Jacki Turner remembers working on Staying On in India

In the early 80s Granada planned to shoot Jewel in the Crown, much of it on location in India. Prior to this they decided to make a film based on the book Staying On about life of the English Raj and how they headed for the hills in the heat of the summer. This would give our production staff an idea of the problems to be encountered when filming Jewel. So we were the guinea pigs! Irene Shubick was the producer and Silvio Narizzano was the director. We had a formidable lst assistant, Les Davis. Our two main actors were Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. They hadn’t worked together since Brief Encounters. We knew Trevor was going to be slightly problematic when he got very drunk on the plane – he was upstairs on a Jumbo and lst class passengers were coming downstairs to get away from him – unfortunately he followed them up and down. He and Celia were very keen on the Indian gin but once we started filming they kept their drinking down to a bottle a night between them which meant they could then handle their words the following day. We flew to Delhi then drove up to Simla in the Himalayas, which was to be our base for the next six weeks. It was March when we arrived and the hotel hadn’t had any guests since the previous autumn. The beds weren’t just cold they were also damp. We got dressed in our anoraks to go to bed. Lars MacFarlane, our Production Manager, managed to get hold of some hot water bottles and after three damp nights I finally had a bottle in my bed – when I jumped into bed guess what? The bottle had leaked and my bed was colder and wetter than ever. I then had to sleep in the spare bed in my room dressed again in my outdoor gear. The hotel had at least four floors with a quadrangle in the middle, which was open to the stars. We had to be careful as monkeys would be swinging about and they were nasty. Also its electrics left a lot to be desired. I saw a man in a room full of wires and whenever the electric went off he’d pull a few wires out and join them to another few wires. Our electricians wouldn’t go near it. My bathroom was huge with a big claw cast iron bath made by Baxendales of Manchester. How lovely I thought that they’d put a big candle on the side of the bath – I soon found out it was for when the lights went out! I was in my room one night when yet again it went dark, I heard one of the electricians in the room next to me knock something over as he rushed to the door, flung it open and shouted in his loudest voice “f…..g India” .I had a lovely red-headed assistant called Vivien Battersby and she was the centre of attention amongst the natives. One day we filmed in a Maharaja’s house on the top of a mountain. As I struggled with my bag of scripts across the front lawn a small Indian guy came racing over to help me. I didn’t know whether to tip him or not but in the end just thanked him gracefully…perhaps as well I did as he was the Maharaja. The caste system was so strict that our porters who were a very low caste weren’t even allowed to walk on the lawn. Every day we had lunch on location, which was delivered by the hotel and set out in heated silver tureens. We felt guilty because dozens of pairs of eyes were peering at us through the bushes as we peeped under the tureens to see what delights there were to eat. When we employed Indian locals as extras we were obliged to feed them and they absolutely stuffed themselves in case they weren’t booked again. Some of them joined the food queue again in the hope no one had noticed. I found it quite difficult continuity wise as many of them looked the same and my Polaroid camera worked overtime making sure the right person was in the right place. Almost all the crew suffered from Delhi Belly – the trick was to stick with the hot spicy food and not to go near salads or cold food. One night at the hotel our props boys organised the kitchens to cook hotpot – it was wonderful and as they slopped it onto our plates we were asked “mashed or roast” imitating Irma who was Granada’s canteen assistant at the time. Early in the shoot Irene “sacked” Silvio as they had differences of opinion but Les Davis said if Silvio goes then so would he, then a few others of us said if Les was going then we would go also. Needless to say that, whatever the problem was, everyone learned to work together. I had a few early starts because they wanted to shoot Celia in a car being driven along mountain roads and the light was much better in the mornings. So yours truly was wigged up and spent quite a while being driven up and down the mountains. The last scene of the play is Celia in her bedroom with the dead Tusker (Trevor H) in bed. Her last speech was how he’d left her alone in this land “amid the alien corn”. It was very moving. When we’d finished a few of us returned to Delhi to tidy the loose ends – I’d no idea where George was as he’d been somewhere in the far east shooting End of Empire. Imagine how ecstatic I was to receive a call from him to say he’d got Tom Gill, WIA’s (World in Action) Production Manager to amend his ticket home to take him via Delhi for a couple of days. I went to the airport to wait for him and we had two glorious days in a 5 star hotel in Delhi. We’d both earned it!




Leave a Reply