4 April 2017

Cornflakes, Cheddar & the fictional King Arthur

by Charles Moberly (my Devon neighbour & good friend)

Reading Helen’s terrific trilogy Pendragon’s Banner has taken me back to 1972 when I worked on the TV series Arthur of the BritonsMy job was fascinating. I spent the mornings at the centre of things, sharing an office with the Producer, Peter Miller, and three of his team. At lunch-time I drove out in my open top sports car to join the crew in the pub nearest to where they were filming. Oliver Tobias, who played King Arthur, had a Haflinger six-wheel amphibious vehicle which he backed into my Lotus in a pub car park. When I’d assessed the damage he cheerily settled with a wad of notes.

Ah, a wad of notes! The afternoon part of my job was to make myself conspicuous while watching the filming so that actors could approach me to get paid their expenses and stuntmen their fees. I had a float of £2,000 in my briefcase, a huge sum in those days. A glorious summer, open air, paid to lie on the grass, meet interesting and famous people, what a life!

Actors seemed to fall into two categories, those whose real-life personae were the same on-screen and off. Yes, Brian Blessed boomed and roared 45 years ago whatever he was doing, and I suspect he still does. Others were more subdued, assuming a screen personality to suit the role. 

Source Facebook 
So why the Cornflakes & Cheddar? As I’ve said, I paid stuntmen their fees. The episode The Slaves was filmed in Cheddar Gorge. Arthur hurled a sword into the back of a Saxon high up on a ledge. My job was to pay the stuntman Jackie Cooper £84 for falling off the cliff. At the start of the day the Director asked Jackie whether he needed anything. What would he like to cushion his landing? That’s where the Cornflakes came in. ‘Packing cases, lots of them, the sort used to deliver cereals to supermarkets. I want them assembled empty with the air inside three layers deep.’
So Jackie hurled himself off the ledge face down, tumbled in the air and landed sprawled on his back onto the packing cases. He got up unhurt and I paid him the £84.

Arthur of the Britons was revolutionary in that it presented Arthur as he probably was: a guerrilla leader trying to unite the Celts to fight off the invading Saxons. Did I say ‘probably was’? Make that ‘possibly’. Reading not only Helen’s wonderful novels but also her and others’ research confirms that the evidence that Arthur even existed is scant. 
Photo Oliver Tobias official web site

But what the heck! It’s noble, it’s exciting, it’s part of our culture and it has endured. Long may it continue to do so.

Arthur of the Britons TV series

There were 26 30 minute episodes broadcast in 1972 and 1973. Set in post-Roman times the basic story-line is Arthur as a guerilla leader of the Celts, fighting to hold back the encroaching tide of the Saxons, a far more realistic portrayal of this legedary figure than the later Knights in Armour Medieval tales. 

Among the actors, in addition to Oliver Tobias (Arthur) Brian Blessed  (Mark of Cornwall) Jack Watson (Llud) and Michael Gothard (Cai) were a few other unexpected names on the cast list such as  Martin Jarvis, Tom Baker  who a year later in 1974 became famous as the fourth incarnation of Dr Who, and David Prowse who, although you did not see his face in 1977 became one of the most well-known movie characters - Darth Vader. For Arthur of the Britons, he played Col in The Slaves!

You Tube: The Slaves 
(the scene mentioned above is around the 20.58 point just before the fighting starts) 

Read More:  Wikipedia  IMDb

Helen says: Thank you Charles - that brought back a few memories for me too!
I started writing my Arthurian Trilogy back in the 70s, around the time that this series was televised, and it probably helped to influence my certainty that Arthur was post Roman, not a Medieval knight. I had discovered, through reading Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills, that Arthur, IF he had existed was more likely to have been a war lord in that post Roman era (5th-6th century), placing him there made much more logical sense.

I also wanted to write a novel that had a more positive side to Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere). I have never had any admiration for the character Lancelot - I can't stand him - so I couldn't figure why she was so attracted to him when she had Arthur as a much better alternative! 

It took me well over 10 years to write what would turn out to be The Kingmaking and Pendragon's Banner. I was accepted for publication by William Heinemann (Random House) a week after my 40th birthday in 1993.

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The original cover of the first edition

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  1. Not only do I remember this series, I recently bought it on DVD so that I could relive it! Revisiting it after 40+ years (!) one thing that struck me was its authentic 'feel'; the historical setting, the outfits, the living arrangements seemed more 'right' to me than more modern dramas. I liked the way they flagged the differences between the hunting Celts and the farming Saxons. As a nine-year-old, camping with my family in Germany, I used to wade across the river, hide out among the trees, and pretend I was Arthur (my friend was Cai - it didn't matter that we were girls - such was the 'adventure' of this series.) Lovely that, all those years later and with a history degree and a couple of Dark Ages novels under my belt, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Looks like I am going to have to get the DVDs as well :-)
    Thanks for dropping by Annie.

  3. Great series. I'm Welsh and I loved it; yes, I think it was a very realistic dramatic portrayal. And as a young teenager I had a crush on 'King Arthur'(Oliver Tobias). I think I still do. LOL

    BTW I highly recommend this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1tuU021TMw

    1. Oliver was rather dishy back then wasn't he?

  4. Looks like I'm going to have to look for this version of the Arthur phenomenon! Arthur of the Britons. Never heard of it here in Canada. Thanks for the post, Charles and Helen!

    1. It seems that back then these shows weren't made available for US/Canadian viewing :-(


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