ACTORS/EPIC/INTERVALS/CHEAP SENTIMENT/CHILD’S PLAY
Asset Register Entry: 13-7-18
The development of this feature project went through several stages, and two distinct and separate collaborations: initially I worked with Sue Dunderdale as co-writer and then with Paul Hallam as co-writer, later sole writer. Patsy Nightingale, who had worked on NIGHTHAWKS, was in the role of producer throughout.
In the four years spent on it, off and on, the title also changed many times: starting off as EPIC, it then became ACTORS, INTERVALS, CHEAP SENTIMENT and finally CHILD’S PLAY.
The development was initially financed by a loan from the NFDF to Don Boyd’s company Kendon Films (it was planned to be part of a slate of new Kendon film productions) with further agreements then made between Kendon and N4 Film Productions. Michael Relph, a well-known and established producer in the UK film industry then working for Don, was our main point of contact at Kendon for the project.
A later stage of development was agreed by C4’s ‘Film On 4′ (David Rose, Walter Donohue), which no longer involved Kendon Films but only N4 Film Productions.
N4 Film Productions itself was a partnership specifically set up to handle this project. The initial partners were Ron Peck, Patsy Nightingale and Sue Dunderdale. Sue Dunderdale later left after disagreements and was replaced by Paul Hallam.
Dates charting the development below are sometimes approximate as much of the original legal documentation was not held by myself or by RLP Projects Limited but by N4 and stored at Patsy Nightingale’s home.
The first notes were written on the project, which was stimulated by actor Ken Robertson’s involvement immediately after NIGHTHAWKS in The Charlie Chaplin Show, a fringe musical play at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, starring Ken as Chaplin and directed by Sue Dunderdale.
I had a unique opportunity to follow through in some detail the putting on of this theatre production and stayed with it right to the end of its run. It was my first real introduction to theatre in many ways and it was through Ken and Sue that I met many professional actors and theatre people, including Jonathan Altaraz (agent), Fred Molina, Annie Hayes, Richard Albrecht, Michael Packer and Derek Thompson, though later meetings and interviews took place also with young actors from the Royal Court Activists Group (including Mark Ayres), with Hollywood star Gloria Grahame, Peter McEnery (who played the young boy in Victim) and David Bradley (from Kes). NIGHTHAWKS was playing in the cinema at this time which greatly helped me in making contact with people.
Ruth Marks, who had been a teacher with me at Davies’s School of English in Hove and who later ran the Hampstead Theatre Club, was also someone I spent time with and learned from.
After NIGHTHAWKS, which took up about four years of our lives, and was very stressful, however rewarding ultimately, Paul Hallam and I felt we needed a break from each other and time to pursue our own individual interests. It was in this time, immediately after NIGHTHAWKS, that I worked on developing EDWARD HOPPER and ACTORS.
Various Treatments for ACTORS were written by myself and Sue Dunderdale in 1979.
An £8,000 Development Loan application was made to NFDF by Kendon Films. One note in the files suggests the actual application was for £12,460.
Osprey Films, sales agent for NIGHTHAWKS, also expressed some interest in the project, which was helpful in re-enforcing support.
Interviews with actors and theatre visits as part of the research was ongoing, both in and out of London (including Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle). It gave me a chance to get out of London and see a bit more of the country.
Some of these interviews were recorded and helped round out an understanding of the actors’ professional life and environment. They were mostly with actors at the start of their careers, trying to make it. Some of them, including Ken Robertson, had created their own agency, AC Management, as a way of trying to keep costs down and help each other to find work.
Draft 1 script of EPIC by Sue Dunderdale and myself was completed. The title came from the idea of an actor in the story finally getting a big break in a large-scale historical feature film, which had in fact happened to Derek Thompson (at the time Ken Robertson’s flatmate) when he got a major part in John Schlesinger’s Yanks.
I showed the script to composer David Graham Ellis, who had scored NIGHTHAWKS, and he started working on some musical ideas for the film.
N4 Partnership set up between Patsy Nightingale, Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale (Reg No: 2514296) as a vehicle to handle the development and production. This was amended in 26-11-80 once Sue Dunderdale was replaced as a partner by Paul Hallam.
The research period with Sue Dunderdale was very rewarding and she was generous in allowing me to share her contacts and to follow through the development of the Chaplin production. I learned a great deal from her and she, I think, learned a lot about film, an area she wanted to break into herself as a director. She came with me on a SW Arts tour when I showed some of Four Corners‘ film work at various locations in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall.
When it came to writing the script together, however, things just didn’t jell. The starting points seemed fine… we wanted to follow a number of actors as they started trying to make it in the profession and to outline what that world was and also to highlight its overwhelming middle-class bias. We were writing in a period marked by much industrial decline and increasing unemployment and the economic world of the UK was feeling increasingly tough in general. The film, we thought, could explore more than just acting and theatre and give some kind of picture of contemporary Britain.
