Known best to Big Finish listeners as Abby Grant in Survivors, Carolyn Seymour is an actress who is equally at home in a Hollywood blockbuster, a British cult comedy or drama series. She played Jenny in Take Three Girls, Zita in the Steptoe & Son movie, and starred on the silver screen alongside Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Michael Keaton in a career that has lasted five decades.
Now she opens up in an exclusive two-hour interview with writer, actor and comedian Toby Hadoke, talking with openness and honesty about her astonishing career and life outside of the spotlight.
I knew Carolyn would be interesting but was thrilled by her openness, her refreshing honesty and the way she was happy to field any question I wanted to throw at her. She’s definitely a survivor. This may be a one woman show – and what a woman – but there are a host of supporting players and she brings them all to life; from HG Wells (well, bits of him) to Terence Dudley via Michael Bryant and Peter O’Toole. The time we spent chatting just flew by.
HAMPTON COURT IN Herefordshire, a key filming location in the first series of Survivors, features in a new episode of the long-running BBC auction show Antiques Road Trip.
Presenter Christina Trevanion visits the grounds of Hampton Court and its gardens to learn more about Tudor methods of soap production – household items which were manufactured by hand and perfumed with flowers and other naturally grown materials.
“Taking a break from shopping, Christina heads to a very fine garden to discover the fascinating history of how the Tudors kept themselves clean”
In Survivors, the lack of soap is briefly referred to during Abby’s group’s tenure at The Grange in series one. But it is in Survivors second series that the residents of Whitecross get stuck into the laborious business of making their own soap supplies.
Fittingly, Christina arrives at the house by motoring along the long front driveway in a “very robust” Series One Landrover. “Not as nippy” as the Porsche Speedster that her rival collectibles trader Serhat Ahmet is driving “but better over the bumps,” the episode’s description explains.
The short sequence at Hampton Court includes some striking aerial shots of the house and gardens.
The episode (Series 21, Episode 17) was first shown on BBC One on 8 December, and (for viewers in the UK) will be available on the BBC iPlayer until 7 January 2021.
A CONTROVERSIAL BID to secure millions of pounds in government funding to reinstate the Matlock to Buxton rail line, along what is now the Monsal Trail, has run into opposition from the public and the Peak Park authority.
The original rail line, which formed part of the connection between London and Manchester, was closed in the 1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts which devastated large section of Britain’s rail network. With the tracks removed and the rail tunnels sealed, the section between Buxton and Matlock fell into disuse.
It was in 1977, during the early years of this period of neglect (and before the tunnels had been sealed), that the Monsal valley was selected as an ideal filming location for the third series Survivors episode Mad Dog.
In recent years, after attracting extensive funding for rennovation, the rail tunnels along this section of the line were repaired and re-opened, and the Monsal Trail developed as a leisure and tourist attraction for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
The Trail has proved to be an extraordinarily popular location, attracting large numbers of visitors year round, and has succeeded in becoming an important ‘jumping off’ point for those who’ve been encouraged by their experience to explore the Peak District more widely.
Lobby group MEMRAP (the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership) has launched a campaign to secure funding for a reinstatement of the old line.
MEMRAP argues that allowing the Monsal Trail to exist solely as a recreational destination means wasting a valuable resource that could be harnessed to “reconnect isolated communities, provide additional capacity for the national railway network (both for passengers and freight), and help Derbyshire to meet its carbon emissions targets”.
MEMRAP are backing the work of the Peak and Dales Rail campaign, which claims that trains could be running over the Monsal viaduct once again by 2030.
The group’s proposals will, the Peak and Dales Rail campaign hopes, persuade central and local government to fund a full feasibility study and detailed construction plan.
If approved, MEMRAP hopes that the multi-million pound costs of the construction of the line (which would include bridge building, flood management, and major earth works) would come from “private investment […] or from national government, or indeed from some combination.”
If the project secured funding, access to the tunnels and to the viaduct by pedestrians and others would face the axe. MEMRAP chief executive Stephen Chaytow said he did not want to see “the Monsal Trail lost” entirely and its proposals would see the Trail retained in “some capacity”.
