepskin against his cheek.

I commented on Kai’s furry boot-covers, and Sean revealed that they were a lot of trouble, as they were always coming off.

As they walk into the Saxon village, Sean said that Heather Wright, who played Hildred, was a lovely girl. He commented once again on the wonderful cadence of the theme music.

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He wondered what was the point of “putting fur on a guitar” (the minstrel’s lute).

In the scene where Kai is sitting in the hut, tied up, Sean pointed out that the wattle and daub panels, from which the walls were made, were actually moulded plastic! They had one real panel, and poured plastic onto it, then peeled it off, painted it, and poured some more on. They looked terrible in real life.

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He thought Stephan Chase was a good actor; “You need to know who your villain is.”

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When Kai springs out of the bracken to break the Saxon villager’s neck, Sean said he would have had his face smeared with Vaseline, to make it look as if he were sweating. By the time they filmed these scenes, they were losing the light.

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Sean remembers being fascinated watching Peter Brayham organising the stunts, and by just how simple they were, up close. When Horgren surprises Kai, near his horse, it was Peter who buried the axe in the tree trunk, not Stephan Chase.

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He remembers feeling the sticky “Kensington Gore” (theatrical fake blood) on his face after Kai palms his cheek as he rides away.

During the scene where Kai is lying on his sickbed, we speculated on where Arthur would have obtained the huge bunch of grapes Kai has in front of him. Sean suspects the cameraman was referencing Carravagio’s “Boy with a Basket of Fruit.”

Boy_with_a_Basket_of_Fruit-Caravaggio_(1593) Welcome home (5)

The fire would have been made using a gas tube under some stone that had been painted to look like logs.

After the credits had rolled, Sean asked whether I had any other questions. I started by asking how he got the job!

He had acted before, in school plays and the like, but never in front of a camera. As soon as word got out about a new production, people in the business would be looking out for roles for their children. There was an audition: five boys and five girls, and a lot of those auditioning, like the Nevilles, were family friends.

The episode Director, Pat Jackson – a lovely man - must have auditioned them, but as the audition was held in Patrick Dromgoole’s office, Sean, and his younger brother Dominic and sister Jessica, were at something of an advantage. Sean himself was credited as “Sean Fleming” – his mother’s maiden name – because they didn’t want to give away the fact that he was in his dad’s production!

Sean got the part of Krist, partly because he was blond, which made him a better fit as a Saxon boy than his brother, Dominic whose hair was dark. Dominic got the part of Col’s son Frith, in “The Slaves.” He didn’t like the fact that at the end of the episode, he had to be lifted – almost thrown – high in the air by Dave Prowse. Jessica appeared in another episode as an extra.

They took the men Dominic

Sean took it very seriously; he remembers rehearsing at the kitchen table with his mother. “I was the little pro – turned up with all my lines learnt!”

Being one of the youngest cast members was, “terrific! Everyone spoiled me.” People fell over themselves to look after them, especially the make-up lady, Christine Penwarden, on whom he had a crush. She used to show them how to make fake scars with Bostick, and shock their families.

When they went for the costume fittings, they were fascinated by the axes with rubber heads, used during the actual fight scenes. Saying, “This is a real one”, Oliver picked up an axe, took a swing at one of the posts in the Saxon village, struck into it, and also hit one of the female crew members - possibly the costume lady, Audrey MacLeod - on the head! She was okay though.

There were very small crews in those days – 30 or so – so everyone was racing about the whole time, but because of people like the cameraman, Bob Edwards and the director, Pat Jackson, the atmosphere was relaxed and very friendly; there seemed to be plenty of time. “It was great fun – a real confidence-booster. They made it so easy.”

Nevertheless, not being a ‘morning person’, Sean was “beguiled” by how early in the morning they started work (dawn). They only shot 3 and a half to four minutes’ worth of film each day, unlike these days, when 8 minutes is the norm. It took about a week to film each episode.

