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Arthur of the Britons: memories from the daughter of one of Michael's close friends

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Nov. 30th, 1972 | 10:51 pm

Michael was very enthusiastic about being cast, and my parents were very proud of him. I didn't see it as a big deal until I visited the set with my father, in 1972, when I was 15.

The first time I saw ‘Arthur of the Britons’ was on set; it was a real eye opener. When we arrived, and met up with Michael, he was in costume, and about to start filming. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, Michael does look really cool.’ I had known him since I was ten, and he was the big brother I'd never had. Up until the set visit, it hadn't dawned on me that Michael was an actor, because I had not seen him in anything before ‘Arthur of the Britons.’

I remember being impressed and star-struck with everything. It all seemed so REAL, and it was literally dawn to dusk, and just so quick. You would never get actors to work at that pace today! Michael said there were lots of times when they were running out of time, and the director would say: ‘We have to do this in one take, let's get it right!’ and they did!

We saw some fight scenes rehearsed, and I clearly remember they were very well put together. All the actors could ride, and do their own fight scenes, which is why it looked so good. By today's standards, it was virtually live; no stunt doubles, a quick rehearsal then film. Michael’s axe was incredibly heavy. He was extremely fit; they all were.

Health and Safety? Michael has a scene where he is supposed to cauterise a wound, in ‘The Wood People’: real sword in real fire, only substituted at the last minute! Child actors running round close to the fire! I don't remember any rehearsal for that either. I honestly think they read the script, and did it!

The atmosphere did seem friendly and happy: organised chaos. Some bits are hazy, but it's the pace and how hard they worked that I remembered. On our second day, one minute Michael was in jeans and T shirt, the next, in costume and ready to go. I'm sure there was some sort of make up, but I don't recall that.

We saw parts of two episodes being filmed. One was ‘The Wood People’ and the other was ‘The Pupil’, but they were not filming it in proper order. We spent two days there, and they were finishing ‘The Pupil’ with Peter Firth, then leaping on to ‘The Wood People’, then going back to ‘The Pupil.’

I found Oliver Tobias a bit intimidating, but he was really nice and very friendly when I went to meet him. Michael and Oliver did seem very good friends, and I know they socialised while filming ‘Arthur of the Britons.’

Michael got on really well with Jack Watson too. Father and I really liked him, but we only met him that time on the ‘Arthur of the Britons’ set. We had dinner together Michael, my father, Jack Watson and me. I think a fair amount of alcohol was drunk after I went to bed!

~~

Arthur of the Britons does reveal a fair amount of the "real" Michael.

In ‘The Pupil’, that lovely, lovely smile and laugh right at the beginning was typical Michael. You just had to smile with him when he smiled. It lit up a room.

In ‘Daughter of the King’, the bit where he sort of nudges Arthur? That was a typical Michael thing. If he wanted something he would come and sit next to you and give that little nudge. If there was no response, he would give a bigger nudge, and so on and so on, until you caved in!

The slow blink was ALL Michael. He did that a lot if he was emotional.

In ‘The Wood People’, when he slowly turns his head and looks at Arthur when he teases him by the fire about the ‘witches.’ He would do EXACTLY that if I was a bit cheeky or he suspected a crime.

Michael had a way of saying ‘ahh!’ in a certain was if he was exasperated! He did just that towards the end of ‘The Wood People.’ He used that ‘ahh!’ at home quite a bit! He used it when Alfie the miniature dachshund would get on his bed, and growl if anyone tried to get him off. He used it with me on many occasions!

In ‘The Duel’, just after the ant race, they are about to fight, and Michael sort of grins, half sticks his tongue out. That was not acting. If he was messing about, winding Alf up, or making a grab for me, he would have that playful, wicked expression on his face.

There is a bit in ‘Enemies and Lovers’ where Kai runs up to a girl, arms outstretched to hug her. He did that ALL the time: long arms outstretched.

Near the beginning of ‘The Marriage Feast’, Michael is sitting with Jack Watson and teasing Arthur. He says ‘Ooooooo!’ That was Michael too: as characteristic as the ‘ahh!’ He would use ‘Ooooooo’ if he was teasing.

At the end of "Go Warily", when Arthur and Kai are winding Llud up, you see Kai laughing at the trick he has played; that was exactly the way he was if he was laughing so hard he couldn't stop.

The more I see of ‘Arthur of the Britons’, the more I see that there is SO much of Michael in Kai.

I never heard Michael say anything negative about ‘Arthur of the Britons.’ We all got the opinion he really enjoyed making it, and he definitely enjoyed working with Oliver Tobias and Jack Watson. He was very proud of taking us to visit.

I remember my parents saying he was going to end up being really famous! We never really understood why he didn't.

Neither did he, really.

~~

In 1973 I went to a girls’ boarding school for my A-levels. I was very academic, but rubbish at school sports, so was definitely not ‘cool’ at school.

Michael decided to sort that out; he came and took me out for lunch one Sunday. I remember a couple of the snobby girls asking if I was going out. I told them my adopted big brother was collecting me. One of them said something like: ‘You don't have a brother.’ I told her it was Michael Gothard, and she didn't believe me. Her face when he arrived … that will stick in my mind forever!

‘Arthur of the Britons’ was a big success by then, and he made sure his visit was very visible, and most of the girls in my year gasped and stared. I can see him now getting out of the car, a yellow Triumph Stag, and making a big fuss of me.

I was so proud of my big brother!

I had one good friend at school; she had a massive crush on Michael. She came out to lunch with us and was very tongue-tied, and kept blushing when he spoke to her. Michael was lovely with her. He signed some stuff for her, and gave me ‘The Glare’ a couple of times when I got the giggles.

I was always a bit perplexed as to why so many girls swooned over him! I'd only every seen him as "big brother." Didn't they know how strict he was? Didn't they know that not doing prep, answering back, having boyfriends, going out, wearing the wrong clothes, (the list goes on) got all sorts of sanctions? But when I think of how much fun he was, I would not have changed him for the World. He was a massive influence on me as I was growing up.

~~

Contributed by A.S.

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