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Arthur of the Britons: memories from Oliver Tobias

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Dec. 6th, 1972 | 07:00 pm

At a fan meeting in August 2010, Oliver Tobias spoke about the filming of “Arthur of the Britons.”

“Out of the blue, a memory which I had closed away … it’s quite emotional …”

When asked about the casting, he said that his and Michael Gothard’s audition consisted of them, and 4 horses – they had to ride various horses to the top of the hill and back together a number of times. Obviously the chemistry between them was an important factor, as well as horsemanship.

“They cast us for who we were at the time. We were allowed complete freedom as … how we were.”

He said that they improvised a lot of the action, and they weren’t given any direction on how to deliver any of their lines.

He remembered filming as having taken a year, though in reality it must have been closer to eight months. “We [Oliver Tobias, Michael Gothard and Jack Watson] more or less lived on set.”

During ‘The Challenge’, the third-filmed episode, in which Arthur (Oliver Tobias) and Kai (Michael Gothard) spend at least half of the episode fighting each other, they worked with Bristol’s champion javelin thrower on the spear-throwing scene.

Oliver thought he was young and athletic enough to jump out of the way in time, but he didn’t make it. The spear glanced off the inside of his shield instead of the outside, and hit him on the back of the head. “When it hit me it was like a ship running aground.”

He remembers looking around, and seeing Michael. Later he said Michael held his head in his lap. “Christ I’m lucky to be here – I nearly died during filming …”

He is said to have thought of Michael like a brother. He and Michael used to play tricks on each other, and to try and pile up mounds of earth to stand on, so they would be taller than the other. Oliver said that the stories were so harsh, they needed an outlet. The series was “like a war zone.”

However, he also said that of all his roles, he identifies most with Arthur.

When dedicating a tree to Michael Gothard, Oliver said: “He was a sensitive man – perhaps too sensitive,” and spoke of remembering Michael holding his head on his lap when the spear had hit him, and he nearly died. He also mentioned Jack Watson. He said he felt privileged to be the one left alive. Then, clearly affected, he drove the commemorative stake into the ground with considerable force.

Oliver’s brother, Benedict, who had once met Michael, (before ‘Arthur of the Britons’) and performed a Cheyenne ceremony at the site, said that Michael didn’t have the filters you need, to stop yourself feeling all the suffering going on in the world – “otherwise you give yourself the bullet.”

Though Oliver had gradually lost touch with Michael Gothard after filming the series, it seems likely that Michael’s death was the reason he had closed away the memory of ‘Arthur of the Britons.’

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