Walking On My Hands – Fighting Back, excerpt

Fighting Back. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission













(excerpt) from Walking On My Hands – Beth Porter Chapter 12, My Life in Comedy: Comedy in My Life

Fighting Back

“It wasn’t long after that that I was given the chance to train as a BBC TV Drama script editor, with a view to becoming a producer. I’ve already told you about the disastrous effect the gig had on my relationship with Kerry, but in career terms, it proved to be an amazing opportunity.

My first assignment was to take over on a mini-series starring rock star Hazel O’Connor called Fighting Back by Gareth Jones [who later became an ITV producer]. The previous script editor had departed back to London after a couple of years up in Birmingham away from her partner. In retrospect, I sure wasn’t paying attention to what similar fate might befall me.

But, having lost one script editor, Gareth was keen to keep me and we had some really excellent script conferences. My experiences with Barbara were proving invaluable in keeping an overview of the whole project, but I’d never before felt so intimately connected with a series of scripts which told a complete story over several episodes, and which had a major broadcaster’s commitment for production. I found Gareth dedicated, intelligent, and full of ideas that complemented my own. I tried to interfere as little as possible, making sure such elements as fact-checking were well under control, which were appreciated both by director Paul Seed and producer Chris Parr.

It was so interesting to return to Pebble Mill as part of a production rather than the actress I’d been some years before in The Deep Concern. For one thing, there’s a level of respect shared among a production team which is just not afforded to the actors, unless they’re starry names and that’s more out of irrational fear or awe. In any case I really liked it; it reminded me of the happiest stage experiences when everyone is working toward the same end.

As the BBC collectively knew, the more one spends making a success of a position, the greater the confidence. Soon I had no hesitation in having frank and open discussions with writers without scaring them off. I also learned that my own background, as varied within the industry, engendered a feeling from them of trust and a kind of camaraderie.

I’ve also talked about my part in helping to launch the Birmingham Film and Television Festival, getting to meet some industry professionals from spheres other than the Beeb. One particularly kind, knowledgeable and dedicated chap was Roger Shannon, whom I’m pleased to report I recently re-found on FaceBook. Together we gritted our teeth in the face of the provincial attitudes we met from various jobs-worths on the City Council.

I don’t know what it is, but, even though I’ve now called the UK home for nearly 50 years, the default position of the Brits when confronted by a challenge tends to be Let’s wait and see. Let’s write a report. Let’s figure how to get out of it. While Americans almost knock you over with their enthusiastic Can Do! I just wish they’d each borrow a bit from the other.

In any case, those Birmingham burghers, try as they might, couldn’t stop the Festival from being hailed as a huge success……….”


Thanks to the script editor of the drama, Beth Porter, for sharing this excerpt.

Beth Porter’s (long and amusing) autobiography Walking on my Hands, is available for a couple of pounds on Kindle, on the link below. Chapter 12 includes Beth’s adventures with the BBC.




Fighting Back – Radio Times

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission









































Fighting Back, was a 5 part drama on BBC1, transmitted in 1986, starring Hazel O’Connor, as Viv. It featured on the front of the Radio Times, as well as a feature inside.

Here is the entry from the Radio Times, from the BBC Genome project:

“Fighting Back by GARETH JONES
The first of a five-part serial based on an idea by VICTORIA HINE
Viv Sharpe hurtles down the motorway, kids in tow, towards the Bristol she used to call home. Not only has
Bristol changed, but Viv finds no one wants to know her and there’s nowhere to go. Is this the start of Viv the vagrant? Or can she keep fighting back?
Incidental music PAUL JONES, Script editor BETH PORTER, Lighting DICK BENTLEY, Designer ROB HINDS, Producer CHRIS PARR, Director PAUL SEED. BBC Pebble Mill”


Thanks to Beth Porter, who was the script editor, for sharing the stills.

Beth Porter’s (long and amusing) autobiography Walking on my Hands, is available for a couple of pounds on Kindle, on the link below. Chapter 12 includes Beth’s adventures with the BBC.


