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

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

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

Gerry centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fight (143) The Fight (145)

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

The Feast (18)

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 “The Treaty.”

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

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.
Peter Sasdy directed the first two episodes to be filmed: "Arthur is Dead", and "Daughter of the King." He was kind enough to share some memories of the occasion.

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; also I had a very good local Director of Photography Brian Morgan, and from London I brought my camera operator Anthony Richmond (that was very unusual for HTV to have a freelance operator) – who is now a well established DOP in Hollywood.

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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