Sunday, 26 October 2014

Wargaming Media: Battleground - Part 6, Final thoughts and reflections.


Origins:

Whilst I don't know whose idea Battleground was, or who originally commissioned the series, the most obvious roots of the show would appear to derive from the Edward Woodward/Callan/Peter Gilder links. 

Callan was a British TV series, in which Edward Woodward portrays a reluctant hit-man, working for a shady quasi-governmental espionage unit called 'The Section'. I don't know how far back Gilder's involvement went - I've seen credits for the old black and white TV series that mention Hinchcliffe (was Gilder already involved at this stage?) - but he certainly supplied figures, terrain, and advice, to the production team that subsequently made the 1974 spin-off movie Callan, based on the first episode of the TV series, A Magnum For Schneider

Going back a stage further, as to whose idea it was to have Callan and other characters in the series interested and involved in wargaming... well, once again, I don't know! If anyone does, I'd love to hear from you! As mentioned above, Callan the TV series spawned Callan the movie, the picture below capturing a time-out moment where the crew relax on set with the stars.


On the set of the Callan movie: There's one figure I'd love to add to my wargaming collection... the delectable Catherine Schell! Left to right beside her are, director Don Sharp, Woodward as Callan, and Peter Gilder, in a nice checquered sports-jacket and kipper-tie combo, with super-seventies 'tache and sidesweep! Is it any surprise he's beaming so beatifically as Schell handles his geni... sorry, generals?

Making The Programmes:

As part of my research for these posts I tried to track down any members of the production team I could find. Several key figures, like director Gavin Taylor and script-writer and researcher Barbara Sinclair have, sadly, passed away. But I did manage to find a couple of the team, one of whom was Robin Sinton, VTR Editor of the show. 

An associate of Gavin Taylor, Sinton worked with Taylor on many programmes, with an accent upon musical projects, amongst the most famous of which (and occasionally infamous) would be the Legendary Channel 4 music show The Tube! However, Battleground predates The Tube!

Here's a partial transcription of relevant extracts of Robin's portion of our telephone conversation: 

RS: 'We were pioneering ... Many years later we produced a series called 'Sheds', which was basically about what men get up to in their sheds ... that was picked up on later by Channel 4. It was the same with Battleground, we did it first, and then later Channel 4 did their version [Game of War, 1997] ... We'd had the [beautiful] figures and scenery, they did theirs with these ... little plastic counters .... Ours was the first and ours was the best!'

'At the time I did enjoy it... I found it fascinating ... Of course, there was the use of dice, to represent the element of chance, but I was surprised at how closely it followed historical events ... Everybody knows that Waterloo could've gone either way! ... I didn't find them [the players] nerdy at all, their background knowledge was quite amazing. And, of course, the models were absolutely magnificent.'

'Because of the physical size of the models, and needing to get sufficient depth of field, we needed three times as much light on the table as you would need in, say, an ordinary drama. And the result, with the cameras working with close-up lenses, was that not only did the table warm-up, but so would the players. We'd have to take a break, so everything could cool down.'

Battleground was filmed in the main Tyne Tees studio, which was 'big by regional television standards... at the time it was the biggest studio we had ... Editing was starting to seriously influence how programmes were made ... It's difficult to remember [how long was spent editing, but] it was time consuming ... I remember burning the midnight oil... The actual editing didn't take too long; schedules wouldn't allow it... it was the pseudo-animated parts that would take the real time...'

'Battleground was recorded on two-inch Ampex 'Quadraplex' video tape ... it was a transitional period ... we were using a primitive time-code ... The filming was done in sections .... in-between times we would film the pictorial interludes ... there were parts of near-animation - we were trying to make it visually interesting ... We were doing a lot of things for the first time ... '

I asked if Robin he knew about a fire destroying any of the archival film stock - a rumour I pickd up somewhere whilst reading about the series elsewhere - but he wasn't aware of such an event. He did, however, have more general observations about the practices of the time:

'Tyne Tees [were] very, very bad at archiving. Some of the stuff went to the University of Teesside. When one-inch [video-tape] came in, around '79/'80... the storage problems ... a 90 min reel weighed over a stone! ... We heard from the structural engineers... 'You need to move that [the film archives on the 1st floor] before it goes there [through the floor] of its own accord! An awful lot of stuff went into a skip! ... London Weekend lost an entire drama series!' 

'I imagine if I was to see it now it would look phenomenally dated. To be quite honest, we [Tyne Tees TV] produced some absolute crap! ... At the time it was fun... and I think Battleground was amongst the good stuff.'