The narrative of the script centered on the relationship between an actor and his partner who worked as a teacher in a school. It was very much about a heterosexual relationship and how the partners dealt with the pressures of their respective jobs. The woman (a teacher) was the stronger character and I think Sue brought a lot into the script of her own relationship with actor Richard Albrecht, who was her partner at the time. He, too, was someone I learned much from about the acting profession. The story also focused on the stresses of a touring production, the long separations, on the promiscuity and companionship of actors away from home.
The collaboration foundered mainly on differences as to how to show the characters and we each tried separate versions of the script, which only demonstrated how far apart in many ways our attitudes to characterization were. My own work was not very good but I also couldn’t engage enough with Sue’s. I found her approach too polemical, with characters too ‘right on’. At the same time my own approach was very muddled, swinging between the desire to be realistic, as in NIGHTHAWKS, and wanting to try a much more dramatic, even melodramatic approach.
Though Patsy, somewhere in the correspondence, refers to a cataclysmic row between Patsy and I on the one hand and Sue on the other, I don’t have much memory of it, only that it happened and was unpleasant. Sue and I agreed afterwards to go our separate ways.
There is an undated and unattributed draft (Shelf File, Vol.2), which has an altogether new energy to it and seems to be a kind of ‘breakout’ from the drafts completed with Sue Dunderdale. The central relationship was now the friendship of two ex-drama students, both male, one straight and one gay, which Paul made much more of in later versions. It was also more centered on the actual work of acting and on the hard-nosed business aspects of the profession.
The idea of an anarchic school production was introduced in this interim version, based mainly on accounts of Nicholas Ray’s work with students at an American university, Binghamton, but also on accounts of Peter Brooks’ radical theatre work, Paul’s and my experience in working with kids on NIGHTHAWKS and Paul’s Bethnal Green acting workshop which he now ran with Wilfried Thust. I had also been very excited by the productions I’d seen with young people at the Royal Court. This ‘disruptive’ element in the script tried to dramatise, albeit pretty crudely, ‘authentic’ voices being taken over by establishment actors. Ivan Illich’s DeSchooling book, an important reference for NIGHTHAWKS, remained an influence (and maybe the film If) as the school production was all about breaking down structures and went as far as the physical destruction of parts of the school building.
This drama experiment was set against a more conventional touring production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Which, the film was seeking to ask, was the more authentic? The school production initially involves local kids and later replaces them with professional young actors, which the original kids experience as a betrayal.
In the background global events, mostly reports from conflict zones, are also glimpsed on TV screens and there is a sense of trying to catch some of the volatility of Britain changing in a world that was feeling worldwide increasingly dangerous.
Above all, the focus in this interim draft shifted completely to concentrating on youth.
Start of Paul Hallam’s involvement as replacement for Sue Dunderdale, initially amending EPIC, keeping largely within its initial framework.
With more substantial help from Paul, I completed a new version of the script called ACTORS. Though it contains some of the very worst scriptwriting I have ever done, some major changes were already being made as a result of the new collaboration. It is much more confidently centered on the relationship of the two drama school students, one seen as a ‘saleable’ and handsome commercial property, and straight, the other as a rebel, and gay. The storyline is more contained as it follows their immediate fortunes on leaving drama school but still tries to delineate the larger theatre and media environment in which the actor is a commodity. In this version Gloria Grahame as a bankable star is actually named as herself in the script.
The theatre profession in this version is shown as very old-fashioned, very middle-class, with almost everyone speaking in a rather fruity voice, though many of the script scenes themselves are pretty creaky. I’m not sure, on reflection, whether it was intended as a realistic picture or as a satire but in either case it was not very good writing and there was far far too much dialogue overall.
The idea of the touring production was retained from the Dunderdale collaboration, visiting Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle, with the touring play now changed from Caste to Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Between the self-absorbed middle-class world of London and the industrial decline of the other cities around the country, the picture it gave of Britain was pretty bleak.
The Arts Council agreed early in 1980 to commission the documentary EDWARD HOPPER and work on this preoccupied me from July 1980 for most of the rest of the year.
I arranged to meet Gloria Grahame in New York during the period of researching HOPPER there. It was surprisingly easy to set up. We had dinner in a restaurant of her choice that blew most of my weekly allowance but she was lively, friendly and keen. She came with her husband Tony Ray, once her stepson, as he was the son of her previous husband Nicholas Ray from an earlier marriage. I remember he was a bit testy. It was only much later that I realized he had been the main actor in John Cassavetes’ film Shadows.
It was in this same period that I had good research meetings in London with actors David Bradley & Peter McEnery.
Sue Dunderdale formally withdrew from the project & Paul Hallam was invited to come on board officially as replacement co-writer.
Further development application was put to NFDF.
NFDF agreed an additional £5,000.
