I was actually beginning to get used to auditions, actors do go to lots of them and the format is generally the same. Turn up on time, read a bit of script and answer a few questions about yourself. You get your picture taken and have a cup of tea or soft drink. Sometimes that's all that happens and you hear nothing more but on this occasion it was different. A week or so later is was called back to read specifically for the part of Henry Parker, this was very good news, as it's nice to be asked back when there were many hundreds at the first audition.
The format is similar for the second audition, but you get the script when you arrive and are given some time to read it through, this is vital time to prepare and hopefully makes the audition run a little more like, how the scene would run, rather than just some teenagers reading out loud!
I read Henry's lines and can remember liking how he sounded to me. I felt comfortable reading the lines, as it’s something we did often at Boden Studios and I think this made a big difference for me at the auditions. When I left the second audition I had a good feeling about it. I had more information too and was really keen to be involved in what seemed to be a new and exciting TV series. So being asked back a third time and being sent some excerpts of scripts to learn did get me very excited indeed. It was hard not to let my imagination run wild, what would it be like? Playing a major role on BBC1 (remember, back then, there were only the three main channels!) The excitement was tempered with nerves and definite stomach butterflies.
At the third audition there were much less candidates attending and I recognized some of the faces from the second round. We read the scripts in various groups and then, we changed around, and read them over again. This time the day was longer and I was asked to go off to lunch with John Shackley (Will Parker). We headed off in to Shepherds Bush and found a fried chicken take away and ate it in the large park which is actually, the center of the Shepherds Bush one way system. John and I chatted about the exciting prospect of being picked for the part. The producers and directors running the audition obviously saw this as a way of seeing if John and I could get on. If we got the parts we would be potentially working together for two years or more, so it was quite important that we had a rapport. At the end of the day and after much more reading from various scenes I can remember Chris Barrie (director of 11 episodes series I & II) taking me to the building exit and chatting to me about John and about what happened that day. I can remember saying I really liked John and was excited about the prospect of possibly being Henry, of course I tried to do this in a calm and mature manner, inside I felt really excited and happy as I felt this was possibly going to be the last audition before he and the producer Richard Bates made their choice.
I'm not sure how much time passed but I know exactly where I was when I was told I actually got the role of Henry Parker. I was helping my step father, at his work. We were replacing a roof, on a house, in Haringey North London. I was at the top of the scaffolding and saw Tony Boden’s car drive up. At first I couldn't work out why he was there, but then it dawned on me! I raced down to greet him, and as I ran towards him he held out his arms to me, I can still clearly see the broad smile on his face as he said "hello Henry" We hugged and I felt a great sense of relief and happiness, the waiting was over and I had got the part. I was so happy, as well as the joy of getting the part, I saw it as a release from the prospect of remaining on that roof, fixing broken tiles and clearing up dust and rubbish. My chance had come.
It wasn’t all that long before I started rehearsals at the BBC’s dedicated rehearsal building in Acton, not that far away from BBC TV centre in west London. The proceedings started with a full read through of all the scripts in series one. Every actor and much of the technical crew were there, we all sat around a very large table and the scenes were read through one by one. In the days to come we then, step by step, worked out each scene in turn and rehearsed them in sequence. Tape, stuck to the floor, showed the size of the room or scene location, there were some chairs and beds to use and doors were marked by poles mounted on flat plates. This all helps an actor to get the layout, without having to spend expensive hours in a studio.
Location scenes were a little different because the actual positions of the cast and cameras couldn’t really be worked out until we were there. The directors knew what was required and we went over the lines again and again to help us learn them. The studio scenes were different though, we were due to go into the studio for two days first, then go away on location for a while, before returning to do some more studio work at the end. Studio scenes were worked on a lot harder. The rooms and positions of both cast and cameras were exactly pinpointed. We rehearsed them over and over until they were very polished, because the schedule we had to keep to was very tight, there was little room for error, and problems had to be ironed out in rehearsal. Studio time is very expensive and with only two days to fit everything in, it had to be as perfect as possible before we went in to avoid any unnecessary delays.
The only picture I have of this time was from a short break we took from working at Acton rehearsal rooms. Some of the cast you’ll recognize, others are floor assistants and a designer (lying down) and Chris Barry (Director) standing third in from the left in front of Kirsty (Cecilia Boorman)
During the first segments of filming in the studio we stopped for a short break and John, Ceri and I were asked to pose for the picture below. I remember asking what it was for and told it was general publicity. I asked the photographer if I were allowed a copy to which he said yes. Thank goodness I did, I’ve never seen this shot used anywhere and I am so glad I asked, as it is now quite a treasure of mine, as it brings back the memories of the very first few days of recording the Tripods.
When it came to locations I didn’t really know what I was in for. It was a case of turning up and being guided through it by the director and crew. Having a major role did have its perks though. I was often picked up in a 52 seat coach by our ‘minder’ Dave Edwards, he was tasked with looking after John, Ceri and I. We seemed to go to all the locations in this coach. It was used once we were there for artists to relax and eat in, or take breaks when not required on set. The Tripods had a very large cast so even on location, we were often a very large group, and the coach was a place to relax and chat. We, however, had it all to ourselves while travelling!
For six months or so we went from location to location around the south east of England. When I look back, I wish I had paid more attention to where it was I was going, because now, it would be nice to re-trace those steps and make a visit to these locations. Thankfully, the large and very friendly fan groups across England and Germany have spent countless hours tracking these locations down. In the gallery you will see many pictures of the fan meetings, some of which have taken place at the locations themselves, a real trip down memory lane and quite an emotional one for me at times.
Hind sight is 20/20 vision, and in my case, as I gaze back at my time making the Tripods, there are many things I love, cherish and remember very fondly. However, there is a part of me that really sees a 16 year old, trying to find his feet in the world at the same time as having to deal with quite a challenge both emotionally and professionally.
We were very much left alone in some ways and, sometimes, made mistakes. Poor choices and there were times when I thought, I wish I could have another go at that! But ultimately, this was a time that was integral to who I have become. There is very little, that’s more exciting, that a young man can do at that age, than to be playing a major role in a TV series. Considered a professional and taken seriously, it helped build character and formed us all into what we are today, even, if only just a little bit.
I loved making the Tripods and have no regrets about it. I share it freely because it’s a part of my life and is important to me. In reality its importance in TV history is extremely small, but to me and a few others it’s a very important and distinctive part of their lives. May this article and pictures help spread the joy we had.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it, there are many more images in the gallery
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