IT WAS A few weeks before the planned Survivors series one DVD studio day that Andy Priestner rang me with some enticing news. DD Video had just agreed that a second fan of the series could be present at the recording session — to assist with arrangements on the day, during this unprecedented reunion of cast and crew. When Andy asked if I would be interested in taking on the job, it's not hard to guess what my reaction was.
Andy had done incredible work in bringing together such an impressive line-up of first-series Survivors luminaries to record their recollections of the show. But the thrill of securing the co-operation of Carolyn Seymour, Ian McCulloch, Lucy Fleming, Pennant Roberts and Tanya Ronder in the DVD release was somewhat tempered by the daunting realisation of how much work there was to get through in a single day in the studio — two episode commentaries; five on-camera interviews; an additional group interview; and a carefully co-ordinated set of press interviews, vital to the autumn promotion of the release. There really was no slack in the day's timetable; and no possibility of fitting in a second day if things over-ran. If someone's train was running late, or their taxi got lost en route, there really was no chance of picking up their contributions later.
Although I never said it out loud, I guessed that Andy knew that I was worried that he had perhaps been too ambitious, and that everything on his studio wish-list would simply not get finished in the time available. As it turned out, the day was a triumph of planning and quiet efficiency. All of the Survivors cast and crew members worked extremely hard throughout a long day, exhibiting both professionalism and good humour throughout. In the end, we did over-run very slightly, but not long enough for people to start glancing at their watches.
Naturally enough, on the morning of Thursday 5 June 2003, Andy and myself arrived at the recording studio in central London far too early, and sat nervously in the cavernous reception area — with its whitewashed walls, oversized sofas, obligatory potted plants and framed prints — waiting for our 'recording artists' to arrive. Carolyn and Ian arrived first, and were soon joined by Pennant and Lucy, and then by Colin from DD Video and Julie from the promotion company Publicity Overload. Any Survivors fan who knows their Garland's War from their Gone Away can imagine how incredible an experience it was for Andy and I to find ourselves sipping coffee and chatting with so many of the creative talents behind a drama series that means so much to us all.
Once everyone had assembled, and the technicians were ready to roll, it was straight into the first session of the day — as Andy took Pennant and Carolyn off into the studio to record their commentary track for The Fourth Horseman. My main job on the day was promotions work: taking photographs for publicity purposes, and helping out with the scheduled press interviews. With two SLR cameras on the go, and endless reels of film, I intended to get as much 'coverage' of the day as I could, and began by taking the first shots of Lucy and Ian who were waiting for the journalists to arrive.
A phone call to Julie alerted us to the fact that the first interviewer, Allan Bryce from Darkside magazine had been delayed. Not wanting to waste any of the time available to us, we set up in the fitting surroundings of a second dimly-lit studio, and I began recording (on my own dictaphone) an impromptu interview with Lucy and Ian, beginning by asking them how they felt to be spending a day discussing a TV programme they made more than a quarter-of-a-century ago. We were just a few questions in, when the second scheduled interviewer, Dave Richardson from Ultimate DVD arrived, and I handed over to him.
Normally, journalists who have booked an individual promotional interview session will want the material that they get to be exclusive to them. However, knowing that there was nothing to be lost by raising the question, I asked Dave if I could also tape his interview — so that we could use any testimony that didn't make the pages of his magazine in promoting the release in other ways. After some further assurances from me, Dave agreed — so I was able to make a parallel recording, alongside his, although all of the questions were Dave's. With the session underway, I busied myself taking photographs around the studio. I carried on 'clicking' my way through Dave's second session, when Ian and Lucy left to record their episode commentary on Law and Order, and Carolyn and Pennant settled into their first press interview. Both were clearly pleased at how their commentary session had gone, and the atmosphere was relaxed and light-hearted — even as Carolyn freely confessed that she had not remembered that David had previously interviewed her for TV Zone some ten years earlier. Their interview finished with both posing for press shots. The November issue of Ultimate DVD ran a three-page feature and review on the release, based on Dave's interviews.
Now back on schedule, we were joined by Allan Bryce from Darkside magazine. Darkside's interest in Pennant and Carolyn's careers clearly extended beyond Survivors, and Allan's interview was a more wide-ranging affair than Ultimate DVD's. Questions addressed such issues as: the state of contemporary television history; the evils of the 'Hollywood machine'; and Carolyn's preparations for her role in the Steptoe and Son film, as well as touching on Survivors. The Darkside journalist was clearly relishing this opportunity, and I could clearly see that he was over-running his allotted time. I was keenly aware that Sharon Gosling from Dreamwatch was waiting outside and that it was important not to short-change her. Allan's long-overdue final question turned into another half-dozen, and we were sliding towards serious time-trouble. Eventually Julie ushered him from the room, but only as the technical break was imminent.
DD had chosen not to pre-book lunch, and with Andy completely tied-up in the studio, I was dispatched to find a suitable eatery within a five minute radius. An Italian restaurant a few streets away seemed to fit the bill, and I booked a group table with a slightly disbelieving waiter for the whole party, who were to arrive fifteen minutes later — except Lucy Fleming who had a prior lunch appointment and would rejoin us later. Rushing back to the studio, Andy and I gently shepherded the Survivors ensemble towards the doors. Carolyn had only just settled into her Dreamwatch interview, but the lunch-break was as tightly timetabled as every other part of the day, so we decided that we needed to order for her, so that she could join us later — hopefully, just as the food arrived. A philosophical-looking Sharon Gosling sat patiently as her late-starting, already-curtailed interview was interrupted by a garbled discussion between Andy, Carolyn Seymour and myself about pasta dishes and possible sauces. Thankfully, Sharon was able to gather enough material for her half-page Dreamwatch news feature on the release.
