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.”

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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.
Plot

Arthur, Kai, and two other Celts are riding through open country, their horses laden with goods obtained on a trading expedition. Kai looks disconsolately at two lovebirds in a cage hanging from his saddle. The trader he bought them from said they were songbirds, but they won’t utter a peep.

Hearing a call for help, the Celts immediately gallop along a woodland path, towards the source of the cry. But it is a trap – a rope, pulled tight across the path, trips their horses, and the riders fall, and are knocked unconscious. Someone steals the cage with the lovebirds.

Back at the longhouse, Llud tends a wound on Kai’s arm, while he and Arthur bemoan the loss of a whole season’s trading; perhaps a bigger worry is the theft of the four battle-horses they were riding. Llud suggests a visit to Yorath the Jute, to get some more.

In Yorath’s village, his daughter Rowena is berating him for sending her to marry another chieftain, Hecla. Though Yorath protests, “but you agreed”, Rowena refuses to go.

Arthur arrives, and tells Yorath he needs horses, for the defence of both the Celts and the Jutes, from the Saxons. At first, Yorath refuses, then he makes a deal: some horses, in exchange for Arthur’s services in escorting Rowena to Hecla’s encampment.

Rowena and Arthur set out, along with Arthur’s new horses. Rowena tells Arthur that she only agreed to the marriage to secure her father’s treaty; she thought the arrangement would be forgotten.

She wants to “take to the hills”, but Arthur refuses to turn a blind eye. She tries to bribe him with her jewellery, but to no avail. Then, while Arthur is distracted, she jumps on her horse, and gallops off. But Arthur soon catches her, and they continue on their way, with Rowena’s hands bound behind her back.

They stop for a meal, but Arthur won’t even untie her so she can feed herself. He tries to feed her some meat on a knife, and when she bites his hand instead, he goes off to eat alone.

Rowena manages to pull a knife from inside her boot, and cut her bonds. Then she frees some of Arthur’s horses, stows the knife in her boot, sits back down, and calls to “warn” Arthur that the horses are loose. While Arthur re-captures them, Rowena runs off again.

Arthur goes to look for her, and is hit on the head by one of three Saxons who have taken Rowena captive. When he comes to, Rowena covertly shows Arthur the knife in her boot, and he positions himself so he can get at it.

In exchange for her life, Rowena offers to show their captors where some monastery silver is buried, if they will ride there with her. As soon as she gets onto a horse, she rides at one of the Saxons and kills him. Arthur deals with the other two.

Rowena thinks that because she saved Arthur’s life, he should let her go, but he blames her for their capture, ties her hands once more, and puts her on her horse.

At Hecla’s village, Hecla presents Rowena to his people for inspection, leads her to the head of the table, pulls her onto his lap, pets her, and assures her that she will soon be a subservient wife.

While Hecla and Arthur talk politics, Rowena slips away.

Later, Rowena begs Arthur to help her escape, but he reluctantly refuses. Rowena accuses him of only caring about getting Hecla to join forces with him. Arthur tells her to stick to her agreement.

When Arthur sets out for home, he passes a hut with the cage containing the two stolen lovebirds, hanging outside. Arthur has his excuse to help Rowena.

Two days later, Rowena – under Hecla’s supervision – is getting ready to be wed, when they hear hoof-beats. They go outside to find Arthur, Kai, Llud, and more of Arthur's men, holding a group of Hecla’s villagers at spear-point, along with the goods they stole in the ambush. Arthur tells Hecla he still has need of a priest.


Timeline

Botanist Lynn Davy comments that the fruiting Clematis (Old Man's Beard) seen behind Rowena in the scene below definitely puts the filming in September.

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“Rowena” appears immediately after “Go Warily” in both the “Konig Arthur” book, and the German DVDs, but “The Prisoner” and “The Duel” are thought to have been filmed first, followed by the short break which Executive Producer Patrick Dromgoole recalls as having occurred halfway through the filming.

