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.
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.
In 1972 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 Segal, Margaret 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.
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! MORE LATER.