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Duration 04:00

This Week In Britain No.199 ‘The Caretaker’

‘This week in Britain’ was one of a series of magazine films or Cinemagazines produced by the COI for consumption abroad to promote Britain and the Commonwealth.

Produced between 1959 and 1979, and shown in cinemas as well as on television, each film in the series presented a cultural or topical item of interest.

The 199th ‘This Week in Britain’ featured the making of Harold Pinter’s famous 1960 play ‘The Caretaker’. In 2005 Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Transcription

Ann Forsyth: Hello. I’m Ann Forsyth in Britain. You might not think it, but this semi-derelict house in London’s East End. It’s a film studio of sorts. In fact, strange as it seems, it may possibly be a clue as to why more of British films in 1962 won top awards overseas.

But why should a film company throw away the apparent advantages of working in a proper studio, backed up by a big organisation geared to their every need?

Well, that’s what I’ve come here today to find out.

This is the film setting for one of London’s big theatrical successes: Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

You wouldn’t really expect this claustrophobic kitchen sink drama to arouse much enthusiasm in the heart of a film company, but Michael Burkett, the producer, is an enthusiast. He is one of 6 unpaid partners in the production company.

2 others are Harold Pinter, described as theatre’s most original, disturbing and arresting talent, and Clive Donner, the film director.

Having an early-morning breakfast in the not-so-glamorous make-up room, I found the other 3 partners – the only members of an all-male cast: Robert Shaw, Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates.

Although none of the 6 partners is getting paid for his work on the film and won’t until it is released and makes a profit, Jill Carpenter, the make-up artist and the other technicians are paid in the ordinary way.

It takes nearly an hour each morning to transform Donald Pleasence into the scruffy tramp of the play, but the beard is his own.

Incidentally, this is the third time he has played this role in London’s West End, on Broadway and now in the film.

In this tiny attic where the author has set his play, the film is actually being shot. The enormous limitations of space and lack of technical facilities have forced the film-makers to be inventive and alive.

Although cheap by present-day standards with a tight 6-week schedule and no colossal studio overheads, the company has had considerable difficulty in raising the money to make the film.

But with a fanatical belief in their subject, they were able to fire the enthusiasm and get private backing from famous show business personalities: among them Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers and Noel Coward.

Male Voice: “Come on, boys. . 79. Take 2. Action!”

Ann Forsyth: There didn’t seem to be much room for me while Donald Pleasence and Robert Shaw were being filmed, but in another attic room, sitting under a bucket, I found Pinter and talked to him.

Mr Pinter, what I wanted to ask you is what advantages you see in working out of the studio?

Harold Pinter: Well, a studio is a studio. It’s large and hygienic. This is a room. It smells like a room. This house smells like a house, and I like the smell.

Ann Forsyth: Now all of you have made considerable sacrifices to get this film on the floor. Why?

Harold Pinter: We really want to do it very very much and I am very happy that we have been able to do it with the help of a lot of people. We’re doing it on a private subscription kind of thing, which is quite unique in the film-making business.

Ann Forsyth: Thank you very much, Mr Pinter.

The Caretaker’s not the only British film to be made this way. Let’s hope it’s as great a success as its outstanding forerunners: A Taste of Honey and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Ann Forsyth, saying goodbye from London.

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