Gerry Cullen, one of the extras, remembers, “When I came in, I was told they were making some changes … and the series was half done.” “Rowena” was the first episode in which Gerry appeared, so it was probably the 13th to be filmed.

The main change seems to be the introduction of new recurring characters, Yorath – the leader of a tribe we haven’t met before, the Jutes – and his daughter, Rowena. Brian Blessed as Mark of Cornwall, who has not been seen since the first episode, would also appear more often in the later episodes, though not in this one.

Suggested shooting order so far

Arthur is Dead
Daughter of the King
The Challenge
The Gift of Life
Enemies and Lovers
In Common Cause
The Penitent Invader
The Slaves
People of the Plough
Go Warily
The Prisoner
The Duel
Rowena


Locations

For “Rowena”, the village at Woollard was cunningly divided up using bits of screening and palisade, so that the long, north-east facing side of the longhouse could serve as the Jutes’ village, mainly decorated with horses’ hides and skulls, while Hecla’s village was situated on the shorter, south-east facing end, and featured antlers as a motif.

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Patrick Dromgoole confirmed, “certainly the long house that we built and used was adapted for a number of different episodes”, and in later episodes, “the village was the same, but in deference to their architectural taste we shot it from two different points of view in long shot according to whether it was Jute, Saxon etc. or Brit.”

Arthur’s journey with Rowena mostly takes place on the River Chew, near Woollard. The place where Rowena refuses to cross the river looks like the same place where Arthur and Kai have their muddy brawl in "The Challenge."

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Cast notes

At the meeting with fans in 2010, Oliver Tobias recalled that “Arthur of the Britons” was a co-production,1 on which they had to have a quota of German actors, and that because the producers felt that Arthur needed to loosen up bit, they brought in Rowena for him, ‘in a Platonic way.’

Born as one of six siblings into a noble Prussian family, Gila von Weitershausen had been acting professionally since the age of 14, and was credited simply as “Gila.”

In contrast, the acting career of writer and director Georg Marischka only began in 1971, when he was in his late forties; Yorath the Jute was one of his earliest roles in front of the camera.

Peter Bowles has a long and distinguished career in comedy and drama on film, TV and on the stage; rarely has he played such an unappealing character as Hecla.


Inside Information

Patrick Dromgoole recalls: "One particularly touching scene I remember was where Gila von Weitershausen was emphasising her maidenhood in a love scene, when we had to stop shooting because her baby started squalling in the background.”2

According to Oliver Tobias, Gila was very nervous when she first joined the cast on set, and not a very confident rider, and they delighted in playing jokes on her, including making her horse bolt!


Re-working the legends

When they hear a cry for help, Arthur and Kai immediately rush to the rescue, in a very chivalrous fashion. But when it comes to Rowena, Arthur is more concerned with keeping his word than with rescuing a damsel in distress. It’s only when he returns to retrieve his stolen property that he saves Rowena from her lecherous husband-to-be.


The real Rowena

The original Rowena was daughter of Hengist, who – with his brother, Horsa – led the Angle, Saxon, Frisian, and Jutish armies to Britain in the 5th century. Initially, the group came to serve one of the leaders of the Britons, Vortigern, as mercenaries. Rowena was then married to Vortigern, gaining political advantage for her father.


“A man on a horse is worth ten on foot”

The importance of horses to the Celts is central to this episode. Having lost four battle-horses in the ambush, Arthur regrets not having had time to breed their horses, “As the Romans did.” Kai suggests crossing the sea to Gaul, to get more. Instead, Arthur pays a visit to “a man to the north who breeds strong horses”, Yorath the Jute.3

When Arthur arrives at Yorath’s village, he is, for the first time, seen riding a horse that isn’t white. This is presumably to emphasise the point that his horse was stolen. The horse he is riding is dark brown, with a small star.

His dismount at Yorath’s village is even more unconventional than usual. As a rule, a rider will dismount on the horse’s left, or near side, because – most people being right handed – the sword is usually worn on the left. However, Arthur has a spear in his right hand, which would be more difficult to manage if he were to try to dismount on the left side, so he swings his left leg over the horse’s neck, and dismounts on the horse’s right, or off side.

