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.”


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!”

Longboat (24)

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.


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!

The Journey (8)

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.

Welcome (18) Celebration (11)

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.

In the hut (9)

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

Celebration (29) In the hut (46)

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.

Escaping (53)

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.

Escaping (79)

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

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

Boy_with_a_Basket_of_Fruit-Caravaggio_(1593) Welcome home (5)

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

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

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

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

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

They took the men Dominic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bertrand de Nivelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match 1 (2)

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

Match 1
Read more... )

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."
Stephan Chase, who played Horgren in “The Gift of Life” was kind enough to share some thoughts, and pictures.

Kenneth Benda [who played Ulrich] and I stayed in The Moat House Hotel, by Bristol Docks I think. Great scampi, steak Diane and decent red; and it was new at that time. Yes. A jolly time out there. We were driven out in the morning and back last thing – I have no idea where we filmed. No idea.

The Director, Pat Jackson was a very nice, mild, sweet man; you can read about his distinguished career on IMDb, but lots about me is inaccurate: some jobs are left out and others included with incorrect name spellings, eg. 'Steven Chase.' Hate that!! The photographer took some good publicity shots. Yes I think they’re good.

Stephan Chase small 4

Stephan Chase 2 small

I don’t remember much about it; if I was in a fight, I probably looked pathetic! But I do know I came away thinking it was a bit of fun. Fun it was, over possibly 2 weeks. Certainly I remember driving to Bristol at least twice.

Michael Gothard was different – he had something that made him fit well into that period in history; a kind of primitive physicality. Perhaps pagan would be better. His countenance was somehow how we imagine ancient Britons to look. Its aspects were rarely seen together. Brutal yet tender. It was a great film face. He was in the Royal Shakespeare Company. Come 1988, I founded a voice-over agency, called Rhubarb, and had Michael on my books. I don’t think we got him much work … perhaps not a “commercial” voice for selling nice crap, but I liked having him on there, and he had a good voice for it. Perhaps not in the eyes of ad man though. Limited by clients and so on."

Stephan Chase’s website

Arthur and Kai return to their village to find it in flames, following a Saxon raid. The villagers are still trying to put out the fires when a Saxon longboat is seen in the river. Naturally, they think the enemy is returning, and Kai is the first to leap into action; but no dire threat lurks in the boat – just two Saxon children.

One of the Celt women leads the villagers in an angry protest; she wants to tie the children to the boat, and let them sink with it. But Arthur and Kai protect them, Arthur, carrying the girl, and Kai, shielding the boy with his cloak.

They find out that the children, Krist and Elka, don’t belong to their attackers, but to Ulrich’s people round the headland: Saxons with whom they have had no quarrel before.

Arthur tells Kai that he must be the one to take the children back to their village. At first, Kai refuses, saying that he is “no minder of children, especially Saxon brats”, but then Arthur reminds Kai that he was born a Saxon, and brought up by Llud, who was not too proud to look after a Saxon child. Kai is the only one who could get away with taking Krist and Elka home. Protesting that he is no good with children, Kai eventually goes along with Arthur’s plan.

He and the children travel through the summer countryside, stopping now and then. At one point, the children go and hide. When Kai finds them, he teaches them a secret whistle, in case they ever need to call for help.

At last, they arrive at a place Krist recognises, and Kai tells them to run ahead of him down the track to the village. He wisely intends to return home without encountering any more Saxons. But as he returns to his horse, one of the men from Ulrich’s village, Hald, surprises him, and – seeing that he has returned the lost children – insists that he come to the village.

Kai is greeted like a hero, wined and feasted. Ulrich’s daughter, Hildred, who has taken a shine to Kai, tries to persuade him to stay in their village. This incurs the anger of Horgren, a Saxon villager who carries a torch for Hildred, and resents this popular newcomer. Realising he has stayed too long already, Kai gets to his feet to return home, but Ulrich insists he stay the night, and Kai resigns himself to it.

