Young Snotty on Christmas TV, and Baldrick with Nothing On

Part 14

Young Snotty on Christmas TV, and Baldrick with Nothing On

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

It was June, 1982. I arrived at BBC TV Centre with my parents. Entering this huge building full of studios for the first time was fantastic.
It was Wardrobe Department first, then came the Makeup. Once these were done, Alan Eriera showed me around the set.
There was the Farmer’s House set for Jonathan Adams’ scenes, the small house set where my character lived and where Cy Town would do his death scene, a field set complete with Blue Screen background, and the important Church set.
The Church set was mostly a built set, but the large pillars for it were painted on a sheet of glass placed in front of the camera. This was the exact same technique my father and I had witnessed when we watched the filming of Penmarric in Pendeen years earlier. That time a mansion was made to appear on the cliffs near Geevor Mine.

Above, the cover of one of the Penmarric books by Susan Howatch.

I had to practice walking in the Church set so as not to walk through pillars that weren’t really there. This was a little tricky at first, but it didn’t take long to work out where I could and couldn’t walk.
As well as the cast of The Church and the Village there was also a presenter who would introduce the topic of 1600s England, set the scene and then explain what had happened afterwards. The presenter in this episode was Lorain Bertorelli. She has worked on quite a few productions, but in 1982 the only thing she had done that I knew was as the voice of some of the characters in ATV’s childrens’ puppet series Pipkins, which ran from 1973 to 1981.

Above, actress Lorain Bertorelli.

I didn’t want my parents on set watching me act, but they watched everything from the control room on screens. I think they found it hard not to laugh during Cy Town’s death scene with me, the young actress playing my sister and the actress playing our mother kneeling at his bedside while he groans and moans. Repeatedly from the control room Alan kept sending messages to the studio floor assistants to tell Cy to ‘Die quieter’.

This death scene was important. It made my character the head of the household. It would lead him to try and steal the silver from the Church, but he is then stopped by the vicar before he can get away. The vicar decides to let the gentleman farmer played by Jonathan Adams decide my character’s fate.

By the end of the episode the farmer has taken my character in, given him work and set about giving him a Puritan upbringing.

At lunchtime I had my first of many visits over the years to the BBC Canteen. My parents and I sat with Alan Eriera. There were three memorable things that happened on that first canteen visit. The first was that as it was hot, the windows were open. This enabled pigeons to fly in and start eating any food left on tables where the diners had left. This I liked to see. The second was Alan pointing out of the window towards the Blue Peter Garden. This I had seen many times on the childrens’ TV series, and I was very pleased to see it from above like this.
The third memorable thing was that my parents and I recognized one of the people sitting at the next table. We couldn’t work out who he was and so asked Alan.
‘Oh’, he replied ‘they are filming a new comedy series called Only Fools and Horses’.
We then realised it was David Jason. I can’t remember who he was with, but most likely other cast members of the series.

Above, David Jason with Nicholas Lyndhurst and Lennard Pearce from Only Fools and Horses.

The second day of filming went well, but all too quickly. As a child actor I had to take breaks. I didn’t want to so the floor assistants had to make me. At certain times I would be escorted off set and made to sit in the Green Room. They knew I didn’t like this as I just wanted to get on with filming. To try and entertain me the assistants would tell me some BBC secrets. One of the things I remember being told was that the Saturday morning childrens’ favourite The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop hosted by Noel Edmonds was not going to be made any more. This surprised 12 year old me as it was something that I watched.
When it came to doing the scene in the field which was actually just me in front of a Blue Screen, it was unscripted. I was supposed to be scaring away crows. Alan just said ‘Shout the same things you would when scaring crows in Cornwall’.
I explained that crow scaring was not a usual thing I participated in, but that I could make something up.
The scene was strange for me to do. An outdoor scene which was really in a studio, and standing in front of a screen that to me was blank but the camera saw as being a field. We filmed it alright, but it was cut from the episode anyway.
When filming was finished, I had my first visit to the BBC Club. Alan signed everyone in. It was here I tasted my first champagne. It was only a couple of sips, I was only 12.
That was it. The end of another production. A couple of days later it was back to Cornwall, back to Grandma’s Tea Shop, and back to Cape Cornwall School. I didn’t know then that soon I would be spending a lot more time in London.

I’ll let you know how and why in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

It was a month or two after Blackadder had first been aired in 1987. A few weeks before starting Christmas is Coming for Yorkshire TV, I noticed a well known face at the Palace Theatre. He was standing at the rear of the Dress Circle with a couple of other people. As they watched the performance of Les Miserables, he was pointing out things on stage and whispering to the others.
After a few minutes of observing him in the dark of the auditorium, I realised it was actor Alun Armstrong who had been in the original cast of the show a few years earlier.
When I arrived at the west London rehearsal rooms on the first day, I met the rest of the cast. Amongst them was Alun Armstrong who was to play my father. Little did I know when seeing him a few weeks earlier at the Palace, I would be working with him and playing his son.

Above, actor Alun Armstrong.

It was a great cast. As well as Alun, it included Lisa York who I had worked with in Grange Hill a couple of years earlier, and who was now playing my sister.

Above, Lisa York in Grange Hill.

Our mother was played by Gwen Taylor from the Yorkshire TV sitcom Duty Free, while our grandparents were played by Kenneth Waller from the BBC sitcom Bread and veteran actress Liz Smith. I would come across Liz again years later. She was always entertaining to talk to.

Above, actress Liz Smith.

There were others too. Joanna Van Gyseghem who was also from Duty Free had a part, as did David Kelly who had appeared in many things including Fawlty Towers and Robin’s Nest. Comedian Songwriter Richard Digance provided comedic songs while veteran singer Vince Hill gave renditions of well known Christmas Carols.
Richard Wilson who would go on to do the sitcom One Foot in the Grave was also in it but due to other commitments we did not meet him until filming in Leeds.
We did the first read-through. All seemed to go well. However, the producer approached me and Lisa afterwards and said it had been decided that as the rest of the cast were from northern England that we too should have Yorkshire accents. Neither of us had played northerners before, but with a little coaching from one of the crew we soon learnt to pass ourselves off as residents of Yorkshire, just about.
The few days rehearsals went well. As I am sure most can imagine, with such a cast as we had, it was a lot of fun and laughter.
One of the days it turned out that Keith Barron who was also from Duty Free was rehearsing another production on the floor above ours. When Gwen and Joanna went up to say hello, I went too for a chance to meet him. It was brief as he was busy, but he was very nice.

Above, Keith Barron, Gwen Taylor, Joanna Van Gyseghem and Neil Stacy in Duty Free.

There then followed a couple of days off. Next it would be up to Leeds for a few days filming. I’ll let you know how it went, but first – skipping forward a few months – I think I should relate my next Blackadder encounter, which was with Tony Robinson.
Tony had been part of Channel 4’s sketch show Who Dares Wins. The final series was coming to an end, and the cast were touring with a live show. They came to do a show in Croydon which was near where we lived so I decided to buy a ticket and send a card to Tony at the stage door saying I will try and see him after the show.
When I bought the front row ticket, the box office person said ‘Front row for Who Dares Wins? You feeling brave?’.
I had no understanding of what they meant, but I was soon to learn.
I arrived for the show in good time, and found my seat. After a while I became aware of a girl a few seats away staring at me. Eventually I stared back. She waved. I looked around. She couldn’t be waving at me! Could she?
I looked at her puzzled. She got up and came over. It was then I realised she was another client of Sylvia Young. She was in the agency but hadn’t attended the stage school which was why I hadn’t recognized her at first. It turned out she was a huge Who Dare Wins fan, she was known to the cast and she too was going to see Tony afterwards. This was good, as I wouldn’t have to go backstage and wait alone.

Above, Tony Robinson, Julia Hills, Jimmy Mulville, Philip Pope and Rory McGrath in Who Dares Wins.

The first half of the show was great. Interval was a drink in the bar then back to my front row seat for the second half. This too was great. There was however a slightly shocking part.
One of the sketches called for Tony – who had supposedly had his costume misplaced by another cast member – to walk on stage entirely naked. He covered his private parts with his hands.
While shouting for the other cast members who all suddenly seemed to be absent, he made his way towards the front row. This had been what the ticket office person meant.
He climbed up onto the seat of a woman a few seats away from me, I think next to the seat of the girl I knew.
Tony shouted for the others. There was no reply. Tony lifted his hands to his mouth to maximize the volume and shouted again. This meant there was nothing covering his private parts, which were now dangling a few inches away from the seated woman’s face. Shocking, yes, funny, yes, but I was pleased when this particular sketch came to an end.
After the show I went backstage with the girl from Sylvia Young’s Agency. He was expecting me – and they were all expecting the girl – and we spoke for a few minutes. Thankfully he was now wearing clothes.
There was no after show party like Ben had but it was great to see him. He was just as funny and nice as when we had been filming. It would be a few years before I saw him again.

I’ll let you know how the filming for Yorkshire TV went, and which Blackadder encounter was next in the next blog.

The History Part

As all familiar with Blackadder 2 will know, Lord Percy’s new stylish neck ruff does not get the desired reaction when seen for the first time by Lord Blackadder.
Percy, sure he is attired in the height of fashion, is compared by Blackadder to a ‘bird who’s swallowed a plate’.

Above, Tim McInnerny as ruff-wearing Lord Percy in Blackadder 2.

Ruffs had been fashionable since the reign of Henry VIII, but during Queenie’s reign, the discovery of starch meant they could become bigger, more elaborate and still keep their shape.
These starches could also colour the white Ruffs a slight red or blue. However, Queen Elizabeth forbade any of her subjects to colour their Ruffs blue as this was the colour of the Scottish flag.

Above, Elizabeth I in ruff.

As codpieces were the height of mens’ fashion during Henry’s reign, Ruffs became so for both men and women during Elizabeth’s.
They were separate from other garments and could be laundered separately, meaning they would catch food and drink, stopping it from falling onto your other clothes.

Above, an illustration by Percy Anderson showing different styles of womens’ Elizabethan Ruffs, from Costume Fanciful, Historical and Theatrical, 1906.

Size was important. The larger and more elaborate the ruff, the more wealthy and important you appeared. Some men’s Ruffs were so large that starch was not enough to keep their shape, and a wire frame had to be used as well.
By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the fashion for large Ruffs had ended, and eventually they were replaced by more ordinary collars. However, we can still witness the impression that the ‘plate swallowing bird’ neckwear must have had, through the many portraits of Elizabethan life that still survive today.

Above, portrait of an Elizabethan man in large ruff.

Perhaps, Lord Percy really was wearing the height of fashion!

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this fantastic Blackadder fan group!

Then give the also fantastic King of Blackadder on Twitter a follow!

For more on Elizabethan Ruffs

For more on Only Fools and Horses

For more on Pipkins

For more on the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop

For more on Robbin’s Nest

For more on Duty Free

For more on One Foot in the Grave

For more on Bread

For more on Who Dares Wins

Young Snotty on TV and backstage with Ben

Part 13

Young Snotty on TV and backstage with Ben

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

It was June 1982. We had another flat in London for the two weeks needed to complete the rehearsing and recording of BBC’s The Church and the Village, part of the series for schools History Trail.
This time we had a basement flat. I liked looking up out of the window and seeing the different shoes of people as they walked by.
The rehearsals weren’t in the BBC Rehearsal Rooms, but in a sort of hall in Kensington. On the first day, my parents dropped me off and then went shopping. It was alright as a chaperone was about to arrive with the girl playing my sister. Both the young actress and the chaperone were from Redroofs Drama School which was just outside London.
I remember the name for two reasons. The first is that Redroofs sounds a lot like Redruth which is the Cornish town where I was born. The second reason is that when I was auditioning for The Shadow Cage a year earlier it was Redroofs’ children who were turned away by Thames TV for being late.
The actor playing my father was Cy Town. He hardly ever had any lines but was in a lot of things. He was in some episodes of Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army and Blake’s 7, but is known most for spending a lot of the late 70s and early 80s as a Dalek in Dr Who. In this production he had no lines but had an important death scene.

