An exclusive Endeavour interview with writer/deviser/executive producer Russell Lewis
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2020
Special thanks to Stephen La Rivière
INT. VENDING MACHINE AREA/NEW COWLEY POLICE STATION
BRIGHT at his solitary repast – nosing through a newspaper with an APOLLO HEADLINE. THURSDAY arrives.
THURSDAY: Giving the canteen a miss today, sir?
BRIGHT: I was just… uh… (re the Apollo headline) Extraordinary thing.
THURSDAY: Yes, it is. Hell of a thing. Brave as you like. I was a boy when Alcock and Brown crossed the Atlantic. Everybody said that couldn’t be done. Fifty years on, and it’s the moon.
BRIGHT: ‘Man’s reach’, Thursday.
DAMIAN: Russ, what do you remember of July 1969?
RUSS: My chief recollection is peering at a black and white TV and trying to make sense of the images thereon. Was the touchdown beamed back live – or is my mind playing tricks? The pictures were quite difficult to process for my young mind. Quite abstract. Oblique views of the lunar surface.
But there was a great air of excitement about it all. My maternal grandmother was as old as the century, and it’s mad to think her life encompassed both the Wright Brothers first powered flight, and then – sixty-six years later – she was still alive to watch men walk on the moon. Quite staggering. Having seen Alan Tracy do his thing in Thunderbird 3, one might have been a bit blasé about it, assuming that – ‘well, of course, the moon is nothing special. Thunderbird 3 goes there all the time.’
E/I. THE MOON/SOUNDSTAGE/HEAVISIDE STUDIOS
The surface of the moon. Pockmarked with craters. Buzz Aldrin’s ‘Magnificent desolation.’ The blast of deceleration rockets – and a spaceship descends to the surface.
The space-ship crashes in a tremendous explosion… A moment – and a couple of STAGEHANDS enter frame with fire extinguishers to put out the flames… WIDE – and we see the MOON is a model set.
DAMIAN: The second film of series 6, APOLLO, was something of a love letter to Gerry Anderson and the Supermarionation style of filmmaking. Can you tell me what shows like Thunderbirds and Stingray meant to you as a child?
RUSS: I guess, along with the films of Ray Harryhausen, they furnished my imagination. I would have watched them in black and white, I suppose – first time round. Like most of the country, not having a colour TV. But, yes, I was completely in thrall to the worlds created in each of those shows.
DAMIAN: Also, some of the puppets such as Lady Penelope and Marina were strangely alluring to young boys weren’t they?
RUSS: Marina, perhaps. Lady Penelope… not so much. As a child I found her rhotacism a bit off-putting. I was fascinated by the imagery in the end credits of Stingray – across the “Marina” theme. Exquisitely shot. These felt like images that could have come from a big budget, high production value movie. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but the mood and imagery for Pulp’s Hardcore video has been a bit of a touchstone across the last couple of Series — which in turn took its inspiration from a coffee table book called Still Life edited by Diane Keaton (yup!) and Marvin Heiferman. I’ve got a pretty battered copy, but it’s filled with stills and publicity shots from Hollywood movies between 1940 and ‘69. There’s something very strange and staged about those shots – oddly lifeless and artificial — and often sinister, in a kind of David Lynch/Twin Peaks way. There’s something about the kind of world that they’re trying to depict which rings utterly hollow. They’re what the mind of someone who has lived an unsophisticated life imagines the sophisticated life to be. Do you know what I mean? It’s like what children imagine a King’s life to be. Ice cream for breakfast, lunch and supper, delivered on silver salvers by periwigged flunkies in buckled shoes – illustrated by Quentin Blake.
And… this does get back to Marina and Lady Penelope, I promise you… In the UK, there was that same brittle Soho glamour abroad after the war. Telephone accents. Ruth Ellis. It’s there in Betjeman’s Song of a Nightclub Proprietress — that piss elegance that pretends to something it isn’t. Del Boy Trotter’s ‘Bonnet de douche’. That’s probably a bit unfair on Del Boy – but Hyacinth Bucket is close to the mark. And I think that’s certainly true of Lady Penelope. It’s a suburban imagining of the aristocracy. Ha! You remember that scene with Jane Fonda in Klute where she goes and monologues the fantasy of the old gentleman in the Garment Factory. He’s come from the old country, and the fantasy is all about Fonda’s trip to the gambling tables of Monte Carlo, it’s all dripping with Euro decadence and the ‘pagan’ feelings stirred in her by some older man in the casino. And it’s a fantastic scene – but again, it’s that level of pretence. It’s no accident Lady Penelope ends up in Monte in The Man from MI.5. And that’s there in the Marina montage as well. Candles melting in a Chianti bottle. A vision of glamour that most of us could only dream about in the UK. But it was bogus. Ersatz. Rank Charm – as they say.
