First of all, it's a nice suprise to see a UK director establishing his own website (www.michaelbriant.com). What was it that inspired you to launch the site, and what did you hope to achieve with it?
Ego trip and a desire to promote my BLUE WATER series of DVD's and Videos! It also seemed like a way to keep in touch with all the people I have known and lost touch with - that part has totally failed so far.
On the sailing side there are some really useful pages like RED SEA notes-I used something similar for my trip up that bit of water from a much bigger boat than mine and wanted to give something back. Also wanted to share some of my experiences which seem to interest people - Pirates, Lightning strike et al. (If I can help the dvd/video sales on the way that's also good) I get far more visitors for the sailing pages than the others.
On the Show biz side in the last six months I have been asked for interviews about Secret Army, Blake's 7 and Doctor Who... Thought I would publish something of my memories and what it was all like.
I gather from the site that you weren't the biggest admirer of Blake's 7, and that you felt it was derivative of other SF. Did you feel it was a case of a programme not achieving its full potential?
I was a little sad that we bravely went where others had been before but everyone working on the series knew that was what we were doing. I actually quite liked ep 1 although it creaks a bit sometimes - and is not really original. This is all opinion of course and the series has been a great success, which is always the ultimate test.
One particular thing I admired about your site was its sense of honesty. At one point you describe yourself as having been "difficult to work with" in the past. Do you think this "difficult" aspect emerged during the production of Blake's 7?
I'm sure I was but can not think of any specific incidents - I certainly had a different concept in mind for the Liberator - Less Star Trek more space station - fewer buttons and levers and more computer controlled - I mean think of the bridge of a RN Frigate. Basically a compass and a microphone and that's the 50's technology. I got on well with David Maloney who I like and admire enormously and Chris Boucher was a real pleasure to work with. A talented and very nice person.
I did speak to Michael Keating earlier in the year and he said that he didn't get on terribly well with you and that "the feeling was probably mutual". It's not a nice question to have to ask, but how do you feel about this?
No problem with whatever Michael says - strange as I was not really aware of his feelings - too busy worrying about other things I suppose. I really missed his problems which is not good - nice man - really did not mean to upset/hurt him. I thought he gave a clever quirky performance...
One striking element of the first episode is how downbeat it is, and content relating to Blake's trial that wouldn't get anywhere near family TV nowadays. Do you feel that there's a tendency for TV to play "safe" in the current climate, and by association do you think Blake's 7 lost that edge as it went on?
I think television has grown up and become totally professional and business like. It is highly competitive and commercial. Nothing wrong with that except it is hard to experiment - hard to have dreams in such an environment and as experiments fail sometimes and dreams turn to nightmares sometimes I suppose that's experimentation and dreams will be excluded and we will have more of what is popular.
Blake losing its edge? I thought people like Gareth were very, very important to the show. They gave it a depth of character that made it appear to be about real people. Bit like the Doctors after Tom B - none had the intellectual gravitas to suspend my disbelief. To be honest I had moved on to other things as well - doing the first of any series is always exciting and challenging - later on it becomes important to 'carry the baton' without dropping it.
Watching The Web again recently I realised I'd underrated it, as there's some cracking ominous direction in there. However, when we get an eerie tracking shot, all it can lead to is a man with his head pushed through a cardboard box with a doll's body stuck under it, or cartoon shots of the Liberator in flight. Then there's the robot in Project Avalon of course. Did you ever feel resentful of the material and budget you were given to work with on Blake?
At one point in the pre-production of Blake I was called into the administrative head of Drama's office for something or other and during that meeting I learned that the budget for Blakes 7 was exactly the same as for Softly Softly - a fairly mainstream police series. I was amazed and shocked! It just goes to show what a brilliant job David Maloney did in producing a futuristic space series on a police detective budget! Judging by the popularity it still has today it possibly also demonstrates that like Star Trek money is not everything... I quite liked the scripts of ep one and much of two - after that it seemed to follow the route of Dr Who and have a monster a week and resident baddies.... Again this is taste - I am more X-Files and conspiracy theory orientated- think the pyramids are really interesting et al....
One thing I've noticed in some of your work (Project Avalon, Colony In Space, Revenge of the Cybermen...) is a sense of almost tangible, self-aware camp. A subtext of what people would probably call "post-modern" in today's climate. Would you say this was intentional?
Not quite sure what you mean? I do have a strong sense of the silly - ridiculous. I would never consciously camp something (serious) up but I do believe you should try not to take yourself too seriously.
I suppose what I mean by the camp in some productions could more be described as "tongue in cheek". In Project Avalon Jacqueline Pearce strides on in a massive OTT fur coat, and of course in Revenge/Way Back you've got Jeremy Wilkin in the villain parts who loves the lip curling.
Yes of course with Jacqueline Pierce it was great fun - the character was so OTT anyway and she did it brilliantly but had an effort sometimes to keep a straight face. She had the ability to be absolutely serious about what she was doing without taking herself too seriously. Nice lady. Jeremy was always fun - good actor - His lip curling and the limp were scripted as a bit of character.
Probably the most controversial element of Project Avalon was Sally Knyvette petitioning to be given Jan Chappell's larger role for that story. Were you aware of this dispute, and how did it get resolved?
I have some very vague memory of that I think but really was not involved - all that would be down to David M - and I was certainly not involved if it happened.
