Tuesday, 16 May 2017

TELL THEM FIFTY TWO WEEKS IS TO LONG TO BE SO OLD! GOODBYE GEOFFREY BAYLDON


BACK IN 1988, the world of Fans and Fan Clubs in the UK, was very different to how it is today in 2017. There were few places to 'bump into your favorite film star and have a chat (!), autograph conventions in the UK were unheard of, autographs were almost always given, on the fly, when you did bump into a celebrity or 'star'...and they were certainly given for free. Meeting celebrities was very much, a bigger deal. Remember, our own PCAS was founded on a meeting with fan Gladys Fletcher and Peter Cushing. A meeting that Gladys had prepared for, for over a year and was instigated at Peter's request . . . little could she have known, he was going to ask her, to manage his first Peter Cushing Club?? 

DURING ALL THE YEARS that Gladys managed the club, from 1956 until 1977, she rarely met any other actors or celebrities. It  was a rarer opportunity back then. It was only after 1978, when the club was rebooted and renamed, with the extra resources of cheaper, faster, printing for membership journals and the addition of having our own audio tape magazine, did the idea of meeting and interviewing actors and people who worked with Peter Cushing, become a much more exciting extension of the society's tool box! Now, interviews would be recorded with broadcasting specific Marantz recording machines, interviews could be edited, jingles recorded, to add to the content of a 'radio programme-style' two hour long show! Mark's radio presenting background, made this possible, and the production values were very polished. 


GEOFFREY BAYLDON was one of the first dozen or so interviews, that appeared on the first shows. Geoffrey was sent a copy of one of the shows, in our letter of introduction following a phone call. Linda King, who was assisting with much of the daily running of PCAS at this time, volunteered to front the interview, as she was a big fan of the very popular Catweazle programme that Geoffrey starred in during the early 1970's. This was only her second or third venture into driving 'behind the mic'. Pop and soap stars opened fetes and supermarkets, it was a different matter meeting one of your idols, in his living room for three hours!


Bayldon as Max with Robert Powell in Amicus films, 'Asylum' (1971). The film had a very good cast also including Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom with some very good stories and set pieces, but these few seconds of Bayldon's performance, are the images that stay with most viewers, long after the titles role . . . 
 
IT HAD BEEN KNOWN for quite some time, that Geoffrey Bayldon's health was failing him. But despite, several serious moments, he battled on, despite losing mobility, much of his sight and many of the things that advanced age slowly, and cruelly robs from us all eventually.  When the time did arrive last week, it was no lesser shock. At 93, it looked like, despite all the health problems, he might, please stay with us... a little longer yet. On May 10th, 2017 he left us for good, but left a remarkable body of work for us and future generations of fantasy film fans, families and children to enjoy. And there will always be Catweazle . . . 


BELOW ARE some transcribed extracts from the PCAS Geoffrey Bayldon interview and some brief words from Linda on the interview. The full recording can be heard on the PCAS POD-CAST, which will be launch later this year. We'll keep you posted. . .


LINDA KING: ON INTERVIEWING GEOFFREY BAYLDON:
'Geoffrey was very kind and courteous and made me feel at home, although I was still a bit nervous. This was at his home after all, which was not what stars did! He was quite happy to talk about Catweazel, Doctor Who, Dracula, Worzel Gummidge and other roles. He was complimentary about the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society Audio Magazine and only too happy to do some jingles for us. He thought the idea of a tape zine was a good one and innovative. The jingles, like all the jingles and inserts that various people we interviewed did for us over the years, were light hearted and in our usual, tongue in cheek, self-deprecating style, and a bit of fun.



ABOVE: Bayldon and Thorley Walters in 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed' (1969) 

'I REMEMBER, Mark had the idea of Geoffrey re-recording the voice over track, he recorded for the Paul Hardcastle top ten single' The Wizard', which was the theme music to the BBC show, 'Top of the Pops' at the time. He was a very good sport recording it and I could see, he was having a lot fun playing up our rewriting of the 'spell', that appeared on the hit song recording.


ABOVE: The letter of introduction and granting our PCAS interview with Geoffrey Bayldon, back in 1988. 

'THE INTERVIEW took place in 1988, 'Madame Souzatska' with Shirley MacLaine in the title role, was a film he had been in recently at the time of the interview, and he was keen to share his experiences of shooting his scenes.  Through-out our three hour meeting, he was quietly spoken and good humoured, smiling a lot and happy to have a couple of photos taken. I don't remember as much as I wished I did, but it was a very pleasant experience'. 