Above, actor Cy Town in the 1980s.

Another member of the cast was actor Jonathan Adams. He too appeared in many productions, including an episode of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett. Johnathon was great fun and made me laugh a lot!

Above, the late actor Jonathan Adams.

Soon the young actress and the chaperone arrived from Redroofs. The chaperone was a young woman of about 20. She kept looking at me during the read-through of the script and whispering to the young actress.
After the read-through there was a break, and the young woman approached me.
‘ Your name is Simon?’ she asked
‘Yes’ I answered
‘Simon Osborne?’ she asked
‘Yes’ I answered
‘Are you from Redruth?’ she asked
‘Yes’ I answered, and she smiled.
‘I think,’ she said ‘Your parents and my parents are friends’.
When my parents came back to take me out to lunch this was confirmed. It turned out that they had known this young woman’s parents before we moved from Redruth to Pendeen. They knew she had moved to London for some sort of theatre career but had no idea what she was doing or where. We all went out to lunch together. Burgers, I think.
The next day was more of the same. The lunchtime was partly spent in a small Kensington toy shop. I didn’t get any Star Wars figures but did buy some figures from the Belgian Cartoon ‘Lucky Luke’. I still have them somewhere.
On the last day of rehearsal we headed back towards the toy shop during lunch. Coming in the other direction we could see a familiar figure walking towards us.
My parents said hello, and he returned the hello and smiled. Once I had got over who it was we were talking to, I said hello as well. He looked down at me, smiled and said hello back. Then he went his way and we went ours. It was Benny Hill.

Above, the late comedian Benny Hill.

The rehearsals were now finished. We had a couple of days off before filming in the studio. The first day off was my 12th birthday, and the director Alan Eriera invited us to his house for the day.
I remember I spent most of the day playing with his daughter on their BBC computer. We had to stop to watch – what was one of my favourite TV series at the time – The Dukes of Hazzard. It was this moment that I chose to tell Alan that despite what I had said in the audition, I had never actually filmed in a studio.
Alan laughed. I was very pleased to see he found it funny and was in no way concerned.
The other day off I think we went to Selfridges. I was very impressed with the Eriera’s computer and wanted one of the early video games that you plugged in to the back of the TV.
We were approached by a middle aged woman salesperson. She seemed very theatrical, and to 12 year old me, somehow too glamorous to be working in a store, even if it was Selfridges.
We chose a mid range plug in game that had several options, including target shooting with the gun that was included with it.
It worked off mains or batteries, but the mains adapter wasn’t included.
Before paying, my father said ‘Are you an actress by any chance?’
‘Yes, I am’ answered the glamorous woman ‘I work here between acting roles’.
‘I could tell,’ replied my father ‘You have something show business about you’.
She seemed very pleased. My father explained that I was a young actor just starting out, and that’s why we were in London.
This she seemed pleased to hear. We ended up with the necessary mains adapter, but we didn’t have to pay.
That evening we saw the musical Annie for the second time. It would not be the last. The next day was the first day of filming, and my first time in the Concrete Donut.

I’ll let you know how that went in the next blog

The Behind the Scenes Part

It was the 17th of September 1987 that the first episode of the 3rd series of Blackadder was to be aired. This I learnt from the Radio Times which had a picture of me and Rowan in it. This was also where I found out that my episode had changed its title and been moved from episode 3 to episode 1.
I was working at the Palace Theatre that night. This was fine with me as my parents could video tape the episode and I could watch it on my own to make sure it was alright before I watched it with anyone else.
I waited until the time it was due to finish, then found a payphone outside the theatre to phone my parents. First I wanted to check it had been on, then that it was alright, and that my parts were alright. I was assured it was all very good.

Me and Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder 3, in the Radio Times, 1987.

There had been a girl from Australia staying with us between moving out of her rented flat and moving into a new one. She was called Susan. She used to work at the Palace but was now working at another theatre while trying to find acting work. She had nowhere to stay for a couple of weeks so she had been sleeping in our living room. My parents didn’t mind. This night though she would be in her new flat, and I would be able to watch myself on TV alone.
The performance of Les Miserables was about to finish, soon the theatre would be closed and I would be heading home. I was standing in the foyer. In walked Susan. Her move was delayed until the following day. Could she stay one more night with us? I could do nothing other than to say yes.
So, we travelled back on the train home together, and it was with Susan that I watched myself in Blackadder for the first time, not alone. This is how it almost always seemed to work out.
However, she laughed in the right places and loved it. So did I.

From the opening credits of Dish and Dishonesty.

The next night Susan was in her new flat, and I was travelling home on the train alone. It was an old train and had high seats, which meant you couldn’t see the people sitting behind you. You could hear them however.
This night it was two young women discussing the previous night’s TV.
‘Did you see the new Blackadder?’ one asked
‘Yes,’ replied the other ‘Wasn’t it excellent?’.
I was so tempted to pop my head around to where they were sitting and say thank you, but I didn’t.
The next night coming out of the stage door of the palace theatre there were the usual few people waiting for actors’ autographs. I made my way through them.
‘ That’s Pitt the Younger!’ someone suddenly shouted. Everyone turned for my autograph. I had to explain that I wasn’t actually in Les Miserables. They asked me to sign their programmes anyway.

The next Blackadder encounter was a few weeks later. Ben Elton was performing his one man show in Hammersmith. I decided to go. A week or so before the show, I sent a card addressed to Ben at the stage door of the Hammersmith theatre. I told him I would be in the audience and that it would be nice to see him but I will understand if he is too busy.
The night came. The show was great. After the show, even though it was quite late, I made my way around to the stage door to see if there was any chance of catching Ben on his way out.

Above, Ben Elton.

They were used to hosting bands, and the stage door had a hatch in it for the stage doorman to talk through without opening it. I knocked.
‘Yes?’ came the quick reply as the hatch opened.
I explained I knew Ben from Blackadder and would just like to say hello.
My name was asked, then there was a minute or so of silence. The silence ended with the sound of bolts being slid open. As the stage door swung open there stood a huge man. He was some sort of bodyguard. The stage doorman made way for him. He looked down at me, studying me. Then his inquisitive frown turned into a smile.
‘Pitt the Younger!’ the huge man said ‘Ben is expecting you!’.
He slapped a backstage pass sticker on my chest with his enormous hand, then told me to follow him.
As we made our way down the backstage corridor the sound of people talking, drinking, laughing got louder. The bodyguard opened the door at the end of the corridor and I went in.
Inside were Ben, his crew and some other familiar faces. Ben was being bombarded by Ade Edmondson with reasons why his jokes didn’t work. They did work, and Ade knew it. Ben seemed to know not to take this bombardment seriously.

Above, Ade Edmondson as I first remember seeing him on TV, as Vivien in The Young Ones.

Ben spotted me, stopped Ade talking and walked towards me.
‘ Simon, great to see you!’ he said shaking my hand ‘Are you able to stay for a few drinks?’.
I told him yes, then he introduced me to Ade Edmondson and a lot of other people who he worked behind the scenes with. People offered drinks. I accepted. People offered cigarettes. I accepted. I did not, and still do not smoke. I held an unlit cigarette for most of the rest of the time there. No one seemed to notice and I eventually managed to place it down somewhere.
There were lots of drinks, the hours went by. Ade continued to try and annoy Ben, but Ben didn’t seem to care. I think Jennifer Saunders was there but I didn’t get to speak to her. Maybe just as well or I may have let slip that my reaction to Blackcurrant Jelly was based on her.
It was a fun night. Meeting Ben and being so welcomed by everyone was great. Also getting to meet Ade Edmondson who I had watched on The Young Ones a few years earlier, and just before doing Blackadder had watched on Filthy, Rich and Catflap, was fantastic.
Eventually it was time to go. Everyone left, said their goodbyes, and then I checked the time. No tube trains at that hour, so it was a bus to Victoria, a train and then a taxi home. I don’t know what time it was that I got home but it was worth it. I had been treated so well and had such a great time.
A few weeks later I was offered a part in a one off production for Yorkshire TV. They wanted people from sitcoms to play members of a family in a comedic science programme with Dr Miriam Stoppard called Christmas is Coming. There was no need for an audition as they had seen me in Blackadder. All I had to do was say yes, which I did.
The next Blackadder cast member I would meet again would be Tony Robinson. First I had to see him leaping around with nothing on.

I’ll let you know why this was and how working for Yorkshire TV went in the next blog.

The History Part

Those of you familiar with Blackadder 4 will know, World War I wasn’t all fun and games for the troops in the trenches. However, some of the time it was just that. In order to keep up the troops’ spirits, and to take their minds off standing in mud waiting for something horrible to happen, officers devised different games for troops to play. This happened as early as October 1914, only two months or so into the war.

Above, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie in Blackadder 4.

Away from the trenches the games played were what you may expect. However, the officers of those soldiers in the trenches had to be a little more inventive.
The Trench Games included pillow fights, doing drill while blindfolded, wrestling whilst riding a donkey, and even high jumping which took place actually in the trenches. Presumably some of this would have to take place when ‘Jerry’ wasn’t looking.

Above, soldiers wrestling on donkeys, this time it appears away from the trenches.

Sometimes plays would even be performed, with some of the men having to play the women’s roles. This may have suited some soldiers more than others.

Above, Hugh Laurie in Blackadder 4.
What would General Melchett say? He probably would have liked it!

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this fantastic Blackadder fan group!

Then give the also fantastic King of Blackadder on Twitter a follow!

For more on Benny Hill

For more on Jonathan Adams

For more on Ade Edmondson

For more on The Dukes of Hazard

For more on Filthy, Rich and Catflap

For more on The Young Ones

For more on Lucky Luke

For more on Selfridges

Young Snotty returns to the Donut

Part 12

Young Snotty returns to the Donut

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

It was the Spring of 1982. My parents and I traveled to London for the audition at BBC Ealing. We were early, so spent some time looking in a toy shop. I bought a Star Wars figure, I can’t remember which one, but I can remember it was one of the harder ones to find.
I have always loved Star Wars since seeing part of a scene on TV in 1976, the presenter informing the viewers that it was a new film under production at Elstree Studios. I immediately wanted to see it.
My parents, busy in the restaurant, I never got to see the first Star Wars film – now known as A New Hope – in the cinema. I still started buying the figures, and had ships and things at Christmas. I also had a vinyl album called The Story of Star Wars.
This was the first time I would get to know what happened in the film.

Above, the cover of the album The Story of Star Wars, 1977.

In 1980, when the second Star Wars film came out, my Grandmother Ruby arranged for an evening away from the restaurant to take me to Penzance to see it.
We arrived in plenty of time, but there was already a very long line of people waiting. The line moved slowly but steadily. Then it was our turn. We were the first ones to be told ‘Sorry, no tickets left!’.
We went away somewhat disappointed, but my Grandmother took me for a meal in a Chinese restaurant. It was a nice evening anyway.
I never saw The Return of the Jedi in the cinema either, and had to wait for the three original films to be aired on TV before I saw them. I still collected the figures and asked for ships and things for Christmas.
Since The Force Awakens came out in 2015, I have made sure we get to see every Star Wars film in the cinema. I still love Star Wars.

Above, some of my Star Wars collection. These ones are all original 1970s and 1980s, although I do have some from the newer films too.

The audition was with director Alan Ereira. He was quite new to directing but now has directed and produced many productions, as well as being an author and teaching at a university.
It was a private audition, so I didn’t see anyone else going for the same part. It was just me and Alan in a small office for the interview.
I read some of the script, he asked a few questions, and seemed quite pleased. He then asked me about my acting experience. I told him I had only done The Shadow Cage, but that it was the lead part.
‘So you have experience working in a studio?’ he asked
‘Oh, yes!’ I answered, untruthfully as all of The Shadow Cage was shot on location.
‘Great!’ he replied ‘This whole production is to be recorded in a studio’.
This didn’t alarm me. I had spent a month filming on location, how different could studio recording really be?

