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.
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.
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.
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.
LUCY FLEMING READ an extract from a letter that her mother Celia Johnson sent to her father Peter Fleming just after VE Day on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news progamme Today this morning (4 May 2020).
The Today show is featuring a number of different readings this week, as part of the wider BBC shedule of event to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day.
Fleming appears towards the end of the programme (at around the 2hrs 50m mark). Listeners in the UK can stream or download the programme from the BBC Sounds service. Today’s edition will be available to access until 3 June 2020.
Fleming and her husband Simon Williams have been touring the spoken-word production of Posting Letters to the Moon, which is based on the wartime correspondence between her mother and father.
An additional run of planned performances of Posting Letters to the Moon has had to be postponed as a result of the current Covid-19 closedown, but it is hoped that dates later in the year will go ahead as scheduled.
CAROLYN SEYMOUR RETURNS to the world of Big Finish audios, in two adventures from The New Counter-Measures series that have just been released.
These two instalments were recorded back in June 2019, several months after the completion of Seymour’s work on the ninth and final series of Survivors audio box sets.
Seymour reprises the role of Lady Suzanne Clare, the Counter-Measures team’s recurring nemesis. Clare is a scheming and ruthless arms-dealer and trader in alien technology, who’s possessed of both cunning and charm.
Clare’s schemes lead her to become entangled with both the Movellans and the Daleks, and to become a (somewhat untrustworthy) associate of the Counter-Measures group.
Seymour’s character appears in both of the new stories, which bring to an end the current run of The New Counter-Measures audio adventures. The cast also includes Simon Williams, husband of Lucy Fleming, who plays the role of Group Captain Gilmore.
ROGER MARSHALL, THE well-respected genre TV scriptwriter, who penned the series two Survivors episode “Parasites” has died at the age of 86.
Born in Leicester in 1934, Marshall began a career in television after graduating from Cambridge University. He quickly found his niche as a prolific scriptwriter, and would go on to write scripts for The Avengers, The Sweeney, The Professionals, Lovejoy, London’s Burning and many other TV series from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Marshall co-created the 1974 series Zodiac (which starred Anton Rogers); and the 1984 show Mitch (in which John Thaw took the lead). He also created the 1984-85 canal-barge-set crime drama The Travelling Man. However, his most widely-respected creator credit comes from his work on the down-at-heel private eye drama Public Eye (1965-75), which he co-created with Anthony Marriott, in which Alfred Burke starred.
Marshall also wrote the film scripts for the Amicus productions What Became of Jack & Jill (1972) and And Now The Screaming Starts (1973).
Survivors producer Terry Dudley recruited Marshall to write a single script for the second series. The result was the highly-regarded “Parasites”, a tale of crime, deception and murder, which sees the Whitecross community threatened by an escaped prisoner and his partner-in-crime a former prison warder. The episode is also distinguished by an all-too-brief guest starring appearance from Patrick Troughton (the second actor to play the part of The Doctor in Doctor Who).
Although his script for “Parasites” was one of the highlights of the second series, and translated to the screen extremely effectively, Marshall did not particularly enjoy the experience of working on Survivors. “It was a messy production,” he told Action TV magazine when he recalled his efforts in 2005, “but memorable for me in that I got to write about barges for the first time.”
As part of his research for “Parasites”, Marshall spent time learning the mechanics of canal travel at the Stoke Bruerne Barge Museum near Towcester. It was knowledge that he later put to good use in framing the premise of The Travelling Man.
Marshall was not invited to contribute any scripts to the third and final series of Survivors, but does not appear to have expressed interest in doing so.
Marshall, who had been suffering with Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia for some time, died on 1 April 2020.
CAROLYN SEYMOUR WILL be a guest at both days of the upcoming Nottingham EM-Con 2021 convention, being held at the city’s Motorpoint Arena on 1-2 May 2021.
Seymour will be offering both autographs and ‘photoshoot’ opportunities for visiting fans, both of which can be booked in advance.
We’re happy to welcome Carolyn Seymour to our guest line up for EM-Con Nottingham. Carolyn has many credits to her name, most notably are the ones in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5, and Star Trek: Voyager. Others include roles in Quantum Leap, Space 1999 and many others. Gamers will know that more recently Carolyn voiced the roles of Queen Myrrah in Gears of War, and Dr Chakwas in Mass Effect.
While none of the convention’s promotional material mentions Seymour’s involvement with Survivors, the event is a great opportunity for fans of the series to meet up with Carolyn face-to-face.
Almost thirty convention guests have been confirmed by the EM-Con team so far, including Blake Harrison (Inbetweeners), Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones), Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf) and John Ross Bowie (Big Bang Theory). Other names will be announced in the coming weeks.
