A lot of people who write to me are unaware that I actually started my writing career in radio drama, and it was not until 1965 that I took the leap into television, in which the miracle of national colour transmissions was still some way off. However, as we all know, monochrome had a lot of appeal of its own, especially when you think of such memorable productions as the original 'FORSYTE SAGA' and the stark terror of 'QUATERMASS'.
My first television script, in 1965, was for ITV, which in those days consisted of a number of local stations, one of which was Associated Rediffusion in the London area from Monday to Friday. The script was for a childrens’ drama series, details of which you can read about on the ITV page. At the beginning, I disliked intensely writing for television; for me, the people who worked there seemed to lack the warmth and encouragement of those I had worked with in radio drama. But as I gradually became immune to the constant criticism of those who had never written anything in their lives, I began to realise that whatever medium you worked in, it was a tough old business.
In 1966, I made the unwise decision to do a non-speaking part in 'DOCTOR WHO AND THE MOONBASE'. The only reason I did it was for money (they were pretty lean days for me), but those terrible pictures of my veins protruding out of my face and forehead have come to haunt me over the years, especially when so many fans keep sending me photocopies of them; I had somehow imagined that I had succeeded in burning every single copy throughout the world - apart from this one!
However, during those difficult times, I managed to earn a crust or two by doing far too many non-speaking roles, both in television and in films. For instance, there was Mrs Gaskell’s 'NORTH AND SOUTH' for my FURY FROM THE DEEP director, Hugh David, and bit parts in the feature films, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES' (I’m the moustachioed mechanic), and 'THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE', in which I spent weeks as an Italian waiter on the set at MGM’s Elstree Studios (perfect casting for a North London boy eh?), serving coffee to Shirley MacLaine, George C Scott, Alain Delon, and Art Carney! About this time, my dear friend Cedric Messina, who was one of the most innovative and imaginative producers at BBC television, suggested that if I wanted to learn about television scriptwriting, I could come and work for him as an extra, and learn my craft by just watching. I accepted (I think graciously), and, for the princely sum of £5 a day, worked on many of his productions, such as 'THE SIEGE OF MANCHESTER' and 'LA BOHEME', in which I was the worst student who couldn’t even…. Ah, but those stories will have to wait for my autobiography!
Mad fool that he was, dear Cedric then asked me to do a speaking part in his massive television version of Terence Rattigan’s stage play 'ROSS', which was the story of Lawrence of Arabia, starring Ian McKellen as Lawrence, Edward Fox, and my old chum, David Spenser as Lawrence’s doomed friend, Achmed. A great chunk of the production was filmed in the Sahara desert in Morocco, and guess who had to be in first shot on the exterior location set of Der’aa at four o’clock in the morning, with clipped black moustache and foul make-up slap? I was supposed to be the nasty Turkish sergeant who did those unpleasant things to Lawrence, but what I was faced with in that horrific first shot was…. well why don’t you write to me, and, if I can pluck up enough courage, I’ll tell you!
My involvement with Television continued with my writing and ultimately producing the UK version of 'FRAGGLE ROCK' for Jim Henson. That of course was a delightful experience for me, thanks to Duncan Kenworthy who invited me to be part of it. That was followed by the setting up of SAFFRON PRODUCTIONS formed my David Spenser and myself, and for which we won the International Emmy Award in New York.