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15 June 1972: filming Arthur of the Britons.

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Jun. 15th, 1972 | 12:00 am

A new ‘Arthur.’

On 15 June 1972, ‘The Stage’ reported that HTV West was to spend £500,000 on “a new adventure series", and by 17 August 1972, that "Filming ... is now taking place."

‘Arthur of the Britons’ was a re-telling of the story of King Arthur, with some big differences: no shining armour; no castle – just a well-defended village, and Arthur, played by Oliver Tobias, wasn’t a king, but a wily Celtic chieftain, struggling to unite his people against Saxon invaders.

Michael Gothard was cast in one of the lead roles, that of Kai, a Saxon whom Arthur calls ‘brother.’ They were backed up by their adoptive father, Llud of the Silver Hand, played by Jack Watson.

The series, nominally made for children, dealt with quite adult themes and plotlines that included revenge, slavery, and rape. When asked (in August 2010) whether there was ever any awareness on the set that this was a children’s programme, Oliver Tobias said simply that there wasn’t, though he felt there was a strong moral thread running through it.

Shooting “Arthur of the Britons” on location.

Filming took place over about 8 months, from June 1972. The first few episodes were shot at Woodchester in Stroud, but the main village set was then moved to Woollard, on the River Chew. Individual episodes were also shot in the Blackdown Hills, the Mendips, on the River Severn, and at Black Rock Quarry, Cheddar Gorge.

According to the Executive Producer, Patrick Dromgoole, the actors in lead roles stayed in hotels or apartments leased for them for the duration, mostly in Bristol, though it seems possible that some of the cast, on occasion, unofficially spent the night in their location caravan.

Michael Gothard as ‘Kai.’

For the first and only time in his career, Michael Gothard played an action hero, and he played it well.

As a Saxon adopted by a Celt, and living among them, often fighting his own people, Kai was sometimes conflicted, but he was neither a social outcast, a political or religious fanatic, a criminal, nor a psychopath. He was a reliable lieutenant, and a good and loyal friend, to Arthur.

This was also one of the few occasions when the character Michael played gets to smile, and have some fun that isn’t at someone else’s expense, in between being forced into situations where he has to fight to survive.

As for how he got the role – the Executive Producer, Patrick Dromgoole had seen him in 'The Last Valley", but the choice of Michael to play Kai seems to have been thanks to Peter Sasdy, the Director of the two pilot episodes, ‘Arthur is Dead’, and ‘Daughter of the King.’

In correspondence, he says: “… I had very little time during pre-production, but I was happy with the casting of the main characters”, “Oliver Tobias was already cast before I was asked to direct the first episode and on casting the final decision was always – and with my full backing! – in the hands of Patrick Dromgoole.”

“As far as Michael Gothard is concerned … I cast him because I thought of him as a very interesting actor, with strong personality and in the right part he’d always give a good performance. He was rather a private person and because of this I didn’t get to know him beyond the set.”

In August 2010, when Oliver Tobias was asked about the casting, he said that his and Michael’s audition consisted of them, and four horses. Together, they had to ride different horses to the top of the hill and back, a number of times.

“They cast us for who we were at the time. We were allowed complete freedom … Each has a chemistry.” He also said that they improvised a lot of the action.

Of the scripts, Patrick Dromgoole said: “We had enough to start filming, but made a lot of changes according to the performances of the actors and what seemed to make a successful episode as we went along” – so the initial choice of cast was vital to the success and long-lasting appeal of the series.

Trivia: Michael often wears the same studded tunic as Kai in “Arthur of the Britons”, as he wore in “The Last Valley.”


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