When asked how much direction he was given, Sean said, “Not enough, watching it! I think the idea was to keep us as relaxed as possible – not do take after take, which would have been intimidating for a child.” He thought he could have given a better performance. It was hard to know how much direction any of the adult cast received, because a good director would speak to the actors privately.

He didn’t see the rushes. There would be a lab. report the next morning, and the rushes would be seen the following night. Some directors invited the actors; the more experienced ones didn’t, because they didn’t want them to be distracted by thinking about what they’d done before.

Sean thinks he was paid for the performance, but has no idea what happened to the money; it didn’t end up in his pocket! He was present for the filming of some other episodes but didn’t appear as an extra, which was boring: not like being the centre of attention!

It rained, half the time, and the cast and crew would either stand under tarpaulins, film indoors, or just got on with it, pretending it wasn’t there.

Tony Shaffer – the writer of “Sleuth” - suggested that John Hurt should play Arthur; the series would have been “different”. But Patrick cast Oliver Tobias, who they already knew really well. Oliver used to bring his Haflinger 4 x 4 to their parents’ place, and drive them up an almost vertical hillside, making them all scream!

Oliver was hugely popular, “an utter delight.” He maintained friendships with all levels of the crew, to the extent that, years later, when he played the villain, Bertrand de Nivelle, in the “Robin of Sherwood” episode, “Lord of the Trees”, and had to fight Michael Praed, who played Robin, the crew were all cheering for Oliver: “Come on – give him what for!”

Bertrand de Nivelle

When the episode was broadcast, on 13 December 1972, Sean’s whole cub scout troop – all in their uniforms – came to their house in Somerset to watch it. “I was a fucking star!”

Though he hasn’t been back to the locations where they filmed, Sean sometimes feels drawn to visit them. His involvement with “Arthur of the Britons” was a very intense experience, and his attachment to it is deep set. He asked me what I thought of the series when I saw it again on DVD after nearly 40 years; I said it was better than I remembered, and he agreed. The series has stood up well.

He wanted to take up acting as a career, until his first professional auditions, which were so ugly and intimidating, he wondered why anyone would ever put themselves through the process. He probably should have gone to drama school, but his parents didn’t believe in it. He flirted with the idea of becoming and engineer, but decided it would be too dull, so he studied Philosophy at University, where he also did 22 plays, and had his own punk band, The Ripchords.2

When he finished his studies, he spent a number of years behind the camera, working for his father as an Assistant Director.

1 A costume drama set in 1685, about two children during a rebellion against King James II.

2 Their sole release, an eponymous EP with four tracks, “Ringing in the Streets”, “Music is...”, “Peace artist”, and “Television television”, was championed by John Peel, and quickly sold out. "Punk 77" described their music as “Tuneful punk with sepulchral vocals and deep growling bass”, and "My Life's a Jigsaw" as “Great garage/DIY punk.” Sean Dromgoole was the vocalist.
Extra, Barbara Hatherall and cameraman, Roger Pearce remembered filming at Woodborough Mill Farm near the village of Woollard. This was where Ulrich's village in "The Gift of Life", Rolf's village in "The Penitent Invader", Cerdig's village in "In Common Cause", Yorath's village in "Rowena", Col's village in "The Slaves", and Arthur's village in the later episodes, were set.

In "The Gift of Life", this is the wood from which Kai and the children emerge, and into which Kai flees from his Saxon pursuers.

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Here is the location as it appeared in 2014; the young sapling left of centre in the scene above seems to have grown.

Match 1
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On 28 and 29 August 2010, at a meeting arranged by Wendy Van Der Veen at the Imperial Hotel in Stroud, Oliver Tobias graciously gave his time to meet a group of fans of “Arthur of the Britons”, and share some of his experiences. His brother, Benedict Freitag, also attended.