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After refusing to give Arthur any horses at all, Yorath ends up giving him seven, which shows how keen he is for someone else to solve the problem of getting Rowena safely to Hecla, with the minimum of fuss!

When they leave Yorath’s village, Rowena is riding Blackstar, and Arthur is back on a white horse, Bernie. He is leading two other white horses: Pinkie, and one we haven’t seen before, also with a pink mark on the muzzle, and a very long forelock, Binky. He is also leading Blondie, Merlin, Flame, and another bay horse with a star, either James or Charlie. By the time they reach the river crossing, Arthur is riding Skyline, and leading Bernie and Pinkie.

He rides Bernie when he has to catch Rowena’s horse.

Rowena uses Arthur’s horses as a distraction, and her own as a weapon.

When Arthur is leaving Hecla’s village, he is, for the first time, riding Binky.

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In the final scene, Arthur is still on Binky, Llud is on Curly, and Kai is on Moonlight – one of the horses which was supposedly stolen. Flame and Blondie are also with the Celts.

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


Dark Age Men and a Dark Age Feminist

The story looks at the – sometimes unhappy – lot of women in Arthur’s world. In the opening scene, Kai even jokes that he should have bought a woman from a Greek trader, so that his lovebirds would sing.

The Jutish princess, Rowena, finds herself in an unenviable position. Two years ago, probably under pressure from her father to do her duty for her people, she agreed to marry Hecla when she came of age, as part of a treaty between Hecla’s people and her own. Now the time has come, she refuses to go, and calls her father, “Peddler of flesh!”

To be fair, Yorath does seem somewhat regretful about having to send his daughter away, and he is understandably frustrated that she has changed her mind. But his comparison of her to a half-tamed horse: “Daughters are not brought to heel so easily!” is not very flattering!

Arthur tries to persuade her that the marriage will have some benefits: “You’ll have a much easier life. You’ll be taken care of”, but proto-feminist Rowena asserts that she doesn’t need a man to look after her.

When they arrive at Hecla’s encampment, it is easy to see why Rowena hoped that her betrothal to Hecla would be forgotten. He carries and parades her around for inspection by his villagers as if she were a piece of meat, even asking, “How would you like a slice of that, eh?” He mocks her when she is upset, foists his attention on her, and assures her that he will soon have his “mountain butterfly” under his thumb.


A fine romance

While Kai has had flings with Eithna (“Daughter of the King”), Goda (“Enemies and Lovers”), and Freya (“People of the Plough”), and received favourable attention and help from Hildred (“The Gift of Life”) and Thuna (“The Slaves”), Arthur seems very much a novice where women are concerned, with little more than an unfulfilled promise from Eithna to his credit.

If Arthur is attracted to Rowena, he doesn’t seem to know what to do about it. As they set out, his first conversational gambit is the unfailingly annoying, “Your face’ll set forever in that scowl”, which gets him a well-earned grimace from Rowena. But at least – unlike with Eitha – he has the sense not to criticise her for riding a horse, or for wearing breeches, and by the time she says, “I need no man to take care of me!” he is clearly falling a little bit in love with her.

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Later, when he suggests that the cowardice of which she accuses Hecla was because he was “made timid by [her] presence”, perhaps it is Arthur himself who is feeling that way. But he is hamstrung by his promise to deliver her to Hecla; she bites his hand, and tells him she wishes they were both dead.

His bitterness at having to leave her with her execrable husband-to-be spills over into his sarcastic reply when Hecla thanks him for bringing Rowena: “It was a pleasure to accompany such a sweet-tempered lady.”

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When Rowena begs him to take her away, he is clearly conflicted, and implies that he might have considered it if she had been nicer to him, but that he is not going to “make an enemy of Hecla for a spitting cat.”

Rowena accuses him of having no care for her happiness. His reply: “Believe me … I wish you well” – is hardly the kind of declaration to melt anyone’s heart, but eventually he finds a way to square it with his conscience, and rescue her.