New Outlines & Treatments were written by Paul, now working as sole writer. He came up with a new title, CHEAP SENTIMENT, and Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie became even more central to the project.
Paul narrowed the script down generally, made more of the mysterious backstage world of one theatre and concentrated on the edgy and sometimes violent relationship of the two young actors. More was made of the straight/gay differences and ambiguities. The gay actor became altogether more disturbing and the sexuality more explicit.
Paul and I went to Lancaster to see Gloria Grahame in The Glass Menagerie and to spend some time with her but she was taken ill just before we arrived. The play was cancelled and she very soon after died from cancer in October 1981. Those days in Lancaster were very strange and sad. Gloria Grahame’s image was all over the city in posters for the play. We kept encountering them in our walks about the city.
At some point around this time we also learned that in no way would we get the rights to include sections of The Glass Menagerie in the film.
Kendon Films withdrew from the project, enabling a new application to be made to C4’s ‘Film On 4′ slot.
C4 agreed an additional £5,000 of development for CHEAP SENTIMENT.
The last version of the script, now re-titled CHILD’S PLAY, was completed by Paul Hallam as sole writer. It was very different from all earlier versions but still had at the centre the awkward relationship of the gay and straight actors. At the same time the script was very even-handed with a dozen or so other characters, several of them not in the acting or theatre profession, which opened the proposed world of the film out more and somehow ‘placed’ the theatre differently.
The Glass Menagerie was replaced by Paul’s adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s Roxana, which added something to the Englishness of the piece. The setting this time was Mansfield and Nottingham, where Paul came from, and what we see is less a tour of several cities than an out of London tryout in one city (London doesn’t figure at all any more in the script). The idea of a star making a comeback was kept but this time she is British and a singer (Roxana is a musical – there is even a note in the files referencing Mike Westbrook as a possible composer).
This draft easily worked better than all previous versions because it didn’t try to take on too much and knew very confidently what it was writing about. Dialogue rang true in a way it rarely had before (Paul knew the territory) and the script largely avoided the whole more ghastly theatre scene that dominated earlier drafts. This final version explored much more the feral and mysterious fascination of theatre and theatre buildings, something which had meant a lot to Paul in the past, and it helped dramatically. There is also much more sense of local family and kinship.
This last draft was modest, coherent, realistic rather than melodramatic, and should have been achievable, but development support stopped. There were simply no takers for this script. I don’t really know why it generated so little outside enthusiasm. Perhaps people wanted something more obviously dramatic and flashier, altogether ‘bigger’ characters.
Though the effort to get the production set up continued, and depended greatly on Patsy Nightingale as producer, Paul and I increasingly put our main energies into two more ambitious projects, CLEVELAND STREET and CITIES NUMBERS NIGHTS respectively. There’s no record here of where the script of CHILD’S PLAY was put out, nor of production companies’ responses to it. It may be that Patsy has these.
Looking back on it, the main benefit from working on the project, on a personal level at least, was the gaining of a much better understanding of the world of the actor and of theatre in particular, a greater appreciation of actor skills and of the work that went into productions backstage. Nonetheless, there was, for me, a kind of claustrophobia connected with theatre, a feeling of a world turned in on itself, shut away, something I had never felt with film.
Copyright was signed over by N4 Film Productions to Kendon Films and then later to C4. Neither RLP Projects Ltd nor Ron Peck has any rights in the project.
It is not known if N4 Film Productions still exists or was dissolved.
All assets, unless otherwise indicated, are archived with the Bishopsgate Institute
ACTORS/CHEAP SENTIMENT/CHILD’S PLAY Vol. 1
- Earliest Notes (1978-79)
‘Untitled’ Outline by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale (undated),
‘Untitled’ Outline & Proposal by Ron Peck & Sue
Dunderdale, December 1978
Handwritten Scribbles & Notes by Ron Peck (undated)
Untitled Treatment by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale, 29-6-79
Untitled Treatment by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale, July
1979, with Additional Notes
Epic Draft 1 by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale, March 1980 (91
pages), clean copy
Untitled Script Draft – undated & unattributed (Sue Dunderdale?)
Epic Draft 2 by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale (?), March 1980 (91
pages); marked up by RLP & w/new scenes by Paul Hallam?