Above, Alan Ereira.

When we left BBC Ealing, I had that same feeling of ‘I think that went very well’. The next day was looking around London – probably including Selfridges toy department – and after lunch we phoned Sylvia Young. She wasn’t expecting to hear anything this soon but we just thought we would check. She had news. It was good. The BBC offered me the part. It was to be a week rehearsing followed by three days filming at TV Centre. This was to be my first time at the Concrete Donut as well as my first time in a studio.
The filming was to be in June, during my birthday the same as the previous year. For now it was back to Cornwall to await the script in the post.
The script soon arrived, and I quickly read it and learnt it. About the same time, a large letter arrived. It was in two parts. The first was written neatly in pen and claimed to be from Matthew Guinness’ ‘Keeper’.
I knew this was really Matthew, and it was so funny. It explained how Matthew wasn’t allowed ‘sharp objects like pens or pencils’ but that he had insisted on writing to me and drawing a picture, for which he had been allowed to have some crayons.
Matthew’s crayon letter was even funnier. So too was the deliberately badly drawn picture. I laughed for so long over it, and read it many times. Looking back now, I imagine it is the sort of thing the great Spike Milligan might have written to someone.
A couple of weeks later, another large envelope marked BBC arrived. It was my filming schedule. Soon we were on our way back to London. My first time working for the BBC.

I’ll let you know how that went in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

The filming of Dish and Dishonesty finished, I had a week off before going back to working at the Palace Theatre. Most of this I spent resting, watching films and feeling a little low. This is always the feeling after finishing a production. Partly due to missing the excitement and the atmosphere of being in something, but also as an actor, you were now not working, and did not know how long it would be before you were acting again.

Above, the Palace Theatre, London. I worked here between acting roles in the mid to late 1980s.

A few days after filming, I noticed there was something in my jacket pocket. What could it be? I looked. It was my dressing room key from TV Centre.
I quickly formed a plan. Saturday was filming day. I was still off from the theatre. I would go to TV Centre, show the key, hopefully be let in by gate security, hand in my key to Reception, then try and find Mandie or John to see if I could watch the filming of the next episode.
I turned up at the gate late afternoon and went straight up to the security hut. The guy was younger than the usual security staff and smiled, also unusual for BBC security.
‘Hello’, I began ‘I’m here to drop off my dressing room key and meet up with the producer of the program I was filming last week’.
‘You’re William Pitt the Younger!’ he replied
‘You recognise me?’ I said, particularly surprised as it had only just been filmed and wouldn’t be aired for months.
‘I try and recognise all the actors who come in here’, he answered ‘Some don’t like not being recognised!’.
That was it. He let me in without any further questions. Then he informed me he hadn’t seen anyone else from Blackadder that day.
Undeterred, I went to Reception, handed in my key explaining I had mistakenly taken it home. I then asked if Blackadder was filming that day. They checked. No, it wasn’t. Perhaps Mandie Fletcher was around? No, she wasn’t in that day.
John Lloyd? No, he wasn’t there either.
Then I realized. Dish and Dishonesty was filmed as episode three. Six episodes, six weeks rehearsing and filming, with a week off in the middle. This was the week off.
Still, I was in TV Centre and decided to look around and see if anything was being filmed that had anyone in it that I might know. I checked all of the studios. Nothing being filmed I recognized.
I headed up to the BBC Canteen. If nothing else I could have my canteen favourite of Pork Chop, Chips and Gravy. This I did. I then made my way home.
A few days later I was back working at the Palace. I was in the foyer waiting for the show – Les Miserables – to finish.

Above, Michael Ball and Frances Ruffelle as Marius and Eponine on stage in Les Miserables. Frances is the daughter of my then agent Sylvia Young.

A few members of the public came in to wait for friends who were watching the show. I recognized one of them. It was Willy Bowman, the German. He said he had seen me a few minutes earlier but didn’t say anything as some actors don’t like being recognized in their non – acting roles.
I assured him I didn’t mind. We spoke for a few minutes until the show finished and the audience started to leave. It was so nice to see him, and reminded me of where I had been and what I had been doing only a couple of weeks before.

Above, Willy Bowman who was one of the MPs behind me in the Parliament scenes of Blackadder 3

The next time I would meet a cast member would be a few weeks later.
The theatre was closed on Sundays, and once or twice a year there would be charity performances. I always said I would work those shows. The one a couple of months after Blackadder was a comedy sketch show. It was billed to have Stephen Fry in it. Great, I might be able to meet him again.
I arrived at the stage door and was immediately stopped by the stage doorman.
‘Your mate is here!’ he said.
I assumed he meant Stephen, who was not exactly a ‘mate’ but was in Blackadder.
‘Stephen Fry pulled out last minute’, he added ‘Hugh Laurie has taken his place! I’ve already told him you work here’.
I hadn’t been in the theatre long when Hugh came looking for me. He found me in the auditorium.
‘Hello there, Simon’ he said in full Prince George voice ‘Doing a bit of ticketing and shoving people in the right seats are we?’.
It was great seeing him, if only for ten minutes or so.
Stephen Fry had only backed out for some reason that morning, and Hugh had to perform his sketches with script in hand. Not ideal, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.
That day I also met Tim Rice who I stopped from being turned away as he had forgotten his ticket and no one else recognized him, Elaine Page who was lovely, and Helen Lederer who I escorted around the theatre. It was a very good day.

Above, Sir Tim Rice.

The next Blackadder associated person I would see again would be Ben Elton. It was here I would witness a backstage after show party.

Before that happened, Blackadder 3 would be aired. I soon learnt that this was to be in September, and Episode 3 Rotten Boroughs would be aired as Episode 1 Dish and Dishonesty.

I’ll let you know what I was doing when it was first shown, and what happened at Ben Elton’s backstage party in the next blog.

The History Part

Anyone familiar with Blackadder 1 will know of the Witchsmeller Pursuivant and the lengths he goes to in order to try and prove that Prince Edmund is a witch.
Well, the lengths he goes to and the type of tests he puts Edmund through are not that far from the truth.

Above, Frank Finlay as the Witchsmeller Pursuivant in Blackadder 1.

One test the accused would be made to do was Trial by Water. This was performed by stripping the accused witch to their undergarments, tying their hands behind their backs, then throwing them in a body of water.
As water is used in Baptism, it was thought that the water would reject the witch and they would float. An innocent person would just drown. In some cases a rope was tied around the waist of the accused to pull them out if they sank, but it was not always done in time.
Another test was to make the accused read a religious text. If they couldn’t read it or they made any mistakes then they must be a witch. However, this did not take into account the literacy skills of the accused or the fact that they would be nervous and may stumble on some of the words. Even if read correctly without stumbling, this may just be put down to being a ‘Devil’s Trick’, which would also prove guilt and lead to the burning at the stake of the accused.

Above Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson as Edmund and Baldrick about to be burnt at the stake for being witches in Blackadder 1.

Other tests included the Touch Test, which meant the accused would touch someone they were accused of putting a spell on to see if the spell was broken with the touch of the witch that made it.
Another is making the accused witch’s ‘familiar’ – any pet or animal owned by the accused – eat a ‘Witches’ Cake’. This cake was made of the urine of a person believed to have a spell put on them mixed with ash and wheat, in the hope that it would force the familiar to reveal the witch’s identity.
Another test was looking for ‘Witches’ Marks’. These could be moles or birthmarks or even scars that the Witchfinder would try and prove were marks of the Devil.
If no marks could be found then the Pricking Test could be used. This was done by pricking the accused with needles. If they didn’t bleed sufficiently then they would be found guilty. If they were scratched and the wounds healed too quickly, this was also a sign of guilt.
These tests were necessary for the Witchfinder – also known as Witch Hunters – to earn his money. Ridiculous as these tests were, the Witchfinder – or Witchsmeller in Blackadder 1 – would only be paid if he could prove the guilt of the accused.
A fair trial for the accused in Medieval Europe? Well, definitely not for those accused of witchcraft.
The Witchsmeller Pursuivant would be proud!

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For more on Alan Ereira

For more on Frances Ruffelle

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For more on Elaine Page

For more on Helen Lederer

For more on Witch Hunts

Young Snotty in Dunny on the Wold

Part 11

Young Snotty in Dunny on the Wold

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

My parents had a friend called Tom Morris. He had moved from Yorkshire with his wife and two daughters. He was a builder and set about turning part of the house they had bought near Pendeen Lighthouse into holiday accommodation.

In 1981, when we moved out of the Miners’ Country Kitchen and into the cottage in Levant Road, Tom had moved all of our stuff in his open- back van.
It was just around the corner and my parents thought it seemed a waste to hire a removal company to move things such a short way.
Tom was instructed that after all of the furniture was moved, the black bin bags in one room which were full of all of our clothes should be taken to the cottage. That done, the black bags in another room which were full of rubbish should be taken to the public dump near Levant Mine.
Tom said he understood and it should all be left to him and the man helping him.
The move seemed to go well. All of the furniture fitted into the cottage, the main bedroom was full of black bags to be sorted through, and the other black bags taken to the dump.
After dinner, my mother decided it was time to sort out the bags of clothes. There was a shout. My father ran upstairs. The bags were full of rubbish. It was immediately obvious what had happened. Tom Morris had delivered the black bags of rubbish to the cottage and thrown away all of the clothes we owned – other than what we were standing in – at the dump.
My father and I jumped in the car and raced to the dump, taking some of the bags of rubbish with us.

Above, Levant Mine near which was once the public dump, and also the area where both versions of Poldark were filmed.

There were black bags everywhere. We ripped open all of the ones that looked as though they hadn’t been there long, and eventually we found all of the ones containing our clothes.
Even though this had happened, when it came time to move from the cottage to Grandma’s Tea Shop, it was again Tom that my parents chose to move everything. This time however, my father and I sat with everything on the back of Tom’s open van to make sure everything got to the right destination.
Tom was a tall, well built man with very blonde hair, and was hard to miss. This included the time when helping to renovate Grandma’s Tea Shop, he leaned on an upstairs window that wasn’t yet fitted properly and was left hanging out of the window upside down just as a bus full of passengers stopped outside. He hung there while all of the upstairs passengers of the double decker watched him struggling, swearing and calling for help. It must have taken quite an effort to pull him back inside.
Once Grandma’s was opened to the public, it was instantly a success. Touring coaches would make it their lunch stop. All of the holidayers would be warned by the driver that Grandma – referring to my father who waited on the tables – had a beard.
It was about this time that I left Pendeen Primary School to go to Cape Cornwall Comprehensive School, a couple of miles away in St Just.
I hadn’t been there long when I was invited to London to see a screening of The Shadow Cage. It was with the rest of the cast and an audience of education experts. We went and enjoyed it. It was great seeing everyone again, and the experts seemed to like it. I did however find it strange seeing myself acting on a big screen. I felt the same for many years. I always wanted to watch something on my own first, then when sure I had done alright, only then watch it with other people. Most of the time this didn’t happen, and I watched myself in things for the first time with other people with me.

Above, a painting by Sheila Lewis of what would become Grandma’s Tea Shop, shown here in 1975 when it was still The Lantern. The upstairs window above the front entrance on the right of the painting is the one from which Tom Morris hung upside down.

The Shadow Cage was screened while I was at Cape Cornwall school. I watched it with everyone else in my year. It was featured in the TV Times along with a picture of me. This prompted a local newspaper called The Cornishman to send a reporter to interview me. I ended up with a piece in the paper with a large photo in school uniform. The headline asked if I would grow up to be the Cornish ‘Clint Eastwood’. I’m not sure why him, and no, I don’t think I did turn out to be a Cornish him.
This then prompted an interview with The Sunday Observer magazine. The reporter in London did the interview over the phone, then a photographer was sent to take pictures of me.
The article again turned out to be quite a large feature with several photos. This time the headline was ‘Lookout Robert Redford, young Simon Osborne is after your job’. Again, I don’t think I grew up to be a Cornish Robert Redford either.

