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 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruff_(clothing)
For more on Only Fools and Horses
For more on Pipkins https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipkins
For more on the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-Coloured_Swap_Shop
For more on Robbin’s Nest https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin%27s_Nest
For more on Duty Free https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duty_Free_(TV_series)
For more on One Foot in the Grave https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Foot_in_the_Grave
For more on Bread https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_(TV_series)
For more on Who Dares Wins https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Dares_Wins_(TV_series)