After Wendy had introduced him, Oliver referred to “Arthur of the Britons” as ‘a memory which I had closed away …’ He said that someone – either an early director, or his agent – used to tell him ‘never look back’: advice which he took to heart. As a result, he has little in the way of momentoes, had never watched the whole series, and didn’t even see the ‘rushes’ when they were filming.

He recently started watching the series with his 7 year-old son Luke – who looks at him a bit differently now! They haven’t watched all of it yet, but Oliver’s overall impression is that the series stands up as a piece of drama; the episodes are sound pieces of work that have stood the test of time.

‘We gave good honest performances and that’s why they are still appreciated by loyal fans who remember the series from childhood. But I don’t suppose they would appeal to people seeing them for the first time now.’

One fan, who saw the series for the first time only a few months before, was able to set him right on that score, telling him ‘it engaged me instantly.’

When asked what he considered to be his best work, over his whole career – the work of which he was most proud – he said, ‘“Arthur of the Britons” – it was all downhill from then on!’ He was only half-joking. He takes pride in a job well done, but it’s not about him: ‘I do things to entertain people.’

Benedict remembered waking up on the morning after “Arthur of the Britons” was first shown in Germany, looking out of his window to see lots of little boys playing Arthur-and-Kai games on the football pitch across the way, with wooden swords and shields, and thinking proudly: ‘My brother did that!’
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Roger Pearce was the camera operator on many episodes. He was kind enough to share some memories of the times, and supplied some of the photos seen elsewhere on this archive.

I was the camera operator on much of the series – some 26 weeks in shooting – which began in a place called Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire. This is where the first village was constructed on the bank of a lake.

Woodchester was actually a far better place [than Woollard] to shoot Iron Age Britain; it’s a vast park, and though managed and farmed, is allowed to live and decay naturally and so pictorially looked more convincing. But it proved far too expensive to travel the cast and crew from Bristol and surrounding area every day, and the company couldn’t afford the accommodation for maybe 100 or so people, so it was decided to build a village much nearer to the Bristol base, and the chosen spot was the top and eastern side of Wollard: a large and steep meadow which slopes down to the river Chew. I remember a bridge was constructed over the river; perhaps the remnants might still be visible.

The disadvantages of this location were the rather restricted view for big wide shots, domestic dwellings, electricity poles and cables, clearly defined farm land with cultivated hedgerows, and the fact that Woollard is on the flight path to Bristol Airport though that not so busy then.

Two other locations you might recall, where two brothers were fighting in a wood, then spill out into open countryside, (one actor was Ken Hutchings; can’t remember t’other) and during the title sequence, 3 or 4 horsemen are following at speed the camera. We pass a telegraph pole: it’s still there, and was in shot! These two locations are on public ground, very near a pub called, ‘The Compton’.

Our unit base was at the top of the field where vehicles and large marquees were erected, one of which was the dining area. During really bad weather, of which there were many instances, we had to raise one side of the tent to allow a flow of water through and out the other side down to the river.

It being the 70s, many of our extras were student types who – apart from their every day clothes – quite looked the part. Some took to hiding at the end of each shooting day to evade crew; they would then re-emerge, occupy the better made huts, co-habit under furs and skins to the warmth of wood fires, and be ready for filming next day! Shall we say security was not what it is today! There was one security guard, and all he did was lock the gate when he thought the last person had gone. When the extras showed up early in the morning, the crew just thought they were really conscientious.

With regard to weaponry: most of the time it would be moulded rubber spear tips and daggers; only when the camera was close in would we switch to metal, although blunted, fake items could still inflict a wound. For any close up work or ‘no combat’ scenes, Kai’s axe would be genuine, but for hand-to-hand combat, an identical rubber axe would be substituted.

I have a vague memory of Ollie being injured. I think it was late afternoon and the result of a spear being thrown; it would not have been metal but a solid rubber tipped one. But with the weight of the wooden shaft behind it, it could still wound. I seem to remember Ollie was taken off by ambulance to be checked over and there may have been a few stitches to boot! Was filming halted? No, just rearrange the call sheet and press on! Nothing has changed.

