Nanny – Michael Custance (part 1)

In the days when I was a cameraman at Thames TV I met an actor called Guy Slater. We became and still are friends.  Guy also created and ran the Horseshoe Theatre in Basingstoke. He then became a TV producer.   So when the BBC asked him to produce a new series called ‘Nanny’ he asked me to direct 9 episodes of the first series and more in the second series.  (years later Guy joined me to create the series ‘Small Stages’.)

“Created by the actress Wendy Craig ‘Nanny’ was a BBC television series that ran between 1981 and 1983. In this historical drama, Wendy Craig stared as nanny Barbara Gray, caring for children in 1930s England. When Barbara Gray leaves the divorce court she has no money, no job just an iron will and a love for children. “

Wendy was first noticed for her role in the film ‘The Servant’ playing beside Dirk Bogarde in 1963 where she won the most promising newcomer award. She was awarded a best actress award in 1969 and was awarded a CBE.  Her TV fame came when starring in the very long and successful series ‘Butterflies’. 

Years later I bought the rights to a novel by Dirk Bogarde, Voices in the Garden, and produced a film of it for the BBC.

When Wendy Craig submitted her proposal for the series to the BBC she used the pseudonym Jonathan Marr because she was afraid that if her true identity was known she would be dismissed as merely “an actress who thinks she can write.

The structure of the series was that Nanny went to work in a family with children for three episodes and then moved on to another family.  Thus each director made a story of three episodes. I made three stories, nine episodes, in the first series and one story in the second series making twelve episodes in all. Guy asked me direct more but I feared being a ‘Nanny’ director for too long.

Association of Directors and Producers – Michael Custance

A.D.P: Association of Directors and Producers

From when ‘Jimmie’ Cellan Jones was directing ‘Jennie, Lady Randolf Churchill’ and told me he was part of a group of directors fighting the managements to get paid for repeats and foreign sales, known as director’s residual payments, matters had progressed and A.D.P., The Association of Directors and Producers had been formed. I joined, was co-opted onto the board of ADP management and created a monthly ADP newsletter. I stayed on the board and edited the newsletter until I started to make ‘Spyship’ three years later. With its 46 location all over the UK and the North Sea and the Arctic and over a year of production there was not time to do both so I resigned from the board and editorship.

ADP had gone from strength to strength and had won the battle. Since then all directors and producers receive a percentage of their fee for all repeats and sales worldwide. ADP was was also very influential in forcing the govt. to design the future new Channel 4 TV not to make programmes but to commission programmes from Independent Producers. This changed the face of UK TV by allowing producers to create their own programmes and sell them to the TV channel. Now that method applies in whole or part to every UK TV channel.

Whilst setting up ‘The Unborn’ there was a daring homosexual play being shot in the studio called ‘Solid Geometry’ by Ian McEwan. It was creating furious complaints from the costume and make-up depts. So much so that the technical head of the studios pulled all of his staff out of the studio and paralysed the shoot. The problem, there was a pickled erect penis in a jar on the mantelpiece in the set. The producer and director came to me asking for help from the ADP. I said I would call the president immediately but was not sure if ADP could help as it was in place to fight for working conditions and not bottled penises which is a censorship or public decency issue. This proved to be the case. I think the shooting went ahead minus one glass jar.

[N.B. the shoot of ‘Solid Geometry’ was actually halted, and the production cancelle].

‘The Unborn’ – Michael Custance

Here are some memories from director Michael Custance from 1980:
“‘The Unborn’
A play for BBC2 ‘Playhouse’ series. My first one-off play for TV! A psycho’ thriller. Earlier I had made ‘Empire Road’ for the same producer, Peter Ansorge.
With only two days in the studio it was tough to get all the special effects done in time.
There was one happy, or not so happy fluke.
The pregnant mother played by Mary Larkin, opens a parcel she received and discovers a human heart, beating and alive. Terrified she throws it across the room only for it land stuck up the lens hood of the camera. The brilliant cameraman held it in focus all the way ending with a giant full screen image of a bleeding beating heart which shocked the studio into a horrified silence. It was almost too horrifying for an audience but Peter, the producer, said to keep it in the show.”