Then the children blow his cover. While being put to bed, Krist innocently complains, saying that the Celts let them stay up late, and Kai is unmasked as the Saxon who rides with Arthur. He rapidly turns from hero into villain.
To Kai’s surprise, he is not killed straight away, but bound, and brought for trial. Accused of being a traitor, for killing his own kind, Kai says he doesn’t kill Saxons in revenge for having abandoned him. He only kills those who try to kill him, or to destroy the Celts’ way of life by cutting down the forests.

Horgren wants him put to death, but Hildred comes to his defence, saying that he brought the children back, and two lives deserve one – he should be set free. But Horgren accuses him of bringing the children back so he could spy on the camp.

As Ulrich and the rest of his elders debate Kai’s fate, he is kept bound and guarded in a hut. But Hildred sneaks around the back of the hut, and sticks the head of a spear through the wall, and Kai uses it to cuts his bonds.

Seeing that he is free, the guard comes inside and – in the ensuing struggle – accidentally stabs himself with his own knife. Kai hides the body and pretends he is still tied up. Ulrich comes with the surprising news that the prisoner is to be escorted out of Saxon territory, and set free.

Then Horgren comes in and finds the body. Kai bursts past two guards, out of the hut, and makes a run for it. All the men of the village give chase. Krist and Elka watch as they go past.

Kai hides in the woods. He breaks the neck of one of the men searching for him who gets too close. Meanwhile, Horgren finds Kai’s horse, and conceals himself nearby. When Kai runs to the horse, Horgren ambushes him, and they fight in the bracken.

Kai emerges, the victor, but with a nasty bleeding wound to the flank, and finds that his horse is nowhere to be seen.

The whole village is out beating the undergrowth for him, so again, he hides. All seems hopeless until Kai hears the secret whistle he taught the children. He peers out from his hiding place, to see them leading his horse towards him, half staggers, half falls onto the path, and lets Krist and Elka help him onto his horse. Kai grips Krist’s hand, tousles his hair, and rides away.

Elka then uses her – conveniently decapitated – doll to distract one of the Saxons, while Kai escapes.

Finally, we see Kai, lying in bed at home, his wound bandaged, and looking rather pensive. He and Arthur discuss how the Saxons treated him, and Arthur is perturbed to find that Kai has good things to say about Saxon justice. He has seen that the enemy is not so different after all.


Despite being aired before “The Challenge”, “The Gift of Life” seems to have been the second of the two episodes to be filmed. It appears after “The Challenge” in the “Arthur of the Britons” annual-format book by Terence Feely, in a German book loosely based on the series, “Konig Arthur”, and on the German DVD set.

In “The Gift of Life”, Krist’s enquiry about a wound on Kai’s neck, given to him by Arthur, and the reference by Ulrich’s minstrel to Arthur and Kai’s great fight, both suggest that the events in “The Challenge” were supposed to have occurred before those in “The Gift of Life.”

An injury suffered by Oliver Tobias while filming “The Challenge” caused a delay in completing the episode, and they changed the schedule so as to keep filming. There are three early episodes – “The Gift of Life”, “The Penitent Invader”, and “People of the Plough” – in which Arthur barely features, presumably because Oliver needed time to recuperate. Though these episodes were filmed not far apart, the producers decided to spread them out, perhaps so that Oliver’s absence would not be so noticeable.

Further evidence for this episode having been filmed second, is Oliver Tobias’ apparent unsteadiness on his horse as they ride into the village. Oliver was a very skilled horseman, so it would be surprising to see him having problems if he were in the best of health.

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Suggested shooting order so far

Arthur is Dead
Daughter of the King
The Challenge
The Gift of Life


Arthur’s village is still set at the Woodchester site, by the lakeside.

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“The Gift of Life” is the first episode to feature the site at Woollard, where Ulrich’s village was set. The site was later to become Arthur’s new village. All filming was on the north east side of the longhouse.

Inside Information

Sean Fleming was actually the son of the Executive Producer, Patrick Dromgoole, but he used a pseudonym for the credit. Sean kindly agreed to be interviewed, and supplied these extra details.

