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Doris Martin: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)

Continuity on 'The Prisoner', 'Black Beauty' and 'Born Free'

Main image of Doris Martin: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Doris Martin was interviewed by Sid Cole on 16 August 1988.

1. Early television and The Prisoner

SC: That's right, it was earlier than 60s, that was about 55.

DM: In the beginning not many girls wanted to do series, they all went toffee nosed, and I thought this is silly, this is where our future is going to be in television. And that's how I got in, I took television series. And I did so many I wasn't out of work for ages. I got known and I went in. I liked it. You know you get a long run, you get to know everyone.

SC: Yes and in those days they'd be shooting 39 episodes a year, 39 half hours, that was practically a year's work.

DM: It was and in between I didn't mind having a bit of a break.

SC: By this time what sort of money would you say a continuity girl would be earning like yourself?

DM: £20 or £30, I suppose. It was always good money, much more than you'd get in an office or anything. Anyhow the work was so much more interesting. I couldn't have worked in an office. We had so much fun I wouldn't change any of it.

SC: Great.

DM: I worked with so many artists. I did Pat McGoohan, The Danger Man, that was Ralph Smart and you.

SC: Yes Ralph Smart, I took over from Ralph. But I was sort of associate producer.

DM: Well he was very nice then but then I did The Prisoner later and he had gone a little strange.

SC: The Prisoner was, well tell me he was very difficult on The Prisoner wasn't he, Pat McGoohan?

DM: Yes, yes, terrible

SC: Don Chaffey, you remember Don Chaffey he was directing a lot of them, but he finally as I understand it he finally had a quarrel with Pat. DM: Oh I think most people did.

SC: Tell us something about The Prisoner.

DM: It was a weird thing. Portmarion. We did one episode of Dangerman there and that's what gave him the idea. It was when he went back, it was a lovely place. Well of course we shot a lot of it there, it wasn't so bad at the start, he was writing it. He couldn't work out what these awful things were going to be and in the end he finished up with big rubber balloon things. Oh it was stupid, it was beyond him. He tried to do everything himself and he couldn't.

SC: I heard about this from Don and people that Pat was starring, producing, directing, scripting.

DM: Yes, doing the lot. Leo McKern was in it and he had a breakkdown, because he's a very conscientious man. Of course Pat was drinking very heavily then and I don't know whether he was taking anything else or not. He wasn't the same man.

SC: Mm because at his best he could be very nice couldn't he?

DM: Oh he was charming. I liked him very much then.

2. Black Beauty and Born Free

DM: I enjoyed Black Beauty, that was one of my favourites. We had 2 lovely years there. It was such a nice crew, such a nice atmosphere, and we were out in the air. Sometimes we had too much! [Laughter] But mostly it was healthy and lovely

SC: Can you say just for the record where was that shot?

DM: Oh Stockers Farm, Rickmansworth. The canal, that was lovely

SC: And the house, we used the house didn't we.

DM: Mm. Another series I loved was Born Free in Kenya

SC: Oh yes did Jimmy Hill direct that one, James Hill?

DM: Yes, I think so, was it?

SC: On Born Free I remember getting a card from Jimmy Hill saying he was in Kenya entirely surrounded by lions. [Laughter]

DM: Oh I loved that.

SC: It must have been very nice.

DM: Born Free [unintelligible] there were other things. But the lions of course came from America. That was lovely and Kay Rawlings was out ther. Funny we both lived in Ealing and we met in Kenya for the first time. I went out to do one episode. They had the man who was doing the animal stuff was going to direct one and they had to get a continuity. He didn't want a continuity and they insisted he had to have one for the editor. I was warned about this. I didn't really want to go at first, because when they rang up I said that's on the Equator, I can't work in intense heat, they said no it's high, it was quite cold. [Laughter]

SC: Yes [unintelligible] is on a big plateau isn't it?

