Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Brett’

300px-The_Good_Soldier_First_Edition,_Ford_Madox_Ford   It is the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ford Madox Ford’s pre-First World War novel, The Good Soldier, a seminal book of the 20th centuryIt opens with this sentence: “This is the saddest story I ever heard,”–spoken by the narrator, John Dowell—my part, in the Granada TV adaptation filmed in 1980. It was poignant for me to retrace my steps, 30 years later, from the fountain in Bad Nauheim, where I had once been greeted by Roger Hammond as the Grand Duke: “Good morning, Mr. Dowell!”.


Revisiting Bad Nauheim, 30 years after the filming.

I am the sole surviving actor of Ford Madox Ford’s doomed quartet —who made the film of The Good Soldier 35 years ago. Jeremy Brett, Vickery Turner (r) and Susan Fleetwood (l)–all died too young. Susan was only 51! All had so much more to give. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.09.02 AM Meredith and I were in Germany to pursue another project, but passing so close to Bad Nauheim, on our way to Frankfurt, we couldn’t resist the short detour from the motor-way.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.46.19 PM

Bad Nauheim has an association with Elvis Presley, who lived there while stationed nearby during his military service with the U.S. Army.

Meredith admired the film and knew Susan. I had spent three intense weeks there in the autumn of 1980, much of the time as elegant set-dressing (so it seemed to us!), for this extraordinary Edwardian spa town. We walked and walked, in line of four, dressed in pre-war finery without–it seemed–a care in the world. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.20.43 AM     Bad Nauheim is still a spa town, but the beautiful Sprudelhof bath buildings (built between 1905 and 1911 in what the Germans call the Jugendstil style) are open only for special guided tours–and sadly none were available over the days we were there.


Despite its proximity to Frankfurt and Hitler’s command complex, Bad Nauheim was spared from Allied bombing allegedly because President Roosevelt had fond memories of his visit there.

However we managed to slip into one of the bath houses, opened by maintenance workers for cleaning, and it looked exactly as it had 30 years ago–indeed probably as it had 100 years ago. Elegant bath cubicles line the corridor (where Florence took her cure). Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.56.39 PM

Pretty interior courtyards and reception rooms are decorated with shells, mosaics, stained glass and wrought iron–every fitting finely-crafted in the art nouveau style.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.53.43 PM

Until director Kevin Billington sent me the script, I was unfamiliar with The Good Soldier.  I later regretted that my first contact with the story was via the screenplay, rather than the novel itself—thereby missing out on the mystery angle of the story—the gradual way Ford peels his onion, slowly revealing what lay beneath the facade of the four elegant walkers, “all good people”.


Ford Madox Ford changed his name after WW I, reportedly because he thought Hueffer sounded too German.

The adaptation–loyal to the novel–was written by the English screenwriter and playwright, Julian Mitchell. Filming took three months, on location in England and Germany (extended by a labour dispute at Granada TV involving the shooting of Jewel In The Crown–which delayed our schedule too). I had recently played another diffident American, Robert Acton, in Merchant Ivory’s production of the Henry James novel, The Europeans. Perhaps Kevin saw it. Though there are comic possibilities in playing innocence–three months is a long time to spend with John Dowell— someone so blindly and determinedly, out of touch with the truth.


Almost by definition we could not film the book in sequence and Kevin helped us all hang on to the arc of each of our character’s complicated and intersecting narratives. He had a firm grip on the ‘unpeeling onion’ and we were grateful to him for that. Yet while admiring his exigence and his quest for perfection, we found the endless “clothes-horse” aspect of the filming difficult.

The scene where the two couples meet for the first time, in the dining room of the hotel, for instance, was filmed FIFTY-SEVEN times from every conceivable angle! The local German extras, initially excited to be in a film, decided by lunchtime that they never wanted to be in another one–not even for ready money!

The film does look sensational though–brilliantly shot by Tony Pierce Roberts. The pace and style evoke so well the pre-war era–soon to be killed off and changed for ever by the coming carnage, launched on August the 4th– Florence’s birthday, wedding day and the day on which she commits suicide. No coincidence!

Filming back in England hopped from one “Great House” to another. Some retained the faded charm of the period—of a class feeling the pinch, if not exactly on its uppers. In one, there was a strong reminder of the devastation the First World War wreaked in social and human terms. The large brick-walled kitchen garden was still visible, as were the magnificent greenhouses—but dilapidated and neglected since the twenties–the men who had made them flourish, all slaughtered in France.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.17.26 AM

Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)

Writing in 1915—one hundred years ago—Ford Madox Ford foresaw that this was the end of an era. Edward Ashburham’s world–complacent and arrogant—was doomed. Strange that John Dowell, the unconvincing Quaker and “casual Yankee”, was so much in awe of it—and indeed joined it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.18.50 AM

Jeremy Brett, later famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, played Edward Ashburnham, the “Good Soldier”.

The strain of the long shoot, began to take its toll towards the end. It was the day of Nancy’s (Elizabeth Garvie) departure and we were filming the buggy ride to the station. “Pony’s going well!”

A little too well I thought–given that Edward/Jeremy was driving it and not the horsemaster!

The director wanted a shot of us driving over the hump-backed railway bridge, on our way to the forecourt. It would certainly have had a poignancy to it, but I could only picture the frisky pony taking off down the steep descent, and Jeremy not being able to control it.

