Log in

No account? Create an account

Arthur of the Britons: personal account: Gerry Cullen

« previous entry | next entry »
Dec. 6th, 1972 | 06:00 pm

Getting a job on ‘Arthur of the Britons’

By a series of total coincidences, (mainly running low on money in Bristol, England) I heard Harlech TV was having open casting sessions for the extras for the townspeople [for “Arthur of the Britons.”]

I got it, and worked 6 days a week until the end of the series. For me it was a paid graduate school, with plenty of time to watch the different methods of the rotating directors, and some very good character actors to bolster roster.

Gerry is the extra standing in the middle of the picture, immediately below Oliver Tobias (Arthur).

When I came in, I was told they were making some changes (I don’t know what they were) and the series was half done. That corresponds to what I saw during my time there, which was until the end of the series.

When I watched the DVDs. I was in “Season Two” and not in any of “Season One.” I remember often being there six days a week; extras were only hired when they need townspeople to “fill in” of course, but I was very lucky in that I seemed to get on most, probably because I looked the most scruffy.

[Judging by seasonal cues in the episodes, Gerry must have started working on the series during September 1972, and worked through to about December.]

Atmosphere on set

It seemed like there was much pressure to hit the short deadlines for a quick turn-around. The filming was extremely well organized and all the crew and actors created a friendly but always moving forward atmosphere.

… I remember hearing that was sometimes a B crew shooting cutaways and other footage at different locations to help keep things moving. It seemed to me that they were trying to keep to filming one a week and having a B Unit get any extra coverage needed to keep the pace up ...

… They really did have to go at a fast pace. It was long days, not that I minded, it was good. The extras would meet at HTV Bristol early, often about dawn or before, and usually come back late in the day or at darkness.

The atmosphere on the set itself was always very calm and orderly, very professional. You have to remember the actors and crew had a lot to do to make a half hour weekly action show …

The cast

It was openly acknowledged that Michael Gothard added quality to the series and he was hired to bring up professional acting level. The word was that the producers were worried a bit that the young star, Oliver Tobias, was too new, and not that experienced, although … Tobias did a really good job as it turned out.

On set Oliver was always the most quiet of the three main characters. As the lead, he had the biggest responsibility and he was the youngest. While waiting, he seemed to keep it very serious. He was always very courteous to everyone. It was my impression that the three lead actors liked each other very much.

Michael Gothard was probably the most physical actor. Even standing still, the man seemed to be moving. [He] had a different type of energy, one that was impulsive and capable of taking off at any moment in any direction. The viewer was often worried he was going to jump on his horse and charge the enemy without making any plans.

Whoever cast this series really knew what they were doing. The contrast between Oliver and Michael made for good interplay between the two. Oliver was sturdy, emanated inner strength, and kept his cards close, while Michael was lanky, had his energy ‘out there’, and was often edgy.

Jack Watson was the most laid back. While waiting for his part, he would often stand on the side among the extras, chat amiably: just small talk. He usually had [fewer] lines to deliver, so I would think that made it easier to be relaxed; plus he had the most experience.

Also, all three actors were simply damn good actors that made everything very believable.


From the parts that I observed it was always Oliver and Michael doing everything without stuntmen. When there was a group of riders I believe some of those others were stuntmen. Oliver and Michael were always doing their own riding from the parts I could observe. They both were very good at it.

I don't recall any stunt people standing in for either of them. For that matter, extras would get an extra £2 for the day if they were involved in something like that. I remember once Blessed had to rampage through the village knocking people out of his way, the director picked me to be thrown by him over his shoulder, and that take was done at least five or six times.

Getting to know Michael

Having already worked in TV in NY before I left, I already knew to never bother the actors; they need their space to think about their lines, get into the character, etc. Always wait until spoken to and stay on business unless someone else brings up another topic.

But somehow, Michael Gothard began talking with me, and found out I had just been travelling about Europe, much as he did some years earlier. During that period, we hit the pubs a few times.”

While I was in England I did not have a TV since I was just hitch-hiking around Europe. I only saw one broadcast episode while I was there. Michael Gothard had invited me to go see some of the dailies but I didn’t go, in the little free time I had. Some Bristol people I met were trying to set up a small art and theatre venue and I promised I would help with that.

One Sunday [Michael] came with me and some of my new Bristol friends to show him [the] project … an arts center for young people in one of the old warehouse sheds on the city centre; he too, earlier in his career, tried starting a theatrical group.

On Michael and his girlfriend

In “Some Saxon Women” I am in quite a few shots, but more interestingly there are good shots of the young woman that Michael was seeing ... at the scene starting at 7:00 where the two men look over the Saxon women that are chained up.

The shot where the two men stop and shake hands “to make the deal” was Michael’s girlfriend ...

For the life of me I cannot remember her name. I believe it was short, perhaps Ula? I should because she was also an extra and we sat around and talked quite a bit, she was very nice.

I found her a room at the place I was staying at 10 Watley Road in Bristol. She was from Germany, and she had a sweet little daughter who was about four or five at the time. She was even part of a small group of us who took a trip to Plymouth for a few days, so I feel terrible that I cannot remember her name properly.