The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill  Facebook page:

Jane Green: ‘This was the first thing I ever worked on – as a work experience floor assistant with Gareth Williams I think. I had to look after Hazel. Can’t print what she did here !!! But goodness me. What memories. Feb 1986.’

John Greening: ‘I was assistant floor manager…’

Susan Astle: ‘I was the make up designer on it, goodness so long ago! And before Derek Thompson became so famous!’

Les Podraza: ‘I think the filming was in Bristol for a month. I was on the crew. Fab times!!!’












Memories of working at Pebble Mill – Jane Green

My first job at the BBC was a dream.  It was so much fun I came in on my days off – even though it meant a train and bus journey.  And I wasn’t the only one.

Imagine having a job where Tom Jones or Naomi Campbell ask you if they look ok.  Seeing Bob Hope playing golf on the Pebble Mill lawn, or coercing scene crew to come and listen to this brilliant new singer rehearse.  Her name was Celine Dion.

It was 1986 and, after years of writing to the Beeb and getting a good degree in TV and Film production, I got a break, and came in as a trainee floor assistant.

First week – in at the deep end

I thought the Pebble Mill building and its location were a lovely place to work.  I’ll never forget being taken to my first job and having to stop my jaw dropping as we passed so many famous faces on the way to my new team office.

Hazel O'Connor - Fighting Back

In my first week I worked on drama with Hazel O’Connor – talk about in at the deep end – as well as other programmes like Ebony, Asian Magazine, The Little Picture Show and the famous Pebble Mill at One.  What a baptism of fire that was!

Of course it was all live, and featured the celebs of the day, who would sometimes turn up late.  Actually lots of them did, a lot of the time, but is was usually the minor celebs that did so.  The really famous ones were often wonderfully professional and courteous.

Tanks on the lawn

Every two weeks the floor team would get the rotas.  We’d rip them open eagerly to see what we were working on and who we were likely to meet.  Sometimes we swapped days so we could work with our favourite pop stars or actors.

A typical day’s running order would consist of a famous actress coming in to talk about her latest show, a minor celeb plugging a book (we often called the programme ‘Plug a Book at One’), chart topping pop band and an up and coming comedian.

There’d be a cookery clot (Fanny Craddock’s fried eggs were a nightmare) and a bit of gardening.  We might open the show with a display by the Royal Tank Regiment with their Scorpion tanks on the front lawn (try cueing those and getting out of the way quick) and end the programme with the presenters leaving by RAF helicopter and no one hearing the count out of the show because of the noise.

Pebble Mill at One

The poor staff gardener would almost be in tears on a daily basis as his manicured lawn was churned up.

Benazir Bhutto, David Hasslehoff and secret whiskies….

Of course being live, running 3 seconds over meant crashing the One O’clock News and we’d get told off.  Sometimes people missed their cues, or sometimes VT wouldn’t run and a presenter who’d gone to the green room for a break would be seen flying down the corridor to the studio to ad lib for 3 minutes.  Great fun.

The building, its gardens and its location all lent themselves to creative ideas for live programming, and programmes which were fun to make.  Which is why people who worked here during those times will be sad to see the building close.

I remember sitting on the floor of the small studio where Midlands Today is now broadcast, with a lady called Benazir Bhutto, chatting away about her dreams of becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan.

….David Hasslehoff of Baywatch walking into the canteen saying he was starving but not looking too happy with the breakfast offerings that day (sorry canteen but it’s true!).

…..A wonderful English actress, a big star in the 1940’s and working at the Mill in the 1980s, used to wilt at the end of a long day in the studios and would send me off to the BBC bar to fetch her a whisky.  I didn’t dare claim it on expenses, so paid for it out of my own pocket – even though I was a on a pittance and she was rather well orf!

Mink and bing bing

For several days on location in Stratford I go to work with Sir Antony Hopkins and John Hurt.  We were shooting the Richard Burton Drama Awards and I remember not so much being overwhelmed by these mega famous actors but of Sally Burton’s ginormous diamonds.