Memories came to mind of a near-fatal accident, while filming the BBC series Poldark in Cornwall. The coach I was in, turned over on a rock on Bodmin Moor and the cameraman, who was tied to the side of it, was lucky to escape with a broken leg. I was in shock and couldn’t speak for three hours afterwards without bursting into tears.

Kevin insisted that it was perfectly safe. I found myself getting out of the buggy and demanding loudly whether he’d allow his young children do the shot. “Yes– of course,” he replied. I stomped down to the platform and into the waiting room; where I stripped off my costume, and that was the end of the buggy ride.

Perhaps after months of being unassuming John Dowell, something of Robin Ellis had to be let loose again! You can watch the entire film of The Good Soldier on YouTube now!


Read Full Post »

When I woke up this morning Pippa–mother of all cats–was there on the bed as she has been for the last two days. She was at her toilet–conscientiously licking her paw, then wiping her cheeks and ear with it–a built-in flannel [washcloth] so to speak.

It reminded me I hadn’t shaved for two days–I’d been laid up with a “gastro“, which had started at roughly 1.30am on the morning after my birthday.

The only other time I remember being as sick (literally) was the day I was filming the dénouement scene in an episode of Sherlock Holmes. I had a long speech of explanation to deliver to a solemn, suspicious and silent Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke and a very young  Jude Law. I managed the first take without interruption–but had to RUN on the word CUT –and it was a bumpy ride ’til we finished.

Two nights ago at least I had no lines to remember. My timing was better on this occasion! The birthday was over and had been much enjoyed. Meredith gave me an album–cataloguing the story of an eventful year–superb photos mostly taken by her.


Pippa looking for a photo of herself.

Looking back on my birthday though, there were signs of trouble ahead.

I remember feeling relieved I had planned ahead and prepared the Lamb Tagine (see recipe below) the day before. That left the broccoli starter and the bulgar wheat–simple!

We were eight round the table–old friends–including my old adversary from Poldark days, Donald Douglas (aka Captain McNeil). It was convivial. I was enjoying the occasion.

It was only late the next day that I realised I had forgotten an essential step in the preparation of the starter–grilling the broccoli (see below). As I served up the dish, I had a nagging feeling something was not quite right! (We have a tradition of forgetting key ingrediants when entertaining for crowds!).

PLUS I forgot to prepare the bulgar wheat, so the table had to wait while it fluffed up.

The recipes:

This dish also served as the starter for the special Saturday dinner on my October Cooking Workshop:

It is adapted from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s eponymous first cookbook.

On that night it tumbled over a small pile of salad leaves–radiccio, rocket, lettuce–dressed with olive oil lemon juice and salt.

Here it is on a bed of Sam Talbot’s Quinoa.

1lb broccoli–broken into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

garlic cloves–sliced as thin as you can

2 fresh red chilis, medium hot–de-seeded and sliced

4 tablespoons olive oil

lemon sliced very thin

  • Steam the broccoli–more than blanched less than tender–still crunchy in other words.
  • Remove to a bowl and pour over 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt.
  • Heat a grill to hot.
  • Scatter the broccoli over it and colour lightly. [Don’t FORGET this step!]

  • Return to the serving bowl.
  • Heat the second batch of oil.
  • When hot cook the garlic slices and the chili until the garlic takes on some color.

  • Pour this mixture over the broccoli.
  • Add the lemon slices and mix in carefully.
  • Serve on a bed of salad leaves dressed with  olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Lamb Tagine with dried apricots & flageolet beans

(Reproduced from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics p 138)

This superb dish for company is adapted from one in Frances Bissell’s exceptional book The Pleasures of Cookery.

for 6/8

2 kg/41⁄2 lb boned shoulder of lamb–cut away as much fat as possible, ending up with about 1.5 kg/31⁄2 lb lean lamb, cut into 2 cm/1 inch cubes

3 tbsp olive oil
3 onions–sliced
4 cloves of garlic–chopped
11⁄2 tsp cumin seeds
11⁄2 tsp coriander seeds
850 ml/11⁄2 pints/31⁄2 cups stock--I use organic vegetable stock cubes
24 dried apricots–halved (use the yellow ones as they show up better in the sauce later)
salt and pepper
parsley, or even better coriander–chopped
1 large tin flageolet beans–drained and rinsed

  1. Heat the oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
  2. Seal the meat in hot oil, using a large frying pan; when nicely browned, remove it to the ovenproof casserole you will serve it from.
  3. Gently fry the onions and garlic in the fat and oil left in the pan without browning them.
  4. Fold in the whole spices and let them cook a little.
  5. Add almost all the stock, leaving just enough in which to heat up the beans, and let it reduce a bit.
  6. Add the apricots. Season this mixture and pour it into the casserole.
  7. Add a handful of parsley or coriander.
  8. Heat the beans in a little stock and when hot add to the casserole. Turn everything over carefully.
  9. Bring it all to a simmer and place it on a low shelf in the preheated oven.
  10. Cook for 2 hours, checking after an hour to see if it needs topping up with stock – being careful not to lose the intensity of the sauce.
  11. Serve over bulgar wheat [Which you’ve remember to prepare!]

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,368 other followers