At the time of posting Robin has a landscape photography exhibition showing at Joe Cornish's gallery, in Northallerton, which runs for about 3 months. Sinton still does occasional video editing work, as well as acting as an advisor to NCFE (Northern Advisory Council for Further Education) on video-editing training standards. His photography website can be visited here.

----------

A cropped portion of the 1978 Battle magazine feature on the show is the only thing I could find to illustrate the lost episodes.

The Missing Episodes:

I can't recall where I first read it, but, as already alluded to above, I did read somewhere that there had been a fire at a storage facility, and that as a result the original film stock for - and here I'm not sure - either the whole series, or perhaps just the two missing episodes, was lost... probably forever! [1]

If this is true this is a terrible pity. One might live in hope that, as the digital age really sets in, old programmes like this might, like the books made available by the Gutenberg Project, gradually come online, as part of a vast cyber-cultural archive.

The two episodes not preserved on home-made copies on video (or subsequently transferred to DVD) are:

Episode 3 - Battle of the Nile, 1798. A naval battle set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Episode 5 - France, 1944. An imaginary game set in Northern France after D-Day. [2]

Gavin Lyall, author of thrillers such as this one, pictured above, played his son Bernard in episode 5.

At the time of writing all I can say about the Nile battle, presumably based on the naval affair between the British and French fleets at Aboukir, is that 1) it was the only naval engagement featured in the series, and 2) the players were Steve Birnie and John Harrison.

It is a shame that these two are missing, as they both have unique qualities: the first (or rather 3rd, episode wise) because it's the only naval scenario, and the second (in fact the 5th), the France 1944 WWII battle, being the only imaginary scenario. 

The latter game was a battle between thriller author Gavin Lyall and his son Bernard, who also co-authored a book on wargaming WWII, Operation Warboard, pictured below. I'm not certain of this, but one respondee to my posting about these articles (on TMP) has suggested that they used their own rules in this lost episode.

It would've been fascinating to see a father and son battle! I've tried to reach Bernard Lyall, but it's not been easy, and so far I've not heard anything back. But, perhaps, at some future point, he might be able to tell us a little about this episode? I secretly hope that he might have it on video, or something, as a keepsake, in which case an interesting historical gap might perhaps be filled.

Working together: as well as fighting each other - hopefully mostly over the wargaming table - the Lyall father and son team also published this book on WWII wargaming (on the same imprint as dad's thrillers!).

Where Are They Now?

As I said in my introduction to this series of posts on Battleground, I share Terry Wise's view that we owe the production team a debt of gratitude, for what they did in publicising our hobby. Also, in preparing historical pieces of research like this - and up until very recently I was writing a monthly 'classic album' column for UK mag Drummer - I always wind up thinking 'Where are these people now? And what, if anything, are they up to?' So I set about looking into everyone involved; sadly some are now departed, and of others I could find practically no trace in cyber-space, but here's what I did find out.

Leslie Barrett - Exec. producer: - I've not been able to find anything on Leslie Barrett, even to determine if they were male or female!

David Chandler - Historical consultant: (Jan 15th 1934 – Oct 10th 2004): 'David Geoffrey Chandler was a British historian whose study focused on the Napoleonic era.' (Wikipedia) A prolific author, Chandler is probably best known for his three volume epic, The Campaigns of Napoleon. Chandler was an early re-an actor, involved with the ECW group Sealed Knot, and would also occasionally appear on military-themed historical TV programmes, such as Napoleon Bonaparte - The Road To Moscow, a documentary about on Napoleon's fatal Russian adventure in 1812. He was also amongst the military/historical consultants to the 1972 BBC War And Peace TV series, starring Anthony Hopkins, et al.

Paddy Griffith - Historical consultant: (Feb 4th, 1947 - June 25th, 2010): 'Dr Paddy Griffith was a British military theorist and historian, who authored numerous books in the field of War Studies. He was also a wargame designer for the UK Ministry of Defence, and a leading figure in the wargaming community.' (Wikipedia) For more on Paddy Griffith, look here.

The back of Dr. Paddy Griffith's head, as he lectures military bigwigs (from his 'legacy' homepage, see above link) [3].

Charles Wesencraft - Historical consultant: Based in northern England (I thought, form his name, he might be American!), and involved in the Tyne & Wear museum services, Wesencraft was known for having written some early wargaming rule books, and was also a knowledgeable local! Thanks to Robbie Rodiss (see the comments below), I've learned that Wesencraft is - at the time of posting - alive and well, and still involved with the wargaming community in the same neck of the geographical woods.

