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.
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

Advertising poster

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

HTV publicity 3 small

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

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

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

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

Call sheet Penitent Invader 10 Aug 1972 small

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

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

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

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

1 See this article from the Western Daily Press, 11 September 1972: "Back to school for King Arthur’s knights"

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.
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
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)
Plot

The episode – and the series – starts with a race, between five Celts: Arthur, Kai, and three others. Arthur is in the lead when he is knocked from his horse by a tree branch, and Kai is immediately at his side. When the other riders catch up, Kai tells them to: “… tell the World, Arthur is dead.”

It seems that “Arthur of the Britons” is over before it has really begun. Arthur lies on a bier, covered in flowers, and surrounded by his people.

Meanwhile, four rival chiefs, Mark of Cornwall, Herward the Holy, Dirk the Crafty, and Ambrose, all start making their own preparations to try to take over Arthur’s territory, before Arthur is even cold.

Each man makes his move. But they are expected; one by one, they are caught by Arthur’s people and imprisoned in the longhouse, with a sombre-looking Kai guarding the door. They all think Kai has taken over from Arthur, and is going to kill them.

Then Arthur appears. The reason he has trapped them is not to kill them, but to try to form an alliance. He challenges them all to get a sword out from under a big boulder; whoever succeeds will be their leader. But it’s only when Arthur gets them all to push together, that the sword can be got out – and Arthur snatches it.

He wants them to join forces against the main threat to the Celts – the Saxon leader, Cerdig, who is taking over their lands, and cutting down the forests where they hunt. Arthur asks for half of each leader’s army to join him, and help push Cerdig out.

While they are arguing about it, a Celt sneaks out of Arthur’s camp, and goes to Cerdig, to tell the Saxons what Arthur is planning; Cerdig sets out to take on the new alliance before it can get started.

While Mark is fighting Arthur over the leadership, Cerdig’s forces show up, and – against Arthur’s advice – Mark and the others go to fight him. They are routed, and forced to fall back to Arthur’s village.

Only then does Arthur manage to get them to go along with his plan. He leads a small group of his men to confront Cerdig, but – after a short skirmish – he pretends he has been forced to retreat. Cerdig gives chase, and Arthur leads the Saxons into a swamp. Cerdig’s men don’t know the way through, and when they get bogged down, the Celts work together, and manage to kill most of them with spears. But Cerdig gets away, assuring Arthur that he will be back.

Having seen the wisdom of working with Arthur, both Ambrose and Herward agree to send him a quarter of their armies; Dirk refuses, and Mark just rides away with a look of disgust.

Then Arthur shows himself a bit of a spoilsport, by breaking up the victory feast early, in spite of Kai urging him to let the men enjoy themselves.

Finally, Arthur and Kai race again, for real this time, and once again Arthur gets what he wants by trickery.


Timeline

This episode – at least, the main part of it – was the first to be filmed, at the end of June, 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. A reference to filming a lot of riding, in a letter written in November by Michael Gothard, to the daughter of one of his friends, shows that filming of these scenes was due to take place on or around Friday the 24th of November 1972.


Viewing figures

On 11 January 1973, in a letter published in The Stage, from R.J. Simmons, Press Officer for HTV West, Simmons reveals that “Arthur is Dead” and “A Gift of Life”, achieved no. 4 place in HTV’s top ten programmes.


Locations

The version of Arthur’s village seen in this episode had recently been built at Woodchester Park, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, which belongs to the National Trust. More details of this location can be found here.

The ‘swamp’ where the Saxons were drowned was on land owned by the Neville family in the village of Frampton Mansell. According to Martin Neville, they dammed two streams, and then had to wait three days for the field to be sufficiently wet. Diggers were brought in to make the holes in which the Saxons drowned.

field at Frampton Mansell

Picture courtesy of Sophie Neville

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


Inside information

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; 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 freelance operator) – who is now a well established DOP in Hollywood.


Perhaps the fact that Arthur’s village wasn’t ready explains why filming did not begin until July, though this article in TV Today, 15 June 1972 stated that filming was to begin in June.

The scene where Arthur was shown being hit by a tree branch was one of very few where a stuntman was used. The stunt, known as a ‘flick-back’ was a particularly dangerous one. Oliver Tobias took pride in doing his own stunts; he even sports a “Worldwide British Equity Registered Stuntman” sticker on his motorbike windshield. But by the time they filmed that scene, he had already suffered a serious head injury; presumably, the production team felt they couldn’t afford to take any more risks with the star.

