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29 August 2010: Dedicating a tree to Michael Gothard

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Aug. 29th, 2010 | 10:34 pm

This is an account of the visit to Woodchester National Trust Park, where the early episodes of “Arthur of the Britons” were filmed in Summer 1972.

The event was organised by a fan of Oliver Tobias, Wendy Van Der Veen and this visit took place on Sunday 29 August. It was attended by Oliver Tobias, his brother Benedict Freitag, and a small group of fans of “Arthur of the Britons.”

We wanted to see where Arthur’s village had been sited, and to dedicate a tree to the late Michael Gothard, who starred as Kai in the series, alongside Oliver.

This was a ‘stunt’ tree, because the event had been arranged without regard for the planting season! A new tree was to be planted on a future visit, to stand there for Michael for many years to come.

In preparation, we had a tree stake cast to commemorate Michael; the wording had been decided after a discussion among fans. It reads:

In memory of
Michael Gothard
1939 - 1992
A warrior among warriors
Kai in "Arthur of the Britons"

The phrase “A warrior among warriors” is part of a quotation from the episode, “In Common Cause,” in which Kai suffers great hardship for the good of Arthur and his people.

Right from the start, as we walked down a long track towards Woodchester Mansion, we felt a sense of excitement and awe just walking through the woods where the series was filmed. It was really beautiful, and it was even more exciting when we got our first glimpse of one of the lakes.



When we arrived at the Mansion, we wondered which of the very fine trees nearby had been chosen to dedicate to Michael.

We walked down to the bottom of the last lake, where Arthur’s village was built, and meet up with Oliver, Benedict and Wendy.

The walk was about two miles, and it was quite muddy in places, and a bit tricky in places, especially for Marianne, who has Parkinson’s disease. But she was absolutely determined, and had just one short rest.

Fans shelter from the rain at Woodchester

Also, it started to rain quite heavily, and eventually we took shelter under a tree. After a bit more walking, we arrived at the end of the lake, where we found Oliver among the vegetation near the water, looking for remnants of Arthur’s encampment.

He’d found some posts that he thought might have supported huts, but were probably for the two jetties.

I’m not sure that the water level would have been as high at the time the filming was done, and the whole area where the encampment would have been – apart from the path – is now covered in mature trees, but you can still see the resemblance to things in the show.

Woodchester 29/08/10

Woodchester 29/08/10

Oliver pointed out where they used to gallop their horses into the village, where the huts were, where his, Michael’s, and the Jack Watson’s caravans were sited.

We had been going to have a ceremony of floating paper longboats on the lake, with something in them, but there didn’t seem to be much of a current, and Monica and I were the only ones who had brought a boat. Nevertheless, Oliver encouraged us to go ahead, so we went down to the water’s edge, and set our boats away.

Monica put the chain from an axe pendant in her boat. I put one of a pair of silver earrings in my boat. The pair consisted of a Greek comedy and tragedy mask, and I decided to keep the smiling face and send the sad face to the bottom of the lake, wishing Michael’s sadness away with it.

After that, we made our way back to the mansion. We found the tree we were going to dedicate to Michael Gothard, which was a huge Wellingtonia (Giant Sequoia).

Tree dedicated to Michael Gothard

So, we stood near the tree, and then there was some discussion of the order of business. Wendy had something to say, and so did Oliver, but I was elected to go before him.

I tried to persuade him to go first – “You knew him, mate!” (I called Oliver Tobias, “mate”!) – but he wanted me to go first, to see what I’d say, and then add his own contribution.

I had written my little speech down this morning, and had been going over it all day, and I was glad I had written it out in advance, because otherwise I would have umm-ed and ahh-ed. Linda held my paper for me. I was holding the stake.

Wendy introduced me as “A big fan of Michael Gothard,” which was a little daunting; I never contacted him in real life or followed his career until it was too late, so if I am a big fan, it seems a pretty sorry state of affairs, but it was an honour, so I took it gratefully. What I came up with was along these lines;

“I hardly need to say what a talented actor Michael was, and from what people had said, he was a kind and sensitive man, on whom the weight of the world sat too heavily. I guess in the end, that weight just became too much for him. I didn’t hear about what happened until years after he had left us, but when I did, it left a hole in my heart, and I know others here feel the same way. So we have come here to remember him, and mark his passing with a drink. Michael, we love and miss you, and wish you could have stayed.”

I gave Oliver the stake, and Oliver then said a few words, but I don’t remember much of it. “He was a sensitive man – perhaps too sensitive” was one thing. He 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 he drove the stake into the ground with considerable force. I felt that, like us, he had been looking for closure, and that this little ceremony had helped him find it.

AotB event 2010: Oliver Tobias with plaque

We each took a drink of mead from the magnificent drinking horn one of our number had brought along, then Oliver hugged each of us.

AotB event 2010: Plaque

Benedict squatted down by the tree and did a little Cheyenne ceremony with dirt from around the tree, and tobacco; I think he was casting it to the four winds or something like that.

Woodchester 29/08/10

Back at the hotel, as some of us sat outside with Benedict, I asked him about the Native American thing he did. He said he talks to all the people of the world (I got the impression that he meant animals as well) and that tobacco is a sacred plant. I think he said that he and Oliver have some family connections on an Indian reservation.

Then I asked if he’d known Michael. He said that he’d met him once, before “Arthur of the Britons.” I asked if Oliver knew anything about his death – if he went to the funeral – and Benedict said no, he was out of the country.

I then suggested my theory that Michael might have been on Prozac, and that might have tipped him over from depression into suicide. Benedict seemed very interested in this idea. He 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.”

After that, we talked for a while about depression. Benedict has suffered from it in the past. He says sometimes even the weather being fine can make it worse, because you are not feeling happy.

After a while, Oliver came out, and he and Benedict got his bike going – with less difficulty than this morning - and off they went.

The last thing Oliver said to me was: "Don't be too sad."

They were kind words; I'm sure we all wished that we'd had the chance to say them to Michael.

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