Leslie Woodhead on making a documentary about the artist, L.S. Lowry

I had done some early directing on People and Places and on What the Papers Say, and on All Our Yesterdays, I wasn’t particularly seized by studio direction, and I also directed the party conferences that tended to put me to sleep. But I was then yanked out of all that, just at the moment when I was about to do Coronation Street, and told that I was now producer on Scene at 6.30, first of all doing a little adjunct called Sporting Scene – about which I knew nothing, but anyway, that’s what I was asked to do, and that went on for a spell until I managed to wheedle my way into making my first film, which was a film for a series that Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow were producing, called This England.

I can’t even remember how this happened, but I managed… I knew the northern artist Harold Riley who knew L.S. Lowry, and he managed to persuade Lowry to let us in to make a little documentary with him, so that was my first real film, following Lowry around for a couple of weeks. I remember we were so hopelessly naïve about doing something like that; I remember the camera man taking the Éclair camera out of a box, out of its original wrapping, on Lowry’s doorstep and was looking at the instructions, trying to work out how to assemble this thing, and how to lace it up – but we sort of managed to make it work and then went through Lowry’s door, filming as we went, in true early wobblyscope style!

It was fascinating, but a complete dogs dinner, the rushes that I produced. I remember recording the vital voiceover with Lowry in the Kardomah Café in St Ann’s Square when they were washing up all the cutlery, so all you can hear on the soundtrack, it sounds like it’s recorded in a steelworks, just completely unusable. So for about 18 months, nothing happened to this film, it just lay on the shelf while I went on producing Scene at 6.30 and it was only finally Forman and the guy who was then Programme Controller – I don’t know what his job was actually, a nice man called Julian Amis– anyway, he took a look at this thing and said, “Well, there’s something there – why don’t you go back, re-record that voiceover, work with a decent editor and try and turn it into something?” So I did, and eventually that became part of This England series.

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