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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

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Ask any actor who has done time in repertory theatre what is the most frequently asked question by keen theatre-goers and I’d wager the answer would be:

“How do you learn the lines?”

I might have answered “with difficulty“, after drying on my first line (saying “Grace”) as the Vicar in Murder at the Vicarage on opening night at Salisbury Playhouse in the mid-60s .

It’s the nuts and bolts of the job–but never gets any easier.

Telly Savalas as Kojak had his lines taped all over the set and even–hard to believe–to the other actors’ foreheads!

Even if I’d been able to read them without my glasses, I couldn’t be shamed into that!

Samuel West‘s contribution to this article in The Guardian recently–actors’ advice to fellow actors–reminded me of the run-up to filming my two short scenes in the new adaptation of POLDARK*.

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To anyone learning lines for a day’s filming where there is NO rehearsal, he says:

Learn your lines with a friend the night before filming. Say them looking into your friend’s eyes. Your friend will be distracting you. You will think you know the scene because you can do it looking at the floor, but human contact is distracting – and you want there to be human contact when you film the scene.

Learning the night before? I’ve always needed time for lines to settle and stick (slow study it’s called in the trade)–but I know what he means.

Meredith volunteered  to hear my lines weeks before my first day’s shoot for POLDARK and eventually I took up her offer.

I’d been pounding them into my reluctant brain on my daily walk for weeks.

She suggested, like Samuel West, that I aimed them directly at her.

But for a while I was unwilling to engage with her spirited rendition of Captain Poldark–and continued doing exactly what Samuel West warns against–saying the lines, very convincingly, to nowhere in particular–sometimes to the floor.

In the end, I did engage. It was, as Sam says, usefully distracting–good preparation for when I had to project them across the chasm of the crowded, noisy courtroom.

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Meredith watched the shooting of the trial of Jim Carter [Me-lud presiding!] on a monitor in a freezing anti-room of the medieval hall where we were filming.

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In a pause while they were re-setting the lights she popped outside for a coffee to warm herself up.

There was Aidan Turner (aka Ross Poldark)…

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…pacing up and down, going through his lines.

They hadn’t formally met at this point.

So as not distract him, she discreetly tucked herself into a corner with her coffee.

Suddenly, becoming aware that there was just the two of them, he confided:

“This scene is important and I want to get it right!”

“I know it well,”  she said.  “I rehearsed the lines over and over with Robin–playing YOU!”

Aidan roared with laughter.

Meredith sensibly didn’t offer to hear his lines….

 

*The new adaptation of Winston Graham’s  POLDARK saga is being produced by Mammoth Screen for the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece in the USA, to be broadcast next year.

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We were on top of the world Saturday afternoon in the high hills of les Monts de Lacaune to the east of Lautrec–waiting with an expectant crowd…

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…for four French paratroopers to fall from the sky.

Both the crowd on the ground and the “angels” about to descend, were–perhaps unknowingly–re-enacting events that happened here, in an occupied wartime France, 70 years ago.

In early August 1944 the Allies organized several parachute missions to deliver weapons, supplies and soldiers to the resistance fighters in the Tarn. The German occupation forces got wind of one of these midnight drops and on the night of August 8th, they attacked the drop zone killing seven young maquis fighters. Their sacrifice was being remembered and honored at Saturday’s event.

In 1944 Guy de Rouville (below) was commander of the Maquis of Vabre–the Resistance group in charge of the secret drop zone. He was 29 years old.

At 99 his memory of these events is remarkable and his enthusiasm to communicate it, undiminished.

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Guy de Rouville laying  flowers in honor of the slain young men whom he had once commanded.

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Guy, in full flood, telling his story.

Guy and his wife, Odile (96), still live in the hill village of Vabre, where they once welcomed a young English major and two French officers from the Jedburgh mission who had parachuted onto this hillside on the night of the 8th August 1944.

The previous night they had taken in an American soldier who had broken his leg landing in the same drop zone with 14 comrades. They were an OSS commando unit sent from a base in North Africa to support local partisans and disrupt the German supply lines before the still little-known southern D-Day landings near St. Tropez on 15th August 1944.

All the parachute drops, made under cover of darkness and in a remote place, put the local population in peril on a day to day basis from the Nazi occupation forces.

The drop zone is on the opposite side of the valley from Vabre near the village of Viane.

