Steve Morrison’s memories of making the film ‘The Magic Toyshop’

So David Wheatley and I had worked together, and we decided to make a film about one of Angela Carter’s books, and the one we chose was called The Magic Toyshop. Angela Carter was in Texas, lecturing, so David and I got on the phone, which in those days seemed a very long way away, and we rang her and we said would she agree to letting her book be made into a film. In those days, it was going to be a television film, and she said, “Oh, that’s one of my earliest books. Why are you choosing that one when I have made all these more complex, magical, realist, more fanciful subjects later on?” I said, “Well, look, the thing is, in television, you get more engagement if your characters start being real, and then gradually through the story they become magical, than if they start being more abstract, which in television people may not engage with in the same way. We want everybody to believe that they are real characters before they transfer themselves into the magical world.” And she said, “Oh, that’s a very good answer. Agreed.” And we were sort of kicking ourselves and pinching ourselves, and I said, “When are you coming back?” and she said on such-and-such a date, which was two or three months away, and I said, “Do you mind if David and I come down to Clapham and your house, and talk through the ideas and discuss this?” And she said, “Yes, you can come, with pleasure, but whatever you want to do, you do – I’m not going to stop you doing anything – this is a film, not a book.”

So we go down to Clapham where she had a huge townhouse, all painted purple, and we would go up into the attic, and we would sit round a rickety little bridge table, and David, Angela and I would be deciding how to make this film, and it was one of those classic situations where you literally had to pinch your leg that somebody was paying you to work with an author that you adored, making the film of your choice, without any hindrance, and Granada was letting you do it. So we made this film, which was made incredibly economically, and I think the supervisor on the production side, the head of production, was Brenda Smith (unverified), who was very, very helpful and fell in love with the project. Everyone was very helpful, the designer was being stretched, everyone was seeing how interesting this was, and David Wheatley was a marvellous director, just has David Liddiment had been with There’s Something Wrong in Paradise, and the film, somebody found out in Palace Pictures that this film had been made, and put it into the London Film Festival. So we were sitting down in London, and we were approached by… is it Steve Woolley? I think it was Steve Woolley, who was working in Palace Pictures at the time, now a very famous producer-director himself, and he came up to us and said, “We want to release this in the cinema,” and I said, “Well you can’t release it, it’s destined to be on television in two months’ time over the Christmas period,” and he said, “Well, can you stop them? Can you stop them for a three-month window, we want to put this out in the cinema.” And that is the poster that they created, which is one of the best posters… and it was… I wouldn’t say it was a huge commercial success, it was a very small, art-house film, but it got a lot of very good crits, and I think that’s what it was, that complete accident that put it into my head that we should start Granada Film. But of course, starting Granada Film, we quite quickly made two or three films and ended up making My Left Foot, and The Field, both of them nominated for Oscars, and My Left Foot winning two Oscars, so there was a sense of triumph in David Plowright’s mind that somehow, little old Granada Television in Manchester had beaten the whole of the Granada Group to the punch with the success of our films, which worked incredibly well.

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