Sally had been a PA at Pebble Mill before she married Richard, and she had fond memories of working there.  I had to take her heavy mink coast and Louis Vuitton luggage to her dressing room and was sooo tempted to try the coat on.  Of course I didn’t….

The floor team were, along with make-up and wardrobe, the people who worked the closest to the stars.  Directors and producers were confined to the gallery, but we were the ones to meet and greet celebs before the sun came up (seeing them at their worst!), and get them ready for rehearsals.

Clothes Show ruled TV

We got them into the studio on time, checked to see if their ties were straight, then delivered them to the green room and into a taxi, and looked after their little whims in between.  Your quickly learned who wore a rug and who didn’t. who was deadly nervous before going on telly and all their little tricks of the trade.

We had many secrets. Including seeing famous relationships and affairs begin….and eng… sometimes with accompanying ‘exclusives’ in the press.  Of course we never told!

Roger Casstles was the director/producer to work with.  We all wanted to work on his shows because they pushed the limits and were exciting.  Abseiling paratroopers, explosions, dangerous animals, and pop videos – which were new at the time.  (Crikey, I’m ancient).

He and Jeff Banks started a fashion strand on the PM@One programme.  There was nothing else like it on telly at the time and it gave birth to the BAFTA Award winning – The Clothes Show.

The programme was compulsory viewing in the 1980s on Sunday afternoons.  Everyone talked about it and wanted to be on it.

I was probably one of the worst directors he ever hired – we all wanted The Clothes Show on our CV and very few made it.  I was lucky, but just couldn’t stick the models and their fawning hangers-on/  I could tell some stories but would probably get sued!

It really was a great time though, and Pebble Mill was an exciting place to be, producing some cracking programmes.  People liked coming here because the area was so green, and easy to get to compared to London studios.

A colleague told me the time Englebert Humperdinck came in to do a Christmas special and brought his family.  He asked it they could join staff in the canteen for Christmas lunch.  He ate his BBC Christmas dinner, and enjoyed himself so much he didn’t leave till 5.30pm.

Pebble Mill was that kind of place.  Friendly and fun

I shall miss the building, and miss the wonderful production centre it used to be, with its reception full of talented and well-known people.

But you know what? I’ve been here so long now, I’ve seen things go full circle many a time.  And it wouldn’t surprise me if one day in the future, a new BBC boss has the bright idea of making Birmingham a huge television production centre once again.  You read it here first …..

Jane Green

‘Fighting Back’ – photo from John Greening

Photograph probably taken by Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission.

‘Fighting Back’:  TX 1 4 Aug 1986, 5 part series

Actress and singer Hazel O’Connor stars and sings the title song of ‘Fighting Back’.

Hazel plays Viv Sharpe, a young mother who just walked out on her current man  – father to her youngest child – and lands up back in her home town, Bristol.  Her mother’s dead, and she didn’t know, and no one wants to know her because of her past history.  She has no money to feed her kids, and to top it all she gets nicked and the children are put into care …… and her troubles are only just beginning.

‘Fighting Back’ also features Cheryl Maiker and Tont Carney as Viv’s children – Yvonne and Neil; Derek Thompson as Viv’s husband, Bruce; and Malcolm Frederick as Viv’s ex-lover.

John Greening

Jane Green remembers working on ‘Fighting Back’ well: ‘My first ever BBC day on work experience – in at the deep end – looking after Ms O’Connor. A right baptism of fire. I was supervised by Gareth Williams who was the FA on the studio floor. Pebble Mill made fab drama.’

‘Fighting Back’ – photo from John Greening

Copyright resides with the original holder, probably Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission.

‘Fighting Back’, was a five part Pebble Mill drama, transmitted in 1986, starring Hazel O’Connor.  It was produced by Chris Parr, directed by Paul Seed, written by Gareth Jones and filmed in Bristol.  It was about a mother fighting to keep her children. It also started Derek Thompson (before Casualty).

The second photo features (left to right): ?, John Greening (AFM), and Alf Mayall (props).

Thanks to John Greening for making the photo available.