According to cameraman Roger Pearce, the rock with which all the chiefs had such difficulty was made of painted cloth over a wooden frame.


Cast notes

Michael Gothard had worked with Brian Blessed on two occasions before “Arthur of the Britons”: on “The Further Adventures of the Musketeers” and “The Last Valley.”

Cabot the Crafty, who hits Herward on the head, is played by folk singer Meic Stevens; near the end of the episode, he doubles as Arthur’s minstrel.


Reworking the legend

The sword under the stone is a clear reference to the sword in the stone in Arthurian tradition. Arthur’s return from the ‘dead’ could also be seen as a reference to his expected return from Avalon.

Kai is modelled on the Sir Kay of Arthurian myth, “King Arthur's foster brother and later seneschal, as well as one of the first Knights of the Round Table.” According to Val Joyce, in Welsh poetry, Kai is known as "Kai Gwyn", meaning Kai the Fair, or White, so making him a blond Saxon was a stroke of genius. The legendary Sir Kay was exceptionally tall, and older than Arthur, so the casting of Michael Gothard, who was 6 foot three inches, and Oliver Tobias' senior by eight years, fits in well.

Llud is loosely based on Lludd Llaw Eraint, a legendary hero from Welsh mythology, though he doesn't seem to have had any Arthurian connections.


"By the Gods!"

To help him move the stone, Herward invokes the Celtic gods, Maponos, a god of youth, Nodens, a deity associated with healing, the sea, hunting and dogs, and Barli – possibly a god of crops. Ambrose ridicules him, believing that Mithras, a Roman deity, and god of the legions, is the true god.

Herward claims the gods were against them when they failed to defeat Cerdig at their first try, and agrees to join together against Cerdig because “It is counselled by the gods.” Arthur ironically replies, “The gods are wiser than I thought.”

Arthur doesn’t speak of his own religious beliefs, but he has a large book in his room – probably a Bible – and his banner, near the entrance to the village, is a red cross on a white background, so it seems safe to assume that he has Christian tendencies.


Dark Age Men

There are no female characters of interest at all in the first episode, and most of the men in this series are – not surprisingly – quite sexist; many of their insults involve unfavourable comparisons with women. In this episode alone, we see the following:

Ambrose: [to his men] … We don’t want to slouch in like a lot of old half-women. March like the legions of Rome!

Mark: [to Kai] What are you waiting for? Kill us! We’re not women, that we have to prepare.

Mark: [to Dirk] … Let’s see how you get on! The muscles of a girl-child!

Mark: [to Arthur] Where were you when the battle was at its hottest? Skulking in the camp like a handmaiden!

Even Arthur resorts to this kind of name-calling, to aggravate Cerdig, asking him: “Have you come to fight, or talk all day like an old woman?”

For Arthur, brute force is a last resort. “I am trying to build an alliance based on sense and reason. If I fight now to prove myself, reason will have flown. I won’t be a leader, just a fighting stag.”

But both his friend, Kai, and his mentor, Llud are in agreement that – when challenged by Mark of Cornwall – he will have to fight, because, as Llud says, “there’s a time to fight with the mind, and a time to fight with the belly. And these men understand only the belly.”


The best laid plans …

Arthur’s plan to lead Cerdig’s men into a swamp works well – but he’s disappointed to have made an enemy of Mark, who is a powerful chief.

The other chiefs’ plans all fail spectacularly. Even Dirk, who has the brains to use a lever, can’t shift the rock – but it was a good idea!


Great moments

The chiefs’ squabble.
Arthur’s miraculous recovery.
Arthur and Kai’s face-off over tactics.
Kai’s smile at the end of the episode, when he sees that Arthur has tricked him.


Quote/unquote

Cerdig talks Arthur up, setting the tone for the series: “Dangerous man, Arthur of the West. He thinks before he fights!”


Arthur’s wisdom

Arthur is a trickster. He doesn’t lie, but he’s not above stretching the truth or letting people believe what they want to, to manipulate them. When the chiefs complain, he tells them: “You tricked yourselves”, and when Mark protests that Arthur got the sword with their help,” Arthur uses this as a lesson: “And that’s how I’ll beat Cerdig. With your help. None of us can do it alone."