"I’m a man of my word"

Having established to his own satisfaction that Rowena consented – however reluctantly – to marry Hecla, Arthur shows his inflexible side. He is determined to deliver her safely, come hell or high water. “I gave my word to your father that I would take you to Hecla … And I’m a man of my word!”

One might have thought that, having discharged his duty to Yorath by escorting Rowena to her destination, Arthur could then have helped her escape, without having technically broken his agreement; he does split hairs like this in other episodes. But he seems driven, not only to keep his own word, but to make sure that others do the same. “I fulfilled my obligation to your father. Now you must keep your promise to Hecla.”


Arthur’s wisdom

Arthur makes no decisions hastily, but usually – as in this episode – he finds a way to do the right thing in the end. His restrained behaviour when Rowena bites his hand is commendable.


Celts and Saxons

Kai says that if their horses have been stolen by Saxons, they will have been eaten, and when three Saxons catch Arthur and Rowena, Arthur says, “It isn’t like them to keep their axes clean, with Celtic blood about. Or Jutish blood.”

But Rulf was both a Saxon, and a competent rider; Kai has already been treated with justice by Ulrich’s people, and when Cerdig’s slavers kidnapped the men of Col’s village, they even left the women and children alive, and free.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some of what Arthur and the other Celts say about the Saxons is based on prejudice, rather than evidence.

In “Rowena”, Arthur tries to use the Saxon threat to get the horses he wants from Yorath, but the wily old leader claims that “When the Saxons come, they find more trouble than they need.” Though Arthur is probably right when he says that Yorath is being protected by Celt lines of defence, Yorath is more concerned with his domestic problems!


The hot-headed side-kick

Kai has undergone something of a transformation since “Arthur is Dead.” Based on the earlier episodes, one might have expected that after the ambush, he would be the one who was raging mad, and out for revenge. But his reaction is quite phlegmatic: “We’re lucky we have our lives.” He leaves the fuming to Arthur and Llud.


Grumpy Old Men

The loss of their goods and horses has put Llud in a very bad mood; it sounds as though he feels Arthur and Kai are to blame!

Yorath is also in a bit of a snit, having had pots thrown at him by Rowena; the way he greets Arthur – “Whaddayou want?” – is not going to win any prizes for diplomacy!


“That is bloody dangerous!”

The start of the episode is quite fraught with peril, though possibly not as bad as it looks. Horses are supposedly tripped, but only one horse is actually seen falling, or rolling, and the same fall is shown twice. Neither the horse nor the rider who fall are the ones seen galloping along the track; the rider who initiates the fall looks like stuntman Terry Yorke, who played one of Mark of Cornwall's men, Mahon in "The Duel", and the bay horse in the stunt has lot more white on its face than those seen earlier.

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Oliver Tobias manages to avoid another head injury, and - despite her lack of confidence, and of protective head-gear - Gila von Weitershausen also survives a few canters, and being dragged from her horse, apparently unscathed.


“Night-night, Kiddies!”

Hecla’s threat to turn Rowena into a submissive wife may be the most chilling moment in the episode. Arthur’s “You still have need of a priest” comes a close second.


Dressed to kill?

Possibly as part of the “changes” Gerry Cullen mentioned, there are quite a few new costumes in this episode. Arthur has two new tunics, one mustard-coloured, and one, a white knitted affair, as well as a white lace-up shirt, and a purple cloak.

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Kai has a new brown and turquoise tunic. Yet somehow, both Llud and Kai again manage to end up stripped to the waist ...

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Arthur goes back to his ring armour for his return to Hecla’s village, while Llud makes himself decent in his studded tunic.


"By the Gods!"

Addressing Arthur, and possibly Kai as well, Llud once again highlights the fact that he has different beliefs: “thank your god they were more interested in what you carried, than your lives”.

Rowena fools the Saxons into untying her, by pretending she knows where some monastery silver was buried in an earth barrow, to hide it from the Saxons.

