The secrets of filming ‘Arthur of the Britons’ in 1972

I have promised to write more about my experiences behind-the-scenes in film and television for some time now. There is one series in particular that still has a strong following. 

Dressing up in medieval garb as children

Dressing up in medieval garb as children at Sudley Castle in about 1970

As children in 1971, we were all excited to hear that HTV was planning to film a series about King Arthur near where we lived in Gloucestershire. We were keen on dressing up and I was already interested in medieval history.

Filming 'King Arthur and the Spaceship'

The Arthurian legend had always been portrayed with ladies in pointy conical hats and knights in chain mail riding around with lances, however expectations of turreted castles were soon to be dashed.

Instead, we woke up one morning to find this tent in the field beyond our house, with a full English breakfast being served by location caterers from the back of a two-tone bus. The final scenes of Episode One of the series Arthur of the Britons, entitled Arthur is Dead, starring Oliver Tobias in the title role, was to be filmed on our farm.

A unit base for HTV's drama serial 'Arthur of the Britons' in 1972

The unit base for HTV’s drama serial ‘Arthur of the Britons’ being shot on our farm in the Cotswolds in 1972

We learnt that the drama series, Arthur of the Britions was to be quite different from traditional renditions of the well-loved stories. Apart from anything else the actors had long hair and wore rough hessian garments or sheepskins to reflect the culture of Iron Age England. Everyone was excited about the idea, which seemed more authentic and certainly held more sex-appeal than the Hollywood idyl lodged in our consciousness.

While the lane below the wood that ran along the sides of our valley was closed to traffic, HTV ran cables and moved in with their lights, camera equipment and props amounting to bundles of swords, spears, shields and other weaponry.

Filming 'Arthur of the Britons' on our farm

Here you can see the Gulliver’s Prop lorry as well as costume and make-up artists with their kit-bags attending to the actors and supporting artistes. Please remind me of the name of the character to the left of shot and who played him.

Filming 'Arthur of the Britons' on our farm2

It must have been dark under the trees, as there would have been have been  a large 2K light on this tripod. The crew  set up carefully and were finally ready to go for a take, recording the battle in the woods on 16mm.

Filming 'Arthur of the Britons' on our farm1

After a short skirmish, Arthur pretends to retreat, leading his men downhill. They are soon followed by the Saxon hordes. The reality was that the wood was much steeper than it came across on television. The actors ended up tumbling down the bank.

The actors come leaping out of the wood

We were waiting in the open field in the valley floor. Although naturally marshy, this had been made much wetter by damming the stream that flowed down from the woods. Our local road engineer Percy Baxter dug pits that filled with water and acted as a trap for the Saxons who did not know the secret way through the marshes.

Filming 'Arthur of the Britons' on our farm6

My sisters and our sheepdog with Percy Baxter who dug great holes in the field before allowing them to fill up with spring water. Members of the crew work beyond.

We knew the ledgend and were fascinated to see how the sequence would come together.

Filming 'Arthur of the Britons' on our farm5

As the scene was difficult to replicate it was shot with two cameras, seen here set on wooden tripods. The result was exciting.

Filming Arthur of the Britons

For photos of the location on the Arthur of the Britons website please click here.

Scroll to 19.50 towards the end of the episode to watch the scene here on Youtube:

5 Comments

Filed under Acting, Biography, Film, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film

5 responses to “The secrets of filming ‘Arthur of the Britons’ in 1972

  1. “Please remind me of the name of the character to the left of shot and who played him.” Not sure which character you mean … Cerdig? (Rupert Davies) Some great shots here! And wonderful information – I didn’t know who supplied the costumes until now – nor that there was an Arthurian legend about people drowning in a marsh. Who was involved in that tale?

    • I’ve always know the legend of the marsh, and am sure there is an original source, although I can’t remember what. Arthur knows the secret way though but his enemies are over-confident and sink – an allegory to life.

      • Lee

        Please could anyone put me in touch with jack watsons son .
        My great uncle made the swords and hellmets for arthur of the britons and i met Jack Watson on Bath Spa train station in about 1975-76
        07703572400

  2. Lee

    Please could anyone put me in touch with jack watsons son .
    My great uncle made the swords and hellmets for arthur of the britons and i met Jack Watson on Bath Spa train station in about 1975-76
    07703572400

    • Dear Lee, Thanks for writing in. You could try joining the Arthur of The Britons Facebook page and asking them. They would love to hear about the swords and helmets. I worked with Jack Watson on ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever: The Big Six’, which is now on DVD. I’m afriad I never met his son.

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