‘You see, Cyril,’ said executive producer Eric Maschwitz sagely wagging his eternal cigarette, ‘you must now regard yourself as a poacher turned gamekeeper.’ I had just become a producer instead of a director. That was one day last spring. Word had emerged from the fastnesses of the Fourth Floor that our new series was, in modern parlance, viable – we had the green light -we were free to escalate the series to a point where we would become the proud progenitors of 13 neat little episodes all in a row – in short, it was ON. For some time I thought I’d feel different, and even look different. My walk would be more assured, my manner more meticulous. My eagle eye would be able to spot an over-spending of sixpence at 80 paces. After all – I was now a producer.
But none of these things seemed to happen. Instead I found myself padding down all the same old jungle tracks that I had been padding down since 1955. The outline idea of the series had been born. Now I was frantic to find really first-class writers and excellent actors. Could we be assured of adequate rehearsal time and could we get all the equipment and crews we wanted? Would enough money to do the job properly come pouring out of the cornucopia that general manager John McMillan keeps under his desk? In fact I had exactly the same longings and hysterical anxieties that I had experienced during the direction of more than 50 plays over the past ten years.
This is heresy, I thought. You are not a director any longer. You are a producer. God has said so. You must stop thinking about all those unimportant things and think only about money and not spending it. So I thought a lot about money – and frightened myself. What I needed was a yardstick, something I could rely on to guide me through these new and uncharted waters – a sort of Gamekeeper’s Lode Star.
Parallel to all this mental agony the plan went ahead – writers were commissioned. Actors were approached and everyone liked the idea. An overall shape and ‘smell’ was emerging. We began to get excited. I found myself cornering directors in corridors and selling the idea like mad. Eric Maschwitz got visibly more and more excited and cigarette ash was piling up a foot high all round him. Gerald Flood, Glyn Owen and Philip Stone were to be our stars and I could not have been happier. Things were rolling.
Then, suddenly, along came the Budget. Like one has a sudden attack of shingles, so we had a sudden attack of Budget. I realised that the figure suggested was not nearly enough – enough for a couple of ‘Small Times’ and an outdoor broadcast of a fishing contest on the Ouse perhaps; but for a series of 13 terrific stories ranging all over Europe that would pulse and throb entertainment from the screen, no. Definitely no. We’d be lucky if we managed to go on location at Bognor Regis for a Thursday afternoon, let alone filming in Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm and Ireland as the writers and I were planning. So we sent the skinny, sickly little budget figure back for a sort of rest cure with a polite note to the Doctor. After a while it came back just a little fatter and looking a tiny bit more healthy. If I took very, very great care of it, it might just have a chance. But it really did look awfully wan and pathetic lying there in its Blyton cot.
Now things were really happening. Raymond Bowers was in Madrid writing the first four stories. Paul Lee was visiting Stockholm to get the atmosphere for his three episodes while Jeremy Paul was in Lisbon sorting out his. Victor Canning, whose stories were to be set in Southern Ireland, was well under way. But I still hadn’t found my yardstick – my Lode Star. By mid-July all 13 scripts had been delivered. All the meetings and planning with our writers were now paying off. Fred Pusey, who was to be in charge of design for the series, and I went on a detailed reconnaissance to all the locations. James Ormerod accompanied us to Madrid since he was to do his own filming there while I was to take care of the filming in Lisbon and Stockholm.
Back home, a lot of behind-the-scenes work by Eric was now beginning to bear fruit and the incomparable Stella Ashley was legitimising us with studio management and scheduling. Bill Hitchcock and Don Gale were going to be able to direct the remaining stories. I was in good hands. And then suddenly we hurtled off on three weeks’ filming in Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Under Nick Hague’s expert and Machiavellian management we carved our merry way through acres of filming. But, right from the start, I was haunted, haunted by the everlasting question: how much is it all costing? Who was paying for those drinks on the aircraft? Surely we don’t n$ed all that transport? Colour film for the stills man? I hope we’re not paying all those drivers in that traffic jam that the police are engineering for us in the middle of Madrid? Who are all those people over there? Not extras I hope. (Nick: ‘Calm down, Cyril! Have a drink – an orange juice.’) ‘But Nick four guineas for 12 coffees and pastries in Stockholm?’
I was certain that all the money for the entire series would be completely spent long before we’d even got back to England. Early call after early call, late wrap-up after late wrap-up (and all costing money mind you), day after day. Thank Heaven everyone was too exhausted to spend much of the company’s money at night just eating. The sound recordist’s tummy trouble certainly saved us a lot of money on food – and I was glad to see symptoms developing in some of the more voracious members of the unit. Under budget we had to be, even if we all went home skeletons. But everyone was magnificent. Not only did we manage to achieve exactly what we had set out to do, but what was even more staggering, we actually finished well under budget. I breathed again.
One day after we had returned to England I was sitting in my office thinking about the whole project, when suddenly I realised how much I would like to direct the whole damn series myself – all 13 episodes. I felt a sneaking jealousy of Messrs. Ormerod, Hitchcock and Gale. Lucky fellows, I thought. And then it happened. I found my Producer’s Lode Star. This was the secret – for me at least, to make every effort, to get 13 fine scripts, first-class actors, ample time and money, and the feeling that I hated to part with every single story. Then to get them all polished and neatly dressed to be handed over, a little reluctantly perhaps, but with a paternal smile. As I said before, they were all going into good hands.
P.S. Oh, didn’t I tell you what the series is all about? Well, they say it’s going to start on February 1. It’s called ‘The Rat Catchers’.