There were wonderful ‘studio skills’. I remember being at Gosta Green in 1962 and seeing a chap turn a polystyrene column into a satisfactory tree in under 30 seconds, with a soldering iron, and an aerosol. And how disappointed the public were by the Henry VII costume exhibition. There was a wide strip of Copydex glue down the front of one dress, with pearls every twelve inches or so. The costume lady knew the pearls would show up, but not the adhesive… Wide aperture lenses, so the background was the background! Michael Edwards wonderful set for ‘Great Expectations’ sticks in my memory.
What happened re ‘Match of the Day’? Stephen never appeared on the first day he was expected – he’d gone to Switzerland, and not told anyone. I phoned him at Gstaad, and he said, ‘Start at the beginning!’ What a waste of time. Of course, he wanted it all changed. After a month it was ‘pulled’. The ‘looking at the wedding presents’ gag is easily my favourite rude joke……..
Far more interesting than ‘Nuts in May’, because it wasn’t a natural winner. The performances are stunning. It introduced David Threlfall to the world. The leading lady, Mike said, left the profession after this. A great shame, if so. It has my favourite sequence of any film I’ve ever cut. This is when our hero goes to the girl’s home after dealing with the dead baby. She greets him with, ‘ Yer can’t come in, me mam ain’t in’. So begins a perfect section of sexual tension. Fantastic! At one stage of working on it, apparently he DID say ‘yes’ to going upstairs. Half way up, our heroine cried, ‘I am coming out of character!!’ The dead baby is awful. David Rose and I tried hard to get him to drop it. Is it necessary? Looking at a bit 10 years ago, I thought it looked rather too tightly cut. I could be wrong.
Almost forgot! A very clever music score by Carl Davis a la Hindemith Wry – tongue in cheek, splendid!
Did Mike Leigh know this was going to be a knock-out success umpteen years later?? I didn’t! ‘The famous CHEWING sequence! We tried several lengths. I now think it would be even funnier 4-5 seconds longer. I’ve always been a great believer in the ‘perfect stranger’. You grab someone passing the door, show them a one minute section and say, ‘Does it work?’ Yes, a fresh pair of eyes! The chap who played the quarry man did it for a MONTH, with Mike’s P.A. making notes! Then Alison and Roger turned up, and it lasted say an hour. And finally whittled down to what you now see. The chap loved doing it so much, he gave up acting and became a palaeontologist.
Two or three years later Alison was doing something that required her to walk across a ‘real’ school playground. ‘It won’t work’, she said, ‘They’ll recognise me’. ‘Go on’, said the director, ‘Give it a try.’ Well, all the kids rushed at her calling, ‘Candice-Marie, Candice-Marie!!’ (Mike heard the name on a bus).
I believe ‘Nuts in May’ had a remote genesis in a little two-hander upstairs at the Royal Court, called something like ‘Holy Glory’, about veggies.
I was a little apprehensive of working with John McKenzie. Like any good editor I’d looked at a previous film. It was about the Orange Order in Glasgow, and was very good, tough stuff. I vividly remember looked at the ‘synched’ rushes. Take 1, so, so; Take 2, better; Take 3, better still! Take 4, perfect. Then horror! Take 5. Now I’d worked on quite a bit of twaddle, such as ‘Nanny’ (actually, that had some good bits) and the Takes would go on to 8 or 9. After Take 4, the poor actors would ‘fall over a cliff’, because they didn’t know what was expected of them. Now a Take 5! It was even better than perfect. Then he stopped. I now knew it was going to be good. I don’t normally like directors ‘sitting in’ on the first cut. I want them to be a fresh pair of eyes, but John just sat at the back of the room, read ‘The Times’ and moaned about the fuel consumption of his Volvo/DAF 340. (I could have told him the belt drive would give 15 mpg….) It was obvious how to cut it, as it was so well directed. Then the work started! It is/was set in three time periods. We sub-divided and rearranged them to make it, hopefully, more interesting. We put the ‘in’s and outs’ of each scene on different coloured cards, and blu-tacked them all over the wall! We were both nervous as to Alan Garner’s reaction to John altering his precious story – but he said, ‘John, it was my script, but it’s your film!’ I think he was quite happy.
I’d stolen a huge blow-up of Quatermass I from the basement – ex Pebble Mill at One. My assistant, Claire Doukin, coloured in the dreadful Space Slime consuming Westminster Abbey …. It’s now in my garage.