She was very intelligent, and very much a free spirit. In that sense, she was very much a child of the times, for that matter so was I, and I do believe Michael was also.

In another forum Gerry wrote of the German girl:

I found a place for her and her child at the same house I was staying at, so [Michael] would come over to visit. I found him to be a very kind and thoughtful person … even in those good times you could see that life sat hard on him.

And in another:

I lived in Clifton, up from the City Center off of White Ladies Road. [Michael] lived somewhere downtown but I don't know the address. His girlfriend lived in the same house as me until I moved to a bigger flat a few blocks away.

I remember they broke up near the end of the series ...

On Michael

It was a time of discovery for people willing to travel to really delve into a culture and take risks. I think "La Vallee" expresses that for Michael, and he liked that film very much.

As an example of this, Michael was different than, let’s say, Oliver Tobias or Brian Blessed. One small example would be that the latter two would never talk with extras …

Blessed was even upset whenever Michael would give me a ride back to town in the car that the main actors were in.* Oliver spent all his free time with his girlfriend who hung around the set, I believe her last name was Guinness (people said she was a Guinness heir, I don't know but she seemed to be well off).

Michael was the only one who would talk to the "lower classes." And he would do that, with wonderful style, for example totally ignoring the stares that Blessed would make when we were in the car.

I think that as an actor, Michael wanted to be the best he could, but he wasn't going to lose his soul doing it. In fact quite the opposite, he wanted to be as true to his spirit as he could.

And he was good. I noticed that whenever he was in a scene that was being shot the energy on the set went up, I think he was the sort of actor who made everyone rise up without their even realizing it.

I don't want to take anything away from Oliver Tobias, he was perfect for the role of Arthur, and he did a great job. It's just that Michael had much more depth and latitude than Oliver Tobias or Brian Blessed, in my opinion.

And elsewhere:

Beyond that, he was a very decent man. As an example, he often made sure I was able to catch a ride back into town after the days filming with him and the other stars.

The only one who seemed irritated that a lowly extra was in the car was the actor Brian Blessed, but Michael didn't care, he treated everyone with decency and respect.

When he found out that my career path was TV/film production he made sure I was invited to the daily screenings, and we went to pubs together … But I made sure I never used his humanity and kindness to ask for work or anything like that.

During my time of knowing Michael during the filming of ‘Arthur of the Britons’ he was fully alive and happy while working. But on off hours when he had time to think of other things he was a bit depressed, but I would say melancholy may be more apt. My meaning of melancholy for him was a feeling of thoughtful sadness.

My belief is that due to his being a sensitive person and artist, he felt the pain of life constantly, except for when he was physically and mentally active. "Down time" for him must have been very hard. Perhaps that became too much for him when he was getting less work later in his life. It is a very sad event every time the world loses a kind, thoughtful, and talented person like he was.

And elsewhere:

I found him to be a very kind and thoughtful person, even in those good times you could see that life sat hard on him. It was terrible to hear that he took his own life. Life does often rest very hard on creative, sensitive people.

Even though I only knew him for that short time, when I heard that terrible news, my emotional mind had a crazy thought that if somehow I could have given him some encouraging word back then, that would have helped him through such a dark moment. But my rational mind knew that some things cannot be altered and we have to accept that sometimes a person’s inner pain is so great that we are powerless to help. We have to simply let them go and hope that they are now in a better place.

Asked whether Michael was a hippy, Gerry replied:

No, he was not. He did have the "zeit-geist" of the late 60's - early 70s. A time when many things seemed in flux and therefore many things were possible. And a need to fill a life with meaning, and to treat the life of others with fairness and respect.

Asked whether Michael’s convincing fight scenes were an indication that he would be equally competent in a fight off-screen, Gerry replied:

He was a very good actor. … I am sure he could have handled himself, but I never thought of him as one who would be in a scrape very much. He really was a very thoughtful and kind person. However my impression is that if his principles were at stake he would hold his ground and not let other people run him over.

In conclusion

When I put the first DVD episode on I was very happy to see that it really was a great show. It was also sad to think that Michael Gothard left this life far too soon …

It is amazing how popular and long lasting ‘Arthur of the Britons’ has been. Many of the Brits and Aussies that I have known here in the US remember the show very fondly and vividly. It is an incredible testament to the actors, writers, producers, etc.

* with regard to Brian Blessed:

I (Joya) met Brian Blessed on 23/10/2011, talked to him about 'Arthur of the Britons', and showed him some pictures of us dedicating a tree to Michael.

Brian hadn't been aware that Michael had died: hardly surprising he missed the news, given how little coverage it got at the time. I told Brian that Michael had killed himself in 1992. He became serious, and said that he was sorry, and that Michael had been depressed when he knew him, and that Michael had confided in him over some of his problems.

It seems possible that, as Brian already knew Michael, and seems to have considered him a friend, his disapproval of the extras getting a ride in the stars’ car may have been due to the suspicion that these extras were just taking advantage of Michael.

When I suggested this to Gerry, he agreed that it was possible.


Link | Leave a comment |

Comments {0}