Hecla intends to marry Rowena in a ceremony officiated by a priest. When Arthur arrives to reclaim his goods, he tells Hecla he still needs a priest – presumably to shrive his soul before Arthur has him killed.


Great moments

Domestic scenes in the longhouse are always a pleasure to watch, and Arthur’s chat with Yorath is amusing.


Quote/unquote

Rowena: Just because you sired me, I will not be treated like one of your dumb mares!
Yorath: Daughters are not brought to heel so easily,
Rowena: I need no man to take care of me.
Arthur: I’m a man of my word.
Arthur: It was a pleasure to accompany such a sweet-tempered lady.
Arthur: You still have need of a priest.


On the table

It’s nice to see that Arthur is capable of doing his own cooking; he even goes to his pack to get some salt or seasoning for the meat he is cooking for himself and Rowena. Beside him, on the platter, is a piece of meat which looks as though he bought it from a supermarket!

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At the feast at Hecla’s village, we see the usual selection of bread, meat and apples, and there are some dead rabbits hanging up, as well as that stag from Rolf’s village! The bits of food the villagers are cooking in their spits look rather over-done.

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Extra! Extra!

When Arthur arrives at Yorath's village, a bashful-looking blond girl runs inside. The same blond girl is then seen standing behind Arthur, to his left.

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She then appears at the door again, with Rowena.

Arthur arrives (57)

“Rowena” was the first episode in which Gerry Cullen4 appeared as an extra. He remembers playing one of Hecla’s villagers at the feast, and says “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)

By the end of the episode, he has joined Arthur’s side instead! Here, he is standing in the middle, next to Arthur.

Gerry centre


Honourable mention …

… has to go to the lovebirds, who give Rowena back her wings.

Love Birds (18)


What’s going on here?

When Kai is seen on the ground after the ambush, he has a head wound. By the time he gets home, his injury seems to have migrated to his left arm.

Love Birds (42) We should have bred (25)

When Kai says of their lost horses, “In Saxon hands they’ll be eaten by now”, Arthur’s response, “How d’you know he was a Saxon?” sounds rather paranoid. Surely he doesn’t suspect Kai of being in on the ambush? Perhaps after the incident with Roland, he hasn’t yet learned to trust him again.

Why does Arthur go to visit Yorath on his own? And why does he set his spear in the ground point up? The usual way to signal peaceful intentions is to drive the point into the ground, blunting it.

Arthur arrives (21)

The mare which Yorath claims in “only half-tame” was actually being encouraged to buck by a flipper attached to her hind leg.

See that mare (2)

When Arthur tells Yorath he has “no experience to judge” how daughters behave, and Yorath replies, “You will have”, Arthur looks quite alarmed. Does he really consider it completely out of the question that he should ever reproduce?

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He seems very relieved when Yorath – apparently in agreement that he is unlikely to produce female offspring – clarifies, “Not as a father! As an escort.”

Perhaps Arthur’s earlier expression of regret at not having had time to breed, referred to more than just the horses!

If Hecla rules a small kingdom to the south of Arthur, and Yorath’s territory is to the north, how is it that Arthur, who lives closer to Hecla, has never met the fellow, and yet Yorath has gone so far as to make a treaty with him?

While Arthur and Rowena travel on their way, you can see two memeber of the crew in shot. One runs across the path behind the horses, and one is walking in front of them. Presumably, the one in front of novice rider Rowena is leading her horse.

Travelling (3) Travelling (7)

When Rowena puts her jewellery away, there is one brooch that she slips into her boot, instead of putting it back in her bag. But by the time they make their next stop, the brooch has magically turned into a dagger! Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation: she wanted to keep the brooch to use for barter, and the knife was there all along.

Bargaining (14) The Horses (12)

When she has cut her bonds, she slips the knife back into its hiding place, and by the time they are captured by the Saxons, it has very conveniently moved round to the outside of her magic boot!

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When they stop for a break, Arthur walks behind all his horses in a way that is not recommended.

