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Eric Porter gets confused


Rescuing The Glittering Prizes from disaster
Frederic Raphael Writer
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It took me a hell of a long time to write the first episode. I thought it would be easy because it was only television. But I also, as usual, somehow wanted to do it much better than one could and I put a lot of quite cinematic things in which the producer was very worried about until he realised that there was a way of doing it. Anyway, it all seemed to go okay. And I went back to England from France to attend the read-through, the first one, and it seemed okay. And then I went back to France and I didn't go back again until they were about to start shooting. I don't... can that be true? Oh yes, that's exactly right. I went back and it was two or three weeks later. They'd finished rehearsing and they were... they were about to shoot and they did the technical run.

And when I saw... I arrived from France and I saw what was shot in the technical run, I said to the producer, Mark Shivas, it's absolutely hopeless. It's a total and complete disaster. Tom Conti behaves like a kind of demented Eastern European tinker and that's not my idea of what an English... educated English Jew would behave like, and everything. And he said, well, but we're shooting tomorrow. And I said, well then in that case, we're going to re-rehearse now. So he said, well, we can't because Waris Hussein, who's the director, will be very upset. So I said, well, get him in here and I'll upset him because it's an absolute disaster. If you don't know it, you don't know much.

So they got them all together and I said, there's just a hopeless misreading of the entire script. Just all trying too hard. It's not the way to do it. Let's read through first and then we'll re-rehearse it. I said, the positioning and everything is all fine, the cameras is all fine. Just... it's just the performances that are no good. So they were all a bit, kind of... but I rehearsed them very gently and actually very nicely and it all came down because you don't shout on camera and you don't wave your hands about and you take it very easy. Not as easy as people take it now, by the way. But nevertheless, that's another story. Let the words and the value of the words do the work.

So that's what we did. And it worked pretty well. And from that moment onwards, curiously enough, everyone listened to me quite hard. Until eventually we came to the fourth of the six plays. And I was again in France and there was a character in it based on a sort of Frank Lloyd Wright/Oswald Mosley figure – a slightly bonkers kind of genius. Not that Mosley was a genius, by the way. And we had difficulty trying to cast it. They tried to get Paul Scofield who always nearly said 'yes' and then he said 'no' in the way that a lot of actors do. And gradually, gradually, gradually it was getting nearer and nearer shooting and we hadn't got anyone to play the lead in this particular episode. It was the third one, actually.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Glittering Prizes

Duration: 3 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014