Priscilla John on the responsibility for casting Crown Court

You had to do Crown Court. Oh, my God, Crown Court was another huge learning curve. And the actors, we used to cast them two weeks in advance, and we get the most brilliant, brilliant casts for that. There used to be long lists of actors who wanted to be the judge, or wanted to be the prosecution, or the defence. And we’d get people like Brian Cox, Caroline Blakiston – all sorts of wonderful actors. 

And they’d come up on a Monday, we’d have a read through, and then it would rehearse all week for three episodes. Three half hours. Then they’d go home on Friday, come back Sunday lunchtime, and do a walkthrough in the studio, Sunday evening. And then we’d all go out for dinner. Then they’d go and get back in the morning for a dress rehearsal all day. Run it through all day Monday, and then they’d start recording Tuesday morning, and they would have to finish with the jury coming back by five o’clock, five thirty, on Tuesday, and then they get the train back to London. 

And Brian Cox lost his case. And he came rushing into the Film Exchange. He didn’t get on this train. He said, “I’ve lost my case! I can’t stand it! Why did I lose? Why did I lose?” And he couldn’t believe it. Because we did have a real jury. So that was good fun. 

One of the first ones I worked on was with Peter Capaldi, who played an extraordinary character called Eamonn Donnelly, and he had an extraordinary red wig. Mick Ford, we used him a lot of as an actor, and then he wanted to write, so they gave him the chance. ……

You were saying then that some actors really wanted to be on Crown Court. Did you get a lot of lobbying from agents and actors?

I don’t remember that. That came in much later. And in fact, don’t forget, in the 70s, there was still, amongst a lot of the old agents, quite a lot of snobbishness about television…. But with Crown Court, we did have a lot of, “So-and-so would like to do it.” “So-and-so wants a chance to read, he’d give his eye teeth, so do think about him, dear.” But it was done as if they were doing you a favour. I can’t remember them ever lobbying per se. We were lucky if we got them. That was the attitude. 

Was there a snobbishness about coming up to Manchester as well? 

No, I don’t remember that at all. Quite the reverse. It was a chance to get away from home, and a chance to come and work for a company who might not have been the best fee-paying company in the world, but by God, the per diems were generous. And they were going to have a good time. 

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