Thursday, 20 November 2014

Another Day, Another Pound

In 1988, Harold Snoad, producer and director of the third and fourth series of Ever Decreasing Circles, wrote a book for BBC Television Training called Directing Situation Comedy.

It’s a lively, highly opinionated book, full of first-hand information.

Some writers say their adrenalin only flows when they are working against the clock, which is really just another way of saying that the script is going to be late.

It’s also, necessarily, quite technical and detailed in places.

You can… tighten the action by cutting from either a ‘single’ of character A (or a narrow-angle two shot favouring him) to the narrow-angle two shot favouring character B (or, of course, from a ‘single’ of character B to a narrow-angle two shot favouring character A) and no one will be any the wiser.

At the time, Snoad was working on the fourth series of Ever Decreasing Circles, and the book contains a handful of on-set and on-location pictures, mainly from episode three (The One Where They Get Stuck In The Loft) and four (The One Where They Get Tricked By A Con-Man). Here are a few, along with some screengrabs of the scenes they depict.


Here, the studio audience at Television Centre (the show was variously shot in studios 1, 4, 6 and 8) is being warmed up by actor and stand-up comedian Bobby Bragg.


This camera is presumably being used in the Con-Man episode, in which Martin does a fair bit of peering out of his front window as he becomes possessed by the spirit of Neighbourhood Watch.


Here, Snoad is positioning cameras on the studio floorplan. Squint hard enough and you can make out the words ‘MARTIN’S HOUSE’ and ‘POLICE STATION OFFICE – ONCE ONLY’. The sofa and chairs in the Bryces’ living room are clearly marked.


And here are the sofa and chairs. This image was used on the cover of Snoad’s book, and unfortunately crops out Peter Egan.


There he is. Handsome cove. Is there anyone on television who better suits black tie?


This is Martin’s tiny office (during camera rehearsal), described in the first script as

A BOX-ROOM, MADE EVEN SMALLER BY THE FACT THAT THE WALLS ARE LINED ON THREE SIDES BY TIERED SHELVES CONTAINING A MYRIAD OF HOME-PRODUCED ‘LITERATURE’ – ALL NEATLY STACKED AND THE CUBBY-HOLES LABELLED, E.G. ‘CRICKET, BADMINTON, RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION, NEWSLETTER, CAR RALLIES’. THE SMALL RECTANGLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IS OCCUPIED BY A DESK, TWO CHAIRS AND A SMALL PHOTO-COPIER. ON THE DESK IS A TYPEWRITER AND A TELEPHONE. THE MAXIMUM DISTANCE BETWEEN ANYTHING AND ITS NEIGHBOUR ON THE FLOORSPACE OF THE ROOM IS ABOUT 18 INCHES. ALL MOVEMENT IS THEREFORE REDUCED TO EDGING ALONG.

Designer Eric Walmsley realised this handsomely.


Howard and Hilda are (now, during the recording) in matching knitwear. Of course. Of course they are.


On location in Dell Lane, Billingshurst, which played The Close in the series. The large white screen above the Dormobile is a ‘butterfly,’ and is used to diffuse sharp sunlight.


As you can see, the butterfly worked.


In this episode, the Bryces, the Hugheses, Paul and his companion are on their way to a holiday cottage. The camera is on a bridge here because the shot started looking down at a stream, before tilting up to see the Dormobile approaching. It’s the opening of the episode, thus the directorial flourish.


There she is.


And this is the perhaps the most detailed photo in the book. To shoot Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton, the Dormobile was put on a low-loader with a camera rigged to the driver’s door. Crouched between them, on the floor (and very possibly getting to know the gearstick rather too well) was the sound recordist, Morton Hardaker. Watching the camera feed on a monitor in the foreground of the shot is Harold Snoad himself.


‘One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow…’

I’m indebted to archive maven and all-round good egg Rory Clark for alerting me to the book, and to international pottery magnate Peter Neill for identifying Bobby Bragg. Grats, chaps. Your pints are in the post.

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