Outline For A Project About Actors/Untitled by Ron Peck &
Paul Hallam, 16-6-80 + Notes 30-5-80 & Scribbles
Undated Notes, Openings, Trial Scenes, Plans, Character Notes, etc.
by Ron Peck & Paul Hallam
Script Comments by David Ellis, Patsy Nightingale, Michael Relph
& Corinne Cartier (Kendon Films), Paul Hallam, Ron Peck
- Correspondence (March 1981 – May 1983):
James Atherton (Centre Spur), Sibylle Rahn (ZDF), David Rose & Walter Donohue (Film On 4)
3 Legal Correspondence (May 1979 – December 1980)
4 Actor Correspondence:
Gloria Grahame (1981), Peter McEnery (1979)
5 NFDF Development Budget Breakdown
6 NFDF Correspondence (1980-1981)
7 Kendon Films Correspondence (1979 – 1981)
ACTORS/CHEAP SENTIMENT/CHILD’S PLAY Vol. 2
- Undated & Unattributed Treatment/Draft
- Handwritten Notes & Plans
More Handwritten Notes
ACTORS: Basic Idea & Narrative
Notes from Ron Peck/Paul Hallam Script Meeting (21-6-80)
Various Notes on Outline (Treatment/Draft above?)
Responses to Outline (Patsy Nightingale, Michael Relph/Corinne
N4 Project PR Summary
Script Comments from ‘Ruth’ (Ruth Marks?)(undated)
Script Comments from Michael Relph (undated)
Scene Breakdown Listing for Draft 1
- ACTORS Draft 1 Rewrite by Ron Peck & Paul Hallam, 14-7-80
(marked up copy)(129 pages)
- CHEAP SENTIMENT Outline by Paul Hallam, January 1981
- CHEAP SENTIMENT Outline by Paul Hallam, March 1981
- CHEAP SENTIMENT Production Notes by Ron Peck (based on PH
- N4 Project PR Summary
- ‘C4 Project, Film On 4, Production Notes’ by Ron Peck
includes list of plays seen, actors met (undated)
Certificate of Registration for N4 Film Productions, 16-4-80
Certificate of Registration for N4 Film Productions, 26-11-80
NFDF Application (signed, undated)
Kendon Films Ltd, N4 Film Productions , 8-9-80
Heads of Agreement (draft, unsigned)
Kendon Films Ltd, Ron Peck, Patsy Nightingale, 8-9-80
Assignment of Rights (signed)
Sue Dunderdale, Kendon Films, 14-8-80
Writer’s Agreement (draft, unsigned)
N4 Film Productions, Paul Hallam, 1-3-82
Assignment of Rights (draft)
N4 Film Productions, Paul Hallam, 1-9-80
Development Agreement (signed)
N4 Film Productions, Channel 4 Television, 7-1-82
CHEAP SENTIMENT Scrapbook:
inc’s articles on Liverpool, actors, musicians, films, youth suicides,
Gloria Grahame autograph, phone number & address, Thatcher,
Anita Loos Memorial Service, unemployment, police, David Rose (C4), boxing, Liz Taylor, pit blast, Gloria Grahame Glass Menagerie programme (Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster) & announcement of her death, piece on Tennessee Williams’ death
Duke’s Playhouse original Glass Menagerie programme with Gloria Grahame
Other theatre programmes, inc:
Killing Time (Croydon Alternative Theatre Company, Royal Court
Romeo & Juliet (Royal Court Theatre Activists )(w/Mark Ayres)
Trust You/Baby Talk (Royal Court Theatre Activists)(w/Mark
Ayres & Tony Westrope)
The Worlds (Royal Court Theatre Activists)
Blame It On The Boogie (Royal Court Theatre Activists)(w/Haydn
Gloria Grahame Obituary (Guardian, 8-10-81)
Postcard from Paul Hallam
Liverpool Information Pack (maps, prints)
Maps of Leeds, Liverpool & Newcastle
Script CHILD’S PLAY (formerly CHEAP SENTIMENT) Draft 1, by Paul Hallam, August 1982 (marked up copy)
ACTORS/CHEAP SENTIMENT – DYNAMO – ARMOUR-PLATED
Sound Cassette Recordings
This material is stored for the moment with RLP Projects but will be passed to Bishopsgate Institute once DYNAMO & ARMOUR-PLATED have also been archived there, expected to be later in 2018.
In depth interviews with actors, by Ron Peck & Sue Dunderdale:
28-01-80 Carrie Lee Baker, Andy – ?
29-01-80 Tim Brown, Ros Shelley
31-01-80 Mark Ayres, Andreanna Shamaris, Dan Hildebrand (2 tapes); covers Royal Court Young People’s Theatre (Activists) and also the Camden music scene of the time
09-05-80 Maggie Steed, Bobby Hooper (2 tapes)
David Graham Ellis ‘carousel’ music theme for the film (first attempt)(on
Maggie Steed Interview Tape)
Additional David Graham Ellis music tape: Natural Sounds
Not specific to any project but exploring possibilities of electronic sound
in the same period; filed here for convenience
Paul Bowles’ Glass Menagerie theatre music
Negative File 3
2 sheets of stills taken backstage at Theatre Royal, Stratford East
I think prints of these are in RLP’s Personal Diaries (not yet checked)
Almost certainly taken in 1980.
This material too will eventually go to Bishopsgate Institute
by Ron Peck