Viane is en fete this weekend and murmurs were heard about the commemoration stealing its thunder.

Small murmerings–most of the crowd, like us, were looking forward to the parachute jump by the 8th RPIM (8e régiment de parachutistes d’infanterie de marine) based in nearby Castres.

We were not disappointed.

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Despite an unpredictable wind making it more difficult…

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…three hit the orange target…

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…and the fourth was within twenty feet or so.

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Meredith and “an angel that fell from the sky”!

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Guy stands with today’s “angels”, 70 years after he welcomed the war-time flights.

Meredith is an American porte drapeau, carrying the American flag at ceremonies of remembrance in the region.

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It was at one of these ceremonies where she heard the story of the American OSS team’s landing and their vital contribution to the liberation of the south Tarn two weeks after their arrival.

She received a Fulbright grant to document the history of that mission, interviewing most of the surviving members of the maquis group involved with the OSS mission. Two of the OSS men were killed in action in the Tarn. Their sacrifice and the memory of their deeds are honored by French veterans every year here–sometimes in the presence of American family members who come to see where their loved ones served.

Unlike the French paratroopers we watched Saturday, the OSS and the Jedburgh teams parachuted at night, laden with heavy equipment, into occupied France–with little idea what awaited them.

Their courage has never been forgotten here.

 

 

 

 

 

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A week today at roughly 5.05 pm the Reverend Dr Halse walked out of the card room on the ground floor of George Warleggan’s impressive mansion and disappeared.

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It had been a bruising encounter.

That pest, Poldark–more than a pest–a ruffian and a rogue–had challenged him and indeed any of his esteemed colleagues on the bench to “meet” him at any convenient time.

An outrage.

As he headed for the door he was heard muttering:

He is a traitor to his class and he WILL get his come-uppance–such men are dangerous and must not be tolerated!

Next meeting of the justices…!

If it were up to me alone, he’d be following Jim Carter to Bodmin Gaol or better still–the Antipodes.

And then he was gone–in a puff of self-righteous, sulfurous smoke.

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In truth, he popped in a unit car and with Meredith by his side was driven the short distance to the unit camp.

There he was relieved of the wig and the costume and–Jekyll and Hyde-like–resumed his everyday guise as Robin.

In a trice the car was off again, speeding towards Bath and the London train.

All that was left of the Reverend Dr. Halse was a name on the dressing room door–

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a pile of sombre 18th century clerical clothes, a beautifully woven wig and a faint smell of sulfur in the air….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…no, we’ll never tell them:

We spent our pay in some cafe, And fought wild women night and day, ‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had”.

And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them

There was a front, but damned if we knew where.

~Oh What a Lovely War

When we returned from UK there was a small package waiting for me from my cousin Geoffrey Andrews.

I was expecting it.

It contained the First World War medals of our grandfather–James P. Weakford and a sheet of paper with photographs of the medals and a photo of Geoffrey’s father, my uncle, the gloriously-named Merlin Andrews.

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Uncle Merlin served on the Western Front at Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele as a Lewis machine gunner.

He survived to continue in business with his brother Fred in their butchers shop in the Fulham Road, West London.

He died aged over a hundred after receiving the Legion d’Honneur (with the red ribbon) from the French government.

Imprinted on the back of one of our grandfather’s two medals are the words: The Great War for Civilisation.

Geoffrey says Merlin never talked about the war.

This seems to be a common factor–few who survived were willing to revisit the horrors they’d seen and lived with.

Harry Patch–one of the last survivors–told no one, not even his wife, he said in a BBC Radio 4 interview, until he was persuaded to write a book about it when he was well over one hundred.

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Understandable reticence but regrettable….

Telling it like it was would have helped counter the myth-making intentions behind the phrase imprinted on the reverse of Grandfather Weakford’s medal.

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The “Great” War?

The Catastrophic War of Unintended Consequences” more like.

 

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Friday–a long day in court!

I parked my behind on the “bench” at 8.30am and we wrapped at 5pm.
It was the full Montyred robe and full judicial wig–recognisable by nose alone!
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I wore my ministers’ costume beneath–all black–which kept me warm when all about were freezing.(Poor Meredith caught a chill and is in bed with a heavy cold!)
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Reverend Halse relaxes on the ice after a heavy day’s sentencing…

We were filming at Horton Court, outside Bristol, in an ancient hall dating back to Norman times–made up to look like a courtroom.
Beautiful, but dank and chilly even in mid-May.
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Actor prepares in the comfort of the Green Room! That small heater couldn’t quite cope with the arctic chill.