When you are filming a series, you are like family, for the time you are together.

Additional information from Roger:

The scenes where people were riding were filmed from Range Rovers; they were very new at the time, so the crew was very excited about that!

The rock in “Arthur is Dead” was actually made of cloth, over a wooden frame. At one point, you can see a hole in it!

When filming “The Challenge”, they rolled down the bank a couple of times to practice, but they couldn’t get their costumes wet or it would have been all over. The scenes where they ride through the bracken were filmed in the Mendips.

The rock on which Arthur was tied to be flogged in “The Slaves” was in that position already. Black Rock Quarry has been used as a filming location many times.

When asked about filming "The Pupil", Roger says, "the only thing I do recall since you mention Peter Firth is, filming him under a stone bridge or culvert very close to the weir. He would have been hiding from someone, perhaps Kai?1 We chatted about girls between takes! ... As to the fight in the Long House, I can’t remember why we remained inside. It may have been scripted that way or, indeed if the weather was poor, a decision would have been taken to do it there."

The series photographer was Stuart/Stewart Sadd.

Director Sid Hayers was a tall fat jolly man – nicknamed the Michelin Man.

1The weir featured in "In Common Cause". The scene where Peter Firth was hiding would have been the one in the flashback, when he saw Arthur kill his father, Mordor.
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 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.
Meic Stevens is an acclaimed Welsh folk singer. This is a photo from 1972.

Stevens, Meic

He appears in “Arthur is Dead”, playing a Celt named Cabot, who is also Arthur’s Minstrel; in "The Gift of Life" as Ulrich's minstrel; in "Enemies and Lovers", as the minstrel who accompanies Goda, and at the end of "The Penitent Invader", when he sings for Arthur once more.

Arthur is Dead (64) Victory (14)

He was kind enough to set down a few memories.

Thanks for the letter and pictures. I’d almost forgot all that stuff, long time ago.

HTV had built an ancient village in the Forest of Dean. It was brilliantly built and the hall (Arthur’s) was real, thatched roofs etc, stockade.

It was a beautiful spot, but very muddy! The production had started off trying to look authentic, of the period (Dark Ages), but the weather wasn’t kind, so we rejected the original shoes, which were not waterproof because they were made of hessian-like cloth. We finally got leather boots which were modern. We could have done with wellies!

My hair was long and dark brown then, and they wouldn’t let us shave.

Patrick Dromgoole was the producer, and they hired actors who were quite well known like Hillary Dwyer, Brian Blessed etc. We all stayed in the Unicorn Hotel, Bristol. 1

Anyway, Oliver Tobias was an up and coming actor; good-looking. Some of the others had been members of the Old Vic, Royal Shakespeare Company, RADA, etc.

It was a bit of a soap really – a historical soap!

The instrument I played was a mandolin, disguised as a Welsh crwth. I remember quite well, I did it myself. I also wrote the lyrics of the songs.

Aftermath (8)

In one of the pictures, I am playing a Saxon, and the instrument is a dud, just a board with ordinary ‘strings strings.’ I recorded the musical bits (songs) in a studio in Bristol, and mimed.

Celebration (11)

It was a wig I was wearing as Athel’s minstrel. 2

Magic (3)

Anyway, can’t remember much more, it’s pretty boring on a film set in the middle of nowhere! Sometimes we’d walk (me and some of the actors) down this earthen track about a mile or two to the road, where lay a country pub. We were in there one afternoon, playing darts, when some American tourists came in to find half a dozen Celtic warriors playing darts and a pile of swords and spears in the corner. They didn’t make any comment, but left rather hurriedly.