It’s clear however that, were the rail reinstatement to go ahead, leisure access to the Monsal Trail would be sharply curtailed and the experience transformed out of all recognition by the primacy that a live bi-directional train service would have to secure in the limited space available.
Peak authority sceptical
The Peak District National Park Authority remains entirely unconvinced by MEMRAP’s plans. A 2019 study by the Authority found that the easily-accessible trails available in the National Park played host to “more than half a million visits each year from walkers, cyclists and horse riders.” Of those 500,000 annual visitors, 330,000 made use of the Monsal Trail.
The organisation’s Conservation and Planning Director John Scott insists the railway line and the Trail are simply “incompatible”.
“It’s hard to see how you can have the railway back and have the Trail experience as it is at the moment,” he explained to the BBC.
The proposals have sparked opposition from individuals and groups entirely unconvinced by MEMRAP’s cost-benefit calculations. A Help Save the Monsal Trail petition on the Change.org site has already (by 20 November 2020) attracted more than 10,500 signatures.
It’s difficult to tell at present, if MEMRAP’s proposals have any credibility or traction. An application has been submitted to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’, with the backing of two sponsoring MPs Robert Largan (High Peak) and Nigel Mills (Amber Valley).
The bid will, however, be in competition with other rail reinstatement proposals from across the country, many of which will not be accompanied with the same kind of eye-watering price tag, unproven economic rationale or impassioned local opposition that the MEMRAP plan will have to confront.
Countless major infrastructure ‘projects’ (particularly those which originate from private organisations and lobby groups) fail to secure funding or official backing and grind to a halt at the “feasibility study” stage.
The proposal can though count on some local rail-enthusiast support. A competing Re-open the Railway between Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and Manchester petition on Change.org has attracted thousands of signatures. Tellingly, the statement accompanying the petition is silent on the fate of the Monsal Trail in the event that the line is brought back into use.
As the debate continues, it’s impossible not to reminded of the controversy that greeted the construction of the Monsal viaduct and the building of the rail line back in 1863. The celebrated critic and social commentator John Ruskin famously denounced what he saw as the witless desecration of the valley’s beauty in the name of “progress”:
“The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere.”
John Ruskin, 1871. Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain.
Once opened, trains ran across the viaduct and through the valley for around 100 years before the Beeching cuts led to the lines being ripped out. Over time, the viaduct that Ruskin had considered such a monstrosity blended into the landscape of the Monsal valley, and became an integral part of one of the Peak District’s most recognisable and acclaimed vistas. Within ten years of the line’s closure, its impressive spans and brickwork had secured Grade II Listed Building status.
Fans of Survivors might well find themselves torn in relation to the rail reinstatement plan. While the return of trains to the Monsal valley would almost certainly render key Mad Dog filming locations inaccessible once more, and compromise the gentle tranquility of the valley, there is one other consideration.
Charles Vaughan and Greg Preston were both enthusiastic advocates for the reactivation of dormant rail services across post-Death Britain (admittedly in legacy, steam-powered form). In Survivors, it was Charles and Greg who were most determined to “get a national network going”.
HAMPTON COURT IN Herefordshire, the principal filming location for the second half of the first series of Survivors, has closed to visitors for the remainder of 2020.
Hampton Court had reopened the grounds of the estate in early July, once the first Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had been lifted (the site usually reopens from its winter break in March or April, but had remained shut during lockdown).
With the new restrictions unveiled by the Johnson government taking effect from 5 November, and running to early December (in the first instance), the owners of Hampton Court have decided to end the visitor season with immediate effect, forgoing any plans for Xmas and end-of-year events.
A FOUR-PAGE FEATURE on Survivors, that includes comments from Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming and Ian McCulloch, appears in the November issue of SFX magazine.
Written by Steve O’Brien, who’s recently published articles on the 2008-10 Survivors remake in The Guardianand SFX, the piece attempts to summarise the history of the original series forty-five years on from its original transmission.