The airing of The Shadow Cage also prompted my parents to buy a VHS video recorder. It was one of only two or three in the village at the time. As well as films, I also remember recording Adam Ant videos and watching them a lot.

Above, singer Adam Ant in the 1980s.

A few months later, in 1982, I think it was about the time of the Task Force leaving for the Falklands – which I found very exciting to observe progress of on the news every evening – there was a phone call from Sylvia Young. There was an audition for a part requiring a Cornish accent. It was the lead in a drama for schools again, this time for the BBC, and set in 1600s England. It sounded good. Soon my parents and I were on our way to London.

I’ll let you know how the audition went in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

The recording of Dish and Dishonesty – or Rotten Boroughs as it was then called – was going well. This included the deleted scene that was filmed but not aired.
This was a scene with Rowan, Tony and Helen. It was in the Palace Kitchen and Mrs Miggins had just made coffee for Blackadder.
I can’t remember much of it other than the opening line, which was Rowan saying
‘Well, once again Mrs Miggins your coffee tastes as though it was brewed in the Devil’s belly button!’.
My next scene was the Dunny on the Wold by election. I didn’t have any lines in that but was present on the Hustings along with Rowan, Hugh, Tony, Geoffrey McGivern as Ivor Biggun, Dominic Martelli as Pitt the Even Younger, a supporting artist playing our mother, and Colin.

Above, Geoffrey McGivern as Ivor Jest-Ye-Not-Madam Biggun in Blackadder 3.

There was another supporting artist playing Horace Bolsom of the ‘Keep Royalty White, Rat Catching and Safe Sewage Residents Party’.
In the run-throughs during the day he had given us only a small shove when storming off stage when it is announced he has ‘No Votes!’. However, if you watch the scene you can see that during the actual recording he gives Rowan and myself quite a hard shove. It was good as it looked real, but surprised us all the same.

Above, on the Hustings of Dunny on the Wold in Blackadder 3.

The complicated scenes at Dunny on the Wold seemed to go without incident, and the scenes moved on. Next was a short scene with Rowan and Tony, followed by Tony and myself in Parliament.
After these it was my last scene, the Downy Hair scene that had been written especially for me.
Just before the take, and I am waiting outside the front door of the Palace where Blackadder lets me in, Rowan and I had a short conversation about waistcoats.
When it looked as though we were about to go for a take, we stopped talking, Rowan closed the door, and I began to think about my lines.
Suddenly the door opened quickly, Rowan pulled one of his faces, put on a high pitched voice and said ‘Oh, you must be , Simon!’. He backed away, pulling faces as he went, then closed the door. A few seconds later we heard ‘Action!’.
Rowan liked to do these things before a take, but I had seen him do it with others and so was able to compose myself just in time. I think we may have recorded two takes and it was done. My actual filming of Blackadder was finished.

Above, Rowan and Me performing the ‘Downy Hair Scene’ in Blackadder 3.

I made my way quickly to Makeup to get my wig removed, then I was back out on set to watch the last few scenes.
They all went without much incident except for the very final scene. It was fine as soon as it got going but there were a few early ‘Cuts!’ with Tony knocking over pots and pans, and swearing then apologising to the audience then swearing again. Eventually the scene was finished, and so was the episode. It had all been filmed in just under 3 hours.
I got changed, hung up my costume, picked up my falling apart carrier bag, locked my dressing room door, and placed the key in my jacket pocket. It was now time to head up to the BBC Club on the top floor for drinks. It was always a nice atmosphere, full of BBC directors, producers, technicians, and actors. It was also quite inexpensive, and you never knew who you would meet.
The one thing with being an actor was that as you were not an actual member of BBC staff you were not allowed to enter the club unless signed in by someone who was a BBC staff member.
It usually wasn’t a long wait, and a few of us from various productions that had just finished recording stood and hoped for a BBC face we recognized. After a couple of minutes a production assistant who recognized one of the other actors – I think from Hi-De-Hi – signed all of us in, and we were allowed to enter.
I found a seat at a table where I recognized some people, and left my carrier bag and jacket there. Before I made it to the bar I was bought a drink by someone. I can’t remember who but it was most likely either Mandie Fletcher or John Lloyd. I was a fast drinker and was soon heading towards the bar again. It was busy that night, but I found a space next to someone very tall.
As I was waiting to be served, I looked up at the tall figure. He was looking down at me, probably trying to work out who I was.
I recognized him straight away.
‘Hello’ I said
‘Oh, hello!’ he replied, smiling as he realised he had just been watching me as Pitt the Younger.
It was Stephen Fry. He wasn’t in Blackadder 3 until episode 6 but had been in the audience that night.

Above, Stephen Fry as the Duke of Wellington in Blackadder 3.

We had a very brief conversation and then we were served. This was the only time I have met him, and when people ask me ‘What was he like?’, I can only really answer that he was very tall and very nice.
It was soon time to head home. I grabbed my carrier bag and put on my jacket then headed out of TV Centre to wait for the underground train at White City Station.
It was hard to believe my time in Blackadder had finished. However, it wasn’t really the end of it. I would be meeting most of the others again sometime, and a week after filming, I was back at the Concrete Donut.

I will let you know why and how it went in the next blog.

The History Part

Those of you familiar with Blackadder 3 will be aware that although Prince George was admired by some as a patron of the arts and a man of style he was known to many others as a ‘Fat Flatulent Git’.
He wanted to be known as a man of taste and of action. He was known to talk at dinners about the Battle of Waterloo as though he had actually been present with Wellington at the battle. Any dinner guests who had fought at Waterloo would have to discreetly inform other confused diners that the Prince Regent wasn’t at the battle.
George sat for paintings to make himself look regal and respectable. However, cartoonists of the day liked to portray George in a different light.
One such artist was George Cruikshank – not to be confused with Banana Breath Scrigshanks – who drew the Prince Regent celebrating his birthday in 1812.
The cartoon depicts Prince George at an elaborate celebration, while dancing with another man’s wife.

Above, Merry Making on the Regent’s Birthday, 1812 by George Cruikshank.

A year earlier, Cruikshank had drawn another Regency scandal. This time you might say ‘A right royal kick up the Prince’s backside!’.

Above, A kick from Yarmouth to Wales, showing the Prince Regent being soundly kicked for insulting Lord Yarmouth’s wife, 1811.

Another cartoonist who liked to draw the Prince Regent was James Gillray. He depicted Prince George in a somewhat more realistic, but no less unflattering way in his cartoon of 1811.

Above, A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion, 1792 by James Gillray.

However, it wasn’t only princes who were victims of the cartoonists. There are many politicians who also got such treatment. Even the finest of Prime Ministers could find themselves depicted in such a way.

Above, Pitt the Younger and Napoleon Bonaparte carve up the world in The Plum Pudding in Danger, 1805 by James Gillray.

Looks like a bit of an oily tick to me!

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For more on George Cruikshank

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Young Snotty, Lights, Camera, Action

Part 10

Young Snotty, Lights, Camera, Action

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

Starting the Night Shoot on the Shadow Cage was quite straightforward but felt very different to filming during the day.
The first scene was done quite quickly, so we moved location to the farmhouse.
My scene walking past the house was another simple shot. The scene after required Matthew Guiness to lean out of an upstairs window and try to attract my attention by waving.
In the first take Matthew did it in quite a realistic way, but the director asked him to do it again, and this time to lean out more so the camera could see more of what was happening. This he did, but Peter Tabern asked him to lean out and wave even more.
Mathew saw the opportunity for comedy. In the third take he leaned out so far and waved so exaggeratedly that the only thing stopping him from flying out of the window was actress Sharman Macdonald – who was waiting in the room to film the next scene – holding on to him.
Everyone laughed as Peter shouted ‘Thank you, Matthew, maybe not quite as much as that!’.
What had made it even funnier was that Matthew had played the whole thing straight, as though he was only following instructions.
Once everyone had stopped laughing the scene was shot, and it was on to an inside scene with Matthew and Sharman.
I think the inside scene was done in a couple of takes, and we moved location to the school.
Dropmore School had already been used as a location for a 1952 film starring Petula Clark and David Tomlinson. This film was called ‘Made in Heaven’.

Above, Film poster for Made in Heaven, 1952.

There was a lot to film there and we would need to get everything done before the sun came up. One scene required me to climb over the locked school gate, and when doing so, drop and break my torch.
I remember being quite concerned about deliberately breaking something but the Props Manager assured me he had several identical torches, and Peter convinced me that Thames TV could afford the loss of a torch or two.
We then moved onto the playground. This required large lights to replicate bright moonlight, and a rail on which to mount the camera. There was also a lot of dry ice used to make the scenes look very misty. This all took a bit of time.

The scenes in the playground and around the climbing frame were very important to the plot. The bottle of witch’s blood in one hand, a broken torch in the other, I was drawn to the shadow caused by the climbing frame. All this time I was pursued by someone or something! Was it one of the whistling spirits which gives Whistlers’ Hill its name? Was it the Witch returning from the dead to claim her bottle? This is where part 1 was to end.
At the opening of part 2 it turns out that the pursuer is Matthew’s character Ned, who rescues me just before becoming trapped by the climbing frame’s Shadow Cage.
It was quite tight, and by the end of filming that night, the sky was turning lighter and the dark trees were turning green. We finished just in time.
The next night was more of the same, mostly filming at the school. We got it all done in the two nights.

Above, the thatched Victorian main building of Dropmore School in Buckinghamshire where The Shadow Cage was filmed.

After a couple of days off – the first one mostly spent sleeping – it would be back to day shoots. The second day off was spent going around London, and some shopping too. I particularly liked the toy department of Selfridges. Most of the things I bought there I still have.

Above, some of the toys I bought in Selfridges in the summer of 1981.

The day shoots would largely feature scenes for the Victorian flashbacks. I was looking forward to dressing up in the costumes, but I was also aware that this marked the last few days of filming.
I liked filming in the woods and fields of Buckinghamshire, myself and Liza dressed as Victorians. The flashback scenes had no dialogue, so no lines to remember. These last few days went far too quickly.
A day or two after filming had finished we were back in Cornwall.
My parents had sold The Miners’ Country Kitchen restaurant before we went to London. It was bought by a former Chef of the Savoy in London. He changed the menu to reflect more of what he was used to in the exclusive London hotel. This didn’t catch on in the remote Cornish village, and I don’t think it went particularly well for him.
We moved into a cottage in Levant Road, not far from the restaurant. The road led to Levant Mine and the rugged cliffs. It was a good place to live. My grandmother house-sat in a white cottage across the road from the restaurant, which was owned by a couple from London.
At the other end of Pendeen was another restaurant. This was called The Lantern. It had closed some months previously and was in a state of disrepair. This interested my parents. Soon, our cottage in Levant Road was sold and The Lantern became my parents new venture. It would soon be reopened as a Tea Room. The name they gave it was Grandma’s Tea Shop. This was to be the last place we lived before moving to London.

I’ll let you know what happened next in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

As I waited for the time to enter the studio, I noticed a group of people sitting at one of the tables in the green room. Apart from Me these were the only other people there. They were strangely dressed, and I recognized one of them. It was then I remembered that the studio we shared the green room with was recording an episode of the new Dr Who. These people sitting at the table were in that, the one I recognized was Sylvester McCoy. There was no time to talk to them. The audience were seated, it was time for me to enter the studio.

Above, Sylvester McCoy with Bonnie Langford and Kate O’Mara in Dr Who.