DAMIAN: You visited filming at Twickenham studios for a couple of days and I believe the first was with Shaun directing the human actors. You’ve obviously known Shaun for a long time now but what he is like as a director?
RUSS: Thorough. Prepared.
DAMIAN: Did the two of you have any significant creative differences on this film?
RUSS: Not that I recall, specifically. But what goes on tour…
DAMIAN: Shaun’s first foray into directing was a couple of years ago now, do you think he always had ambitions to direct an episode of Endeavour and why do you think he wanted to direct this particular film?
RUSS: Well – he didn’t want to open the batting – first time out, and the only film available to him to direct was the second in the run.
DAMIAN: Have you ever thought of having a go behind the camera?
RUSS: I’m already insufferable enough.
DAMIAN: Not you, sir. The second day of filming at Twickenham involved the puppet sequences. Now, I’ve often tried to get you to pick a favourite child and you always refuse. However, you must have something of a special soft spot for this film?
RUSS: I enjoyed the puppets very much. Getting up close and personal with Stephen La Rivière’s wonders. His team is fantastic, and I could happily spend the rest of my days doing nothing but working with them. What I adored was that it took me back to making my own 8mm stop-motion films as a kid. Then – Action Men were my cast, brilliantly poseable for animation – but it was in essence ‘bringing one’s toys to life.’ And there was an element of that with the puppets and the vehicles. Obviously, compared to the budget they’d had on the commercials they’d done, we could offer nothing like the same resources — but, clearly, when they’d been doing their Thunderbirds at 50 films, I don’t think they were awash with money, which brings me to my point — they have retained a very healthy sense of make do and mend, and most importantly, the only thing that matters is what’s in the frame. Does it tick all the rules boxes? No. Does it work? Does it look fantastic? Absolutely. That chimed very happily with my approach to making things. I adore sleight of hand. The movie and TV magic. What you thought you saw, you did not see.
He and they have such a genuine reverence for the original way of doing things, and a touching affection for those who broke that ground first time around… Having David Elliot and Mary Turner on the floor – and seeing Mary manipulating the puppets from the ‘Bridge’ over the set, as she had done for Anderson nearly sixty years ago… For those of us to whom such a moment might mean something… It was extraordinarily moving.
DAMIAN: Is this why you chose this film to make your first and only onscreen appearance?
RUSS: First do no harm. It was Stephen’s idea. And it kind of fed back into the make do and mend approach. At first, I think, we’d built the cut to the human hand into the story – and explained it in dialogue as part of the plot. There was a lot more about guns and blanks and live rounds early on, as a way of explaining why more than one person would have tested positive for firearms residue. But there we are. I was always very conscious as a kid of the cut to the live human hand pulling a lever or pushing a switch – and I think I wrote about that in the stage directions. Geraldine – Stephen’s colleague at Century 21 Films – had an offcut of material left over from Renton and Crater’s costumes – literally, a fragment of cloth, perhaps with a bit of braiding, was it? – and I was sewn into that to create a bit of cuff. Just enough to deceive. The ONLY thing that matters is what’s in frame. And away I went. A career in hand modelling beckons… And not a moment too soon.
DAMIAN: Can you describe the atmosphere on set with Stephen La Rivière and Century 21 working their magic?
RUSS: Well, as I think I’ve mentioned, it meant a lot. To be on the floor with Stephen and his team, and of course David and Mary. Really was amongst the happiest days I’ve spent on the show. That the shoot took place during the heatwave merely added to the fun of it. The studio – with the lights blazing – was stifling. We were the Alec Guinness Bridge on the River Kwai ‘Sweatbox’ Re-Enactment Society. As the late, great Neil Innes said when I saw him play at the Marquee some forty years ago, ‘The sweat’s running down the cheeks of my arse like juice from a rhubarb tart.’ But if I could spend the rest of my days doing that… it would be no contest.