These days the shooting process is different.
Forty years ago we rehearsed for six days–then spent two days in the studio preparing to record it  at the end of the second day.
It was like a play–you had to know it all by heart!
Curtain up” at 7.30pm and “down” at 10pm. Best not to be in the last scene, which was always a race against the clock.
Now you film a certain number of pages each day (in our case on Friday about four or five).
There is no rehearsal.
Learn the lines and find out how best to play them on the job.
A little scary! For a while, I was thinking, “I’d rather be back in my kitchen….”
Then I started to get the hang of it.
When we wrapped at 5pm, the director, Ed Balzelgette, made a sweet remark to the assembly (many extras on hand) about the unusual circumstance of having two “Ross Poldarks” in the same room!
Everyone clapped–which was touching!
Aidan Turner (aka Ross Poldark) and I–all smiles–relieved we’d done it and happy we were smiling about it, shook hands warmly and vigorously.
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 I look forward to our next encounter in Episode 6.
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Relieved actor ready to derobe.

Now for the cooking workshop!

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First day’s filming today, on the NEW POLDARK.

The twittersphere is alive with anticipation as the cast and crew embark on the journey.

I’m looking forward to joining the caravan in May.

Jacqueline, make-up supremo, emailed this morning with ideas and images (facial hair!) and I’m already experiencing moments of anxiety about my first day.

First days are fraught.

My first day at my pre-prep school, aged 4, I left the school mid-morning and walked home– a mile at least.

A couple of days later, I’d fallen in love with beautiful Miss Rosemary and nothing could keep me away–much to my mother’s relief.

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From my memoir, Making Poldark, the first day’s filming in 1975 –a typical spring day in Cornwall:

It was bitterly cold and dank.

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Another bitterly cold and dank day!

We were in Towednack churchyard near St. Ives. I remember it well.

Contrary to rumour, I was born without a scar–so on went the first scar of many, made unromantically of glue; on went the make-up and the back-piece of hair.

My hair had been dyed darker with copper tints for the part.

I put on my black mourning coat–the scene was Uncle Charles’ funeral–and my specially-made boots and there I was: Captain Ross Poldark.

But as the day wore on and they still didn’t get to my bit, I began to wonder. I saw the director looking worried and thought at first it must be the weather.

Then I thought maybe it’s my hair, then my scar, then my FACE.

Then I thought: my God, it’s ME!

They don’t want ME!

They think they’ve made a mistake. They’re re-casting–the lines are hot to London and actors are streaming into the producer’s office with the sun in their eyes–it was fine in London–and they’re all Olympic equestrians.

Robin, will you come to the graveside please?’

Of course, I’ve got it–I mean–of course I will.’

I’d started at last.

 

Good luck to Aidan and Eleanor and everyone–(me included)!

 

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That was then!

The BBC have just announced the news–Mammoth Screen have offered me a cameo in their new production of Poldark.

Poldark has brought much joy to my life–I’ve often called them Poldark Perks–which doesn’t do them justice.

It continues to deliver.

I am delighted to be invited to play a role in the new venture which has got off to a flying start with superb scripts from Debbie Horsfield (I have just finished reading them) and a tremendous first tranche of principal casting.

I am cast as Dr. Halse–the clergyman with whom Ross shares the coach on his journey home to Nampara from Truro in the opening scene of the first series. Back then, a benign figure–in the new series he comes over as rather less so!

I fear I’ll be exchanging the marvelous leather coat and boots for drab, black church cloth and a sneer.

Joining the Cornish establishment that Ross so despises (though he was born into it) will be a challenge!

Joining the new Poldark will be exciting–but also poignant for me, bringing back many wonderful memories of 40 years ago.

Not least in my mind will be fellow members of the original cast–especially those no longer with us: the beloved Angharad Rees, Ralph Bates, Richard Morant, Frank Middlemas, Paul Curran and Mary Wimbush.

I’ll be there for their memory–and for the late Winston Graham–as well as for the intriguing prospect of acting with the new cast to help bring this wonderful saga to a new audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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