I walked over to where my first scene would be, the Parliament set. I was watched by the audience but they were being entertained by Ben Elton, so I don’t think they would have paid that much attention to me.
Ben then introduced Rowan, Hugh, Tony and Helen who each entered separately and gave a wave to the audience. The rest of us just gave a wave from wherever we happened to be on set.
The first scene with Rowan, Tony and Helen in the palace kitchen went well. Then it was my turn.
People often ask if I was nervous, but this was something I had been doing since before my 11th birthday, I had attended stage school, we were well rehearsed, and I was too much in the moment for nervousness.
I did the first take of my speech. Once we had ‘Cut’ I waved down a floor assistant and informed them I had made a mistake. I was supposed to say ‘and most shamefully of all an astonishing £59,000 on Socks!’ but what I actually said was ‘and most Astonishingly of all an Astonishing £59,000 on Socks’.
The assistant related this back to Mandie and her team watching the screens upstairs.
‘It doesn’t matter’ came the reply, ‘they like it anyway and we are moving on to the next scene’.
I was surprised but looking back on it now I think that the impact on the audience seeing someone so young as Prime Minister appearing on screen for the first time was what they wanted to keep. Redoing the scene a second time would not have had the same impact.

Above, Me doing my opening speech in Blackadder 3.

I left the Parliament set to watch the next scene being filmed on the other side of the studio. I wasn’t aware until afterwards that Tony had chased after me all the way across the studio to give me a pat on the back and say ‘well done’ for doing it in one take. The audience laughed as I walked very quickly, Tony chasing me trying to attract my attention, and me entirely unaware. The next scenes in the palace went well. The only one that needed more takes was with Denis Lill as Sir Talbot Buxomly. In it, Denis had to be dead, sitting in a chair and with his eyes open. This he managed to do, even though when the camera is on Hugh, what you can’t see is Rowan slowly approaching Denis and pulling faces as he goes. How Denis did not laugh I don’t know. The retake came about after Rowan mistakenly addressed the deceased Sir Talbot as Sir Gerald. Denis Lill played the role exactly right, and didn’t laugh once during a take!

Above, Rowan as Blackadder confirming Sir Talbot Buxomly, played by Denis Lill, is dead in Blackadder 3.

My next scene was with Rowan and Hugh in the Prince’s lounge room. This was an original script scene and we all knew it very well. We had exact places to stand and we all knew where they were.
Take one, I walked in, we got as far as Hugh’s ‘shiny sixpence’ line and ‘Cut’ was called. Take two and the same thing happened. When in take three the same thing happened again Hugh said loudly ‘Oh, What, What, What is it?’.
‘It’s not any of you’ answered a floor assistant, ‘it’s technical difficulties with the cameras’.
‘Well’ replied Hugh in full Prince Regent voice ‘I knew it wasn’t us, we know what we are doing!’.
The audience laughed, the technical issues were solved and the scene was done. I think we recorded the whole thing twice as it was a long scene and they wanted to make sure all camera angles for each of us were covered, but it went well. If you watch it now, you may be able to make out me having to pause when the audience gives a bigger laugh than expected while I discuss the crumpets. You may also be able to see where I find it quite difficult not to laugh when Rowan says ‘Pitt the Toddler’, which I always found funny.

Above, Me trying hard not to laugh when faced with Rowan in Blackadder 3.

The scene also gave me my most difficult line. This is the sound I make in reply to Rowan offering me Blackcurrant Jelly. I just couldn’t get the sound right when first rehearsing it. In the end, John Lloyd said ‘just make the sort of sound you could imagine Jennifer Saunders making’.
I followed John’s instructions, and you can see the result in the scene. I’m not sure if Jennifer Saunders would make a sound like that, but it seemed to please Mandie and John, and it seemed to work.

When the scene was finished Ben called upon the audience to give me a round of applause as being ‘only 17 and yet holding his own with the great Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie’. Apparently the audience did applaud, and cheer and whistle. I however was concentrating on thinking about the next scenes, and was unaware of anything that Ben had said or of any applause until I was told about it afterwards.
The next scene for me would be the Dunny on the Wold by election.

I will let you know how that went in the next blog

The History Part

Those who are familiar with Blackadder 1 and 2 will also be aware of the fashion for wearing Codpieces.

Above, Rowan Atkinson with Codpiece in Blackadder 1.

The wearing of Codpieces came about in the late 1400s, although there is some evidence that the Ancient Greeks may have worn something similar.
The need for such an appendage occurred when men wearing hose in Tudor England found they were exposing themselves every time they mounted a horse, sat down or even stretched.
As well as this, the fashion for short jackets meant that a man’s private parts needed to be covered by something else.
The Codpiece – from the middle English ‘cod’ meaning scrotum – was at first just cloth.
This over time became more and more elaborate and was added to every gentleman’s outfit including armour.
Some historians believe that as well as covering a man’s private parts, Codpieces had other uses. It has been suggested that they were used as pockets for items such as coins, as well as medicine for treating diseases that occurred in that region of anatomy.
It has also been suggested that they were to keep those parts away from anyone who may have a disease, like a sort of Tudor mask for the private parts. The larger and more elaborate the Codpiece, the more protected you would be.

Above, Queenie’s father, King Henry VIII and codpiece.

Codpieces reached their most elaborate and most fashionable point in the 1540s. By the 1590s they had quite fallen out of fashion.
It is said that the Tower of London once contained a life-size wooden statue of Henry VIII. If one were to stand on a certain floorboard in front of the statue they would be rewarded with a view of the King’s Codpiece mechanically thrusting and moving towards them.

I think Queenie may have found that somewhat amusing.

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For more on Codpieces

For more on Made in Heaven

For more on Sylvester McCoy

For more on Bonnie Langford

For more on Kate O’Mara’Mara

For more on Jennifer Saunders

Young Snotty meets Colin

Part 9

Young Snotty meets Colin

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

The next couple of weeks of filming The Shadow Cage on location went well. There were no more incidents with the tractor.
We filmed more in the farmer’s field, and also the farmhouse and the school. All went well.
As school work while I was away filming, I was given a project to do. The subject was my choice. I chose the Supernatural. My grandmother Ruby – born on Halloween – had always been fascinated in such things, and this gave me an interest.

Above, my Grandmother Ruby and Grandfather Edgar shortly after WWII.

Matthew Guiness and some of the crew were more than happy to fill my time with stories of strange happenings whilst filming productions in various places.
One crew member – I think it was the Props Manager – told me how he and other crew members witnessed transparent figures walking through a basement they were filming in a few years earlier. I heard this same story years later from other people who were also there. It is said that it was later found that the building where this basement was had been built on an ancient road, and these figures were walking along it as they had done centuries before.
Matthew’s stories were more elaborate, and he would act out certain segments as he was telling them. There were many. The one I remember most is that while he was filming in a large country manor house somewhere – and also sleeping there at night – there were some strange happenings.

Above, Matthew Guiness with his parents Sir Alec Guiness and Merula Salaman, 1953.

The manor was owned by an elderly woman who owned two enormous dogs. She was seldom seen, but at night you could hear the dogs barking and the sound of the old woman’s cane banging on the floor as she walked around the manor house hallways.
Sometimes Matthew would be sure he could hear her outside his room, but on opening the door to look she was never to be seen.
This unsettled him. After two nights of no sleeping he locked the door to his room and fell asleep. In the early hours of the morning he woke up hardly able to breath. He soon realised one of the enormous dogs was lying on his chest. It wouldn’t move and Matthew couldn’t move it.
Next he heard the sound of the old woman’s cane outside in the hallway. The dog leaped up and was gone. Mathew jumped up and checked the door. It was still locked but the dog was nowhere to be seen.
Director Peter Tabern was also very good to me. He had forgotten to provide my parents with tickets that they had asked him for to watch a Thames TV sitcom being filmed. Instead, we were told we could book tickets to any Westend show of our choice. We chose Annie.
During filming I turned 11. At lunchtime on my birthday the whole cast and crew were treated to lunch in a pub by Thames TV. I had cards from the crew, and Peter gave me a Thames mug, pen, badges and other things with the logo on. Mathew gave me some scary story books.

Above, Matthew Guiness in Ridley Scott’s The Duellists, 1977.

This was one of the last day shoots before changing to night shoots. This I had been looking forward to. It was only two nights then it would be back to day filming, but something about filming through the night to 11 year old me was very appealing. There were scenes on the road beside the farmer’s field, the farmhouse, the Witch’s burning cottage, and the school. Day shoots had already been done in these locations and they were now familiar, but at night they felt quite different. The day before, I had to try and sleep during the day. I didn’t find it easy, but slept enough to be able to stay wide awake at night. My New Zealand chaperone didn’t want to work at night so my parents acted as chaperones instead. It was nice for them to spend time on set and meet everyone.
It was dinner on the dining bus then more stories from Matthew as we waited to be called on set. It wasn’t long before I was called for to do my lone scene on the dark road beside the farmer’s field where the remains of the Witch’s cottage lay at the bottom of Whistlers’ Hill. This hill was important to the plot, and is the reason such a steep field was chosen for the tractor scenes.

I’ll let you know how the Night Shoots went in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

The Dunny on the Wold set was where we spent most of the afternoon running through. It was the most challenging from a technical point of view, had the most people in it, was the largest set, and had to have multiple cameras moving around it without being seen or running into each other.
This was also where we were introduced to Colin – I don’t know his real name – the dachshund. Hugh took to him straight away, and Colin spent most of the afternoon being carried around in the arms of Prince George.

Above, Hugh Laurie and Colin with Vincent Hanna in Blackadder 3.

At one point whilst we were all standing on the hustings between run-throughs, Colin began to shiver and shake. A concerned crew member approached Hugh and said ‘What’s wrong with the dog?’.
‘Nothing!’ Hugh replied, holding Colin with one arm and stroking him with the other, ‘He’s just acting! This dog is a professional!’.
The mock look of disgust on Hugh’s face at being asked such a question let the crew member know that he was joking. Colin composed himself, and stopped shaking.
The other scene with a slight technical difficulty was the one with me and Tony in Parliament. A short and simple scene, it was made difficult for me to hear my cue by the stamping of heeled shoes on the wooden set as the MPs left. It was resolved by Tony increasing the volume of his pleas for help and ‘Excuse Me’s’ until he was aware I had appeared from behind the seats. I am still aware of this every time I watch it.
When we had completed another full run-through, I was allowed to go for dinner. Rowan, Hugh, Tony and Helen were to remain on set to rehearse other scenes, and Denis and Geoffrey had just returned from dinner. This meant I was on my own again.
I think I probably had pork chop and chips – a BBC Canteen favourite for me – but no gravy this time as I was in costume, I didn’t want gravy all down my waistcoat.
I spotted Willy Bowman sitting at a table with another background artist. I asked to join them. We were soon joined by some Yellow Coats from Hi-De-Hi! It wasn’t long before all of the surrounding tables were taken up with the rest of the Hi-De-Hi cast members.

Above, some of the cast of Hi-De-Hi.

Three of us in Georgian costume surrounded by Yellow Coats. I am pleased to say there was no sitcom rivalry, or we would have been very outnumbered.
I was aware of needing to be back in good time for wig and makeup. As I left the canteen I could hear of a lot of voices coming from one of the floors below. When I reached the ground floor my way was blocked by a long line of people. I spotted my parents. The long line was the Blackadder audience waiting to be allowed into the studio. I talked to my parents quickly to let them know how well things were going. I felt hundreds of eyes on me as I did so. I was in costume, and the long line of people were probably trying to work out who I was.
I asked the people blocking the door that I needed to go through to stand aside. I dashed through the door and into the corridor, almost knocking into someone in Georgian costume going the other way.
‘In a hurry?’ they asked jokingly. This person seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t quite recognise them.
‘It’s hard to move out there!’ I answered.
‘Oh!’ he replied ‘the public are in! I will go the other way!.
It was then I realized who he was. It was Denis Lill in full Sir Talbot Buxomly costume complete with wig and false nose. So convincing I hadn’t known who he was. I explained this and apologized. Denis laughed.

Above, Denis Lill as Sir Talbot Buxomly in Blackadder 3.

