Andrew Serraillier on working on This England and Celebration

So I did a lot of entertainment, but I think going into local programmes was much more my thing because I was working on half-hour films, so everything was longer-form. This England was a series that I think had enjoyed quite a reputation as a network series. But it wasn’t a network series when I joined, it was a regional programme. But I made loads of those. And they were half-hour films. I had about six weeks on each. The first three weeks was to think of something and then cast it, get people, think of locations, and design the story. Then a freelance director would be assigned who would have three weeks. They would have a week to walk the course with me, a week filming, and a week editing. That was one This England. I did 15 or 20 of those. I loved it.

And what kind of thing were they doing? Was it quirky?

Some were quirky. In Search Of The Wiggly Woo was about pantomime dames. Freshers’ Week was about Lancaster University. One of my favourites was about Shap in Derbyshire, the highest village in England. It was cut off by bad weather and snow. It was one of those films that literally sprang from, “What are we going to do this week?” We were in The Stables then, it wasn’t the Green Room, the pub attached to Granada or the relaxing area, or whatever you want to call it, and we were well into our cups. Andy McLoughlin was my boss at the time. He had this idea of going into Shap with two researchers. One was Phil Griffin who went in behind the post van, and the other was me and I went in the helicopter. And the idea was that we both met in the village and literally, like a grenade, we just splashed out and talked to whoever we could find. And so in a day’s filming we had one half-hour film. And it was really good I thought. Lots like that.

There was a parallel series called Celebration and that was an art series. I did some network editions of Celebration, but also when it wasn’t commissioned again they wanted to keep making them and they put them out locally. We did one about Nicholas Hytner, a profile of this young associate director at the Royal Exchange who went on to run the National. He’s just left now and he’s made a few feature films and he’s got lots of projects. A very clever man. And my experience on that film was one of the frustrations of being a researcher. What had been commissioned was a profile of this man. He had worked at Exeter Northcott (theatre) and he’d worked at various regional theatres and done bits of this and that, none of which was very interesting. At the Royal Exchange he was doing Mumbo Jumbo which was a brand new play which won a new writers’ scheme run by the theatre. One afternoon we’d scheduled a bit of rehearsal filming just to see this man at work. For me, that should have been the whole film. Seeing a director at work. The cameraman on that day was Lawrence Jones, who was a superb cameraman but also very strong hand-held. And so he literally followed Hytner around the rehearsal space, and Nick Steer probably did the sound because he did an awful lot of those ones with me. And between them, they got what was cooking before our very eyes. In those days film came in ten minute magazines so we ran one off without a cut. Nowadays you’d probably run off 34 minutes. Dreadful, slack film-making. But if you knew what you wanted, you’d normally work in small bursts. And then we ran another ten-minute film magazine off. And then perhaps a third. And I thought that was the film. We didn’t need any more. That is a working director. Let’s stick it out. But of course, it made three minutes of the final film and it was very disappointing.

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