First off Bill, what do you think of justyce.org?
I scanned your site, very impressive. Seeing all the covers laid out like that was an amazing trip down memory lane.
How did the Audio Visuals come into being?
I ran the Hampshire local group of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society and one of the members of the group had a reel-to-reel recording machine. I wrote some god-awful script called 'Planet of Death' and got the group to take part. We only ever recorded the first episode, and, even though it was never released doing the play inspired me to keep going and develop something more substantial. That was how 'Audio Visuals' was born.
Even though I had no real experience, directing the play satisfied a need to be in production. It crossed my mind that I should consider a series of videos, but finances being what they were audio was the most sensible medium to start with.
Tell us about 'Scarecrow City'
Having stated that audio was to be our first market it didn't take long for us to get round to this venture into things visual..
Alan Lear put together a video script for us. I re-read the story recently reminding myself of the detail. It was interesting reading.
The basic idea revolved around two alien villains (played by Gary Russell and Barry Killerby) who had set in motion a plan to take over earth. They had released an infected flea that was busily infecting the 'down and out' community of Mill Town (?) and turning them into zombies. Nick Briggs played the good guy, a character called Arthur Mowbray. His life is turned upside down when he starts to investigate the sudden increase in down and outs but finds instead that he's being followed by Gallowrath, another alien visiting earth trying to help. The significant bit to the story and what would have potentially led to more Mowbrary adventures was established when Gallowrath gets killed. Her soul is transplanted into Mowbray's brain and he then adopts her personality and the personality of the hundreds of other souls that she'd absorbed in the past. Thus leaving Mowbray confused but with many powers. Not bad for someone who started out as a humble librarian.
We had a lot of help from Dirk Maggs who lived local to us in Winchester. Dirk is now well established in the audio drama world, but back then he was an enthusiastic film maker.
The project was reliant on Nick Briggs' skills - playing the lead, directing and re-writing. I learnt a lot from him on this project. One dramatic moment that sticks in my mind was from the rehearsal period when Nick was illustrating anger to two of the younger members of the cast. He really blew his top at them, big time. I think they had been winding them up over a period of time and he wanted to show them that commitment was a very important thing.
Fond memories: Good weather. The two rubber masks soaking in my parents bath cos we'd used vaseline, instead of K-Y jelly - Vaseline eats latex - we hadn't realised this until the masks started melting during the filming. Putting a porridge mixture onto the face of a policeman who was playing a zombie. Listening to Gary Russell explain why we'd crossed the line' in terms of camera angles'. Sitting a swamp of mud waiting to grab Nick B's leg.
Nightmare bits: Having to work with Southampton Technical College - they seemed to have a policy of non-encouragement. Making a hash of my dealings with some of the crew. Sorry! Rolling a Land Rover 360 degrees and watching Paul Lunn float like and astronaut in the back - I though I was going to die, heaven knows what was going through Paul's mind.
How did you go about publicising and selling the AVs
Mail order - Take adverts in Celestial Toyroom, The Dr Who Appreciation Society newsletter and hope to get reviewed in the numerous fanzines. Direct selling - We had dealers tables at most conventions where we'd meet regular fans and encourage new ones. My shabby, but direct approach was much improved by John Ainsworth and Paul Lunn. They built a display unit to put the cassette tapes on. We would always take a portable cassette recorder to these events and get prospective purchasers to listen to the latest productions tempting them to part with the cash. I think Space Wail sold well, possibly in excess of 2,000 copies.
Lets look at the first season of plays, tell us about the first AV, the Space Wail.
I think the nicest thing about recording this first AV adventure was that the experience cemented my friendship with Gary Russell. It was a team effort getting the ball rolling, but he did the lions share creatively. He wrote the script, directed it and acted in it. But most importantly, handled my continual interference with nderstanding and patience. Anyone else would probably have torn me to pieces and I would have been quite reluctant to have done more. As it was he made the day a huge success for me and gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to do more.
I had no idea what I was doing casting Stephen Payne as the Doctor. You have to remember that I was just 17 back then and I made a fair few mistakes. In retrospect it was a huge learning experience for me.
Then you recorded the third play, which was Connection 13.
Enthusing people and persuading them to do things was my strength in those days. Nicholas Layton, someone who I had met through the local group, has a port-studio and a lot of expertise. He edited Space Wail and eventually edited Connection 13. It was Nick Layton who introduced Nick Briggs to the group. Nick, Nick and I ("Nick, Nick" became a bit of a catchphrase for a while) had a meeting one evening during the editing of Space Wail, and I believe it was then that we discussed Briggsy becoming involved.
Then you recorded the Time Ravagers.
Of course it was inevitable that we'd get round to doing a dalek story. We had a ring modulator built at the enormous cost of œ35, by a local electronics shop. This was before the days of computer assisted voice fx or the rack mounted fx units. We were hi-tech! Two weeks after we'd placed the order we went back and were presented with a little black box!!! Anyway, apart an additional bit of hum, it worked.
Actually, I've been reading with interest over the last few years the reviews of Dirk Maggs' radio successes. His distinctive style and the use of music and reliance on sound fx, which is certainly far from the traditional Radio Four style, is very much the approach that Nick had encouraged us to pursue at least 12 years before. We achieved the 'full sound' too, despite the non-existence of all the current computer driven technology. All we had were different foot-pedals for Chorus FX, the Reverb setting on the quarter inch recorder and, of course, our new baby - the ring modulator.
All these, now antiquated devices, Nick used to great effect in Time Ravagers. The hurdle of not having Stephen Payne at the recording to do a proper regeneration hand-over didn't seem to be a problem, it merely spurred Nick on to make the sequence exciting.