DAMIAN: You mention Barry Gray’s music in the script and his contribution to the Anderson productions can’t be overstated. Any particular favourite themes or songs?
RUSS: Stingray is sensational. And I’m very fond of Joe 90. The organ line is marvellous. I also like the vocal version of Captain Scarlet by The Spectrum – who supposedly performed it (or mimed to it) on The Golden Shot. I’d love to know if there was any truth in that. The vocalist to my ear always sounds like Ray Brooks – who narrated Mister Benn. Marina is a stone cold classic. The mighty Thunderbirds theme. But with a lot of these, it’s the incidental music that haunts the mind. Some of the stuff on The Uninvited – the strange Thunderbirds story set around a pyramid. Madly, I always feel like I catch echoes of it in some of the arrangements in The Specials early work — Ghost Town in particular – those brass stabs, and the flute figure always sound very Thunderbirds to my ears. Barry Gray’s music did so much of the heavy lifting in terms of mood and scene setting. In much the same way that our own Barry – and now, of course, Matt Slater – bring so much to Endeavour. Their music has saved our blushed more times than I can remember.
DAMIAN: Was it the idea to incorporate the Apollo 11 moon landing or the Supermarionation aspects of the story that came first?
RUSS: Oh – the Moon Landing. It would have been a natural exit point for the series as a whole – as the pinnacle of human achievement.
INT. SOUNDSTAGE/HEAVISIDE STUDIOS
A puppet Moonbase. Consoles with winking lights. The HERO of MOON RANGERS – square jawed MAJOR.ROCK RENTON in a scene with X1 the ANDROID (a ROBOT), LUNARA – one of the Moon People; and COLONEL CRATER, crusty old patriarch.
COLONEL CRATER: Barbara’s not only my daughter, Major, but she’s also a renowned Astro-Physicist in her own right.
MAJOR RENTON: I warned her not to go, Colonel. Now, she’s out there somewhere on the dark side, with only thirty minutes of oxygen left.
COLONEL CRATER: Don’t blame yourself, Rock. She was determined to get that space-flu vaccine through to the miners at Station X19…
DAMIAN: Tell me about creating these characters, the choice of names and if you needed to do much research or does hokey dialogue just come naturally?
RUSS: They were kind of Stingray-ish, really, weren’t they? Alliterative for Troy Tempest/Rock Renton. The name Renton had stuck in my head for fifty years — I think there was a character called Rod Renton in either Secret of Zarb or The Terror of Tiba – these little books I had when I was a kid. Spitfire Books. I’m not sure if they were for younger readers or just pulpy – but they were all genres… cowboy, war, adventure… and the pair in question were sort of secret agenty. The kind of story where each of the buddy-buddy heroes had alliterative names.
And Crater was a version of Commander Shore from Stingray. What we were reaching for with Moon Rangers though was a show that had already passed its sell-by date. Anderson had moved away – with Captain Scarlet – from the larger headed marionettes of the earlier productions to more properly proportioned puppets. And it was important for us that our studio – Heaviside – was still flying the old flag – that it was slipping behind the times. I know Stephen La Rivière has much greater affection for the Stingray/Thunderbirds era puppets. And I do see his point. While Scarlet and Joe 90 were much more realistically proportioned, it was at a cost of what could be done. The puppets in those two shows ‘walk’ or move far less than those in Thunderbirds and Stingray. You’ve got Lieutenant Green on his slidey chair – and Colonel White behind his rotating desk. They’re much more static. It’s a choice. You feel the later shows, including The Secret Service from 69 – which was half live action, half puppetry – were consciously trying to shake off their origins. I liked the darkness of Scarlet a lot, and I’d dearly love to find a way to deliver a version of it — but the artistry and scale of Stingray, together with the hopeful message of Thunderbirds, really makes them the yardstick, and what people tend to think of when they think of Century 21. The particular gait of the puppets, which has been providing comedians with much mileage for over half a century. News recently came through of the death of Alan Patillo at the age of 90. Writer and director for many of Anderson’s shows – his work was quite remarkable. In tribute, Stephen tweeted a link to the climax of The Perils of Penelope. Really — it’s a masterclass in suspense. Absolutely brilliant. A sequence of which Hitchcock or Spielberg would be proud.