I went into the makeup room next to the filming stage. We were allotted times, two at a time. I was paired with Tony.
They worked on Tony quickly. As this was the third episode to be filmed they were well practiced in turning Tony into Georgian Baldrick.
My make up took a little longer. This is mostly due to the amount of white powder needed to cover up my stubble-growth. It had been about nine hours since I had shaved. Then my wig had to be fitted just right, so that a small amount of my real hair was visible at the back. This was to show it was a wig, which was meant as a show of status and not supposed to resemble real hair.
Once this was done, I had my wig-bag fitted. This was a long thin silk bag which hung from the back of the wig. Originally it would have enclosed a man’s long hair, but by the Regency period was more of a wig decoration.
Once this was firmly fitted – after twice falling off before I left makeup – I was out on set, fully Pitt the Younger. Soon the audience would be allowed in, introductions would be done, and filming would begin. I made my way out to the Green Room to wait. It wouldn’t be long before I was called, and the red light warning people not to enter the studio during recording would begin to flash. I was about to start filming Blackadder.

I will let you know how that went in the next blog.

The History Part

Those of you familiar with Blackadder 3 will know that most high ranking people wore wigs. Women often wore very high and elaborate headpieces while men’s were usually more modest. They were never meant to look real, and were more to represent status than actual hair.
The large headpieces worn by wealthy women became slightly less fashionable after events in France in the late 1700s, which resulted in many wig-wearers losing their heads on the Guillotine.

They could also be quite dangerous. The constant wearing of such heavy pieces would often cause head sores, the loss of real hair, attract lice, and as they were shaped using animal fats they could also catch fire or explode.

Above, some ladies wig fashions of the 1700s.

Gentlemen’s wigs continued. Powder was used to make white wigs an off-white of blue or pink, or to add a slight colour to grey wigs. Wig bags were hung as decoration at the back of the wig. This represented how – in France – men’s long hair would be tied at the back and then be covered by a bag.
By the end of the 18th Century, younger men changed from wearing wigs to just powdering their real hair. This was quicker, easier and cheaper. Eventually only high ranking and older men still wore wigs. The term ‘Powder Room’ comes from this period, and referred to a small room set aside for adding more powder to one’s hair or wig.

Above, Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder 3. The Prince wears the white wig of rank and power, while Blackadder wears the more natural coloured wig of the high ranking servant.

Pitt the Younger brought in a Powder Tax in 1795. This was one of his money raising ideas to help fight the war against France. Anyone wishing to use hair powder had to obtain a licence costing 1 guinea a year. Some people were exempt. These included the Royal Family, junior officers of the Royal Navy, enlisted soldiers, clergymen and servants earning under a certain amount.
This tax was not popular with everyone. Those who opposed it called those who paid it ‘Guinea Pigs’, while those who chose to cut their hair short and not use powder were called the ‘Crop Club’.

Above, Me in Blackadder 3 as wig-wearing Prime Minister with MPs also wearing wigs.

This tax, and the fashion for showing real hair eventually led to wigs only being used by the highest ranking men and officials. The powder tax was eventually repealed in 1869.
I am pleased to say that as Pitt the Younger, I wore my white wig with pride.

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Young Snotty on Set

Part 8

Young Snotty on Set

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

My New Zealand chaperone turned up on time, and her old car made it through London and out to location. There was a location dining bus where the cast and some members of the crew would sit and wait to be called.
This bus was like a passenger bus but with tables, and would be where we ate our meals. The food was served by the location catering van parked beside the bus. A little further away was the wardrobe trailer and make-up trailer.
The food is always good when on location. Rolls filled to overflowing with bacon, egg or sausage – or all three at once – would greet us on arrival each morning. Tea, coffee and biscuits were available all times of day, and if on night shoots then all night too. The lunches and dinners were always of a high quality, different every day, and plenty of it. This is why certain crew members that spent most of the days waiting to be called would fill their time with eating and drinking. You could tell which these were as they would mostly be somewhat larger than the rest of the crew.
Beyond wardrobe and make-up were parked the Thames vans full of filming equipment, and the one larger unmarked one which was the Props Wagon. The Props Manager was one of those crew members who spent most of the time eating and drinking, and when eventually called upon to provide a needed prop would often reply ‘Haven’t got any of those on my wagon!’.

Above, me how I would have looked about the time of filming.

One of the first scenes I remember being filmed was when Ned Challis – Matthew Guinness’ character – is driving his tractor in the field where the Witch’s Cottage used to be. It was a very steep field. Matthew was filmed climbing in and starting the engine. As soon as ‘Cut!’ was called, Matthew got out of the tractor and was replaced with the farmer’s wife. With the tractor door closed you couldn’t see it was really a woman and not Matthew.
The scene continued with a shot of the tractor driving up the steep slope of the field. It started well. However, the ground was soft, and on reaching the steepest part of the slope, the tractor wheels spun in the mud.
The entire crew held their breaths. The tractor began to slide backwards, then turn sideways. Much further it would have overturned and rolled upside down until hitting the old walls at the bottom of the slope.
This old wall was where the crew were standing, all of their equipment set up. I was whisked away from this area by a crew member to a safer distance. Just as it seemed the tractor would overturn at any moment, the wheels gripped, the tractor straightened, and drove up and then down the slope as the scene required. All of this was on film as the director was too concerned with what was happening to call ‘Cut!’.
The tractor came down the slope and was parked on the exact spot the director had asked for. The farmer’s wife climbed out of the tractor cab a little shaken but smiling. Several crew members and director Peter Tabern rushed to make sure she was alright. ‘It happens!’ she assured everyone. It was only this lady’s skill at driving this huge piece of machinery that had averted disaster. Had it been decided that Matthew was capable of driving the tractor himself, with no experience, it may have ended production on day one of filming. An exciting start to my first day on set. Next was my first scene, I think. All I had to do was walk by the field, pause as Matthew climbs out of the parked tractor to pick something up – this turns out to be a bottle of dried blood that had been kept by the Witch a hundred years before – and then carry on walking along the road.

Above, a different cover of The Shadow Cage, this time showing the bottle of dried blood.

It was not hard, and I did it first time. My first filmed scene was done. Some of the crew – knowing this was my first time filming – cheered and applauded. One crew member gave me the nickname ‘One Take!’ as I had got it right first time. This name stuck for the rest of the production, and I am pleased to say that I have spent most of the rest of my acting career getting shots right in one take. After lunch there were more scenes to be filmed. It was an exciting first day for me. Traveling back to London in my chaperone’s car, I hoped the following few weeks would be just as good, but maybe not the slipping tractor part again. I’ll let you know what happened next in the next blog

The Behind the Scenes Part

I arrived at BBC TV Centre, and got through security on the gate without any holdups. This was not always the case. Sometimes you could walk straight in, other times you would have to be quite forceful to convince security that you were meant to be there.
The studios inside the Concrete Donut were built in pairs. Between them was a Green Room with tables, seating and a small cafe selling cold food, and hot drinks. I was assigned a small dressing room to myself. The bigger names had slightly bigger rooms, while background artists were assigned bigger still but shared rooms. It didn’t really matter very much as you spend little time in them anyway. It was just a place to get changed, hang up my jacket, and store my falling apart carrier bag.
The Green Room was where you went to enter the studio. Ours was paired with the studio where the new Dr Who with Sylvester McCoy was being filmed.
I entered the studio – no security as studio doors were only guarded during filming – and found it in full swing.
The background artists were already in full costumes and wigs. This was to save time later. The rest of us stayed in our own clothes until after lunch.
I looked up at the 300 or so empty seats that would in a few hours time be filled with our audience. I was told by one of the crew that Ben Elton would be that night’s Warm Up man. This means he would introduce the cast to the audience, keep the audience entertained between takes, and keep them in a receptively comedic frame of mind.
I walked around the sets, seeing them for the first time. Prince George’s lounge room, bedroom and entrance hall were all connected like a real set of rooms.

Above, Hugh Laurie, Me, and Rowan Atkinson on set in Prince George’s Lounge Room.

The lounge room and bedroom were facing the audience, as was the palace kitchen. This is so that these main rooms that are regularly used in every episode could be watched as though it was being performed live on stage. All other sets were either behind or at the side of these.
Parliament took up a small space behind the kitchen. It was built side on to the audience so some of those watching had a full view of me during my opening speech. Behind that were the Dunny on the Wold hustings, almost entirely hidden from view, and beyond that was Mrs Miggins Pie Shop. Having an actual view of the actors was very nice for the audience, but after the initial thrill of actually seeing people like Rowan, Hugh and Tony perform in person, most of the audience switch to looking up at the monitors above their heads. This meant they got to see the scenes as they were intended, the director switching from camera to camera to get the desired shots.
It was soon time for run-throughs. I was introduced to my MPs who would be seated behind me in Parliament. They were in full costume, wig and makeup but one of them seemed familiar, especially his accent. On talking to him between run-throughs I was to learn that he was Willy Bowman, the German born – although I am sure he told me he was Swiss – actor who appeared in many things but was best known to me as the ‘German’ in Fawlty Towers.

Above, Willy Bowman in Fawlty Towers.

Above, Willy Bowman – centre – in Blackadder 3.

He would later tell me he never turned down background work, as many small speaking parts are handed out at the last minute, and if you looked and sounded right then it could be you that ends up with a speaking role.
Run-throughs went well. Each scene rehearsed two or three times each. Then it was lunch. Mealtimes were staggered so not everyone was off set at once. I think I ate alone and quickly in the BBC Canteen. I was eager to get into my costume. In the floor above the Canteen was the table-service BBC Restaurant. I never ate there, but I imagine Rowan, Hugh, Mandie Fletcher and John Lloyd most likely did. I think Tony was a Canteen man too.
After my quick lunch it was into costume. My assigned dresser informed me he had been instructed to make elasticated garters to keep my stockings up. However, the stockings seemed quite tight to me and I declined the offer.
Standing in my dressing room and walking around on set are quite different things. Standing still the stockings stayed in place. Walking around they slipped downwards and crumpled.
I walked into the lounge room set, and down they slid.
‘I thought I told you to give him garters!’ bellowed the wardrobe manager at my poor dresser who stood saying nothing.
I had to intervene.
‘It’s my fault’ I admitted ‘I said I didn’t need them’.
‘That’s alright’, replied the wardrobe manager, changing from angry to smiling, ‘but I think perhaps you should have some’.
I agreed, and stood quietly as my dresser fitted them on me.

Above, Me in full costume on the Hustings of the Dunny on the Wold set.

Once the rest of the cast had returned from lunch and were in costume – but not yet wigs and makeup – it was time for more run-throughs. It was also now that we met the final cast member to join us. This was Colin the dachshund.

I will let you know what happened next in the next blog.

The History Part

Elizabethan meals were often elaborate both in the eating and in the preparation.
Many meats were available to those wealthy enough to afford them, while vegetables were looked down upon, and fruits even feared.

Above, Miriam Margolyes OBE with a suspicious vegetable in Blackadder 2.

Fruits were often only consumed in pies, which were popular with rich and poor alike. While the poor ate less meat, they also consumed more vegetables than the wealthy. This meant in many cases the diet of the rich was less healthy than that of the poor.
The large pieces of meat consumed in the wealthier households were cooked on spits. The turning of these spits was often done using small muscular dogs known as Turnspit Dogs. These were also known as Kitchen Dogs, Cooking Dogs, and may even be one of the origins of the term ‘Underdog’ as they were also referred to as this.

A Turnspit Dog at work, from Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales, 1800.

They turned the spit by running in a wheel. These would sometimes have hot coals placed in them to encourage the dogs to run or collars placed on the dogs that would start to choke them if they stopped. These same dogs were also used to power fruit presses.

Above, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson and Helen Atkinson-Wood. Mrs Miggins turns Baldrick on a spit without the aid of a small muscular dog in Blackadder 3.

