Haldane Duncan Part 6: The Glendhu Factor – 2 

31 March 2006 tbs.pm/2302

Haldane learns never, ever to mess with a bear


Ah. Now here we come to an, um, delicate area regarding our renowned Producer. He wasn’t really the Producer… Teddy was.

Teddy was the ‘actual’ Producer and, presumably because he was a grown up Teddy Bear, Brian liked to call him Bear. Bear attended all script meetings, and during recordings sat in front of the monitor in Brian’s office and told Brian if there was anything he didn’t like. This was particularly useful if Brian had to go out of the office for any reason or had to answer the telephone. On his return, Bear would let him know if the standards had dropped in any way.

Bear was about three inches tall, and to any normal person was just a wee toy bear… but Brian knew better. Brian’s wife knitted various outfits for him, and one was meant to admire the skiing gear that kept him warm while filming in winter.

Occasionally he even came to after-shoot dinners. Perched at the side of Brian’s plate in Maxi’s Bistro, on one of his rare social excursions, he was enjoying a piece of fish, while Brian was in animated conversation with Ken Watson. Jimmy Chisholm was sitting to the other side of Brian shaking his head in disbelief when, egged on by a few glasses of wine, he seized his opportunity and unceremoniously plucked Bear away from his main course and passed him, under the table, to me sitting at the end. I put him… er, it (see how easy it is to get carried away) in my pocket while Jimmy wrote a little note and left it at the edge of the plate beside the uneaten fish.

Taking a sip of wine, Brian returned to his plate and all eyes were on him as he lifted up what proved to be a ransom note demanding that in return for Brian paying for the meal, Bear would be released.

I doubt if anyone was quite sure what kind of reaction this would generate but the sheer fury that resulted set us all back on our heels. ” I am now going to the Gents to compose myself,” Brian quivered, “and if Bear is not back where he was sitting on my return, you will all be sacked.” With that he huffed off to the bog – and by turning his back, missed me throwing the thing back to Jimmy.

Bear mania hit its zenith when Brian acquired another bear to replace his telephone. This one stood on his desk and if he wanted to communicate with anyone, he would open the bear’s waistcoat to reveal the dialling buttons. Another feature was that when a caller spoke, the bear’s jaws opened and shut as the incoming sound appeared to emit from its mouth. It was difficult to work out if Brian thought everyone was a bear, or if he thought that the new bear was just good at impersonating everyone.

Bear was very secretive regarding scripts.

It was nobody’s fault that scripts were late. The network always left it to the last moment before commissioning a new series, and consequently there was acute pressure on the writers to churn out the next thirty-nine episodes.

Script breakdowns were swiftly produced by the story editor, and the writers then got down to the onerous task of pounding out the scripts themselves. The making pattern dictated that we shot the outside scenes a few weeks in advance of the studio, and because of the script backlog we often shot exteriors without having the full script in our possession.

This could have been coped with if we had the breakdown to refer to, but Bear ruled that they could not be released. Obviously, in bear land, the less people know, the better it is for all concerned.

I shot a scene outside the village shop one winter, where Ken Watson was engaging in a bit of gossip with one of his customers. There was no indication as to whether he had just come out and met the customer going in, or the other way round. I asked Bear and even asked Brian, but was told that it didn’t matter. As it was winter time, wardrobe dressed the artists in their normal hats, coats, gloves and scarves and we shot the scene quite easily.

The full script arrived and the story had Ken looking after the shop as his wife was unwell. The scene immediately prior to the one we had shot outside the shop had Ken take the customer outside for a quiet word. We spent the whole rehearsal period devising reasons for Ken to get wrapped up fit for the Arctic.

Ken Watson, he of the funny accent, was always good for a laugh. He was married to an ex-make-up girl and asked me to help him with a gag he wanted to pull on our make-up supervisor, Irene Napier.

Ken had been going thin on top for some time, and his wife had made him a wig which, in his jobbing actor’s days, he occasionally used. Since his regular stint on ‘High Road’ it had been lying gathering dust at home and it was about to be thrown out.

Ken started winding Irene up several weeks before, telling her that something had to be done about his hair and gently put the notion of the rug into her head. Quite rightly she was dead against this ridiculous notion. If the story had called for the character to get a wig then something could be made of it, but to have a character change from slap-head to Burt Reynolds overnight was not on.

As the day of reckoning arrived, Irene was suitably ripe for the sting . Before the dress rehearsal, Ken asked me to join him in his cabal, telling me that when Irene made her predictable objection, he was going to say that although I didn’t agree with it, I was willing to have a look. True to form she burst into the control room, saying how f’ing stupid he looked and she washed her hands of the whole affair. If he was going to look like that, she was going home. I started to laugh at the combined effect of Irene’s outburst and the sight on the monitor of Ken ponsing about like Leslie Howard.

Having spoiled a good gag, I persuaded Irene to let him go through with the rehearsal and told her what I would do instead.

When rehearsal finished I went down to the floor, and Ken was in hysterics. He looked at me oddly when I didn’t laugh. “It worked a treat, didn’t it,” he said.