'THE AUTOGRAPHED PIC, which appears here with the letter? The reason why he wrote 'May everything work for Linda' was because Catweazel, always used to complain that, 'nothing works!'


FIFTY TWO WEEKS OF WORK!
'I was always cast as elderly men, quite a time of playing old men. It started when I was twenty one, and I have done ever since'. Just a few days before meeting Geoffrey, in preparation for a Dr Who Issue of the Peter Cushing Appreciation Audio Magazine, we had interviewed three actors, with connections with the BBC series, Tom Baker, Colin Baker and Sophie Aldread. Both Tom and Colin were working in the West End, in theatre productions, interviews were conducted in their dressing rooms. Sophie was rehearsing for the next series of Dr Who. So, the subject of the Time Traveler came up, ' You know, I was almost cast as the first Doctor Who?' At the time, this was news to us and I don't think it was common knowledge, being pre-internet.


 'I know!', said Geoffrey, ' but please let me put this into context, I am not sure how serious their intentions were, at the BBC. But, I was quite sure, it didn't take me very long to consider it, because at this time, I had played many older characters, old men. My agent did try to impress that the role would be maybe of great value, to anyone's career, But, I was, for better or worse, quite adamant. There had been too many, mostly television. If you get a call, I told my agent, I don't want to know.'  At this point, Linda laughed with Geoffrey, but in the back of her mind, she running a 'flicker-book' of images of Geoffrey Bayldon as Doctor Who!  What a loss! 


But Geoffrey hadn't finished...'And then, one afternoon, my agent, she rang. She just said, 'How would you like to work, 52 weeks of the year?. I know, you said not to tell you, but I thought you had better consider it' and I said 'Consider what?' and she told me, about Doctor Who. I said, 'Goodness, 52 weeks!. Look, let me think about it. I will call you back, in a few minutes. I need to think about this' So, she waited and I thought about it. After ten minutes, I called her and said' Tell them, it's too long!' She interrupted and said again, 'It's 52 weeks of work, Geoffrey!' and I replied, 'No tell them, it's too long to be so old' and she did, and that was the end of that. You know, I never knew officially what it was! My agent just told me it was from the BBC and it was called 'Doctor Who'....and it was going to be a children's series, an inventor, science... professor or something. Ha!'

DRACULA / HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) SHOCK AT THE VALET!

'I was very nervous about my performance in the first Hammer Dracula, with Peter Cushing. We shared a scene. I only had one day on the film, it came through to my agent, and again it was another, old man, but this time  I guess it was Peter's character's valet, I was playing. It involved some kind of recording machine, that Peter was using, and my character, had to react to it, be confused, as if there is another person in the room, who I could not see!'



'Anyway, I slipped in to watch a matinee of the film. I had no idea when I would appear on the screen. My scene had been shot, out of sequence with everything else in the film, I knew the novel, but not the screenplay. So, no idea, and I was really becoming interested in the story, and almost forgot about my role, when suddenly, these two large doors open in a room, and in I walk, almost 15 or so feet high on the cinema screen. I was shocked! I had never actually seen myself on a cinema screen before!'

THE UNFORTUNATE CATWEAZLE AND 'THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED' CONNECTION:
'Again, this is a story that involves my horror at a cinema! I wanted to check out a role I had played in the film, 'The House That Dripped Blood', a fun film to make, and glorious friendship of Jon Pertwee. Well, I went to see the film, I knew it was showing at the local cinema. Now, the press office, when the film was being touted, promoted, they were looking for ideas, stories that they could use, and of course in this story, and they hit on the idea of plugging the angle that this was, 'Doctor Who Meeting Catweazle'. 



'It was a gimmick, from the press office. And we said, 'NO!' We had gone to great lengths to make it so it was nothing at all like Catweazle. The company, the director were quite specific, it had to be nothing at all, like Catweazle. So, the idea was floated about making the character not unlike, a Ernest Thesiger, the actor, type appearance. I thought that was great idea. They made a longer nose, wispy side-burns, So, we did go to a lot of trouble, to make  of everything about this fancy dress shop character, I was playing, to BE someone else. Anyway, the cinema was full of teenagers. Jon made his entrance, rapped the counter in the shop for assistance, and I appear, through a curtain, and the whole audience cried 'CATWEAZLE!' in recognition..!