1 Call sheets 35 and 36 show Clive Revill being collected from the Unicorn.
2 This instrument seems to be the one Meic Stevens described as a dud. The one he plays as Ulrich’s Saxon minstrel looks like the same one he uses when working for Arthur, with a bit of added fur!
This photo is courtesy of camera operator, Roger Pearce, who says:

This shot is from our Woodchester Park location: me, operating the camera on the left, as one or two scallywags hurriedly exit the Long House, lake in background.

Arthur 2b

The "scallywags" are Morcant's men, who attack Arthur's village, only to find it deserted.
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.

Advertising poster

Sunday, 16 July 1972 08:00 pm
This poster was probably drawn up in July 1972, when filming had just got under way. It features an artist's impressions, possibly from photos, of scenes from "Arthur is Dead" and "The Challenge."

HTV publicity 2 small
Poster courtesy of Paul Lewis.

Romance, legend, myth and misunderstanding veil the true story of ARTHUR, the man who roused all England to repel a barbaric invader. Behind the legend lies a freedom fighter, a leader of genius.

In “ARTHUR of the Britons”, HTV West, within whose borders ARTHUR built his own Camelot, have created a 24-part series on the life and battles of the hero ‘king’.

It is the dramatic story of desperate men and desperate times, an age of bloodshed, but an age also of a warrior who held dear the vision of a free, united and Christian kingdom.

The £500,000 series was filmed on West Country locations that once rang to the clash of Celtic and Saxon sword. Two stockaded encampments, one Celtic and one Saxon, were recreated in painstaking detail.

The writers who contribute are of international repute. They include: Terence Feeley, Robert Banks Stewart, David Osborn, David Pursall and Jack Seddon.

ARTHUR and his story belong to the so-called Dark Ages of English history that must remain partly veiled. This television series is the first realistic attempt to look behind that veil.

The text reiterates the premise of the show: Arthur as a wily war leader, trying to unite his people against invaders.

It is interesting to note that Arthur is referred to as "a warrior who held dear the vision of a free, united and Christian kingdom." But nowhere in the series does Arthur refer to his own religious faith, and though a white banner with a red cross is on display in Arthur's village, he never fights anyone simply because they are not Christians; indeed, his foster-father, Llud, believes in different deities, though we are not told which ones.

In "Arthur is Dead", a large book - which might well be a Bible - is seen in Arthur's room; later in the series he consults a monk, but about an agricultural rather than a spiritual problem, and later still, he takes issue with Rolf, for preaching Christian peace and love, causing some of the Celts to lay down their arms.

Perhaps it was thought that a Christian leader might hold greater appeal, but religious fervour just didn't fit with the character of the practical hero they created in Arthur.
In, in response to a request in the Chew Valley Gazette, Mrs Barbara Hatherall offered these memories.

Barbara Hatherall knew the Maxwell family who owned Woodborough Mill Farm, where much of “Arthur of the Britons” was filmed; the "Giant’s Dam" - seen in the episode, “In Common Cause” - is the weir at Woodborough Mill Farm, where they used to play when they were kids.

Barbara’s son Robert helped his uncle to build the village on a field near the River Chew, dragging logs and such like from the nearby woods to make the buildings, etc.

In the summer of 1972, Barbara would go up to the shooting location nearly every day, for one thing or another. She appeared as an extra on many occasions, and they all thought the pay they got as extras was brilliant.

The family had a caravan in their back garden and the production rented it from them for the summer, for one of the crew who had to be there early. It came back spotless.

She had a shop that sold odds and ends in her front room. The cast and crew would come in to buy chocolate, etc. Patrick Dromgoole, the Executive Producer who also directed five episodes, used to come in and sit in her chair, and put his cup of tea on the arm (there was a little wooden stand to put things on) and say what a nice chair it was. She got it for £12!

He’d ask her to recommend people who lived in the area for particular parts. At one time, he wanted a man of a certain age. She said, “Well, my husband’s free that day,” so Patrick had a look at a picture, and cast Barbara and her husband as the jeweller and his wife in “The Penitent Invader.”