Meat was not always on the menu. In 1563, Elizabeth I – in order to support the fishing industry – made it law that fish must be eaten on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Those caught eating meat instead of fish on these days could face up to 3 months in prison.
The Elizabethans also liked very sweet foods. Sugar was used to make wine glasses, plates and even cards. The wealthier you were, the more sugar you could buy. Even Elizabethan toothpaste was made of sugar. This meant that very wealthy people often had terrible decaying teeth.
Sometimes, the less wealthy resorted to deliberately blackening their teeth in order to appear wealthier than they actually were.
With such diets as these it may be just as well that in Blackadder 2 we see Queenie suggest that although she ‘may have the body of a weak and feeble woman’, she also has ‘the heart and stomach of a concrete elephant’.

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Young Snotty meets the Crew

Part 7

Young Snotty meets the Crew

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

I watched the London streets go by through the darkened windows of the Mercedes stretch limousine. Before long we were at the Thames TV building. The chaperone, Liza, and Peter Tabern were waiting there. In they all got. The limo wasn’t just for me but for all four of us. This didn’t lessen the experience. We made our way slowly through London, and Peter talked to us about the different locations we would be visiting that day. Once outside London, the going was a lot quicker and we were soon in the Buckinghamshire countryside. The first location was a thatched cottage that had recently been destroyed by fire. The walls were still standing, as was part of the roof. This was to be used as the Witch’s cottage in Victorian flashbacks. In the story the cottage was burnt down one night with the witch inside. During one of the night shoots, the Thames crew placed gas jets in the windows and doorway of the cottage, adding dry ice to appear as smoke. This made it look as though the cottage was on fire.

Above, Buckinghamshire countryside

The next location was the farmer’s field where the Witch’s cottage once was. This was a large, steep field. At one end there were the remains of a wall. This was supposed to be what was remaining of the cottage a hundred years or so after the fire. Our third stop was the farmhouse where Matthew, Sharman and Liza’s characters lived. It was also where my character Kevin would be staying during the events that were to take place. The farmer was out working somewhere in his fields but we were met by his wife. She showed us around the farmhouse, and Peter told us which scenes were to be filmed in the various rooms we were shown into. He also explained that the farmer’s field being used for filming – and which was a couple of miles away – was owned by the same farmer as the house. The farmer’s wife would be driving the tractor in long shot scenes, doubling for Matthew who had no tractor driving experience. It was then on to our fourth and final location. This was the school where both my character and Liza’s character went. We were met by the headmistress and shown around the playground. This included the climbing frame, which when lit by the light of the moon – with the help of several large Thames TV lights – would form the Shadow Cage that gave the story its name. This was also where most of my night-time filming was to be done, which would take place over 2 nights during the almost month long location shoot.

Above, an alternative cover for Philippa Pearce’s The Shadow Cage, showing the climbing frame shadow forming the cage.

It was then back to London. I remember finding the back of the limousine very comfortable. We played games on the journey back, such as naming something you could see out of the window beginning with certain letters of the alphabet. I remember this game being very familiar to the other three passengers, but I didn’t quite understand the rules. When it came to my turn and I had the letter G, I immediately said ‘Giraffe!’. The others quickly looked out of the window to spot the giraffe I claimed I could see. There wasn’t one. I had the rules explained to me again. We were soon back in London. Once back in our York Street flat, I told my parents about the day’s events. I think I had a last look through my script, but I had known all of my lines for a long time by now. It was not easy to sleep that night. The next day I would be heading back out to the countryside of Buckinghamshire to start filming. My first TV role was about to begin. The next morning a car would be picking me up again, but this time it would not be a chauffeur driven Mercedes limousine, but my New Zealand chaperone’s old unlockable car. Hopefully it would make the journey to Buckinghamshire and back, many times over the next few weeks. I’ll let you know how the start of filming went in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

When I arrived at the rehearsal room for the run through with the crew, I found it already quite busy.
Around twenty or so crew members were already standing around taking notes as John Lloyd and Mandie Fletcher explained some of the sets and scenes. The set designers were also on hand to answer any questions. When the crew were happy, we started our run-through.
The first scenes went well, and I was pleased with the crew’s reactions to my opening speech.
I think all of the scenes but one got the hoped for reactions and laughs in the right places. The one that didn’t was the scene where Blackadder helps Baldrick fill in his MP application form.
As those of you familiar with Blackadder 3 will know, Baldrick’s first name is revealed as being ‘Sod Off’. In the script it had Tony saying his name might be ‘Sir Doff’, only revealing that it was much more likely to be ‘Sod Off’ when he begins to explain why he thinks this is his name.
It was expected that the laugh would not come until the end of Baldrick’s explanation but as soon as Tony said ‘Sir Doff’ the crew immediately realized where it was going and began to laugh.

Above, Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson, the Filling in Forms Scene, Blackadder 3.

Once the run-through was finished and the crew were gone, it was decided that rather than trying to disguise the name, Tony should just say ‘Sod Off’ from the start. This was the only change needed to any scenes due to the reactions of the run-through.
I think that there was then a break, more coffee, more piano playing from Hugh, and then one more full run-through. This was the last time we would rehearse before being on set on Filming Day.
There then followed another comedy filled lunch in the canteen, after which we were invited to head over to TV Centre to meet Howard Goodall and to hear his new version of the Blackadder theme. I took up the offer.
I arrived at TV Centre. I can’t remember how many other cast members were there, but certainly John and Mandie were. It was great meeting Howard, and I tried to not think about my only previous recording studio experience of the not Cornish enough frozen fish commercial I had done all those years before. This experience however was very different.
Howard – who knew both Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis from Oxford University – was very quiet, but friendly. We were soon listening to the opening credits theme. I was pleased with how the familiar Blackadder music had been just slightly altered to have a more Georgian sound.
We then heard the closing credits theme. This was very different yet familiar as Howard had somehow managed to keep the Blackadder theme running through this very different piece.

Above, Rowan Atkinson, Howard Goodall and Richard Curtis as undergraduates at Oxford.

I had been humming the original Blackadder theme from series one to myself since I had been told that I had the part. When I left TV Centre this time, I was humming the new version of it. However, this soon mingled with the original in my head until only the original was left. All these years later I still find myself either humming the Blackadder 3 ending credits or sometimes even singing the series one opening lyrics. My wife Penny and son William have become very accustomed to this over the years and by now must know the words too.
I made my way home that afternoon excited that the next day would finally be the Filming Day. I was also a little sad that my Blackadder adventure was about to come to an end very soon. I didn’t know then that in some ways it was never going to end.
I think I slept well that night. The rehearsals had been huge fun but also a lot of work, and I was probably quite tired. The next morning it was up early and then off to BBC TV Centre. I said goodbye to my parents. The next time they saw me – later that same day – I was dressed as William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

I’ll let you know how things went at TV Centre in the next blog.

The History Part

As many of you will know, when Blackadder tells Prince George to ‘take out the drawings for that beach hut at Brighton’, he is referring to Brighton Pavilion, also known as the Royal Pavilion.
Prince George was recommended to bathe in the sea for his health, but he also chose Brighton as it was far enough away from London and the King’s court. He didn’t get on well with his father George III. He also wanted somewhere far enough away from his father to be able to meet Maria Fitzherbert. Maria was a long term companion of the prince, and eventually they married in secret.

Above, Maria Fitzherbert by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1788.

Maria Fitzherbert was twice widowed, and also a Roman Catholic. When the King found out he immediately declared the marriage as illegal and not officially recognised.
Firstly, the King must give his permission for the Prince to marry, and secondly Maria – being a Roman Catholic – was not allowed to marry the heir to the British throne. Had King George given his consent and recognised the marriage, Prince George would have had to given up his succession to the throne.
George still loved to spend a lot of time in Brighton. The Pavillion was designed to look like something from the mysterious East. Prince George – like many high ranking gentlemen in England – had quite an obsession with Eastern designs and ideas.
The designers hadn’t been to the East however, and they had to use books and textiles to get their ideas. The result is a fantastic building, but on closer inspection one can see architecture from various places mixed together in a not exactly authentic manner, while Chinese writing that doesn’t actually say anything sits next to somewhat non-Chinese looking dragons.

Above, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

However, the Pavillion still stands as a Regency salute to the East. It may not be a true representation of Eastern architecture but is an authentic example of what many Englishmen thought the East looked like. When the Regency period ended, interest in the Pavillion continued. However, Queen Victoria did not like the Pavilion very much, preferring to spend time at Buckingham Palace. In 1850, with Osborne House almost completed and Balmoral Castle soon to be added to the Royal Residencies, Victoria sold the Pavilion to the City of Brighton.
During World War I, the Pavillion was used as a military hospital for wounded soldiers of the Indian Army. Today many people from all over the world still visit and learn about Prince George’s fantastical and extravagant beach hut.

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For more on Howard Goodall

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Young Snotty makes a Scene

Part 6

Young Snotty makes a Scene

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

I tried to settle back into ordinary life in Cornwall as best I could. School, walking on the cliffs, riding my pony, Percy, but all of the time I was thinking about, waiting to start my first TV role.
I didn’t have to wait long for the script to arrive along with my filming schedule. The script was good, with a lot for me to do and learn. The filming schedule was one week of rehearsals in London followed by just over three weeks filming on location in Buckinghamshire.
The filming location was out in the countryside but near enough to London to get there and back each day. My father arranged to hire the same townhouse flat in York Street for the month or so needed.
I found quiet places to read and learn the script. I remember asking my parents ‘What happens if I can’t do it?’.
‘What do you mean?’ replied my father.
‘What if I can’t learn the lines or I’m just no good at it?’ I answered.
‘Well’, replied my father ‘I suppose Thames TV would not be very happy with you!’.
I found learning the lines quite easy. I still do. I also knew that my acting abilities had already been tested at the two days of auditioning. My brief concerns didn’t last, and I was soon just looking forward to getting started.

Above, Me and Percy about 1980

The time eventually went, and we were on our way to London. The first day or two were free for sightseeing, then it was the first day of rehearsals.
I had met Liza at the auditions but now I got to meet the rest of the small cast. My aunt was played by a Scottish actress and writer called Sharman Macdonald, and my uncle was played by an actor called Matthew Guinness.
Matthew was huge fun to work with. Extremely talented actor, very friendly, and very kind to me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Matthew was the son of the great actor Sir Alec Guinness.

Above, Sir Alec Guinness in Star Wars

Rehearsals were full of laughter. Sharman was very nice, I got on well with Liza, and Matthew was one of the funniest people I have ever met, which having worked with Rowan, Hugh and Tony is quite a thing to say.
Rehearsals done, we had a day meeting some of the crew back at the Thames TV building. We also met the one remaining cast member. This was the elderly lady who was to play the part of the Witch that my character saw in flashbacks of Victorian life. She had no lines so didn’t need to be at rehearsal, but Peter Tabern thought we should meet her, which was nice. I also met a very nice lady from New Zealand – whose name I can’t remember 40 years later – who was to be my chaperone, leaving my parents free during the days I was filming. I remember going around London in her old car, which didn’t lock, but she claimed it didn’t matter as no one would try and steal such a car.
After meeting people at Thames, it was lunch. All us actors and Peter went to a small restaurant. It was then I saw for the first time how much actors can eat. Sharman – who was very thin – and Matthew finished their meals and then anything else anyone had left. I was to learn that this was an ‘actor thing’. It may be that as actors never know when the next role will appear for them that they eat as much free food as possible when they are working. I too learnt to eat well over the years, but acting can be very physical , and calories are often easily burnt off.

Above, Matthew Guinness

There then followed a day off, after which would follow a day being shown the locations. On location viewing day, I waited in our York Street flat, looking out of the window. I was never sure if my chaperone’s old car would make it.
After a while of waiting, a cream Mercedes stretch limousine pulled up outside. Out stepped a uniformed chauffeur.
‘That’s for me!’ I joked to my parents.
Then, as my father and I watched from the upstairs window, the chauffeur stepped up to the front door and pressed the buzzer. Our intercom buzzed. My father answered it.
‘I’m here to pick up a Simon Osborne’ said the chauffeur.
‘He will be right down’ replied my father.
It was for me.
‘Thames TV must think a lot of you!’ said the chauffeur as he opened the limousine door.
I could hardly believe I was to be chauffeur driven in a Mercedes stretch limousine. I felt very much that I was being given the film star treatment.

