Roland Coburn recalls working with Ken Russell

I was sent to the Lakes with Ken Russell, who was then a features director. So having a features director work on a television programme was interesting, to say the least! David Warner was in it, and Felicity Kendal — people like that.

We were up there, and we actually edited the programme in Ken Russell’s own little cottage in Keswick, by the side of a lake. We were up there nearly nine months and the whole of Keswick was basically full of Granada personnel: the crews were out there, stage-hands, everybody. It was absolutely brilliant. You very rarely had the chance to meet someone like Ken Russell, never mind actually work with them for that length of time.

So what was it like working with him?

He was exactly as you expected. He would go out during the day and cause complete havoc. If you do a scene and you don’t like it, you do it again, but sometimes when I used to put all the sound together with the film, and was syncing the rushes up, on the clapperboard it would often say ‘take 45’ or ‘take 46’. He would make you do it over and over and over again.

There was a particular scene where David Warner was walking back, and the idea was that he was quoting some sort of poem, and he actually fell over. He got up and was really shouting at himself and annoyed that he’d fallen over. Russell went bonkers, because he wanted him to get up and carry on — the fall was so natural — and because he stopped the flow he went berserk. I felt a bit sorry for David Warner, but that’s just the way Russell was.

Another scene, where they wanted leaves blowing over the mountains, they brought in these wind machines, which had to be carried halfway up this mountain, complete with bags and bags of leaves that could be thrown in front of the wind machine to give it this effect. That’s just the way he was. He was amazing to work with.


What was the programme?


I think it was called The Three Lakeland Poets. Unfortunately, it’s never been shown since, because I believe that Russell had it all tied up in relation to repeat fees that he’d be paid. Huge sums of money. So these great dramas were never ever shown again, which I think was a really, really great shame, because in those days, Granada — through Mr. Plowright, etc — did make wonderful dramas.

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