Cast notes

Though Llud is mentioned, Jack Watson doesn’t appear in this episode. Supposedly, Llud was called away to see Ambrose.

Stephan Chase, who played Horgren, recently appeared in Maleficent. Some of his memories of appearing in the series can be found here.

When Tamzin Neville's mother, Daphne, who worked for HTV, heard that they were auditioning children, she took her three daughters to try out for parts. Tamzin was cast as Elka, and Perry was given a small speaking role as one of the Wood People’s children in “The Wood People.”  All three sisters appeared in "The Gift of Life", as both Perry and Sophie were cast as extras, along with their mother.

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Daphne is on the far right, Sophie is wearing the gold dress, and Perry, the violet dress.

They all had ponies, so Tamzin, who was 8 years old, could already ride, though – according to Sophie – no one asked, before giving her the part. According to Sophie, Oliver Tobias later introduced Tamzin as his co-star.

Daphne Neville, who acted as their on-set chaperone, recalls that Michael Gothard was very good with the children.


This is Daphne, who appeared as an extra, playing a Saxon woman, with Tamzin, as Elka, Geoffrey Adams as Hald, and Sean Fleming as Krist.

Thanks to Stephan Chase, Sophie Neville, and Daphne Neville.

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

The Hot-headed Sidekick/Family Ties

Though Kai is the first to tackle whatever threat is in the boat, when he finds it is just two children, he tries to keep them at arm’s length. But Arthur makes him engage, giving Elka’s doll to fix, and Kai is disconcerted when she thanks him for putting its head back on.

Then, as Arthur and Kai discuss what to do with the children, we find out why Kai might be reticent: Arthur reveals – for the first time – that Kai was an abandoned Saxon child, found and raised by Llud.

This sets up one of the main conflicts in the series; Kai is “the Saxon who rides with Arthur"; the cuckoo in the nest, who – every now and then – finds his loyalty questioned by others, or tested by circumstance, and has to prove himself a Celt at heart. This is probably why he was so keen to leap into the attack when the Saxon longboat appeared. It also explains his reluctance to talk to the children, or to be the one who returns them to their village.

Having persuaded Kai that he is the only one who can do the job, Arthur adjures Kai not to, “get too involved with the Saxons, and stay.” This seems unfair, given that he is the one who insisted Kai go in the first place, and earns him an offended look from Kai, but is perhaps less surprising if one assumes that their ferocious contest in “The Challenge” occurred just before the events in this episode, rather than after them.

Despite Kai’s earlier reluctance to be a childminder, during the course of their journey, Kai clearly becomes attached to the children, and when they go and hide, he is ready to draw blood to get them back. On finding them, he calls them, “little Saxon monsters” with a good deal of affection. He was genuinely worried and claims there are dangerous wild boar around, but in truth, he was just being over-protective! Despite what he claims, he is good with children!

On arriving in Saxon territory, Kai has some unsettling experiences: being asked by Hald, whether he mistook him for a ‘murdering Celt’; being welcomed as a hero by people he regards as his enemies; hearing the minstrel play a song that reminds him of his childhood. When he is asked to stay, by the Saxon leader’s pretty daughter, Hildred, he immediately gets up to leave, as if reminded that Arthur asked him not to get too involved with the Saxons, and fearing that this could easily happen.

Then, when his identity is revealed, Kai learns how the Saxons see him: Kai, the barbarian, Arthur’s right-hand man, the Saxon who fights against Saxons, and a traitor; Kai the Butcher.

In defending himself, Kai explains that as a child, he was left for dead by the Saxons, but he denies killing for revenge. He experiences a moment of confusion as to how to refer to himself: “The Celts were here before us. You are the intruders.” He tells them that he only kills those who would have killed him – and despatches three Saxons, in making his escape.

Celts and Saxons

At the beginning of the episode, we witness a very unpleasant reaction from one of the women in Arthur’s village, to the two Saxon children: “No woman here is going to mother them. That boat is holed and sinking – lash those Saxon brats to the boards and send them down with it!”