I’ll let you know what happened next in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

It was on the 3rd or 4th day of Blackadder rehearsals when I walked into the room a little later than usual. All of the actors’ names were written on a big whiteboard near the rehearsal room door, and beside them were the times you were due in the following day. When I had left the day before, a production assistant had written up a later time than was now written there. I must have left before the next day’s call times were decided on, and now I had turned up late.
I apologized immediately, knowing the strict expectations on punctuality. To my surprise I was immediately forgiven, without even explaining that my call time changed after I had left and it wasn’t really my fault.
This was unusual, and it must have been that they already knew the times had changed or if you have a large enough role they forgive a late arrival or two. Either way I didn’t mind.
The rest of the cast were already rehearsing. They were doing the election scene at the far end of the room.
I watched as Dominic – Pitt the Even Younger – read the lines about bribing the electorate. I was a little confused, they were my lines! Was this some sort of punishment for being late?

A production assistant came running up to explain.
‘They have given those lines to Dominic now’, she explained.
‘Oh, good’ I replied, not happy to lose lines but happy that Dominic now had a speaking role.
‘But don’t worry,’ continued the assistant, holding out another rewritten script ‘They have written you two new scenes, you have a lot more to do!’.

Dominic Martelli as Pitt the Even Younger in Blackadder 3

I flicked through the new script. I was pleased to see the first new scene where I persuade the newly elected Baldrick to vote the way I want him to. I was then even more pleased to read the Downy Hair scene. We rehearsed both scenes, and they went well. Everyone seemed pleased.
After lunch I went back down to the rehearsal room before anyone else. I wanted somewhere quiet to learn my new lines. I had just about finished learning them when in walked Ben Elton.
‘I hope you like the new scenes’ he said
‘Yes’ I replied ‘Thank you for writing them’.
‘Well’, he continued ‘I just wanted to say, I hope you are enjoying being a part of Blackadder as much as we all are of watching you’.
I told him I definitely was. We didn’t get to talk to the writers about much more than rewrites for a few minutes a day, so to have this brief talk with one of them and receive such praise was very nice indeed.
Ben left as the others were arriving back from lunch. We were soon back to rehearsing the new scenes.
The Downy Hair scene went well straight away, and I think never needed any changes. The short scene with Baldrick was not as straightforward. The script had me addressing him as a ‘New Bug’. John Lloyd asked me if that was the sort of thing I would have said at my Public School. I explained that I think it sounds fine, but that I went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School, not a Public School. I was pleased my Public School accent was convincing enough.

Above, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson and Vincent Hanna in Blackadder 3

‘New Bug’ was settled on. The next thing was how Tony and I should leave the scene. The original suggestion was that we skip out of shot holding hands while I say ‘Do you like girls?’.
We tried it once. I didn’t think it worked and I don’t think Tony did either. I suggested that although I am supposed to be young, holding Baldrick’s hand and skipping away with him doesn’t seem right. Adding ‘do you like girls?’ seemed to make it even worse.
Mandie agreed, and after a short discussion it was decided that I should just say something like ‘come along with me’ and Baldrick should follow. This is what worked, and the scene didn’t change again.
The next day was the Crew Run-through Day. This meant a full run-through of the entire episode as though it was being filmed. It was so the lighting and sound technicians would be able to mark in their scripts where lights and microphones would need to be, and the production team would be familiar with how the episode was going to look. For us, it also meant that for the first time we would get to see other people’s reactions to the episode. Did it all work? Will they laugh in the right places?

I’ll let you know how it went in the next blog.

The History Part

For those of you familiar with Blackadder 2, you will know that Elizabeth I – or Queenie – had her court favourites.

Above, Rowan Atkinson and Miranda Richardson in Blackadder 2

Well, the real Elizabeth liked to give some her Favourites nicknames rather than call them by their real names.
Her Chief Minister, Burghley she called her ‘Spirit’, and Lord Robert Dudley she called her ‘Eyes’. The Duke of Anjou however had a much more Blackadder type nickname. Queenie liked to refer to the French Duke as the ‘Frog’.
Elizabeth would also go to great lengths to try and cover her hair loss and aging appearance. It is said that her ladies could take up to four hours to dress her, apply makeup, and place on a wig. No one was allowed to enter the room while this was taking place apart from her ladies in waiting.
It is thought that during one such makeover Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex entered the room unannounced. He quickly left again but is reported to have told others of what he had seen, including the unmade up face of the aging queen.
Robert Devereux was executed in 1601. It is most likely that this was due to his failed rebellion made against Elizabeth’s government, but it can’t be ruled out that his tellings of what he saw – the queen’s face without makeup – was another reason for Queenie’s orders to cut off his head!
How Blackadder 2 is that?

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Young Snotty settles into Parliament

Part 5

Young Snotty settles into Parliament

My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!

The My History Part

We arrived at the Thames TV building in good time. No need to go to the reception desk this time as we found the casting director waiting for us as soon as we entered through the revolving doors. She escorted us up to the waiting area personally. Even at that young age I took this as a good sign.
There were even more children waiting on this second day, girls too, auditioning for the part of the lead boy’s cousin.
Amongst the other parents and chaperones I recognized a familiar face from TV. Sitting beside a boy about my age – who I assume was his son – was the now late Canadian actor Bruce Boa. He had already appeared on TV and in films many times and would go on to do much more including The Empire Strikes Back. At this time I only knew him as the ‘American’ from the Waldorf Salad episode of Fawlty Towers.

Above, Bruce Boa

We were called into the office by director Peter Tabern in groups of six, 3 boys and 3 girls. The casting director asked that I partnered up with a girl called Liza Hayden. The others were asked to pair up themselves. We then read parts of the script in our pairs. This done, we were then given imagined scenarios to improvise. Once we had done this there was a short break where the director and casting director discussed things in the office.

Above, familiar to anyone who has ever seen anything made by Thames TV

I sat with my parents waiting. Another group of children arrived. They were from a stage school outside London and they were late. The casting director was called for, and the chaperone explained that their train had been delayed. They were informed they had arrived too late and decisions were already being made as to who would be given the parts.
I was pleased at having less competition, but surprised as their lateness was not of their doing. This moment was when I learned the strict punctuality expected when working in film and TV. A lesson never forgotten.
The casting director then crossed the room and spoke to Bruce Boa. I listened in.
‘Thank you for coming in’ she said ‘but we’ve made our decision’.
Bruce smiled, thanked her, then left with his son.
‘Even less competition’, I thought as I watched them leave.

Above, Bruce Boa with John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, BBC

Everyone else was then thanked the same, except for the group of six of which I was one. We were called back into the director’s office.
Peter spoke to us all about how everyone had done well, and how a decision has been made. The casting director left the room for a couple of minutes. When she returned, Peter was ready to let us know who had been chosen.
‘We would like the lead role of Kevin to be played by Simon’ he began ‘and the role of Lisa to be played by Liza’.
I remember commenting something like ‘Haha, Liza sounds like Lisa’, but I had to say something, just anything. I was relieved, shocked, pleased, and half a dozen other emotions.

Above, me how I would have looked at the time, aged around 9 or 10, with hamster

The four children who hadn’t been chosen left, and Peter talked to myself and Liza about how demanding a months filming on location would be. I was smiling but didn’t really listen. I just wanted to get to tell my parents the news that their time, effort, expense and faith in me hadn’t been wasted. When we were told we could go I went straight out into the waiting room where my parents were.
‘I got it!’ I said uncontrollably happy, ‘I got the part!’.
‘Yes’ replied my mother smiling back, ‘We know’.
It appears that when the casting director had left us with Peter in his office it had been to ask my parents if they were really willing to move to London for a month while I filmed should I be offered the part.
I will always be grateful that they replied ‘Yes’.
I had landed my first TV role. Not just any role, but the lead role. This is where it really began.
We had a day or two longer in London, then it was back to Cornwall to wait for my script to arrive and call sheet for filming to be scheduled.
I now had a couple of months of ordinary life, waiting for the extraordinary to begin.

I’ll let you know what happened next in the next blog.

The Behind the Scenes Part

The second day of Blackadder rehearsals brought more rewrites. I realized now that this was something I would have to get used to. There was nothing wrong with the original script, but as cast members would try things out, make slight changes, and suggest new things the writers would go away and alter the script to reflect that.
For those of us who were new to Blackadder, we had our scenes changed as the writers got to know us more. Each change was made with our capabilities and personalities in mind.
Vincent Hanna was – being a journalist – new to acting, but he seemed to settle into it with little effort.
As I grew to know the cast more – and they grew to know me – I felt more and more a part of the Blackadder family.
Hugh and Tony were great fun and were the cause of much laughter. Rowan was quieter than them but just as funny. Many lunchtimes were spent in the BBC canteen, sitting around a table with them all, trying to eat while hearing Tony tell funny tales, Hugh doing impressions, and watching Rowan pull faces at his lunch. Director Mandie Fletcher and producer John Lloyd were also great fun to be around.

Above, Hugh Laurie CBE as Prince George in Blackadder 3

One afternoon during a discussion about an idea for an added scene, Rowan suggested finding a couple of actors who could just pull the appropriate faces instead of adding more dialogue. He demonstrated the faces he thought would work.
‘ That’s all fine’, replied John Lloyd ‘But there’s no one else in the world who could pull those faces’.
The idea of the scene was that I – Pitt the Younger – would enter the palace to try and make Blackadder leave.
Mandie suggested I enter with a couple of soldiers. These were the ones that Rowan suggested should pull faces.
‘More actors’ said Tony loudly, ‘More work for union members! Hurrah!’.
‘No, I don’t think we need those two soldiers!’ answered John Lloyd.
‘Boo!’ replied Tony, again loudly.

Above, Rowan Atkinson CBE as Blackadder in Blackadder 3

In the end it was decided to drop the scene. However, when the writers got to hear of it later in the day they decided to use the basis of the idea when they wrote the Downy Hair scene for me. The script was about to see the biggest changes of all the rewrites. By the end of these changes the original script I had received in the post in that envelope marked BBC some weeks earlier would have only a few original scenes left untouched. I was pleased to find I had even more to do.

How this came about and why I’ll let you know in the next blog.

The History Part

Those of you familiar with Blackadder 3 will be aware that the Duke of Wellington as played by Stephen Fry wanted Tea – not Coffee – and he wanted it immediately!

Above, Stephen Fry as the Duke of Wellington in Blackadder 3

Well, tea – which at first was partly drunk as a medicinal brew – began to become available in Britain in the late 1600s.
At first it was not allowed to be sold to private houses, and from 1676 coffee shops had to apply for a license to sell tea.
In 1717 Thomas Twining changed his coffee shop in London into a tea shop. Tea became more accessible in the Georgian and Regency Periods as the Empire grew.
It was however an expensive commodity, largely due to government duty on tea which by the middle of the 1700s was 119 per cent.
The result of this encouraged smuggling and the mixing of the tea leaves with other substances. It was not until 1784 when Pitt the Younger lowered the duty from 119 per cent to just 12.5. However, tea remained expensive. Owners of grand houses would pay such high amounts for imported tea that it would be locked away to keep it safe from a visitor or servant who may be tempted to help themselves to a few leaves.
Once the leaves had been used to make the wealthy house owner’s tea, the leaves would then be passed on to someone high up in the household staff – such as a housekeeper – who would then dry them out to use again.
This done, some other member of staff – who was in favour with the housekeeper – would then be given the used leaves who would then also dry them and use them again. Fourth and fifth uses by lower down members of staff cannot be ruled out.
Next time you are given tea when calling upon someone and the tea is not quite to your liking just be thankful that at least it is probably the first and only time the leaves have been used, and it is not a 4th or 5th hand cup of tea!
What would the Duke have thought of that?

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