Bite (2)

But these horses are so placid, that even Arthur, with all his flapping and chasing, can’t persuade them to run away with any enthusiasm!

The Horses (42) The Horses (41)

The Horses (43b) The Horses (45)

When they continue on their way, following Rowena's first escape attempt, Rowena seems to have her hands free, but moments later, we see her hands bound behind her back, and Arthur, leading her horse. But why didn’t he tie her up straight after she tried to escape? And in the shot where he is leading Rowena's horse, what has happened to the other horses he got from Yorath?

Bargaining (40) Bargaining (41)

Not that Hecla is any kind of catch, but his compliments to Rowena – “Isn’t that a fine woman, eh?” “There now, look at that! How would you like a slice of that, eh?” seem a little odd considering her tomboyish appearance. Hecla’s first wife must have been quite malnourished if Rowena really has “more meat” on her!

Rowena was quite persistent in her attempts to escape from Arthur, so why doesn’t she try to escape from Hecla’s village on her own?

How did the villager who was caught in possession of the stolen lovebirds know that they were supposed to sing? Kai couldn’t have told him – he was unconscious when they were stolen from him! And even if the villager recognised them as songbirds, why is he so annoyed? It’s not as if they cost him any money!

When Arthur says, “You still have need of a priest”, we are left to wonder whether Hecla is really to be executed, leaving his rabble leaderless. Like the line in “Enemies and Lovers” – "she got what she deserved" – the implication is that the punishment is death, and according to the blood price logic of the times, Hecla would have had to "pay" for his deeds, be it in money or blood. But execution seems a bit drastic in this case. After all, Geraint was killed in the fall; Hecla didn’t deliberately murder him, otherwise they would have killed Arthur, Kai and the other “red-shirt” as well. It seems more likely that Arthur would have settled for the release of Rowena from her promise, the return of his property, compensation for the relatives of the dead man, and a treaty.

Luckily for Arthur, he would have got his own horses back, in addition to the ones Yorath gave him!


Music

Some of the music tracks used in this episode were:

Track 23, Arrival of Arthur: Arthur and Kai arrive on the scene.
Track 21, Celtic Bard: Kai’s lovebirds won’t sing.
Track 10, Battle on Horseback: the Celts answer a cry for help.
Track 23, Arrival of Arthur: Arthur arrives at Yorath’s village.
Track 33, Springtime: Arthur and Rowena set out along the river bank.
Track 23, Arrival of Arthur: Arthur goes back to fetch Rowena.
Track 30, Night Scene: Arthur makes Rowena cross the river.
Track 8, Kai the Saxon/Skirmish and Rout: Rowena tries to escape on her horse.
Track 34, Title Theme (bridge): Arthur and Rowena continue on their way.
Track 21, Celtic Bard: Arthur cooks a meal.
Track 20, The Fair Rowena: Arthur brings Rowena some food.
Track 5, To Battle! – Rowena gets her knife and frees the horses.
Track 10, Battle on Horseback/Bitter Victory: Arthur chases and catches the horses.
Track 6, Infiltration and Treachery: Rowena and Arthur defeat their Saxon captors.
Track 3, Celtic horns/The Longships: Arthur and his men arrive to confront Hecla.

The whole suite of music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, is now available on CD.


Cast

Arthur …………….... Oliver Tobias
Kai ……………….… Michael Gothard
Llud ………………... Jack Watson
Yorath ………............ Georg Marischka
Rowena ………......… Gila von Weitershausen
Hecla ……….............. Peter Bowles
Erig …………….…... Kenneth Colley
Villager .….…............ Hal Galili

Crew

Director ………….…. Patrick Dromgoole
Story ………………... Robert Banks Stewart
Executive Producer … Patrick Dromgoole
Producer ……………. Peter Miller
Associate Producer …. John Peverall
Production Manager ... Keith Evans
Post-production …….. Barry Peters
Fight Arranger ……… Peter Brayham
Cameraman ………… Bob Edwards
Camera Operator …… Brian Morgan
Editor ………………. Alex Kirby
Sound recordist …….. Mike Davey
Dubbing mixer ……... John Cross
Art Director ………… Doug James
Assistant Director ….. Keith Knott
Production Assistant .. Ann Rees
Costume Design .…… Audrey MacLeod
Make-up ……………. Christine Penwarden
Incidental music ……. Paul Lewis
Theme music ……….. Elmer Bernstein

1 With German public-service television broadcaster, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, usually shortened to ZDF.