Project Avalon was the only one of your episodes to feature a commentary track on the DVD release, during which Stephen Greif was a little derisory. How did you feel about this?
I worked a lot with Stephen before Blake and admire his work very much. I have not heard his comments so can't judge. It is a truth that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.
I got to share a few words with David Jackson (who played Gan) earlier in the year. He told me that he was frustrated with his role pretty much straight away, though watching Deliverance again for this interview I noticed that they all seemed a little jaded at this stage in the run. Did you notice it becoming harder to get performances from the cast as the season wore on?
I was aware that David J was a bit sad his role did not developed in a more demanding way - I think the later scripts of the first series were not that imaginative in terms of character development or relationships and a lot of time was spent doing action stuff where basically the goodies always won in the end. Bravely going........
Keeping with Deliverance, I gather that due to you being busy on other shoots, David Maloney had to direct the exteriors. How did it feel only being able to control half the story?
I don't have a clear memory of what happened there. I think it was the other way round - David was a very successful director and wanted to keep his hand in and was going to direct the episode entirely. He did the filming but the pressures of producing (getting the scripts out in time was a mega problem for him and Chris who actually wrote most of them and gets insufficient praise for his enormous contribution) and all that made it impractical for him to do rehearsals and studio so he asked me to fill in - think it was that way but check with David - (where is he and how is he these days?)
Looking at your site, you've directed masses of TV programmes, including Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, Emmerdale and EastEnders. I suppose to genre fans you'll be most famous for being behind six Doctor Who stories, including The Sea Devils, Death to the Daleks and a personal favourite, The Robots of Death. What was the comparative atmosphere like, and was the Tom Baker - Louise Jameson relationship as strained as rumour would have it?
Really loved working with Tom because I didn't know exactly what it was it he was trying to do with the character. I loved the way he took scripts that were written with Jon P in mind and made them his own. He was / is very bright and had a strong moral sense - that conflict should be solved by negotiation, wit, lateral thinking and not violence. I think that was part of his basic Doctor Who premise - It is true that in the Bill Hartnell days and possibly Patrick Troughton the rule was the Doctor could never do anything to change history or kill someone - think that's how it was - Cos if someone got killed it could also change history. the future is history in the making. Jon Pertwee's interpretation of the Doctor was certainly more macho, romantic and daring. Nothing wrong with that either. So Tom went back to the basic non violent premise but the producers were still turning out 'action man' scripts so Tom had to find a way of including his own interpretation - It made it difficult sometimes but was very worthwhile.
I was never aware of any conflict between Louise and Tom. Leela (Louise) was an attempt to give the 'Dads' something slightly different from the female companions to look at.
There's an inference in your site that you weren't asked to direct 80s Doctor Who due to the then producer's insecurity, a viewpoint echoed by others. However, what was the reason you didn't go on to direct any more seasons of Blake's 7? And in hindsight, do you wish you had done?
Actually Graham did ask me to do some Who's for him but I was busy on other projects - In a way my career had moved on to other things - new challenges. I think I was very lucky to have directed Jon and Tom in Who and the opening series of Blake.
To clarify, with the 80s Who, I was thinking more of John Nathan-Turner, who, if memory serves, only asked back one single director who'd worked on the series before.
Yes John Nathan was a bit odd. I do not want to speak ill of the dead but he was never really in tune with it all - I felt - his (re-)casting was always rather wide of the mark considering what a plumb job it was. Almost any actor would be interested. He also didn't appear to understand or love science fiction and romantic adventure, which is a problem on that sort of show.
JNT never asked me back although I was pretty busy in those days so maybe he knew that... I would have liked to have been asked as I have/had felt an affinity with the series - I learned so much directing them I would have enjoyed to do more from time to time. Still that's the producers right and role - you cannot force someone to employ you.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Better - would just like to have done everything better.
There's vague talk of the series returning. Would you be interested in working on it if it did transpire?
Of course - so much time has passed it would be like doing a new show altogether. Just like the new Who it can only work if it is new.
Finally, there's plenty of aspects of your work that people may not be aware of, such as your early acting career, residence in France, own production company and love of sailing. What does the future hold for you?
Really wish I knew. Sailed into La Rochelle last year having completed my circumnavigation and needed to stop. Spent the winter editing and dubbing my Blue Water Destinations series. Only got one more to finish the editing and dub before it goes off to the States. Really enjoying living in France - the people and the country - not quite sure what lay ahead but in my experience something interesting usually comes my way. I had some considerable success directing and producing in the Netherlands. Made drama and created the British system of doing sitcoms - won all sorts of awards and had a lot of fun. Would like to make more independent productions but need to wait and see how Blue Water Destinations do - They should be available in a few weeks - the art work and packaging is being done by Bennett in the USA at the moment.
Thankyou again for agreeing to this interview.
Thanks for some interesting questions. One thing I thought to add was that the difference with Who and Blake was that Who only ever had one lead - a couple of companions supporting. With Blake there were 7 leads plus resident baddies. Certainly Blake was the title role but all the others wanted/expected to have important roles every week and I think some were easier to write for than others and some were more pushy.
Whilst the atmosphere on Who was normally always splendid - whoever the doctor was up to and including Tom, on Blake there were a lot of egos flying around. Quite normal of course with so many lead/supporting actors so it was never quite so friendly -after the first series I don't know....
Interview copyright AnorakZone.com/Michael E Briant, 2004. Many thanks to Mr. Briant for giving his time for this interview.