DAMIAN: Jeff Slayton, CEO of the fictional Heaviside studios, describes Moon Rangers as a sort of ‘Bonanza in space’ which, of course, reminded me of Star Trek. Now, you often mention the Prime Directive whenever I ask a question regarding Endeavour’s past – typically with reference to Susan Fallon. I obviously understand that the Prime Directive in Star Trek means that Starfleet personnel are forbidden from interfering with the natural development of alien civilisations but can you clarify what is meant when you use it in reference to the Morse universe?
RUSS: It’s [also] Doc Brown’s warning to Marty, isn’t it? We can’t do anything in the past which might change the future.
DAMIAN: Will Susan Fallon ever appear in Endeavour?
RUSS: Well, she sort of already has. She is standing in the group of mourners at her father’s funeral. We just didn’t pick her out or have her see Endeavour, as it felt that might undermine what they have to say to each other in Dead on Time.
DAMIAN: Of course, APOLLO wasn’t all puppets and explosions, and although we’ll discuss some of the key moments regarding Endeavour and Thursday when we conclude our discussion on the themes of alienation, change, guilt and paranoia next time, I wanted to highlight two of my favourite scenes in this script. The first continues from where we began earlier at the vending machine:
THURSDAY: All well, sir?
BRIGHT: A sobering thing to discover so late in life that one is considered a fool.
THURSDAY: Not you, sir.
BRIGHT: Oh, yes. I’m under no illusion. I am a figure of ridicule. To be openly mocked and scorned. (off THURSDAY) This Pelican! — is an albatross around my neck. Someone even mentioned it to Mrs.Bright at Canasta the other evening. People laugh at me behind my back, and even to my face.
THURSDAY: More fool them. Seems to me we’re in the business of keeping the Queen’s Peace and preserving life and limb. This campaign of yours – you’ll probably never know how many lives you’ve saved. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe – by the time it’s done.
BRIGHT: I’ve always been able to rely on you. Well — I must meet a representation from the Oxford traders. Up in arms over parking restrictions.
BRIGHT goes. THURSDAY watches after him.
DAMIAN: Wonderfully played by both actors but Anton’s pause after ‘I’ve always been able to rely on you’ and the poignant look on his face was so moving and beautiful. Now, correct me if I’m wrong but this is the sort of scene, maybe because it doesn’t involve Endeavour or drive the mystery plot forward, that might easily have been deleted in the earlier days of the show. However, I’m confused as to why the following brilliant “best not go there…” scene which does feature Endeavour was not filmed in its entirety and much of the really insightful dialogue not included. Was this simply because of our old enemy screentime or a creative difference perhaps?
INT. CID/NEW COWLEY POLICE STATION
THURSDAY and BOX in BOX’s office. ENDEAVOUR and JOAN keeping an eye on FLORA and MATTHEW — sister helping her brother with his drawing on a blotter. JOAN at the window – eye on the glimpse of moon in the darkened sky.
JOAN: Mad to think there’s people up there. Right now. That someone could have looked out of the window like this and thought – ‘Right. We’re going there.’
ENDEAVOUR: “This was the prized, the desirable sight…” (off JOAN) Sorry. Being clever again. It’s always occupied the human imagination. Understandable, I suppose. But strange, all the same.
ENDEAVOUR: That something so far away and seemingly out of reach could bear so great an influence on one’s life. Even when you can’t see it. It’s still there. (best not go there…)
RUSS: It was shot. Shaun didn’t care for it and asked me to write another scene – which is the one that was broadcast.
DAMIAN: Finally, what can you tell us about tonight’s film, RAGA?
RUSS: The 1970 General Election is a backdrop. All in Wrestling has a part to play. Greeks Bearing Gifts had a notional influence upon it. It features an Indian restaurant, so probably best avoided by those who bleat about ‘Political correctness gone mad.’
DAMIAN: Just one more thing; you’re having tea with a friend and there are two cakes left on the plate – a large one of a kind you very much like, and a smaller, dry looking one. Which do you choose?
RUSS: Neither. I’ve never been fussed about cake.
DAMIAN: Please yourself.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2020
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