Well, her husband went into the make-up caravan, and when he came out she didn’t recognise him! They put him in a wig and a beard, and – later on, after he was supposed to have been robbed by Rolf – Patrick gave them some dirty old rags to bandage his head. Patrick kept screaming at her because she was laughing so much at silly things her husband was saying to her while they were trying to film.

In the scene where Rolf had attacked a young girl on the river bank, Patrick was telling the victim to spread her legs out, and look like she’s been raped, but she said “I can’t, there’s all stinging nettles there!”

Barbara was also in a banquet scene as a serving wench, and they had to do the scene over and over, because she had to take a tray of food to where Oliver Tobias was sitting, and he would stab a dagger into the table, making her jump back.

In the scene in “The Penitent Invader”, where Clive Revill, as Rolf, has to walk across hot coals as penance, he was supposed to put his feet in gaps which had been left between the coals, but ended up actually walking on hot coals because he kept missing the gaps. And he had to do it again, because Patrick shouted out “someone’s got a watch on!” and that was Barbara, with a watch under her hessian dress!

Hot coals (31) Hot coals (35)

Barbara’s daughter also appeared in a scene1, walking across a bridge.

One day, Patrick Dromgoole had asked the agency to send a lot of dark (meaning “dark-haired”) extras, but when the transport turned up, it was full of black people! They couldn’t be used for filming, but they got a free meal at the canteen.

The production really brought the village to life, with all the horses coming in, in big wagons, and all the cast and crew. There were a lot of people involved. It was good fun, and the actors would all chat to you. Barbara couldn’t remember anyone being stand-offish – everyone mucked in and worked together.

1 Possibly in “The Gift of Life.”
This article, courtesy of composer, Paul Lewis, from an unknown publication - probably a paper produced for the Bristol area - describes how Oliver Tobias was injured by a spear while shooting the episode, "The Challenge."

The End Column

Extremely mortifying for King Arthur

It wouldn’t have done for Tennyson. King Arthur would never have been put in such a mortifying position.

But television is a different matter. Which explains why a hero of chivalry had his wounds treated by the National Health Service yesterday.

King Arthur, played by actor Oliver Tobias, was filming a scene for a Harlech TV series at Compton Dando, Somerset.

As he fought a desperate duel with the war lord Kai – played by Michael Gothard – Kai aimed a spear thrust at Arthur’s head. The king parried with his shield, but slipped and the spear cut open the back of his head.

The Master of Camelot was carried in an ambulance from the field of conflict.

“I can’t understand it,” said the crestfallen champion at Bristol Infirmary later. “I must have parried a thousand blows during the filming.”

Producer Peter Miller, said “We take every precaution, but this is supposed to be a fight to the death, and it has to look good. Obviously there is some risk.

We will have to film the last piece again. At the moment we have the wrong man winning.”


There has been some use of artistic license in the article. Arthur should not have been referred to as "King", nor Kai as a "war lord." Also, according to Oliver Tobias, it was not Michael Gothard (playing Kai) who threw the spear which he failed to dodge, but a javelin expert who had been brought in for the shoot.

What is true is that Oliver was hospitalised, and the article plays down the seriousness of the injury he sustained. At a meeting with fans in 2010, Oliver Tobias said of the accident: “When it hit me, it was like a ship running aground.”

Though - according to cameraman Roger Pearce - the spearhead was very hard rubber, and not metal, it was nevertheless very dangerous with the weight of the huge spear behind it, and being hit was no laughing matter. Oliver was knocked unconscious. He needed quite a few stitches, and time away from filming to recover, though he returned to work as soon as he was able to.


The End Column small
This photo is courtesy of camera operator, Roger Pearce, who says:

The colour shot is of the sequence in “The Challenge” when Arthur and Kai duel and go down a river bank: me, leaning on the dolly seat as the camera is pulled back up the bank for another take.