Those with a reasonable knowledge of Survivors won’t learn much that’s new from the feature, which includes several familiar anecdotes and quotations. There is a tiny bit more on Seymour’s departure from the show, on Terry Nation’s relationship with Terry Dudley, and on McCulloch’s abortive remake attempt, but no major new insights.
O’Brien does introduce what might be a new example of the third journalistic faux pas listed in the How to Annoy a Survivors Fan spotter’s guide (‘Make lazy, repetitive and ill-informed comparisons between Survivors and other shows’) . He describes the Whitecross era as pulling the series ‘more in the direction of Countryfile than Mad Max.’
In a short interview with David Richardson, the producer of the Big Finish Survivors audio range confirms that there are currently no plans for further instalments. With Big Finish’s run of full-cast Survivors audios coming to an end with the ninth series, there were some hopes that the show might continue on audio in the form of single-voice audio books – a transition that some other properties in the Big Finish range have made. That possibility now appears to be ruled out.
FROM TODAY ALL three series of Survivors are available to stream, and to download for offline viewing, from the subscription-based and ad-free Britbox service.
Britbox is a recent collaboration between the BBC and ITV which brings together archive, classic and contemporary television programmes from both services’ catalogues.
Back in the 1970s, the BBC screened each series of Survivors only once. With no repeat broadcasts on terrestrial TV, it was not until the launch of cable and satellite television services in the 1990s that Survivors secured another screening on British TV screens.
Back then, the UK Gold station provided a platform for many classic cult and genre TV shows including Blake’s 7, Doomwatch and The Prisoner. All three series of Survivors regularly appeared on the UK Gold schedule, with the show’s last run ending with the broadcast of series three finale “Power”, shortly after midnight on Monday 27 April 1998.
While the first series of Survivors was released on VHS video (three times within ten years) and all three series on DVD (between 2003 and 2005), the show has not been made available through any UK TV service since the sign-off on UK Gold.
As well as Survivors, the Britbox catalogue currently includes all four series of Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7, genre favourites UFO, Space 1999, Quatermass and the Pit, Star Cops, The Avengers, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and, naturally enough, Doctor Who.
Britbox is accessed through a web browser on a PC, laptop or tablet. A Britbox app is available for mobile devices and smart TVs.
The service offers a free seven day trial, and is available to subscribers for an ongoing monthly fee which provides unlimited access to the full contents of Britbox (which operates within the UK only).
Unlike other online programme services, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, Britbox has not yet commissioned new programmes. Although it has acquired rights to some original dramas, Britbox’s main focus is on “previously enjoyed” content.
THE AUGUST 2020 edition of SFX magazine features a six-page retrospective feature on Adrian Hodges’ 2008-10 remake of Survivors.
The article includes recollections and reminiscences from Hodges, Paterson Joseph (Greg Preston), Julie Graham (Abby Grant) and Robyn Addison (Sarah Boyer).
It’s clear from the feature that Hodges’ disappointment at the abrupt cancellation of the show at the close of the second series is still keenly felt. Although he suggests that the Survivors‘ prospects suffered as a result of management changes at the BBC, he concedes that lower-than-hoped-for viewing figures played a key role in the axeing of Survivors. “The show had probably not managed to get the kind of numbers the BBC wanted,” he reflects, “it certainly wasn’t a show that had a massive audience.”
As the showrunner Hodges reveals some of the key components of his plans for the show if a third (and subsequent) series had been commisioned.
He also accepts that closing the second series with a (now never to be resolved) cliffhanger left many loyal viewers dissatisfied. “With the benefit of hindsight, I perhaps should have given it a slightly more rounded ending”, Hodges says.
Written by Steve O’Brien, research for the SFX feature also informed the briefretrospective on the Survivors remake published in The Guardianback in May.
Steve O’Brien. 2020. ‘Survivors unseen’, SFX, No 329, August, pp.60-65.
CAROLYN SEYMOUR (ABBY Grant) will join a three-person panel for an online Star Trek question-and-answer session on 15 July.
Hosted by Wizard World Virtual Experiences, Seymour will appear alongside fellow Star Trek cast members Anthony Montgomery and Alan Van Sprang for an hour-long web session, starting at 21:00 UK time.
