Priscilla John on the Manchester casting department that she joined in 1975

There was the amazing Jose Scott, Judi Hayfield, and an assortment of assistants. I went up there to be a booking assistant, and I had an assistant. It was quite a responsibility! Booking assistants meant that it was your responsibility to gather all the extras for various programmes. And if you were doing a series, you had to be very careful that the extras weren’t seen in scenes. The audience always picks up on the minutest things. “How come he was 200 miles away?” So,  I did extras for at least a year and a half. Coronation Street, I was put on to immediately, doing the extras. The other thing about being a booking assistant, you were responsible for finding small parts. But as Sybil Thorndyke said, “There are no small parts, dear. There’s only small actors.” Which I kept reminding my bosses. It was my responsibility to find new talent, so I would go along with Josie and Judi, we’d go to the theatre, endless theatre, and I was just looking at some of the plays we covered at the Liverpool Everyman, people like Pete Postlethwaite and Julie Walters. Willy Russell doing John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert, and I just think, “Bloody hell, yes. That’s where we got a lot of our actors from.” Because that was our job. That’s what Sidney told us all to do. He said, “I will pay for you to go to the theatre. You go to the theatre, and you find us really good actors who nobody knows about and who will come and do our shows for the minimum.” 

When you went to the theatre and you saw an actor, did you have them specifically in mind for a part? 

We learnt from that process not to be always looking at the lead actor. If the play is as boring as hell, forget it. Your job is to concentrate on the girl who’s coming in as the maid dusting the furniture, is she any good? In a way, that set me to loving going to the theatre for a lot more reasons than going to see a good play. I was going to the theatre because you’re going to see actors. And with a bit of luck, you’ll see someone who’s really, really good. And then you bank them. As one of my American producers or directors said, “Put them in the hopper if they’re really good.” And that’s what I called it. And so did Doreen. Doreen had the most amazing card index system, which I didn’t have. But we all had our different systems of remembering actors. And actors’ names. And never forgetting a face. And even if you remembered the face, but couldn’t remember the name, you could track back to why you liked them. And you had to equally keep abreast of the ones you didn’t like. Because some director would say, “Oh, I like I like Joe So-and-so.” I’d say, “Really? I’m not sure he would be right.”

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