“Absolutely, Ken,” I replied, “You’ve no idea how good that piece looks… very unobtrusive. We’ll get away with it no bother.”

“I’m not wearing this,” blustered Ken, “It’s terrible.”

“Sorry, old son, but even Irene agrees that it makes you look much better. She said, ‘The audience would notice that you look good, but won’t be able to quite put their finger on it.’ No, we all want you to wear it… even Bear.”

At least we got five minutes fun out of turning the tables on him.

Bear can’t be blamed for everything.

On my last stint on the show, I was again working with John Stahl. By now the story line had moved on to where Inverarroch’s brother-in-law was paying him a visit. The brother-in-law was a heavy gambler and had moved to Glendarroch to escape the loan sharks who were after him. The scene to be shot was the final one in the episode, where the loan shark, having found where his man has run to, drives up to Inverdarroch’s croft in a Jaguar with tinted windows. Inverdarroch recognises trouble – trouble that he will have to deal with.

The car pulls up and two heavies get out and open the rear door for Mr Big. He gets out and approaches the worried Inverdarroch. “You know why I’m here,” the villain says.

Inverdarroch nods.

“Well get him out here now!,” is the menacing retort. At which point the end credits roll.

Great! An opportunity to do a scene with little dialogue – a comparative novelty in soap opera. The only problem was that the actor cast to play the loan shark was barely five and a half feet tall, dressed like Del Boy and his sibilant ‘s’ sounded as if there was a gas leak in the whole of Luss. Add this to a mince that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a chorus boy in La Cage Aux Folles. No!

For a start, John is well over six foot, and there was no way he could look intimidated by this guy. There was nothing I could do but cut the villain out of the scene. Having established the car I then had to play everything on John’s reaction – which he did very well, by the way.

On my return to base I went straight in to Bear’s friend and asked why this nincompoop had been cast to play a heavy. As I said, not everything was Bear’s fault. I was referred to the Associate Producer who went red in the face when I stormed in with my complaint. “Oh, I’ve done it again,” she said.

“Done what again?” I asked.

“I tend to cast people with the same colour of eyes as I have… but it doesn’t always work.”

You can say that again!

When Brian took over the helm, he wanted to make his own mark on the show and decided to introduce a new character and gave him the strange-sounding name ‘Inverdarroch’. This apparently lent a note of authenticity. Brian lived on the island of Inchtavannach, or ‘Monks Island’, on Loch Lomond and knew that local farmers often called each other by the name of their farm. It didn’t seem to bother Brian that he was the only character referred to this way, and that if logic had anything to do with it, Dougal should have been called Ardvain and all the rest of the crofters should have similar names.

However, it didn’t cause a problem until I was handed a script were Inverdarroch had a rather tender, bordering on romantic, scene with Morag. It just didn’t work when she kept calling him Inverdarroch. After all, when they were kids she wouldn’t have called him Inverdarroch – that would have been his father’s handle – she would call him by his first name. That is when Tom was born.

Jimmy Chisholm was hot stuff during the early years of the series, and he was constantly trying to squeeze other work in between his television commitments – or, even worse, turning down interesting and lucrative employment. The time eventually came when he decided he had to get out or he would be there for ever, so he told everyone of his intentions and the writers gave him a strong story line to go out on, which left the door open for a return in the future. Everyone was happy.

Six months after he had finally left, he found himself in London, unemployed and bills to pay, when he met up with one of the writers and said he wouldn’t mind returning for a few months. As he had been one of the characters the writers liked and were missing in a big way, he jumped at the suggestion.

A good story line was developed for Jimmy to return home for a few months and scripts got under way. Bear or someone close to him thought it might be a good idea if they settled dates and money with his agent and issued a contract to Jimmy. When contact was finally made, his agent said that Jimmy was touring in a play that had great hopes of going into the West End and they didn’t want to jeopardise a West End run for the sake of a series that he had just got out of.

The well-practised art of unknitting a story line went into action, and everything was returned to an even keel – until a few months later the agent came on the phone to Bear and said that unfortunately the play didn’t get a transfer and Jimmy was now free to do the television.

Brian took the phone from Bear and said that he was delighted that Jimmy was now free and he would be more than happy to have him return. Only the last unfortunate experience caused the teeniest bit of a problem in the script department, and to keep everything above board they would like to settle the terms and get Jimmy under contract before any work was done on scripts. In addition, Jimmy had to realise that now he couldn’t be part of the main story line and on this occasion they could only offer four episodes. Glad that he hadn’t been told to go to hell the agent said he was disappointed that there couldn’t be more but quite understood and promptly agreed terms.

Jimmy was slightly puzzled when they said that he was only going to be needed for one day to film all four episodes but the fog quickly lifted when the scripts arrived.

In Episode One he stops off in Glasgow on the way home to visit his mother and is mugged. Episodes Two and Three have him lying in hospital with his grieving mother at the bedside, and in Episode Four he dies.

Don’t mess with a bear is all I say.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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