The BBC ie: The British Broadcasting Corporation was my first employer – I can’t remember much about it, I had one line, I think, in a show I can’t remember, but I do remember it was live television, which meant that hundreds, if not thousands of people had their eyes locked onto me, for about two minutes and I was terrified. Still it was the start of a satisfying and happy career, for which I am very grateful.
By the time I started work as an actress, the BBC had been entertaining its audience for years, starting with the televised broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, in 1953 – British television was on its way.
My first big part was as Lorna in ” Lorna Doone”, which was being made as a television series, for a 5:30pm slot on a Sunday, largely aimed at children. My audition never ceases to amaze me to this day. I was invited to meet Brandon Acton-Bond, the director, I was thrilled, as I had done very little work at that point. I think he must have liked the look of my photograph, submitted my very pro- active, wonderful first agent, Elizabeth Robinson. “Would you like to play Lorna” he asked, ” yes please” said I and that was it. None of the hoops that poor young actors have jump through today, to get a part, self taping, Zoom meetings, more auditions etc. I suppose Directors and Casting Directors had more confidence in their own decision skills then.
It was a wonderful part in an excellent production, working with lovely people. Bill Travers was John Ridd, the man who found and fell in love with Lorna, who had been kidnapped as a child by a gang of local marauders. It all takes place in Exmoor in the seventeenth century…a wonderful, romantic novel. I think I can count it among the happiest experiences, in my career.
That was the start and through the 1960’s I had many excellent parts in some terrific productions for the BBC. The writing was of a very high standard and it made the work so much more interesting and quite challenging. However, it was also much easier to play. When the material is well written, the acting is a lot easier. The worse the writing, the harder it is to make it believable. I was privileged to work on productions, with scripts written by David Mercer, Robert Muller and Nigel Kneale, just to name a few, among so many first rate writers.
The way in which we made the shows then, was also quite different from now. Television is all on film now. The advent of filmed television series like – Danger Man, The Saint etc, changed it all. To begin with filming was done on more expensive actual film and then digital came along and it got cheaper and much faster to create a show. In my early days, at the BBC, we would film all exteriors as a first step on film, usually on 16 mm. Then we would rehearse, like a stage play with the continuity and progression of story and character. After about 10- 14 days rehearsal, it was into the studio, to block with the three or four very large cameras, which would tape the Production. The taping was a complicated and highly co- ordinated way of getting production from inception to viewing, incorporating the considerable skills of cameramen, sound men and lighting all directed from small room, placed above the studio, with an overall view of the proceedings, by the Director, who was giving instructions. I am told that Brandon Acton-Bond’s language was quite colourful on taping day – but only the Floor Manager, co-ordinating the Production down below in the studio, could hear his comments through his headphones! Sadly many of the great taped shows are gone. The BBC and ITV taped over them, in the interests of economy, with no idea of the future interest in long gone productions, largely due to the advent of the Internet and streaming. Filmed productions like many of the Doctor Who episodes and The Prisoner have attracted a new generations of audiences.
The whole exercise was challenging, thrilling and quite wonderful. Crew and cast were engaged and completely in tune with one another. You would be in close-up for a scene with a monster camera hovering a few inches from your nose, then suddenly it would sweep back to cover another angle or actor. I loved it. And working with actors like Ron Moody, Bill Travers, David Buck, Tony Garnett, …the list goes on ….was a joy. Working in Hollywood was a pleasure, but never a pleasure like this.
In time, my career and my life took a different direction and the BBC now produces largely through independent film companies. However the quality and the variety of its work continues and its 100th birthday as an organisation, which has contributed so much to the whole world, is an event to be celebrated.