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Name Dropping

Gene Kelly first came to Elstree with the Sandy Duncan Show in the late sixties. She was a talented and vivacious blonde comedienne well known in the States. Before studio recording takes place, technical staff are required to attend an outside rehearsal session where they see the show performed (in the rough) and are able to assess their later requirements. Excitedly looking forward to seeing one of my Hollywood idols, I looked around the rehearsal room and could only find a rather scruffy, balding old gentleman reading a newspaper in the far corner of the room. Yes, it was Gene Kelly who ‘walked' through the rehearsal avidly reading a script and barely moving a muscle. Two days later, sitting in sound control, I glanced up at my monitor to see a young, handsome, beautifully garbed Gene Kelly walk onto the set. He sang and danced his way through the programme with consummate ease. Sandy was in such awe of him the show glowed with happiness and jollity. One dance number involved several dancers with the two principles. Taps would be added later, I had arranged for all the dancers to be available for this. Gene however, advised me how they did this in Hollywood. By just having two dancers and slipping the track slightly meant the taps were more precise than say, ten dancers trying to all keep exactly together. Thanks Gene. When he came back years later for the Steve & Eydie Gershwin Special, he was pleased to see we were keeping with his ‘Hollywood' routine.Judy Garland recorded a midnight charity show at the London Palladium. I was on the sub-mix position in the Royal Circle. With fifteen minutes to go, Miss Garland had still not arrived. She also had not attended any rehearsal. It was all going to be a bit off-the-cuff for Jack Parnell and his Orchestra. Apparently, when she finally arrived she was a bundle of nerves and was hesitant to go on. Famed Stage Manager Jack Matthews finally had to literally push her on from the wings. She entered to a tumultuous applause and went on to perform what was perhaps one of her finest concerts ever. After the interval she introduced Liza, her daughter. Sitting on the edge of the stage she looked up at her mum admiringly until the final curtain. Sound Director Dennis Bassinger treasures the tape of that show as his ‘show-reel' and rightly so. Dennis became head of the ATV Elstree Studios some years later. Liza Minelli starred in one of the many Muppet Shows I was fortunate enough to work on. No longer the tall, gangly girl sitting on the edge of the Palladium stage, she was now a polished, talented and beautiful young lady. That show is among my six favourite Muppet Shows.Dick Van Dyke co-starred in a Julie Andrews Special entitled Julie & Dick in Covent Garden. This offered the history of that famous theatre in word and song. One huge segment was a sequence outside the theatre involving a street market set with over twenty stalls filled with fresh vegetables. Nearby, sacks of other vegetables were to be danced around for the big production number ‘Step In Time' devised and choreographed by Paddy Stone. This took up the entire floor area of Studio C. We had hardly started the shoot when an industrial dispute closed the site down for five days. The studios were locked up. On return, the brave dancers and principals had to perform for two long shoot days with rotting vegetables. The smell was dreadful. Mr. Van Dyke was the soul of cheerfulness throughout this. Always on set first thing, chatting to the crew before performing arduous dance sequences that pinpointed his talents. He and Julie had worked together before (not much!). This was a super production.Eddie Fisher brought his fiancée Connie Stevens to record his Special, (I think it only went out in the States?). The show was to open with them discovered in separate dressing rooms. A callboy would tap on both doors and they would emerge meeting up in full song along two corridors onto the stage for the opening sequence. To achieve this, the voices would have to be pre-recorded Both artistes were placed in the band room vocal booth with headphones singing along with the Jack Parnell Band as we laid down tracks. At one point a retake was necessary. Connie whispered to Eddie that his pitch was slightly off. Nobody could hear this apart from those of us in sound. To our astonishment, he rounded on his fiancée saying ‘Don't talk to a star like that honey' My tape operator Roy Nilsen transferred this to a cassette which he often played years later on a variety of productions when he deemed it appropriate. Roy had an infectious laugh and he, at least, always found it funny! However, it wasn't so funny the next day when it came to start recording on the set. Eddie stopped us all in our tracks by telling Floor Manager, Richard Holloway that he never mimes, that he is a ‘live' performer. The lengthy recording session the night before was scrapped and booms were wheeled in to cover live voice pick-up. This involved a massive lighting reset for Johnnie Rook. Boom shadows can only be avoided by clever lighting (and clever boom operating). Director Jon Scoffield took it all quite calmly and we got under way a good two hours late. Eddie could often appear to be a morose character. Once, in the sound control room, his manager was talking (heatedly) on the phone - during this Eddie asked me for a cigarette. I obliged. Standing behind the desk in my line of sight, he leant across to me and quietly confided ‘Everybody hates me'. ‘Surely not!', I retorted, rather embarrassed. He whispered a reply ‘I even hate myself'.Brave Lionel Blair stood in for both artistes throughout the rehearsed dance items because Miss Stevens was several months pregnant and Eddie was often ‘resting'. Connie did mime one song and wanted to redo her voice track on several different occasions, the last while the floor was waiting to shoot. The American producer made it clear to her in the vocal booth that she had two options, go to the floor and shoot - or go home. The finished product gave no indication of the trials experienced. In the finale of the Concert Spot, Eddie gave a thunderous version of ‘Impossible Dream' that virtually bought the house down. Like all the big stars, on the night, he did it right.In 1972 the seven episodes of The Strauss Family were made. We recorded all the music at the ATV studios with MD Cyril Ornadel. These recordings culminated in the huge orchestral rendition of ‘The Blue Danube' Used ultimately in the final shot in episode seven of Johann Strauss (the younger) on his deathbed. The strings of The Blue Danube swelled as the camera pulled out for the wide shot, his body surrounded by hundreds of flowers. It was both poignant and heart rendering. This was a David Reid production with both he and David Giles directing.The cast was stupendous. Anne Stallybrass; Derek Jacobi; Jane Seymour; Georgina Hale; Michael Bryant; David de Keyser; Geoffrey SegalMargaret Whiting in the principal roles. Eric Woolfe and Stuart Wilson were the elder and younger Strauss's. Importantly, they both learned the art of conducting to extraordinary lengths. and Two huge ballroom sets were constructed for Studio C. Musical Director Cyril Ornadel, having apparently had previously unhappy experiences with television sound sessions, had insisted that all music should be mixed down and finalised in his presence. Happy to oblige, this I did. This involved some eighty pieces of music of varying size orchestras. However, Cyril had not taken into account that one ballroom was an outside venue. I had mixed down all of the big orchestra tracks with echo and this did not suit the exterior Sperl Ballroom where a dryer sound would have worked better.David Reid devised sequences where dance hall scenes would suddenly cut to Strauss household dramatic scenes with the music still running before returning in triumph to the ballroom. The mixture of the tumultuous family drama alternating with happy, gay ballroom sequences could not have worked better.Johann Strauss the Younger was the Michael Jackson of his day. When he visited New York, a group of over a thousand musicians in Central Park were assembled in tribute to play his ‘Blue Danube'. The gathering was so immense that a cannon had to be fired so the musicians could start in unison!