Later, we learn some of the reasons the Celts and Saxons don’t get along. Kai accuses the Saxons: “You despoil our forests. You cut down our trees. You drive out the wild boar which is the food of life to us.” The Saxons are farmers, the Celts, hunters; both raid each other’s villages.

As Ulrich and his Elders decide what to do with Kai, we see that the young Saxon woman, Hildred, doesn’t have much faith in the justice of her own people; she pre-empts her father’s decision, by helping Kai escape. When Kai learns that he is to be set free – and that his Saxon guard died for nothing – he is clearly perturbed.

On Kai’s return, Arthur is in a sombre mood, telling Kai, “Wear that wound proudly, Kai. That is the only gift you will ever receive from the Saxons.”

But to Arthur’s annoyance, Kai has learned that the Saxons are not all bad: “They are men like us, and like us, they also believe in justice.” Arthur says that if the positions had been reversed, “The Celts would have held council. The lawgiver would have decided the case.” But Kai dares to suggest that the Saxon justice system is fairer than that of the Celts, because “There, every man was heard.”

Perhaps his final statement – “they gave me … a gift of life” – is an acknowledgement not only of those in Ulrich’s village who spared his life, but of the fact that he was born a Saxon.

"By the Gods!"

Hald twice says, “By all the gods”: once when he sees the children are alive and well, and again when he learns that Kai has come from a Celt village, but we are not told the names of any of these gods.

Dark Age Men

When Hildred steps up to defend Kai, Ulrich says that “women may not be heard.” But in Saxon society, women had equal standing, within the community; they owned property, were often educated, and were sometimes buried with weapons.

The best laid plans …

Sending Kai to a Saxon encampment doesn’t seem one of Arthur’s most brilliant plans.

Kai teaches the children a secret whistle in case they need to call for help, and this later proves critical to his own survival. He – very sensibly – tries to avoid going into the Saxon village, telling the children to go on ahead of him.

But neither Kai nor Arthur gave the children any coaching as to what they should tell the Saxons about where they have been, or with whom.

Great moments

Krist’s refusal to be over-awed by Arthur, or by his precarious situation, demanding, “What’s yours?” when asked his name. Also, the way he protects his sister from the harsh truth, saying that their parents “had to leave us.”

Kai, grumpily repairing Elka’s doll, and the look he gives her when she thanks him.

Arthur’s anxious look as Kai and the children ride away.

Kai’s ‘typical grown-up’ response to Krist’s enquiry about why it’s dangerous country: “Because it is!”

The triumphant procession of Kai and the children into the village.

Elka, setting her Saxon foster parents straight about the Celts: “And they’re NOT savages. They’re NICE.”

The children helping Kai onto his horse, and Elka’s quick thinking in distracting one of his pursuers.


Kai has most of the best lines:

"Why couldn’t you – feed the squirrels before we left?"

"I’ve killed only those who would have killed me."

"They are men like us, and like us, they also believe in justice."

The burden and loneliness of command

The burden must feel especially heavy when your people are demanding the execution of children. The Celts leave Arthur with little choice but to risk losing Kai, by sending him into enemy territory. Arthur looks pensive as he watches Kai and the children leave, and cuts a lonely figure as he heads back into the longhouse. Perhaps another reason he sends Kai to the Saxon village is to give him the chance to return to his own people, if that is what he wants.

'A man on a horse is worth ten on foot'

Arthur rides Bernie into the village, while Kai rides Merlin. Merlin also carries Kai, along with both children, to Ulrich's village. On the return journey, Kai rides Merlin's's stand-in, Smudge.

The Celt horseman who rides in saying that the Saxons are coming back, rides James.

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

‘That is bloody dangerous!’

Kai goes to the Saxon village armed with a sword; he never gets to use it in combat, but has to fight barehanded against his guard, as well as Horgren and another of his pursuers, all of whom are armed.

Most of the Saxons carry axes. Hald jubilantly embeds his in a fence post on his way into the village, and Horgren later grabs it on his way past, in pursuit of Kai. The guards all carry spears, and one of them stabs himself with his own knife.

