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14 December 1967: recording "The Storyteller."

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 03:50 pm

The information below is based on a viewing of the shooting script at the BFI’s Reuben Library, where it can be seen by appointment.

“The Storyteller” was broadcast on 3 March 1969, as part of the Armchair Theatre series, Season 9, Episode 9.

Specially written by William Corlett, the title of the shooting script is “The Story.” Presumably Michael Gothard’s role as Brian was considered sufficiently important to make the change before it was broadcast.

Camera rehearsals were scheduled for 13 and 14 December 1967, and on the second day, filming also took place.

The main characters were a young man who has gate-crashed a party, Brian (played by Michael Gothard), and two of the invited guests, a young pregnant woman, Jan (Frances White), and her husband Derek (James Villiers). Also featured are the hostess of the party, Greta (Phyllida Law), and her friends Hugh (John Line), and Patsy (Cyd Hayman). Jan’s mother (Anna Wing) and father (George Moon) appear in separate scenes, scattered throughout the main action.

The play is fairly typical of the 1960s, and addresses questions such as, “what’s the point of it all?” and “What do I teach my children?” Michael Gothard’s role seems like a toned-down version of Max at the beginning of “Herostratus”, where he sets out to challenge and provoke Clio and Farson.

Synopsis

The play begins with a voice-over by Brian, telling the story of how Man approached the Holy Mountain, and asked the gods for his promised immortality; the gods were afraid, and sent Man away forever.

There follows a scene at Greta’s party, where Brian asks Jan to dance; she says she can’t dance due to her pregnancy, and suggests he try his luck with some of the other women there. But Brian calls the other party guests “ghosts.” He wonders whether Jan is annoyed with her husband, Derek, for enjoying the party. She says she isn’t, but admits that it is a trying time. Brian says he has a story to tell her.

Next we see Jan’s parents, who come to the conclusion that Jan “could have done a lot worse” than Derek.

Then there is a scene in the pub, where Jan’s father asks Derek whether Jan is okay. Derek is evasive, and says there are “some things you just have to live with.” This doesn’t sound very encouraging, but Jan’s father tells her mother that Jan is fine.

Back at the party, Jan and Brian are in the kitchen. Jan asks to hear the story; she intends to tell it to her children if it’s any good. Brian comments on the fact that she speaks as if she were 20 years older, and asks whether she is living “happily ever after.”

Once again, Jan invites him to go and find another girl to talk to; she moves to the sitting room, to avoid further unsettling conversation, but Brian follows, bringing her a drink.

Jan asks why he keeps bothering her. He says he likes talking to her, though in fact, all he’s doing is asking questions that she finds difficult to address. She calls him tiresome, tells him to find someone else to torment, and knocks a glass out of his hand. Then she calls herself “perfectly ordinary”, describes her normal life in a way that makes it sound utterly tedious, and ends with the admission, “I’m frightened.”

Brian knows what she means; he says that she is “starting to climb the mountain.”

The two of them have attracted the attention of the hostess, Greta, who comes over and asks Brian who he came with. He says “friends.” Greta comments on his brusque answer, and tells him not to break glasses.

When she has gone, Jan asks which friends he came with; he admits that he didn’t come with anyone else. She asks if he is a gate-crasher. He asks whose side she is on. “Are there sides?” she asks. He responds “Oh yes.”

Greta asks some of the other guests whether any of them knows Brian. When she finds out that they don’t, she advises Derek to stop flirting with her, and look after his wife, who is with another man.

We then see Jan’s parents again; they realise they don’t really know Derek, and that Jan has changed. Her mother feels that something is wrong.

In conversation with her mother, Jan admits that her mind is a jumble. Her mother says they didn’t worry so much about their minds in her day. Jan is wondering what right she, or anyone else, has to bring a child into the world, and teach it what to do, “when most of us are lost and confused.”

Her mother says that young people these days have got it good, and that she doesn’t need to teach the child – it will pick things up, but Jan just wishes she wasn’t having it.

Her mother thinks young people are selfish, and calls them “beatnik maniacs”; Jan finds this funny, and they make up their quarrel.

Back at the party, Jan admits to Brian that she’s afraid she isn’t up to the responsibility of looking after a child. “Was your mum?” he asks. She says “but there’s wildness now”; Brian thinks wildness “shows we’re alive”, and that trying to find things out is better than just accepting handed-down wisdom.

Jan is worried about what moral code to teach the child; she is scared. Brian then takes her hand and says the gods are to blame.

Then Jan’s husband Derek appears, wanting to know what’s going on, and who is holding his wife’s hand. When Brian provokes him, asking if he had a good dance, Derek threatens to “squash” him. Brian tells Derek that Jan is frightened.

The party hostess, Greta, comes to break up the quarrel, gets Brian to admit he wasn’t invited, and asks him to leave. Brian suggests that Derek is frightened too, and Derek snaps, pushing him down the stairs. Brain gets up slowly, looking at Jan, then continues his story about the gods sending men away, adding that they couldn’t destroy man’s godhead, so they hid it where he would never look for it.

Derek goes down the steps and punches Brian. Jan shouts “No!” Then there is a commercial break.

~~

The second part opens with a conversation between Jan’s mother and father. Her mother has been thinking about what Jan says – that they weren’t really living. She says they’re not filling in time, they’re spending it, and she doesn’t know where Jan gets these funny ideas.

Then we see Brian lying on a bed, out cold. Derek asks Jan why she is frightened. She says she doesn’t seem to know anything any more – or anyone.

Later, while Brian is still unconscious, Jan calls him a “poor kid”, but Greta thinks he’s a menace, and says that Jan can look after him if she understands him.

When Brian comes to, and starts to rise, Jan tells him not to move yet; Derek asks if he’s alright, and apologises for hitting him.

Brian says he expected it. Derek tells him he shouldn’t gate-crash, and offers to pay for a taxi home for him. Brian asks if that will make him feel better. Derek then rants about how England’s full of cocky, cheeky young men, just out for a good time, and that he wouldn’t want Brian as a friend. Brian says that’s a shame, because he likes Derek; at least he’s not a ghost like the rest of them.

Derek threatens to call the police if he doesn’t leave. Brian says “In a minute”, and combs his hair. Greta is in favour of calling the police.

Jan then makes a speech about how they are all ghosts; they don’t like things they can’t explain, so they send for the police to take it away. But how are they to explain things to their children? She tells Brian they won’t notice when he’s gone, and man could never be a god, because “we wouldn’t even climb the Holy Mountain.”

Brian says that man did climb it, but that they hid his immortality cleverly.

Derek is fed up with him, and asks whether they should bow and scrape every time a long-haired maniac walks into the room.

But Brian finishes the story; the oldest and wisest of the gods hid man’s Godhead inside man himself. “You see, he was giving us a chance.”

The police arrive. Derek asks Brian why he came; Brian simply says he wanted company.

After Brian is taken away, Derek tells Jan there’s nothing to be afraid of. Greta says Brian was “a dreary little boy” but “rather dishy”, and wonders why he came.

Later, Jan and Derek discuss whether they have a godhead inside them, and whether it makes any difference. Jan says if they could find it, things might be different. Derek thinks they’re alright most of the time. But it seems they intend to tell Brian’s story to their child.

The play ends with a voice-over from Brian. The oldest of the gods told man to stop running round in circles and be still. “Your Godhead is calling to you. It wishes to return. Be still, and listen. And then start searching.”

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