Angels – Michael Custance

A typical soap with a hard edge.  Produced by Julia Smith with story editor Tony Holland and who was story editor on the series ‘Couples’ that I made for Thames TV.  Earlier still  he was the writer when I directed ‘Magpie’. We got on very well so perhaps it was through Tony they called me.

‘Angels’ tackled issues such as contraception, alcoholism and promiscuity as part of the nurse’s lives.  ‘Angels’received criticism for its unglamorous depiction of the nursing profession. Indeed with its sometimes hard-hitting portrayal of young nurses facing up to the demands of the profession ‘Angels’ was grittily authentic.

To this end each actress taking a part was required to work on a real hospital ward to gain experience and thus contribute to the realism of the series.  Great to work on.  Many giggles, just like real nurses.

We had a week’s filming in Glasgow. A completely different world to London. On a pedestrian bridge over river Clyde we were filming two actors talking and walking towards camera when the cameraman suddenly doubled up laughing.  In the background between the two actors a large lady marched towards camera, stopped, saluted and lifted her sweater to flash two huge breasts.  The policeman with us said “Oh Alice dear, could you go and do it somewhere else the boys are trying make a film. OK?  She does that everywhere. What can we do?  Poor love is a bit bonkers and arresting her would solve nothing and she does no harm anyway.”

When we finished he smiled  “You look cold boys. I wee whisky would do you all good.” Indeed it had started snowing but as it was Sunday the Glasgow pubs were shut. “Follow me lads”.  We walked to the nearest pub and indeed it was shut. He just slid the iron grill gate back and opened the door.. “Come on lads”.  The place was packed full and heaving.   “Right, the first one is on me lads”.

At the end of another day we were taking a taxi back to our hotel.  The next day was a day off for the unit and we were debating what to do in Glasgow for the day when the taxi driver turned and said “Do you want to come salmon fishing with me?  I could collect you at say 09.30.  I go once week anyway so no charge.”   Off we went salmon fishing for the day in a beautiful little valley with rocks and a big stream. I caught nothing but the others did.  Fond memories of Glasgow.

 Michael Custance

 

Nanny – script front page, ep 3

Nanny front page RG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission. Thanks to Roger Guest for sharing the script front page.

This is the first page of the script for the episode of the drama series: Nanny, The Magic Island. Nanny was a London series, hosted by Pebble Mill. Wendy Craig was cast in the title role.

Notice that this episode was recorded third, but is actually the fourth episode to be transmitted, on 31st January 1981.

Here is the entry from the BBC Genome project for this episode of Nanny, http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/47192fea43904e21a5b7ceea47f1ed1c:

A series in ten parts 4: The Magic Island by TERENCE BRADY and CHARLOTTE BINGHAM with Rain … all day, every day. The children trapped indoors become quarrelsome. Barbara’s solution is simple, if eccentric. But dealing with Miss Sullivan, the old-fashioned governess, is not so easy.
Senior cameraman KEITH SALMON Make-up artist VIVIEN OLDHAM Designer MYLES LANG
Associate producer CHRISTOPHER BARRY Producer GUY SLATER
Director MICHAEL CUSTANCE.

Contributors

Script: Terence Brady
Script: Charlotte Bingham
Senior cameraman: Keith Salmon
Make up Artist: Vivien Oldham
Designer: Myles Lang
Producer: Christopher Barry
Producer: Guy Slater
Director: Michael Custance.
Nanny Barbara Gray: Starring Wendy Craig
Mrs Sackville: Patience Collier
Donald Gray: Colin Douglas
Dorinda Sackville: Patricia Hodge
Frederick Sackville: And Benjamin Whitrow
Alice: Gabrielle Lloyd
Miss Sullivan: Sonia Graham
Dr Lindsay: Philip Dunbar
Sackville children:Artemis: Annabelle Lanyon
Sackville children:Dorothy: Veronique Gunner
Sackville children:Emerald: Anna Campbell
Sackville children:Nancy: Sally-Ann Messervy
Sackville children:Caro: Katherine Burman