It’s our imaginary award acceptance speech and an iconic director is stepping up to the mic
Words – Richard Galpin
_ The guy who gave me my first job was an impresario called Michael Codron. He had seen me in a review at my university and gave me a job as an understudy in a West End review called One Over The Eight with Kenneth Williams and Sheila Hancock. It involved dancing, which I was supremely ill equipped for. Once a week I would have go through the steps with Jill Gascoine, she could dance and I couldn’t. At one point I had to seize her around the waste and turn 360 degrees, but I only managed 180 degrees and ended up peering through her legs. I was told to get off the stage as I wasn’t fit to do the job.
_ I owe a lot to the people I worked with at the BBC. There was a producer there called David Rose who asked me to do live Z Cars which was a huge gamble on his part. There was no room for error. If you have a camera in shot, it’s in shot and there’s nothing you can do about it and 15 million people would see it. I think I managed to stumble through it without too big a disgrace. You learn things when you’re starting out, and I learnt a lot from the professional actors – what made them good, what made them not so good. It was mostly my intervention that made them not so good. So I learnt to say less and consider very carefully what it was I did say.
_ You can only sustain your career by having a supportive producer. I’ve worked with Rebecca O’Brien for twenty years now and before her Sally Hibbin who was also very good. It sounds very po-faced but as the great man says, “The task is not only to understand the world but to change it”. It’s not enough to just understand you have to try and intervene and move the situation on. Rebecca and I have made films for so long that when there are issues or political things to talk about we have a bit of a platform to have our voice heard. Sometimes you feel like you’re a tiny drop in a big ocean.
_ The producer of The Wednesday Play was a guy called James MacTaggart. It was a show that did contemporary drama in 1964 and it was my big break and life-changer. The famous MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival is named after him. He was an iconoclastic Scot who would fight the television establishment with great glee, so to hear the suits talking their gibberish at these lectures would send McTaggart turning in his grave. They have no idea how they are trampling on his memory.
_ There are a number of TV executives I wouldn’t thank. In fact I would consign them to Room 101. You always learn from people you battle against. There were a bunch of executives and politicians who banned a lot of our films in the 1980s. But you learn through that process how devious and intellectually corrupt they are, so that equips you better to battle them the next time.