Tickets for the show, which are available in ‘General Admission’ format along with four ‘added feature’ bands (Bronze to Platinum), can now be purchased online from the EM-Con site.
DENIS LILL IS out and about “treading the boards” once more in a national touring production of The Lady Vanishes, a new adaptation of the classic 1938 Alfred Hitchcock big-screen thriller. Very appropriately, this latest live version has been brought to the stage by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company.
Lill plays the role of Charters, one of a pair of cricket enthusiasts sharing the ill-fated train journey through the country of Bandrika. The play has been commissioned by the Bill Kenwright company, responsible for numerous touring theatre shows within the UK. Lill has been a cast member on many previous productions, including a number of the Agatha Christie plays for which the firm is especially well regarded.
The tour began in Swindon in early September, and has moved on to runs in Weston-Super-Mare, Bury St Edmunds, Coventry, Cambridge, Derby and Darlington. The tour continues with runs at Horton, Exeter, Brighton, Yeovil, Torquay and Croydon, and concludes in Eastbourne in early December.
A review in the Teesdale Mercuryby Arts Critic Andrew Mercury offers a very positive assessment:
Cricket loving Charters, Denis Lill, and Caldicott, Ben Nealon […] bring a touch of comedy to the proceedings and show we perhaps have not changed that much as the Englishman abroad.
The set (Morgan Large) effortlessly transforms from the station to the interior of the train and back again. The atmosphere is enhanced with subtle lighting (Charlie Morgan Jones) and sound (Dan Samson). Direction by Roy Marsden is slick throughout.
The intrigue and suspense of The Lady Vanishes will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow the twists and turns trying to spot the red herrings.
This new production is directed by Bill Kenwright regular Roy Marsden (who appeared as a cast member in the third series of Survivors back in 1977 as The Captain in “Long Live the King”).
For full information on dates and locations, and to buy tickets online, visit the The Lady Vanishes site.
THE NETWORK ON AIR site has published a well-crafted appreciation of the screen career of Sydney Tafler, an actor who memorably appeared as Manny, the morally-dubious settlement leader, in the well-regarded two-part series two Survivors story Lights of London.
In the modern world of drama production, it is commonplace for actors to move back and forward between cinema and TV work in a ‘blended’ screen career. But in the 1970s, fewer British actors regularly traversed the demarcation separating a film from a television identity. Some actors known mainly for television (including the series’ leads of Survivors) made irregular film appearances, but far fewer flitted seamlessly between the two screen worlds.
For an actor with big-screen credentials like Tafler’s to be contracted for a guest role in a BBC serial like Survivors was not something that all of his contemporaries would have thanked their agents for arranging.
Tafler however had bridged the large-and-small screen divide from the earliest days of his career, which began with stage appearances in the 1930s after he graduated from RADA. As he established himself over the following years, he would mix appearances in TV shows such as Dixon of Dock Green,Hadleigh and The Gentle Killers with roles in movies such as The Counterfeit Plan, The Bulldog Breed and Sink the Bismarck! amongst numerous others.
He was a prolific performer, although he was usually rewarded with relatively minor or supporting roles. Film historian Andrew Roberts revisits Tafler’s winning performances in classic films such as The Lavender Hill Mob, It Always Rains on Sunday,Too Many Crooks and Mystery Junction, celebrating his talents as the consumate character actor.
Roberts notes how Tafler frequently outshone the quality of the screenplays he was given and how he was able to “save films that could be fairly described as ‘Worst of British’.” Regardless of the source material, Tafler could be relied upon to delivered performances that were committed, believable and layered.
Tafler’s portrayal of the chancer Manny in Lights of London reveals just that sort of approach to a role, which sees him becoming a commanding on-screen presence, and a credible and unnerving villain, without overshadowing the series’ regulars with whom he shares the story.
Inhabiting the role of Manny was not a particular stretch for Tafler. The character of the “Cockney spiv who comes to a bad end” was one that he had played, in different variants, several times in his career – although the stakes in Lights of London (which the characters believe could be the fate of the human race itself) are significantly higher than in most of Tafler’s earlier crime capers, comedies and thrillers.
In fact, when Lights of London I director Terence Williams first read Jack Ronder’s script for the episode and considered who he might recruit to play the pivotal character of Manny, he might well have thought – “We need someone like Sydney Tafler for this role.”
His appearance in Survivors in 1976 turned out to be one of the last of Tafler’s long and creditable career. The following year, he returned to the big screen to play the role of the captain of supertanker The Liparus in the James Bond caper The Spy Who Loved Me. Tafler died on 8 November 1979.