Dressed to kill?

At the beginning of the episode, Kai is wearing a brown smock-type shirt, and a big cloak, which had previously seen service on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” season 2, episode 7: The Attila the Hun Show, broadcast in 1970. Kai also wore this cloak at the beginning of “Arthur is Dead”, and in later episodes.

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Longboat (13) No good with children (4)

Arthur is wearing a brown tunic with light brown trim like the one he wore in “The Challenge.” However, this tunic – or one very like it – was ruined during the fight with Kai. It’s possible that the final fight scenes from “The Challenge” were filmed after this scene – or that two similar tunics were made by the wardrobe department.

For his journey to the Saxon village, Kai wears his studded tunic, with a bit of sheepskin slung over the shoulder, to make him look more like a Saxon, but he doesn’t leave his furry boot covers behind. During the feast, Kai is no longer wearing the sheepskin.

Though most of the Saxon men wear white sheepskins – which must have been extremely uncomfortable in midsummer – the higher-ranking men like Ulrich seem to wear fur.

In comparison to the dull and dirty clothes the Celt villagers wear, the Saxon women are clad in summery pastel-coloured dresses.

No good with children (5) Welcome (18)

At the end of the episode, Arthur is wearing what appears to be a dark blue woolly bathrobe, and Kai is clad in just his cloak, and a rather unsanitary-looking bandage!

On the table

The Saxon feast consists of various fruits and vegetables, bread, and what might be a pig, roasting on a spit. As Kai lies in his sickbed, he has been provided with apples, a leg of something, and an enormous bunch of grapes.

Honourable mention …

… for the magnificent efforts of the Celt villagers to put out some very nasty-looking fires; also, the horse that safely carries Kai, Krist and Elka – all of whom do a fine job.

What’s going on here?

It seems a bit odd that Krist, a Saxon child, is carrying a wooden sword, rather than an axe, but Kai’s decision to go to Ulrich’s village armed with a sword doesn’t elicit any comment from the Saxons, so perhaps these things were sometimes left to individual choice.

This is the first episode in which we see what appear to be obvious tyre tracks – though it could be argued they were made by cartwheels.

The Journey (52)

When Kai arrives in Ulrich’s village, the women come running from their work in the fields. The men then come from the village, where they were doing …. what, exactly?

Hildred says that the minstrel only knows one song – the one about having room in his house for a wife – but the minstrel himself claims he sings a song about Kai’s “great fight” with Arthur, so perhaps Hildred was joking!

Krist complains about being put to bed early, but later, when Kai escapes, he and Elka are fully dressed, and up and about.

Kai doesn’t seem surprised that the horse he finds tied to the tree after his escape is not the one he left there, earlier in the day!

The Journey (18) Escaping (59)

Arthur seems unreasonably cross with Kai on his return – as if he volunteered to go and get himself into trouble!

And is that a matchbox on the shelf?

Welcome home (7)


According to the cast list, the Saxon minstrel is played by Meic Stevens, though he is using a different voice to the one he used when he was playing Arthur’s minstrel, in “Arthur is Dead.”

Some of the 34 tracks of incidental music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, used in this episode, were:

26. Evil Stirs: the Celts watch the Saxon longboat approach the jetty
33. Springtime: the Saxon children appear from the bottom of the boat; Kai and the children ride away from the village and through the countryside.
13. In All Weathers: Krist feeds Kai’s horse some grass; Kai looks for the children.
29. Pastoral Episode: Kai and the children enter Ulrich’s village.
26. Evil Stirs: Hildred helps Kai cut his bonds; Ulrich comes to give judgement.
12. Duel: Kai escapes.
10. Battle on horseback: Kai and Horgren fight.
29. Pastoral Episode: the children help Kai onto his horse, and watch as he rides away.

The whole suite of music, written by Paul Lewis, is available on CD.