The burden and loneliness of command

They have a feast, to celebrate their victory over Cerdig, but Arthur feels he has to break it up early, saying: “Great victories are as dangerous as great defeats. Men get soft and sleepy. Our danger remains as great as ever it was.” These are violent times, and any respite is brief.

In the penultimate scene, Arthur goes to sit alone in his room, looking sombre. A lonely man, he relies on his lieutenants, Llud and Kai for advice, but the burden lies heavy on his shoulders.


The hot-headed side-kick

In this, the first episode, Kai is depicted as hot-headed, and perhaps too ready to do violence, which fits in with how Sir Kay is shown in later interpretation of the Arthurian legend, as a bullying boor.

Kai resembles the Saxon enemy more than he does his fellow Celts, but no explanation is given for this.


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

An advantage the Celts have over the Saxons is that most of the Saxons can’t ride. Cavalry fighting is one of the Romans’ warfare tactics: a legacy of which Arthur makes full use, and right from the beginning it is clear that both Oliver Tobias and Michael Gothard can really ride.

Arthur mainly rides two white horses during the series, whose real names were "Bernie", and "Skyline." In this episode, he is seen riding Bernie.

For most of the episode, Kai mostly rides a black or dark brown horse with a star which is often hidden by the bridle, "Blackstar." However, before the races start, he is riding a black horse with a star, short strip and snip, which we will refer to as “Moonlight.”

Moonlight300 high

He must have swapped horses with the stunt rider who was mounted on Blackstar, for the actual race. Perhaps Moonlight wasn’t fast enough.

AID1 AID2

There are also two other very white horses in the race, one of which has a very fancy bridle, and appears to have been especially trained for stunts; halfway through the race, the rider gets the horse to rear and throw him off, and a bit later, the same horse falls, unseating him, presumably on cue.

Acrobat300 high

These horses are not seen again in the series. The race scenes were filmed much later than the rest of the scenes from this episode, possibly in the Blackdown Hills. Perhaps these particular horses were stabled nearby.

Mark of Cornwall rides a big dapple grey, whose name was Jim, and Dirk rides the small brown horse with a blond mane, "Blondie."

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


“That is bloody dangerous!”1

In addition to the stunts mentioned above, there is a lot of very fast riding in this episode. It also features the one stunt Oliver Tobias didn’t do himself – possibly because he’d already suffered an injury. The stunt, known as a flick-back, occurs in the opening scene, where Arthur hits his head on a tree, comes off the horse backwards, and lands on the ground flat, on his back. This difficult stunt was deemed too dangerous, so they got in a professional stuntman. When someone has to fall from a horse, a pit is dug where they are supposed to fall, and re-filled, so that the ground is softer to land on.

There are a lot of weapons used in the episode. When the Celt leaders refuse to discuss an alliance without their weapons, Kai is all for killing them, but Arthur says “If you need swords to feel like men …” and insists that Kai return them.

The “sword under the boulder” is the weapon Arthur uses throughout the series. In this episode, he also fights Mark with a club.

Llud uses what we later learn is his metal hand to block Mark, but no mention is made of this ‘handicap.’

We see Kai holding his trademark axe, though he doesn’t fight with it; he and the other Celts kill the Saxons with spears.

Cerdig and the other Saxons usually fight with axes – but theirs are smaller than Kai’s. Some of them also have swords.


Dressed to kill?

Arthur wears something known as ‘ring armour’, but the design seems to have been a too-literal interpretation of medieval artwork; such armour would not have provided much protection.



Kai is wearing the same tunic as when he played Hansen in “The Last Valley” in 1971.

The Last Valley 40

You can tell the Saxons from everyone else, because they wear sheepskins. Ambrose dresses as a Roman.


On the table

Mark of Cornwall tears a strip off a roasting pig, while his followers bring him a dead stag for later.

A single spring onion graces the table, while Arthur wrangles the chiefs. No wonder they're not very co-operative, if that's all they've been offered to eat!

Spring onion

Cerdig shares what appears to be meat with a female companion. He also has some loaves, and a bowl of apples and strawberries.

The Celts’ feast after the battle doesn’t look very impressive – bread and meat. Mead is the drink of choice.


Extra! Extra!

Students from Bristol University feature strongly in this episode.


Honourable mention ...