MARCUS BROOKS: ON GEOFFREY BAYLDON
WHEN DEVISING AND editing the PCAS Audio Magazine over the six years it was produced, the highlight of every show was, the interview. Vincent Price, John Carradine, Milton Subotsky, Ralph Bates...they were usually all, gripping stuff and full of new insights, anecdotes and business. Each interview had a show duration of 30 to 40 minutes, including short clips of the featured actors work, in a show that first started as a hour, then quickly, by show four moved to a two hour duration. The raw material, depending the responsiveness of interviewee, could be anything from a tight 30 minutes, or in some cases, several hours! 


THE PROCESS OF editing, listening, sometimes over and over, to someone speaking, sharing, remembering, pieces of their life and experiences, opinions and thoughts, can sometimes give you a feeling for the person. Some were professional 'guest', who were very focused and had a set format for interviews, stories, jokes, quips and off pat. That is why often the interview was only as good as the prompt questions. And we worked very hard on setting those. If Tom Baker doesn't want you talk about Dr Who, what DO you talk about? Elevators, drunks, the worst jokes, hats, cats and sloe gin, of course! 



THIS WAS NOT A PROBLEM with Geoffrey Balydon, he wanted to talk. Let you in. Share his experiences and wanted you to understand. That was Geoffrey. Very relax, having fun and sharing his memories, it was just like the memory had that moment occurred to him. I think Geoffrey Bayldon enjoyed being an actor, he liked actors, had a good sense of humor, enjoyed a giggle, and enjoyed you having a giggle with him too!


IN OUR INTERVIEW, Geoffrey presents himself, as very honest, and without a net! Back in 1988, there weren't the oodles of books containing the behind the scenes stories about the fantasy films of Hammer an Amicus, like there are today. It was from Geoffrey's interview, that I first heard the story about the little old lady who doubled for Valerie Gaunt in Jonathan Harker's staking scene in 'Dracula /Horror of Dracula' (1958) Geoffrey had been on the set that same day, and heard the elderly lady, announcing that the casting agency, hadn't told her she would be playing a corpse!  


WHAT GEOFFREY added to the story was, she was extremely upset and dissolved into tears upon the words, 'Cut' being hailed from behind the camera. Geoffrey was good on detail and like many of the actors we interviewed at this time, was still sharp and working.   


GEOFFREY BAYLDON, started as a theatre actor, he spent two seasons as a successful Shakespearean actor at Stratford, playing alongside John Gielgud in 'Measure for Measure' and 'Julius Caesar' (both in 1950). For a further two years, he was with the Birmingham repertory theatre, with whom he appeared as Caesar at the Old Vic and, to rave reviews, in Paris too. Despite these successes, he later openly admitted he enjoy film and television more, 'You can nearly always do it again, if it didn't come out right, the first time!'


IN THE EARLY 1970'S his triumph as Catweazle sealed his TV reputation, drawing him into countless series and dramas including, All Creatures Great and Small for the BBC, The Tomorrow People, Tales of the Unexpected, Blott on the Landscape and Rumpole of the Bailey. In three 1979 episodes of Doctor Who he was Organon the astrologer – with Tom Baker,with whom he shared a long friendship– and even played an alternative version of the Time Lord in two audio versions of Doctor Who stories released in 2003 and 2005. 


IN HIS NUMEROUS film appearances, he rubbed shoulders with greats such as Sidney Poitier (To Sir With Love, 1967), Peter Sellers (Casino Royale, 1967, and 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again', 1976), Albert Finney ('Scrooge', 1970) Peter Cushing (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1967) Asylum (1972) and Vincent Price ('The Monster Club', 1981) and Shirley MacLaine ('Madame Souzatska', 1988)





ABOVE: MIDSOMER MURDERS: Geoffrey Bayldon, Georgine Anderson, Gudrun Ure, Phyllis Calvert and  Nigel Davenport. Midsomer Murders: 'Blue Herrings' (2000)


GEOFFREY continued acting on TV, well into his 80s when he noted that he was now ready to play, those old men, only now with a certain qualification! Appearances in 'Midsomer Murders', 'Heartbeat', 'Casualty', 'New Tricks' and 'My Family' came in more recent years. He would attend the annual gathering of the Catweazle fan club with enthusiasm, and they in return loved him dearly. In 2005 he revealed that he had finally been able to watch the show with a sense of detachment. “I turned it on and I was sitting back watching myself without being conscious at all that it was me,” he said. ‘“And I was jaw-dropped. I suddenly thought: ‘This fella’s bloody good.’”



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