2 There is no scene in any of the episodes where Gila mentions her maidenhood, so perhaps there was not enough time to re-shoot those particular lines.

3 “Moving forward, to the time of the Romans, in Great Britain, it seems the Roman cavalry horses, may have bred with the native horses, which produced a new breed, consisting probably of strains from every area from which Roman horses were taken. The effects of this cross breeding are not fully understood. Also, we do not know the extent to which the Jutes and Saxons may have introduced new breeds into England … We know, from an early high court official, that a law was passed prohibiting export of English horses, except as gifts, this suggests that the English horse was superior to many overseas breeds.”
Ray Cunningham, in “History of Horses from Ancient Times.”

4 Gerry Cullen offered these insights into the filming of the series.
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!
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.”
In July 1972, composer, Paul Lewis was briefed to compose the score for "Arthur of the Britons." He remembers his experiences well.

One afternoon in 1972, Executive Producer Patrick Dromgoole rang me and asked me to be in his office the following morning [3 July 1972], so I got up very early and drove across the south of England to Bristol with no idea why Patrick wanted to see me. While I was waiting in HTV's reception area the commissionaire mentioned that they were making a series about King Arthur.

A Celtic-style melody immediately sprang, fully formed, into my head; I took an envelope out of my pocket and wrote the tune on the back of it. The melody became The Fair Rowena, and I still have the envelope.

Envelope small

I was asked by Producer Peter Miller to compose a library of music to cover every possible eventuality, including battles on foot and on horseback, children playing and dramatic chords, for Arthur of the Britons, the series.

Luckily, having also been an archaeologist with a special interest in the medieval, I knew a lot about the period, for nothing had been shot1 and only two scripts had been written. I didn't even know what the lead actors looked like! I discussed with the producers the various situations that music would have to cover and thereafter used my imagination and historical sensibilities to gauge the musical style, embarking upon the composing of a score that is considerably more terse, energetic and astringent than my music is wont to be, in order to reflect the barbarity of the age.

I also orchestrated Elmer Bernstein's Title Theme from his pencil sketches, ignoring his suggestion to use a bass guitar. (I think he was confusing the West of England where the series was filmed with the Wild West of America!)2

I remember the intensity of composing so much music and scoring it for orchestra in such a short time, working every day from six in the morning till midnight and often one the following morning. I still have Arthur dreams: another series is going to be made and I'm back in Bristol to see the shoot and talk about more music ... Strange really - it's not as if I've done nothing exciting ever since!

I do it all. I always compose in pencil, orchestrate - (the sound of the orchestra is in my head as I compose) - and finally conduct the orchestra and produce the recording sessions. The only thing I delegated was the copying out of the parts from my orchestral score for the individual musicians: I employed had a professional copyist.

I never underestimate the importance of the viewer; after all it is for you as much as for the director or even myself that I have composed so much TV music. I wrote many years ago: "I have never regarded television as a lowest-common-denominator medium, or indeed as the poor relation of cinema, but have always regarded as a challenge and an honour the opportunity to compose the best possible music for the largest possible audience."

I could have said "the best possible music that time allows" … The timing was very tight indeed. From briefing, I had only 25 days to compose and orchestrate 80 minutes of music, mostly for full orchestra, before a 3-day dash to Brussels for two days recording with what was basically the National Symphony Orchestra of Belgium3 on a day off. And all on a budget of £3,000!

At the first session, on the evening of 28th July, we recorded the Celtic homestead music, including the recorder and harp piece I jotted down in HTV reception.

The next day there were two four-hour full orchestral sessions; the orchestra was superb, and Studio Fonior and its recording engineer Walter Coussement were magnificent. No re-mixing of any sort was required.

