May Day in Cornwall–many moons ago…
May 1, 2011 by Robin Ellis
We were filming the second series of Poldark in spring 1977 and were based for a while near the seaside town of Padstow on Cornwall’s north coast.
On May 1st the town is taken over by the ‘Obby ‘Oss (Hobby Horse) Festival–an excuse for a day of communal good natured madness and merriment, with obvious origins in traditional fertility festivals that pop up everywhere at this time of year.
This is the account of it I wrote in my book Making Poldark .
We’d finished filming the expedition to France,
and it was May Day; a group of us decided to go to Padstow for the Festival.
We arrived at about 7 pm, and from far away we could hear the beat of the drum and the music.It had been going on for at least twelve hours and the atmosphere was “jolly” –you might say. We rounded the bend and came into a square and there it was! The umpteenth parade of the hobbyhorse in full swing.
The drumbeat was mesmeric and the man inside the hobbyhorse never stopped moving–round and round he went, tempting and teasing the circle of young maidens. A pagan ritual full of fun and danger. Not English at all.
Someone in the crowd recognised me and although George Collins, my dresser, insisted I was his cousin Fred, and not Poldark, they weren’t convinced! So we moved on quickly to a pub down the hill.
The beer and the cider were flowing freely, and it happened again and again.
I was bought pasties and pints everywhere.
A man in one of the pubs came up and said, “You’ve put Cornwall on the map. Thank you.” I was amazed and flattered, a little embarrassed and by this time somewhat stewed.
We settled down in a corner to listen to the accordionist. We sang and we danced and everyone forgot about Poldark. It was a great night.
I suppose I was naive to think I could go to a big Cornish festival like this and remain anonymous–television is a powerful and popular medium–but as for “putting Cornwall on the map”– on the evidence of this particular evening–it later occurred to me that it might be the other way around.
The Poldarks enjoying a previous 'Obby 'Oss fayre?