For the goat who chews impassively throughout Arthur and Mark of Cornwall's posturing.

Goat


What’s going on here?

While lying in state, Arthur is wears a facial mask like the one found at Sutton Hoo: a Saxon artefact!

Arthur is seen on a funeral pyre, but no one sets light to it. Was the whole village in on the scheme?

What was that big heavy rock doing in the middle of Arthur’s village in the first place? Also, the hilt of the sword initially seems to be pointing away from Arthur, yet he manages to reach it quite easily.

Arthur tells the chiefs, “Cerdig was at Ilchester last night, not a day’s march from here.” It seems he is quite a bit less than a day’s march away, because the spy manages to make the journey there, and Cerdig then makes the return trip to Arthur’s territory, in the time it takes for the Celtic chiefs to compare the size of their weapons.

For someone who lives by the sword, Arthur doesn't treat his weapon with much respect, often holding it by the blade, and even putting it back in its sheath while it is still covered in blood.

vlcsnap-2015-02-01-13h16m47s14

Kai starts both races on the black horse with a thin white blaze, and finishes them on a black horse, with a white spot on its forehead.

For most of the first race, Arthur is wearing a tan tunic over his ring armour jacket, but there is a short period when he is seen only wearing the ring armour, which he wears throughout the second race.

Arthur and Kai agree to run their second race on the same route as the first - but we don't see them going up the muddy bank on the second run.


Music

As Arthur’s minstrel, folk artist Meic Stevens sings:

Then strode bold Arthur up to Cerdig …
... The Saxons fell upon us, like the rain upon the ground;
But the great Lord of the Forest bade the quagmire suck them down.
When Arthur fought the foe.


He is playing a mandolin, made to look like a crwth.

Victory (14)

The 34 tracks of incidental music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, were used judiciously throughout the series; the soundtrack was never obtrusive, but always a subtle enhancement to any scene where it was used. The whole suite of music is now available on CD.

Some of the music tracks used in this episode were:
Track 3, Celtic Horns: after Kai has said “tell the world – Arthur is dead."
Elmer Bernstein’s theme
Track 5, To Battle: when Ambrose is marching on Arthur’s village.
Track 6, Infiltration and Treachery: when Arthur’s man goes off to instigate Cerdig’s attack.
Track 12, Duel: used during battle scenes.
Track 14, Chase! and track 8, Skirmish and Rout: when Arthur and Kai race at the end.


Cast

Arthur ……………... Oliver Tobias
Kai .….….….….…... Michael Gothard
Llud ………………... Jack Watson
Cerdig ……………... Rupert Davies
Mark of Cornwall ….. Brian Blessed
Dirk the Crafty …….. Donald Burton
Herward the Holy….. Michael Graham Cox
Ambrose …………... Norman Bird
Cabot, Minstrel ……. Meic Stevens
Spy ………………... Tom Chadbon
Sentry ….….….….… Roger Forbes


Crew

Director ……………. Peter Sasdy
Writer ……………… Terence Feely
Executive Producer .... Patrick Dromgoole
Producer ………….… Peter Miller
Associate Producer … John Peverall
Production Manager ... Keith Evans
Post-production ……. Barry Peters
Incidental music ……. Paul Lewis
Theme music ………. Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography ….... Bob Edwards
Camera Operator …... Roger Pearce
Film Editing ………... Don Llewellyn
Sound recordist ……. Mike Davey
Dubbing Mixer …….. John Cross
Art Direction ….…… Doug James
Assistant Director ….. Simon Hinkley
Production Assistant .. Ann Rees
Costume Design …… Audrey MacLeod
Make-up ….….…….. Christine Penwarden
Fight Arranger ……... Peter Brayham

1 One of Director, Sid Hayers’ catch-phrases.
This fascinating glimpse into the early planning stages of "Arthur of the Britons" was kindly supplied by Paul Lewis, who preserved the article.

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

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

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

Filming will begin in June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Also abandoned was Merlin, whom the article says was to be played by Maurice Evans - Dr Zaius in "Planet of the Apes"(1968). As Patrick Dromgoole has said: "It was difficult to stick to a realistic theme of an available gang of pro-British professional soldiers available where needed, without losing the mystical aspects of Merlin."

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



TV Today 15 June 1972 small

Early drawing

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

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

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

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

The Last Valley 16
Michael Gothard as Hansen

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