Arthur colourb
Cameraman Roger Pearce remembered filming "The Challenge" at a location near the Compton Inn, Compton Dando, on the River Chew, in Somerset. This is how the locations looked in May 2014.

General area (5)

General area (6)001
Read more... )
This photo is courtesy of camera operator, Roger Pearce, who says:

This shows another scrap, with me hand-holding the camera over Ollie’s shoulder.

Arthur 1b

This fight between Arthur and Kai was caused by Eithna, the "Daughter of the King."

Fight (86) Fight (84)
"Arthur is Dead" – at least, the main part of it – was the first episode to be filmed, in late June and early July 1972. However, the horse-racing scenes at the beginning and end of the episode were clearly filmed in autumn, judging by the colour of the leaves on the trees.

The version of Arthur’s village seen in this episode had recently been built at Woodchester National Park, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire.

According to Sophie Neville, whose family owned some of the other filming locations, the ‘swamp’ where the Saxons were drowned was at the family farm in the village of Compton Dando.

Cerdig’s camp is thought to have been in the Mendips.

Of the filming, Director, Peter Sasdy says:

I was engaged to direct the opening episode of the series, with the understanding that, waiting for me there, was Arthur’s ‘village set’ already built. However, 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. Not a good start...

After some panic, and bringing in outside crews – as always in the film industry, under pressure, working day and night for 7 days a week – more or less everything was ready to start the production on schedule.

I know I had very little time during pre-production, but I was happy with the casting of the main characters, and with the costumes ...
For the first few episodes of "Arthur of the Britons", Arthur's village was situated at Woodchester Park, near Stroud, which now belongs to the National Trust.

According to Peter Sasdy, who was engaged to direct the opening episode of the series, Arthur’s ‘village set’ was supposed to be already built when he arrived.

"However, 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. Not a good start ...

After some panic, and bringing in outside crews - as always in the film industry, under pressure, working day and night for 7 days a week – more or less everything was ready to start the production on schedule."


Arthur is Dead (38)

This is the dam across the third lake, which forms a causeway into Arthur's village: scene from "Arthur is Dead."

Woodchester (24)

This is what it looked like in 2010/2011.
Read more... )
The field where the drowning of the Saxons in "Arthur is Dead" was filmed, is in the village of Frampton Mansell, and is owned by Daphne and Martin Neville. Daphne worked as a newsreader and television presenter for HTV.

Martin recalled that “Arthur of the Britons” was HTV's big production for 1972. When the Nevilles' field was chosen as a location, they had to dam two streams to create the effect of a marsh, and also brought in diggers to make the holes for the Saxons to drown in; it took three days for the field to get sufficiently waterlogged for filming.

This is how it looked in the series:

FM1 Fighting Cerdig (40)

And this is how the field, now set aside for conservation, appears in 2014:

Frampton Mansell 3

Frampton Mansell 1

Location shot taken at the time:

field at Frampton Mansell

When Daphne heard that HTV were auditioning children for parts in the series, her daughters auditioned; Tamzin was cast as Elka in “The Gift of Life”, Sophie was cast as another Saxon child, tilling the fields with Heather Wright as Hildred, when Elka and her brother return to the village. Perry was given a small speaking role as one of the Wood People’s children in “The Wood People”, and Sophie also appeared as a Woodchild.

Tamzin was 8 years old when she appeared in “The Gift of Life”, and could ride – they all had ponies. According to Sophie, Oliver Tobias later introduced Tamzin as his co-star. Daphne recalls that Michael Gothard was very good with the children.

daphne-neville-in-arthur-of-the-britons

This is Daphne, as a Saxon woman, with Tamzin, as Elka, Geoffrey Adams as Hald, and Sean Fleming as Krist.

Thanks to Sophie Neville, Daphne Neville and Martin Neville.

Further details and photos from the filming of "The Gift of Life" can be found on Sophie's blog, here.

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