Memories by Spencer Banks: Part One
||The serial will always remain something
very special to me. It was my first major role, having only
one previous credit prior to Timeslip -'Germinal' a BBC 2
Classic serial made in 1969. I can still vividly recollect
my audition, meeting Producer John Cooper and Casting Director
Monty Lyon at ATV's offices in Birmingham, one very cold and
snowy February morning in 1970. Whilst waiting to hear if
I was to be cast the serials length doubled from 13 to 26
The six months spent at ATVs Borehamwood studios started in
May 1970. Cheryl Burfield and I became firm friends from day
one. We recognised what a fantastic opportunity Timeslip was
and were determined to give it everything we could offer.
Working with many seasoned professionals; including
Denis Quilley, Derek Benfield, Iris Russell, John Baron and Sandor
Eles was a tremendous experience. It was genuinely a very happy
show to work on and when the time came for various members to
leave it was like saying goodbye to a member of the family!
There are many stories that come to mind, things not going quite
according to plan when shooting, working against the clock when
studio time was evaporating before our eyes and the more-than-occasional
joke or windup. In the first six stories 'The Wrong End of Time',
whilst recording a sequence where we strike back at the German
Raiding Party who have taken over the Radar Station in 1940, as
Simon I had to stun Gratz (played by Paul Humpoletz) with a bottle.
Well, the bottle had to be a prop special made of brittle wax,
however, under the heat of the studio lights it became pliable
and during one take as I brought it crashing on his head it just
bent and failed to shatter. Take 2, as I picked the bottle up
it broke at the neck and I attacked the German trooper with thin
air! We eventually got the take but not before some moments of
laughter - the sort of thing that `It Will Be Alright on the Night'
would have loved!
The character I played, Simon, was supposed to be something of
a junior boffin. Not long after rehearsals started I was duly
marched off to an opticians to be fitted for a pair of glasses
- to help make me look `studious' (in John Cooper's words) - they
were very unstylish brown tortoise shell frames with plain glass.
It was to be many years later before I actually needed real glasses.
As I was completely fascinated by all the technical aspects of
TV production my enthusiasm led to me being nicknamed `Joe 90'
by the crew. Often there would be the send up comment of "Oh
Spence, camera 4 has just gone down, just pop over and sort it
out would you?"
The many groundbreaking ideas developed in the Timeslip story,
most of which are second nature to us now, were numerous. Cloning,
environmental damage from scientific interference, Internet technology,
Virtual Reality Technology, meeting future projections of our
characters and many more. The great strength of Timeslip was in
the story development and writing team - Bruce Stewart, Victor
Pemberton and Script Editor, Ruth Boswell. It was the characters
that people latched onto and the fact that although scheduled
as a children's programme it did not patronise its audience and
won a large and varied following. It was a 'one off' and remained
special for that reason. No, they don't make them like that anymore
and its more the pity! Yes, viewed today some of the production
values will seem a little tame compared to the `Star Wars' screen
technology of 21 ' century - but the story remains exciting and
Both Cheryl and I would look forward to receiving the latest
batch of scripts as the weeks progressed. We both learned and
gained enormous experience from the regular cast and directors,
John Cooper, Peter Jeffries, Ron Francis and David Foster, shared
many funny times, exciting times and sad times - when a particular
story block was over and people moved on to the next job. Cheryl
and I have remained the very closest of friends over thirty-two
years. We are Godparents to our respective children and her husband
was best man at my wedding.
The locations were exotic! The time barrier being a field in
the wilds of Cuffley, Hertfordshire, `The Year of the Burn Up'
climax was shot at gravel pits near Shenley, Herts, and some of
the `hospital' grounds in the 1970 and 1965 `flashbacks' were
in fact the studio back lot!
As I mentioned before, the anecdotes are many! I can remember
being very much in awe of John Baron (who played Deveraux the
Ice Box Director of Research). His character was one to be feared
and wary of; the actor however, was warm, kind and always humorous.
Whilst working on a scene where Deveraux suffered one of many
unexplained blackouts, I became so engrossed in watching him that
when he snapped out of it I literally jumped with fright. I remember
director Peter Jeffries commenting after a scene, "Yes Spence,
you captured the feeling of being up in front of the headmaster
and nervous" - I thought to myself ... who's acting??
The water filled creek that featured in the jungle episodes of
`The Year of the Burn Up' was not without its problems. This was
the time barrier point of entrance into future England. Trouble
was, it leaked! On more than one studio day we arrived to scenes
of the prop and scenery crew baling out a flooded studio floor.
Both Cheryl and I were able to develop the opportunities of allowing
the characters of Liz and Simon to be arguing one minute and watching
out for each other the next. I particularly loved the scene at
Liz's home, having returned from the Ice Box, where a discussion
about what to do that day ended in bickering match where Liz appalled
by Simon's suggestion of going to the cinema to watch the latest
Jean-Luc Godard movie was greeted by the ultimate put-down `What?
Go to the cinema? And see a film in French ... with you!?'
There were many more favourites, confrontations with Commander
Traynor (Denis Quilley) both the real Traynor and his clone, the
banter with 2957 brilliantly played by David Graham (Simon's future
projected self in Year of the Burn Up).
In summary Timeslip was a very special time. It produced a body
of work that is still remembered, has provoked many happy memories
and produced a life-long friendship. I will always remain proud
of our contribution to the programme and always grateful to John
Cooper and ATV for offering me such a unique experience.
(c) Spencer Banks, 2002
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