In keeping with tradition, Time Ravagers was recorded in sitting room. Most of it at my parents, with us all listening out for cars and sometimes stopping mid-flow because we'd anticipated an interruption only to be cursed at when it hadn't been picked by the mic!! The trials of audio.
Moving on to Conglomerate.
A lot of Radio Four plays are now recorded on location. The are two major reasons 1. Studio cost. 2. Atmosphere. Here again Audio Visuals stole a march because we recorded at least part of CONGLOMERATE in an underpass in Southampton. I'm not sure we got quite the effect we were looking for but the session was highly entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Nick Layton with his microphone and portable recorder chasing after Nick Briggs and Richard Marson as they belted along the subway shouting lines at each other very early on a Sunday morning.
Conglomerate remains a favourite of mine. We used it as the basis for a video story for Colin Baker which ultimately became IN MEMORY ALONE.
Then you released Cloud of Fear.
Enter author, Alan W. Lear. Alan, like a lot of writers, wrote to us speculatively on the basis of our early material. CLOUD OF FEAR was his first submission. His experience as a writer (he had one play transmitted on Radio 4) impressed some of us and his writing seemed solid enough, however his later aggressive tone with us did not! More on this later.
The recording was my first attempt at directing. I recall little about the session except for a memory of having an over inflated idea of my own abilities.
The third significant event of this play was another new addition to the team - Jim Mortimore. Jim, just like Alan Lear, contacted us speculatively because he'd enjoyed AV's output. Keeping his interest in writing under wraps at first, it was his skills at editing and composing music that he offering.
He was given CLOUD OF FEAR to edit as a trial and did a fab job on it. Up until then most of our work had been executed in Southampton. Jim lived his parents in Plumstead, East London. And my forays out of the patch working in a new environment became another part of my development.
I think the team will all recall sessions at Jim's house - from the ring of the bell to the dealing with the dog. Wading through the clobber in Jim's bedroom. Listening to Jim cough and splutter, dreading the summer and the allergy season! The amount of tissues he would get through! But we all appreciated his skills and his mum's speciality - roast dinner.
Having someone edit and do the music for a play was a new departure for us. Until CLOUD OF FEAR plays were edited by one person and the composed by Brian Marshall. (Except TIME RAVAGERS - Nick used pre- recorded music).
Enter John Ainsworth. If he wasn't on the scene before then John certainly made an impressive entrance here. He enjoyed playing Askran and we enjoyed the performance. My memory of this recording is very vague, mainly because I don't think I was there. My memory of the play is sketchy too except of course John who was busily rolling his 'Rs'.
Did you make any major shifts for season two? Richard Marson left...
Yeah, did he say goodbye? I think there was some complication, there was a bit of animosity I seem to remember. It did seem easier not to bother, I think Richard was just finding it... he'd had enough. I know that Mutant Phase was recorded in Southampton, at the boys club near my parents. I did the recording on that one, and we had a different actress playing Ria. Liz Knight only played Ria in Mutant Phase. That would make sense why Maenad was recorded after then. Liz was in this film 'Scarecrow City', and she was a very good actress, but very flighty, so I just think we avoided using her.
You couldn't pin her down?
No, much though some people in the company wanted to. I seem to remember, naming no names. So that would make sense. There was some element to Ria, that's right. And there was also some kind of Sargol influence, wasn't there. The Sargol was kind of like this on going theme thing, that was not overbearing, but was there.
What were the main changes in Season Two?
I was determined that we were going to produce them forever and ever. And the first season did very, very well. It was time for some new companions, Ria was a name that I came up with. We just wanted to do different things and get some more talent involved. We'd kind of established that we could do it, I think season two was much more mapped out than season one had been. Alan Lear, who wrote Cloud of Fear then Minuet in Hell and Planet of Lies, we never actually met until after all that had happened. He just sent some stuff on spec, having seen what we were doing. So season one was kind of like, we were finding all these people who were interested in doing this thing, but by season two, it was much more planned out that this would happen then, and that would happen then, and this would turn up, do you know what I mean. It was much more planned out where season one was much more ad hoc. Again we did Space Wail, and Time Ravagers, saw how they went and the the others quickly followed suit. I didn't think "Oh, we'll do this one then, and that one then". The scripts just came in, and I thought "Oh, we'll do that".
I've heard Endurance and again I thought that was very, very strong. It was very atmospheric, I think Nick edited it, basically it was full of atmosphere. It's very evocative, and all the stuff on the boat, you really felt as if you were there, and I think that's very clever. It's like giving it a filmic style, the soundtrack is very much what you'd hear on a film.
The whole Justyce idea, I had nothing to do with that. I haven't listened to all of season four, I did listen to the last one, and I thought it was absolutely fabulous. I think the whole Justyce thing was a mistake because it dictated too much. I'm always against linking things too much, because it ends up being complicated. There were aspects to it which I definitely liked, like in Requiem, whisking the character away. You can't do it that often, is my feeling, and it remain credible.
Any closing thoughts?
I think it is something that I'm very proud of, and I think because I got to meet a lot of talented people, and I got to meet a lot of fans, its the one thing that you do, that people tell you what they think, and we used to get some lovely letters, of course some of them were critical, but the vast majority of them were full of praise, and given that there was this policy to do Doctor Who the way we wanted to do it, I think that was absolutely fabulous. I think back with great fondness, because it was thoroughly enjoyable. I was able to rope my sister in, and to work with friends, it was just great.
Thanks for all your time.
more to come...