Peter Gilder - Tech. consultant: A legendary figure in the British wargaming world. Gilder was chiefly known as a figure designer, whose beautiful (and notably shiny) Connoisseur figures and incredible terrain frequently enlivened issues of Miniature Wargames. These images were a massive draw to me, when I occasionally bought the mag in my teens. Indeed I usually bought it only when plenty of his splendid Napoleonic collection were featured heavily in those pages. 

Gilder also set up the famous Wargames Holiday Centre. A first of kits kind, as far as I know, which has spawned several imitators, and is still going now, albeit in a different location. Gilder died ... well, I can't find out exactly how or when! Given what a wargaming legend he was, it's surprising, and I think a little sad, that I couldn't find out much more about him in terms of personal biography. He is, however, mentioned in Harry Pearson's wonderful Achtung Schweinehund, if you want to know a little more.

Tim Trout - Production Design: Trout appear to have been a close associate of director Gavin Taylor, and like Taylor to have worked for Tyne Tees, predominantly in music-related areas.

Robin Sinton - VTR Editor: - According to his own potted autobiography Sinton worked 'for too long' in television, including a long stint with Tyne Tees. Nowadays he is a freelance video editor & photographer.

Barbara Sinclair - Research & Script: a close friend and associate of producer Alex Murchie, Sinclair passed only very recently, about 18 months ago at the time of posting (acc. to Alex Murchie).

Gavin Taylor - Director: (c. 1942 - June 12, 2013) Taylor was, like Edward Woodward and theme tune composer Neil Richardson, amongst the cream of Britain's media elite. A highly successful film & TV director, with a speciality in music programmes, he produced the legendary series The Tube! (With Jools Holland and Paula Yates fronting), and went on to all kinds of successes.

Alex Murchie - Producer: Murchie has enjoyed a long and successful career, and, like several others involved in this series, has a long history of involvement with cultural and especially musical affairs. When I emailed her during my research for this post she was working for the charity Music In The Minster.

----------

The above were all credited for their involvement in the series. Last of all I come to the uncredited composer of the excellent theme tune, Neil Richardson

Neil Richardson - composer: (Feb 5th, 1930 – Oct, 8th 2010) An 'under the radar' Titan of British TV and light music, Richardson sometimes worked under the fabulous nom de guerre of Oscar Brandenburg, and his chief claim to fame, popular culture wise, is being composer of 'Approaching Menace', the theme tune for Mastermind. Richardson was a prolific composer and arranger who, in addition to the Mastermind theme, recorded a lot of widely varied music in many settings, including some bombastic big band pieces which occasionally accompanied that weird BBC noughts-and-crosses-girl test card (see my 1st Battleground post), such as 'Scotch Broth'! His obituary at the stage.co.uk says 'Neil Richardson’s name may not have been instantly recognisable, but his music certainly was.'

Where's the body? 

Obsession 

Preparing this post has only enhanced my already almost unhealthy obsession with the history of this hobby. In trying to find out about key personalities, like Peter Gilder, for example, I was dumbfounded at how little trace they had left outside of their work and it's legacy. I may try and remedy this terrible lacuna myself over future posts. In the meantime, I found the video below on YouTube, which is fascinating because you get to see Gilder and guests in his rather snazzy gaming room, filled with several huge tables, and lined with walls of shelves packed with figures...

Gilder, caught on camera: a screenshot from the YouTube video The Scarborough days of the Wargames Holiday Centre.

Affecting a cod Corsican-French accent: One day I too shall rule over such an empire... it is my destiny!

More wargaming on the telly?

Well, apparently there was another attempt at putting the game over on the small screen - Game of War (1997), alluded to above by Robin Sinton - but I know next to nothing about it. Anyone care to chip in and enlighten us?

Acknowledgements and links:

I'd like to thank those who I spoke to in preparing this post, especially Robin Sinton. It seems lots of wargamers are interested in Battleground, and many have posted about the programme and their memories of or their desire to see it. Two blogs that I feel I ought to mention would be unfashionablyshiny and vintagewargaming, both of which were very helpful to me in preparing my posts, tho' of course there are many others as well.

Here some related links:

- A post about Woodward and Battleground.



- A couple of great links from vintagewargaming: 'Callan, from Miniature Warfare May 1970' & 'Callan goes to war... again'.

-----

I sincerely hope this series of posts has been of interest? It's certainly been a pleasure watching the series and preparing these pieces. Please leave some feedback in the comment. Cheers, Seb.