DM: Yes. Oh I was I was so glad I did it, I loved it. I got on so well with Jack, it was funny, we had a lovely little native assistant cameraman, Mathew Kipoem [?]. And there were just the three of us, afterwards. But I went out to do this episode with him and we got alright then. And then the said stay on there's a few pick ups to do and we went round doing these. He just went round with the assistant doing the stuff and he got this pile of scripts and he kept on going through the scripts and I thought this is crazy. So when I used to get the call sheet from Kay, I'd go through what we wanted and make a précis of what we'd got to do the next day. He thought that was brilliant, but it was only common sense really

3. Changes in the television industry

SC: In general Doris, down all those very interesting years you've been talking about, what are the main changes you've noticed since you first started, when you were young in the business.

DM: Well I'll tell you the biggest thing from our point of view that you can have a tape played back when you want to get the dialogue, so you know you can get the dialogue right. It was such a struggle to get the shorthand and watch what they're doing, you know check. I used to have a system that when they altered things before, I'd write in longhand what the new thing was, then when we actually shot I'd take whatever they improvised in shorthand and I knew which was on the screen so to speak. But it's a great help now having that, they've really got it made.

SC: Did you work at all, particularly on a series when they had a TV monitor on the stage?

DM: Yes.

SC: Did you like that?

DM: Yes, we started that in Persuaders, that was a great help. Yes, I used to use it in my lunch time and pick up then and in the evenings but I was organized. Oh it's was wonderful. I'll tell you another difference I noticed, when you did the doubles, it was a nightmare because they had to shoot it and then cover one side of the camera as you know and I had to time it exactly that the words came. And then we'd play it back, it was hard work and took ages to do it. Now it's so simple.

SC: Can you say more about that, the technique of that. I mean what sort of shots are you talking about?

DM: When you've got the same person in the same frame, playing two different characters in the same frame, that's really what I was thinking of. They've got to answer themselves at the right time. Now you see they can play it back and they can hear it. It's a doddle but it wasn't then, I used to dread it. That's one big technical difference.

SC: Yes, that's a considerable change, that and hearing the tapes. Otherwise I suppose the actual method of recording, putting down your continuity sheets is more or less the same.

DM: Oh they haven't really changed, no. Of course I did Superman, the flying units, I did 1,2 and 3 and Supergirl, I did 2nd unit on that. The last thing I really did was 2nd unit and again the stunt stuff on Return to Oz

SC: Where was that shot?

DM: That was at Elstree, a studio I don't like.

SC: Why didn't you like that as a studio?

DM: It was too higgledy-piggledy. It wasn't kept very clean and it was such a journey getting there from here. Pinewood was my love, straight along, apart from that it was always so well run.

SC: Well of course Elstree, the BIP or Canon as it now is or was did grow up higgledy-piggledy.

DM: That was the way it grew, but the best thing about it was that it was right at the end of the shops and lunch time you could go out and do your shopping. When you're at Pinewood and anywhere like that you had to shop weekends for the rest of the week.

SC: So in other words you really enjoyed your life.

DM: I've enjoyed my life, I wouldn't have changed it.

SC: You wouldn't have changed it, looking back.

DM: Looking back, no, I don't think I would have done. I think I did the best thing going on to series because I was employed all the time. One reason I never really wanted to go on the big pictures because I always felt they have more time on their hands and there can be bitchiness there, because everybody is trying to be better, I've seen a bit of it. You never get that on a series, everybody's got their own job and you all pull together.

I'm glad I got out when I did because now it's going back I'm afraid to the old days. The hours have got longer and they're trying to make all-in deals. It's very sad. No, I had the best of it.

SC: Yes, I know. By all in deals you mean that you're only paid so much and you work untold hours?

DM: Mm.

SC: Well thank you Doris, that was great.

DM: Well I've enjoyed it, it's brought it all back and made me think what a lovely time I've had. But you do remember the best. There were times when you get browned off, standing out in a field in the middle of the night. [Laughter]

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Martin, Doris (1906-1993)