The session will be free to view online, although a range of associated merchandise is available to pre-purchase: including signed (and, if desired, dedicated) photos, video chats (scheduled for 18 July) and pre-recorded video messages.
HAMPTON COURT IN Herefordshire, the main filming location for the last seven episodes of the first series of Survivors and a regular travel destination for fans of the show, re-opens to visitors on Wednesday 8 July 2020.
Hampton Court estate has been closed to public access during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that were imposed towards the end of March. Lockdown meant that the estate remained shut even as its usual April opening date passed.
From 8 July, the estate will again open to visitors (from Wednesday to Sunday each week).
UPDATE, 7 JULY: Details of exactly which facilities and services will be available, and what social distancing arrangements will be in place, have been published on the Hampton Court site.
In summary, the grounds and main garden will be accessible, and the Orangery restaurant will provide a limited menu of refreshments. However, the castle, the maze, the play areas, sunken garden and gift shop will all remain closed, in order not to conflict with social distancing and safety guidelines.
We are delighted to announce that we are reopening the majority of our gardens and grounds to visitors from Wednesday 8th July. Our new opening hours (until further notice) will be Wednesday – Sunday, 10.30am – 5pm.
To keep within government guidelines, some areas are still closed for the time being, including: the maze, sunken garden, play areas, gift shop and the castle itself. These are areas where we feel that government safety guidance would be challenging to uphold.
Due to this, entry prices in July have been reduced – adults £6, children £3 (4 -15 years) and under 4’s are still free. At present, we won’t be offering any other concessions, accepting discount vouchers or group bookings. We’ll also only be taking card payments and encouraging contactless wherever possible.
We are pleased to be able to open the Orangery Café, albeit with a limited menu and reduced indoor seating. There is plenty of outdoor seating available and visitors are welcome to bring their own refreshments.
With regards to safety measures, we have implemented a one-way flow system in some areas of the gardens and staff have been issued with appropriate PPE. The cleaning of facilities has been increased to every hour and hand-sanitising points are available throughout the grounds. As these are new circumstances for all of us, then we would appreciate visitor feedback. Please speak to a member of staff during your visit or email us on email@example.com
He looks at the interplay between custom and practice, acting theory, evolving technology and other factors in shaping how performance for television is realised. Hewett pays particular attention to the distinction between studio and ‘on location’ production, exploring the influence that ‘place’ exerts on the way that a story is translated from page to screen.
Hewett’s book builds on the research that he undertook for the doctoral thesis, and an academic journal article that he published as one of the outputs of his research findings. Yet it’s clear that the aim of the book is to reach a non-academic as well as an academic audience.
For those interested in the history of British television production, there’s a great deal in Hewett’s book to capture the attention.
Enthusiasts with a particular interest in Survivors will be able to enjoy some fascinating and original reflections on the making of the show, informed by new interviews with cast members (including Lucy Fleming and Denis Lill and Roger Lloyd-Pack), and illustrated with numerous screencaptures from different episodes of the show.
In a Q&A with publishers Manchester University Press, Hewett explains that he enjoyed “every aspect of writing the book, from re-viewing the case studies to poring over archive documents.” He suggests that conducting interviews was the most satisfying part. “It was fascinating to have my theories challenged by the practitioners who originally worked on my case studies,” he says – people who were on set at the time and who were able to offer “their own unique perspectives.”
This book provides a historical overview and then-and-now comparison of performing for British television drama. By examining changing acting styles from distinct eras of television production – studio realism and location realism – it makes a unique contribution to both television and performance studies, unpacking the various determinants that have combined to influence how performers work in the medium. The book compares the original versions of The Quatermass Experiment (BBC, 1953), Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89) and Survivors (BBC, 1975-77) with their respective modern-day re-makes, unpacking the effects of the shift from multi-camera studio to single-camera location production. Textual analysis is combined with extensive archival research into production process and reception, alongside interviews with numerous actors and production personnel from more than sixty years of television production.
Richard Hewett. 2020. The Changing Spaces of Television Acting: From studio realism to location realism in BBC television drama. Manchester: Manchester University Press, ISBN 9781526148636.