Anyway, Brideshead met our first catastrophe. Indeed, it turned out not be a catastrophe at all, it turned out to be our saviour. The thing that really saved the show, and that was the strike that hit us when we were filming in Oxford, and we stopped then, and we lost our first director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and I recruited Charles. Charles has been a protégé of mine because… I recruited him first of all for the Granada training course from Oxford where I first met him, and he was a groupie of the show and he was a Catholic boy, brought up as a Catholic, he’d been a famous Catholic public school, and not only a Catholic public school – Stonyhurst – but also he had been taught by Jesuits, which is no mean thing. And he’s also been to Oxford, and as I say he was an absolute groupie and loved the passion throughout the novel. So when Michael Lindsay-Hogg went, what Granada wanted me to do, quite sensibly, was to take a very, very highly skilled technical director, there was one in the company, who made marvellously, well photographed shows, and they thought that he could do the technical side and I’d look after the artist side, and I said, “I don’t want that – I want some contention. I want somebody to argue with.” You want a bit of argument. And I chose Charles. And I chose Charles, who had only then ever done Coronation Street.
He was very young.
He was very young. He was only in his 20s, and he’d only done Corrie. He’d done one or two World in Action’s, and Granada in the end let me have my way, and he turned out to be incredible. I felt very guilty about putting this enormous strain of this vast enterprise on a such a… a young pair… of young and untried shoulders, but in the end it worked and he was very tough. I worried a bit about the fact that the weight of the whole thing might be bad for his health. There were moments when I was a bit nervous and thought, “Oh God, this is too huge a burden for him,” but in the end he pulled it marvellously through, and he lent so much to it. So it was an extraordinary time, the making of Brideshead ….
So as I say, Charles pulled it through. I mean, you know, it was an enormously lavish show. I mean, for instance the Atlantic liner sequence, which was shot in eight different locations all filmed at different times, including the QE2. We flew to New York and then we came back on the QE2 so that we could get our deck scenes. And so as I say, a huge hunt sequence. The Atlantic liner sequence is very, very elaborate, as I say, filmed in eight different locations in Liverpool, London, Manchester.
And La Belle Epoque, the restaurant in Knutsford?
We never went there! We felt we filmed Anthony Blanche’s lunch with Charles Ryder in the Bells of Peover but as I say it was an extraordinary… and I think if it hadn’t been for the general strike, when we were able to regroup and really rethink what we were doing, we probably would have floundered, and I was very worried that we would go to flounder anyway. I thought the whole project was too enormous and we’d taken on something we might not be able to finally fulfill. And I did warn David. I said, “Look, if we’re going to start again, you should know that we might possibly collapse because it is a very, very big enterprise, this.” And David was very gung-ho, and said, “No, no, no. We like what you’ve done so far, so I think you ought to have a good stab at going on with it.” And we did, and we pulled it off, thank God. So it was a remarkable show, and… but the freedom we had from Granada was absolutely wonderful. And I said to David not long before he died, because I was very close to him, and I said, “Why on earth did you let me get away with it?” And he said, “Oh, we just rather liked what you were doing and thought you ought to get on with it!” A sentiment fairly unlikely to be echoed in this present era.
So when Brideshead was transmitted and became an enormous success, were you surprised or did you really think that you’d got… a little gem on your hands.
One is always surprised. Well, I mean, I was I the cutting room with Charles quite near the end when we were cutting, and Lord Marchmain’s dying scenes, of him dying in bed, and I said to Charles, “Do you think anybody in the world is ever going to watch anything quite as slow as this?” And he says, “Yes, I can name two – our mothers.” (Laughs) So no, one doesn’t know, and it’s absolutely right that one shouldn’t know, I think. One never quite… well, I think we thought it was fairly decent, but we’d no idea. You know, we were trying very hard, but you don’t really know. But you know, one would be impossible if one kind of has an inkling really. But as I say, we had immense freedom, and I got a note from Charles which he wrote to me only the other day, saying that he had never, in the whole of his experience in television, ever worked on something where the only criteria was actually the quality of the work as it related to the novel. There was nothing else that he had to consider. He says he’s never in his life ever worked on anything like that, and he never expected to again after that, where we were all just driven by an idea of trying to do it as well as we possibly could. It was amazing. The freedom, and the fact that we were so geared to that end, to producing something which is incredibly close to the feeling of the novel, and would echo it. And I think in a way, probably the television experience is as good, if not slightly better – but that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be true to the Waugh.