Friday, 11 September 2020

Britain bids a "Farewell" to an old TV Film Producer called Paul Knight, who told its History, not as it was, but as it should have been

Paul, who has died at the age of 76, did his best work as a TV film producer when he was in his thirties in the 1970s and if the Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, was right and 'all History is Contemporary History', then Paul's historical adventure series tell us more about the mid 1970s and early 198os, than they do about the times in which they were set.

Paul himself was born in the Second World War, in the winter of 1944, in Hendon, Middlesex and attended, the fee-paying boys public school, John Lyon School, Harrow-on-the-Hill. Perhaps Paul got his enthusiasm for drama, history and story telling from school ? The actor Timothy West and theatre director, Michael Bogdanov were pupils there before him and the documentary film maker, Michael Gold, was three years his junior. Paul would have recognised and named his teachers assembled in the staff room in 1960.

Paul eschewed working for exams in the sixth form and when he left school at the age of 16 in 1960. joined the ITV company ATV as a messenger boy and worked his way up to assistant floor manager. When he was 23 in 1967, the producer, Stella Richman, became his mentor when she took him on as an 'Associate Producer' He served his apprenticeship as a producer for director Alan Clarke when he worked on plays by Alun Owen, Edna O'Brien and Roy Minton and in 1968, worked on the six episodes of the 'Ronnie Barker Playhouse' which Stella produced for another of the commercial television franchise holders, Rediffusion.

In the 1970s Paul started, what was to be, a 20 year collaboration with the writer, Richard Carpenter, who had created of the fantasy TV series, 'Catweazle'. They were joined by another producer, Sidney Cole, who had made 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' and other 1950s black and white ITV swashbucklers. The three of them worked together from 1972 - 74 to make 'The Adventures of Black Beauty' with Richard as the lead writer of scripts, that were a continuation of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century children’s classic and Paul as Executive Producer.

Seeking music as a theme to introduce and support the series, Paul gave the brief, by relating to a American TV Western Series : “Think 'The Virginian'. Only not a western.” His choice of Denis King’s triumphal 'Galloping Home', not only became a classic, but also won an Ivor Novello award in 1974. Remarkably, the series, which starred Judi Bowker, was screened at teatime on a Sunday, was watched by up to 15 million viewers.

With Richard and Sidney, Paul now formed 'Gatetarn Productions' specifically to make drama series about English folk legends which would, no doubt, be underpinned by Richard's interest : "I've always been interested in the person who is outside society. In a sense, that is the hero, the heroic figure is the man who takes on the world alone."

As a result, in 1979 they worked on the first series of 'Dick Turpin', starring Richard O’Sullivan as the 18th-century highway robber. Paul negotiated a deal with the American version, 'Dick Turpin’s Greatest Adventure', screened in Britain as that year’s part in the five-part series, with the 'Dallas' soap star company RKO for a 1981 film Mary Crosby joining the cast.

The trio created 'Smuggler', which featured Oliver Tobias in 1881, as the swashbuckling Jack Vincent, a former naval officer eluding customs officials in the early 1800s. Like their previous dramas, the production values were high, with location filming along the Somerset coast and a TV sequel, 'Adventurer', set in New Zealand, followed in 1987.

With their 'Robin of Sherwood' in 1984 they used Richard's innovative reimagining of the legend, with mystical elements and new characters. Its mysticism reflected a 1980s renewed interest in paganism, as well as the concerns of the growing environmentally green movement and it could be argued that the idealism of the hero was a backlash against the materialism of the Margaret Thatcher era in Britain.

The series began with Judi Trott as Maid Marion and Michael Praed as Robin Hood and Mark Ryan as their foe, Nassir, but Mark Ryan gave such a good performance in the role during filming at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland which was doubling for Nottingham Castle, that Paul asked  Richard for a script rewrite to make Nasir a comrade and keep him on as one of Robin’s band and said : “This boy is terrific. The girls love him, he looks wonderful in his leather jacket.  We can’t kill him.”

Paul again showed enterprise by commissioning Irish band Clannad to produce the haunting theme music 'Robin (The Hooded Man)' and 'Together We' , 'Now is Here', 'Herne' . Paul was presented with a serious problem when Michael Praed left after the second series to take a stage role on Broadway, He and Richard solved the problem by killing off Robin in battle and switching to an alternative version of the myth, with the hero being a nobleman, Robert of Huntingdon. Paul considered Jason Connery, Paul McGann and Neil Morrissey for the part before deciding that Connery fitted the new character best. However, the resulting third series was to be the last. Goldcrest, the company funding the production, pulled out in 1986 before a final fourth run after suffering financial difficulties and Richard's wedding of Robin and Marion never reached the screens.

When interviewed some years later, when Richard was asked what he thought the importance he thought History played in the series ? He replied : "It gives the story an authentic background and helps to make it more believable" but "I was not writing a history lesson. Dates are unimportant in a fantasy. Robin Hood is a fantasy. He never existed." 

The trio worked no longer worked together : Paul went on to establish Jack Rosenthal’s 'London’s Burning' as one of Britain’s most hard-hitting dramas, but he was back with Richard for the ITV children’s fantasy series 'Stanley’s Dragon' in 1994.

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