Arthur finished off a love affair with a Russian artist who complained that I hadn't told her I loved her for two weeks – “I HAVE been rather busy” was my reply - and made way for a love affair with a Chinese art student who was more understanding!

Paul & Hiang 1973-4
Paul Lewis with Chinese art student, Hiang

I took the music tapes to HTV the following week. To my surprise and delight, Oliver Tobias sat with us and listened to the entire score. Not only was he a lovely man, but I had never had a star take such an interest in the music before, and I haven't ever since.

A week later I was asked for a further 20 minutes of music, mostly variations on Bernstein's theme, and had a week to compose those before dashing back to Belgium!

A composer's responsibility is huge: the right music can make a film, the wrong music can ruin it. We also have to thank the Arthur of the Britons film editors. I had composed a large suite of music – themes, underscores, action music etc. After I had shown the editors how to score a couple of episodes – how to use the music, in other words – they did the rest without me and all did a wonderful job.

Some of them soon found favourite pieces and used them repeatedly; one actually reversed the tape and played a music cue backwards. It was a long sequence of sustained string tremolos punctuated by drumbeats, rising in pitch and intensity to a big climax. There was a fight in the mud which got slower and slower until the combatants dropped from exhaustion, so editor Alex Kirby played the music backwards so that it gradually sagged away to nothing! So resourceful, and the joke is I never noticed! So much grunting, clashing of weapons and muddy splodgy sounds!

The first time I saw a photo of the three lead actors was August 1972, a couple of weeks after I recorded the music. Luckily, they matched the picture I had in my mind as I composed!

Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis

1 Filming was scheduled to begin during June, and Director Peter Sasdy remembers that it started on time. Also, a news article which mentions an injury sustained by Oliver Tobias while filming "The Challenge" pins the filming of that particular episode – the third to be filmed - to the second week in July. It therefore seems likely that much of the first episode, "Arthur is Dead", was actually filmed during the last week in June, prior to Paul Lewis' meeting with Patrick Dromgoole. However, it was far from complete, which might explain why he wasn't shown the footage.

2 It was suggested that the fact that “Arthur of the Britons” was partly financed by a company which produced many Spaghetti Westerns - Heritage Enterprises of New York - might have helped get Elmer Bernstein on board to do the theme. Paul Lewis replied: “Indeed you’re right … When Elmer sent me the short score (a detailed sketch) of his theme to orchestrate … I said straight away to the English producers that it sounded like a Western. “You should see our opening film” was Executive Producer Patrick Dromgoole’s only response. (He had a very dry sense of humour).

Years later, Producer Peter Miller told me it was an unused theme Elmer wrote for a Western, that Heritage had knocking around in a drawer! So Elmer didn’t write it specially after all. What he was paid, if anything, I never asked and was never told.

Of the Bernstein theme, Paul said, “it was rousing but totally unsuitable. After I recorded my incidental music I was put to work again to write some tracks based on Elmer’s theme. In the first, “Apotheosis”, I attempted to take the theme as far from its origins as its opening phrase would allow, hoping that this would become the opening title music, but as you know it didn’t! Actually … what I really wanted was for the opening section of track 8, now called “Kai the Saxon”, to be the theme tune, and not use Elmer’s at all! Should this sound like sour grapes, I should reiterate that I appreciate all the qualities of EB’s tune – except its cowboyishness!!!

3 For contractual reasons, Paul invented a name for the orchestra - “The Belgian Studio Symphony Orchestra” – for use on the CD.

The incidental music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, was released on CD in Summer 2013, and is available here.
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
Patrick Dromgoole, the Executive Producer of "Arthur of the Britons", was kind enough to answer some questions about the show. Here is what he remembered.

Arthur: a fresh take on the legend

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

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

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

Scripting

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

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

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

The Actors

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

Practicalities

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

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

Filming

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

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

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

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

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

Incidents

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

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

Dubbing

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

Tales not told

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

~~

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

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

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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