Footnotes:

[1] Actually, during the course of posting these articles, I found out, thanks to Jeff on TMP, that the BFI have the series in their archives. Hopefully that means the whole series? If I can I'll sort myself out a viewing, and fill in the gaps a little.

[2] Episode info from IMDB.

[3] I say 'legacy' homepage because Griffiths passed away in 2010. Fortunately someone is maintaining his useful and interesting homepage. Actually the picture to which this note relates is from the Operation Sealion wargame, run by Paddy Griffith at the Staff College at Sandhurst, in 1974. In this fascinating Kriegspiel style wargame (which was novelised!) real life generals from the former Allied and Axis forces wargamed a Nazi invasion of England! Viewers who have watched the classic World At War TV series might recognise former fighter ace and Luftwaffe bigwig Adolf Galland, as one of the participants (on the right of the pic, with the 'tache).


7 comments:

  1. Evening Seb,
    Charlie Wesencraft is alive and very well. Charlie is amazing for his age and is still as sharp as a whip and wargaming regularly. This year I sat down with him to do an interview about his wargaming and the two wonderful books he wrote on wargaming. The interview was printed in Miniature Wargames earlier this year. Charlie had several tales about Battleground, and how it came about. What should have been a two hour interview ended up as a six hour plus chat with Charlie regaling me with tales of the early wargaming personalities.Charlie still lives in the North East, near me, and I often see him at various shows.As regards Battleground, I was lucky enough to see all the series and own a dvd of four of the battles. The nautical one was actually very well done, although I cannot remember who staged it.
    Thanks Robbie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Robbie, it occurs to me that I'd really like, in addition to reading your interview with him for MW, naturally, to talk to Charles Wesencraft about Battleground myself (and poss other things too), to further augment my researches here on this blog. Would you mind forwarding a message to him from me? Just saying what I'm saying here - or I can write directly to him, if you give me his email - i.e. saying that I'd like to chat with/interview him? Regards, Seb

      Delete
  2. Evening Seb again,
    Now that I have had time to read your other posts, I can see that you may want some more information.
    Tyne Tees Television by the way was a North Eastern company based in Newcastle, I know I look like Im being pedantic but thats why they recruited Charlie for the programmes. Charlie was approached and asked to actually host the programmes but declined, he put them in touch with Peter Gilder and as I have mentioned in my article Gilder had a few issues to start with.
    Charlie became the script writer and adviser. John Braithwaite who was a great wargamer in his own right was a good friend of Charlie and things spiraled from the close knit wargaming community.
    After the Battleground series Charlie toyed with the idea of making a video of a historical wargame, however after it was filmed and shown to John Braithwaite and Peter Gilder he realised from their laughter it was a none starter.Charlie and David chandler did however do other wargames projects including Napoleonic weekends etc.
    As regards Peter Gilder, without giving too much away I hope to speak with and interview one of his closest associates for a wargaming article in the near future.Thanks Robbie, Independentwargamesgroup.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Robbie, thanks for your comments. That's exactly the kind of illuminating feedback I've been hoping for, helping fill in some of those gaps that those like myself, fascinated by the history of the hobby, are curious about. I'll look out for the articles you mention. Regards, Seb

    ReplyDelete
  4. Do you know anymore about the Paddy Griffith Sealion game (1974)

    John Curry www.wargaming.co

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi John

    Alas, no, I don't really.

    I do mention it again on another post, about C. S. Forester's imagined account of operation Sea Lion:

    http://aquestionofscale.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/book-review-gold-from-crete-forester.html

    And, funnily enough - you probably already know this! - the PG kriegspiel was itself novelised, by one Richard Cox. Here's a link to that on Amazon UK:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Operation-Sea-Lion-Richard-Cox/dp/0099284405

    Have you seen the movie It Happened Here, a film that depicts England after a successful (for the Germans!) outcome of Sea Lion? Thats an amazing film!

    Best

    Seb

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Seb,
    Much like yourself I've returned to the hobby after an hiatus of about twenty-five years. The four existing episodes of Battleground are currently on YouTube, but, sadly I have not found the 1944 or Nile episodes anywhere (hopefully someone will unearth them soon). As an aside I also have the 1978 edition of Battle magazine with the pictures of the 1944 game. I can't recall if the series was aired in here in Australia, but it is just possible that copies of the shows exist in archives in countries outside the UK (as with many of the lost Dr Who episodes), though I have no suggestions on where to begin that search. Thankyou for posting this information. Kind Regards, Mike Stanmore.

    ReplyDelete