Arthur ……………... Oliver Tobias
Kai .….….….……… Michael Gothard
Horgen …………...... Stephan Chase
Hildred …................. Heather Wright
Ulrich ………..…..... Kenneth Benda
Krist ……….…….... Sean Fleming
Elka ……………...... Tamzin Neville
Hald ………………. Geoffrey Adams
Minstrel …………… Meic Stevens
Celt Villager .……… Roger Forbes
Horseman ……......... Sean McCauley


Director ……………... Pat Jackson
Writer ……………...... Terence Feely
Executive Producer ….. Patrick Dromgoole
Producer ……………... Peter Miller
Associate Producer ….. John Peverall
Production Manager ..... Keith Evans
Post-production ...…..... Barry Peters
Fight Arranger ……...... Peter Brayham
Incidental music ……... Paul Lewis
Theme music ……….... Elmer Bernstein
Cameraman ………….. Bob Edwards
Camera Operator ……. Brian Morgan
Editor ……………….. Dave Samuel-Camps
Sound recordist ……... Mike Davey
Dubbing mixer ……… John Cross
Art Director …………. Doug James
Assistant Director …… Keith Knott
Production Assistant … Patti Belcher
Costume Design …….. Audrey MacLeod
Make-up …………….. Christine Penwarden
Saison 1, episode 2

Le Présent de la Vie
Traduit par « Don du Ciel » dans la version doublée française.

Auteur: Terence Feely

Scène d'ouverture

Kai et Arthur arrivent à cheval dans le village en flammes. Les villageois tentent d’éteindre les flammes, sont en fuite ou pleurent leurs morts.

Arthur: Où est Llud ?

Villageois: Il a été appelé auprès d'Ambrosius. Les Saxons nous ont attaqués après son départ !

Arthur prend un petit garçon debout sur le bord du sentier et le confie à sa mère.

Un cavalier: Les Saxons ! Les Saxons, ils reviennent !

Kai et Arthur courent sur la rive du lac et aperçoivent une barge saxonne qui dérive vers la jetée. D’autres Celtes les rejoignent, et s’accroupissent derrière des paniers d’osier.

Arthur: Elle flotte bas sur l'eau.

Kai: Combien sont-ils ?

Arthur: Elle est bien basse pour nos lances.

Kai: Oui, mais la première tête qui sera fendue en deux le sera avec ça.

Kai brandit sa hache et saute dans la barge, prêt à frapper. Deux enfants blonds, Krist et Elka surgissent du fond du bateau.

[Générique de début]

Première partie

Read more... )
Season 1, Episode 2: The Gift of Life

Writer: Terence Feely


Kai and Arthur ride into the village to find it in flames. Villagers are variously fleeing, mourning their dead, and trying to douse or beat out the flames.

Arthur: Where is Llud?

Celt Villager: He was called away to see Ambrosius. The Saxons attacked us after he left.

Arthur picks up a small child from by the roadside, and returns him to his mother.

Horseman: Saxons! Saxons! They’re coming back!

Kai and Arthur run down to the lakeside to see a Saxon longboat drifting towards the jetty. Other Celts join them, crouching behind some fishing baskets.

Arthur: He’s lying low.

Kai: How many of them?

Arthur: Lying low against our spears.

Kai: Yes, but the first head to be split will be with this.

Kai brandishes his axe and leaps into the boat, ready to do battle. Two little blond-haired children, Krist and Elka, appear from the bottom of the boat.

Read more... )
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.”
For the first few episodes of "Arthur of the Britons", Arthur's village was situated at Woodchester Park, near Stroud, which now belongs to the National Trust.

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

"However, on arriving in Bristol and being taken to see this village set, all I’ve seen in the middle of the forest were a great number of trees with big chalk marks and numbers on them. "That’s where the village WILL BE BUILT!" I was informed. Not a good start ...

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

Arthur is Dead (38)

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

Woodchester (24)

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

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

This is how it looked in the series:

FM1 Fighting Cerdig (40)

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

Frampton Mansell 3

Frampton Mansell 1

Location shot taken at the time:

field at Frampton Mansell

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

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


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

Thanks to Sophie Neville, Daphne Neville and Martin Neville.

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


Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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