For Andy and myself, lunch was a mixture of fascinating conversation and anxious clock-watching — driven by the knowledge of how much there was still left to do. With everyone ushered back to the studio, and with the press interviews concluded, the afternoon session was set aside for the on-camera interviews — and there was still Tanya Ronder's surprise arrival to bring off.
Whilst waiting for their turn in front of the cameras, all four cast and crew members enjoyed browsing through the selection of fan material and genre press clippings that I had brought down with me. There were copies of Over the Hills, Whitecross Calling and the Survivors Newsletter and a cuttings-file of magazine articles from titles such as SFX, TV Zone and Timescreen. There's no doubt that as well as finding the material entertaining, and proof of the devotion of fans of the series, the material helped to jog memories and tease out stories and anecdotes that might otherwise not have got an airing.
As the camera crew set up each new interview, adjusting the background props and shifting lighting rigs, I crept gingerly between the cables taking stills — going for shots that revealed the interviews 'in production', rather than more close-ups. Keeping out of the way, I was able to silently sit-in on Lucy's (and later Tanya's) interviews, watching the playback on the small video monitor, and learning how the crew picked up the extra coverage needed to edit the interviews seamlessly together.
Between interviews I was charged with contacting Tanya Ronder on her mobile, in the hope that we could time her arrival for maximum effect. I gave Tanya directions from the tube station, and waited to meet her at the end of the street, planning to walk her down 'on cue'. But our mobiles kept cutting out, and we managed to miss one another. By the time I spotted Andy frantically signalling me, Tanya had already arrived at the studio from the other end of the street. The moment was captured by the agile video camera crew, and I was able to start photographing the reunion just seconds later — after racing back down the road at full pelt.
With the five on-camera interviews eventually completed, we were all beginning to flag, as the hours of intense concentration took their toll – although all of the cast and crew had proved remarkably unruffled and attentive throughout. However, the camera team were now keen to call things a day, and to forgo the planned group question-and-answer session. Both Andy and myself were adamant that a group interview had to be filmed, and with no-one from DD Video still around to question our insistence, the crew duly obliged.
It was quickly agreed to set up the closing interview back in the foyer, with all five Survivors personnel seated together on one of the large sofas, and with the sound recorded on an overhead boom mike (rather than the individual clip mikes used for the one-on-one interviews). If the truth be told, we didn't actually have permission to film in the studio's lobby, but no-one questioned our confident demeanour, so we went ahead. Aided by a renewed burst of adrenalin, I found myself asking the receptionist, in a friendly but firm manner, if he would turn off the telephone switchboard while we filmed just five meters away from his desk. I then positioned myself at the studio's front doors as an entirely unauthorised 'bouncer', to stop visitors blundering into shot.
Our assertiveness paid off, and we got sufficient quiet to shoot uninterrupted. The brief group interview, rich in laughter and recollections, provided an excellent conclusion to the day's events. So it was somewhat disappointing to discover a few weeks later that DD had chosen not to include this final on-camera session in the finished set of DVD extras — although my report on the studio day in DVD booklet still refers to it. The company retained total editorial control over the release throughout, and all decisions on what to include and what to leave out remained theirs and theirs alone. It's also very possible that the technical sound quality on our improvised 'set' was just not good enough. In any case, the amount of extra material that DD Video did agree to fund, and get clearances for, is testament to the strength of the company's belief in the release — and it borders on the churlish to complain about what's 'missing'.
As cast and crew members made their way home, and we packed up, Andy and myself were now running on caffeine and endorphins. We were elated with how things had gone, and delighted with what had been accomplished. It was only natural that, until I held the prints in my hands, I was convinced that my irreplaceable photographs would all be ruined in some terrible darkroom catastrophe — but, of course, the pictures turned out fine.
It was a real privilege to be asked to help out on the studio day for this first series release. And it's only natural that other fans might feel a pang of disappointment, or even jealousy, that they were not part of things as well. Yet it is important that everyone understand that this coming-together of Survivors personnel was not part of a convention, or a public appearance or a video store signing. These professionals were paid for an intensive day of recording work, and neither the studio nor DD would have tolerated an 'open invitation' for all fans of the programme to have joined the proceedings, and risked taking attention away from the vital work in-hand (however understandable that temptation would have been). Even I had to stop myself from pestering Ian McCulloch about what he could remember of those long-lost helicopter locations from Genesis, while he was reading through Andy's draft list of interview questions.
If the first series DVD is the success that we all hope that it is, Survivors fandom could grow significantly in size. If that happens, the prospect of organising a successful full-blown Survivors convention would also greatly increase — something all fans of the series would surely welcome.
Whether or not DD opt for a DVD (and, linked VHS) release of series two and three of Survivors depends entirely on the sales of the series one sets. All fans of the series owe it to one another to do their utmost to promote these discs and tapes, and thereby increase the chances of Survivors securing a full three-series release — and, in the process, finally achieving the popular and critical reputation that we all know this unsurpassed drama series deserves.
Note: Series two of Survivors was released on DVD in 2004; and series three in 2005. More photos from the series one DVD studio day can be seen in the Series One DVD Studio Day photo gallery.
Cite this web page
Cross, R. (2021). 'Series one DVD: Studio day report,' [online] Survivors: A World Away, 31 January. Available at: https://www.survivors-mad-dog.org.uk/a-world-away/Archive_Rep_DVD.php. Accessed on: 11 May 2021.
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