Who is Michael E. Briant?: a memoir by the Doctor Who

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Who is Michael E. Briant?: a memoir by the Doctor Who director knowing the director had worked on many series I was rather expecting to read of his time on the shows like Secret Army and Howards Way which barely gets mentioned, which was disappointing for an Howards Way fan Dr Who fans will adore it though Id have liked to have read about Micheal directing the Howards Way cast,, Hampshire etc. Classic TV Press have convinced Michael E Briant, a television director who has amassed some significant credits Z Cars, Blake s 7, Secret Army, Warship, The Onedin Line, Howard s Way among others during what was regarded as the golden age of television drama and beyond, that his personal and professional exploits would be of interest to those asking the question, Who is Michael E Briant Apparently, he s been asking that question too and this book would seem to be a rather good place to start.It s written in a very accessible style, is bright, breezy and often witty, and yet still contains a great understanding of television production spanning several decades and his career progression through the BBC as floor manager, production assistant and director As well as hair raising tales about the dramas he worked on, he often reflects on production techniques and methodology that made these programmes so successful, elements of which he feels are sadly absent in today s hectic world of television production.Naturally, we start with Michael s childhood and his budding child actor career as a alumnus of the Italia Conti school as one Michael Tennant It was a career which he saw through rose tinted spectacles as a life that demanded no educational requirements, very long holidays between jobs, and the possibility of foreign travel After elocution and deportment classes, Michael found work in plenty of stage and television productions, discovered a brief passion for racing pigeons and then was bitten by the messing about in boats bug after starring in a John Gregson film vehicle, True as a Turtle.As the acting work dried up, Michael became a rep for Procter and Gamble, flogging Daz and Fairy Snow to the shopkeepers of post austerity Britain in a Burtons suit and trilby There s a very nice story about his job with Revlon that I think illustrates Michael s quick thinking and insight, something that would later hold him in good stead during the making of Death to the Daleks.Successfully applying for a job at the BBC, his first day was clearly a portent of the future He was instructed to assist the AFM on Doctor Who and learned to leave Bill Hartnell s favourite armchair well alone and trust to the vagaries of the Visual Effects Department and to avoid Hartnell s ire if you dared to muck about with the TARDIS controls He worked with Douglas Camfield on The Crusade, having the unenviable task of wrangling ants, procured from London Zoo, to eat the honey smeared on the arm of one Viktors Ritelis standing in for William Russell who clearly did not fancy an encounter with killer ants.He describes BBC office etiquette and the roles of Production Assistants, Floor Managers and Directors and how he got into the habit of keeping a little black book of actors he worked with that would function as his own version of Spotlight His experience was also shaped by the likes of fellow directors Christopher Barry, Hugh David, Michael Barry, Joan Craft, Rex Tucker and Peter Hammond and he is clearly very grateful for such invaluable training on the job, taking to heart Hammond s advice the camera should be the third person in the room As PA, he was lucky to work with Barry on The Power of the Daleks, on which the AFM was the irrepressible, and future Who director, Graeme Harper, and was present at the arrival of Patrick Troughton He, Patrick and producer Innes Lloyd were certainly confounded by Sydney Newman s interpretation of the Second Doctor as a cosmic hobo to such an extent that it required a drink in the BBC club and Patrick coming to the rescue.A superb chapter about the making of Fury from the Deep follows with plenty of anecdotes about hiring helicopters, getting foam machines to an anti aircraft platform in the Thames Estuary, seasick BBC crews a recurring motif and a tricky moment, filming the landing of the TARDIS on the sea, that saw Michael clinging to the side of helicopter skid a hundred feet above the sea His graduation to director is accompanied by a fascinating account of the short film he made at the BBC training school, The Kiss, and through the good auspices of Ronnie Marsh, who had become Head of Serials, his proper go at making an episode of Z Cars He sadly found it a disappointing experience in comparison to directing four episodes of what he believed to be the better scripted The Newcomers However, there are some great perceptions into the processes of making programmes and how they were assessed inside the BBC itself.His reflections on Colony in Space raise a chuckle over the pitfalls of using the Portaloo in the Carclaze quarry location and I rather sympathised with Michael as he felt somewhat out of his depth, encouraging his own death wish by thinking of crashing his car to get out of directing Colony in Space The design and function of the IMC robot is a particular target of his disappointment, believing an eighteen month old baby crawling could have escaped from it and, if angered, finished it off Considering it s a serial not held with much regard by Who fans and was something of a baptism of fire for him, I understand his frustrations.At 28, Michael decided to go freelance as a director and, despite fearing the worst, found himself in gainful employment courtesy of Ronnie Marsh and the BBC and back working on Z Cars Here, he again details some of the innovations of the time when he uses OB equipment, crews used to covering sports events and new lightweight cameras to record the episodes.Working on The Sea Devils kept his seafaring ambitions afloat, despite his concerns about costuming the eponymous creatures and building sets that conveyed their underwater habitat, and increasingly as his career progresses you can tell he gets a kick out of working on dramas that feature the sea or boats of any kind It reflects his increasing ambitions to become a professional sailor that are encouraged by his work on Gerald Glaister s series Warship after further dealings with Doctor Who in the shape of giant maggots, Daleks and Cybermen and the perils of dropping ballcocks out of helicopters, watching John Scott Martin lose control of his Dalek and confronting the curse of Wookey Hole An interesting aside in the chapter on Death to the Daleks is how he persuaded Barry Letts to allow him to record the episodes set by set rather than in story order It inaugurated a rehearse record system that eventually became standard across the BBC.Beyond Doctor Who, and a chapter about his sterling work on Robots of Death, there are some entertaining and informative sections about the filming of Warship, Treasure Island and The Onedin Line and several examples of Michael s very quick thinking when things didn t always go to plan While making the first episode of Blake s 7, he also shows how he recognised the talent of others and in this instance when designer Martin Collins enabled him to record everything in studio using one modular set He also clearly enjoyed working on Secret Army and with the series s producer Gerry Glaister who had a brilliant feel for good actors and to whom he would later pitch the idea for Howard s Way.After working on an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, a Francis Durbridge thriller Breakaway and the very intriguing Blood Money, which ran into problems with the Royal Household and the BBC, Michael found himself directing episodes of Secret Army spin off, Kessler From here on in the book becomes a love letter to his growing passion for sailing around the world and his directing career diverges to covering episodes of Emmerdale and EastEnders, a disastrous attempt to set up a production company, a brief spell as a reluctant HGV driver, and the vagaries of trying to teach the Dutch how to direct drama and sit com and helming their versions of The Two of Us and After Henry The final chapter culminates with a nail biting run in with Yemeni pirates as he sailed across the Red Sea.Who Is Michael E Briant comes recommended It s a highly entertaining book about Michael s growing confidence directing and working behind the scenes on prestigious and not so prestigious television drama and his derring do on the high seas It offers observations into how television was made in the 1960s and 1970s, is a story of personal achievement told with gentle and good humour and has a foreword from fellow Who director Christopher Barry. It s not a bad book, could have gone into depth but it s okay Some new facts but not sufficiently so to attain full marks. Although primarily known as a television director, Michael E Briant has had quite the varied life In this memoir, he recounts this life his early days as a child actor and seller of soap, his time spent at the BBC as an Assistant Floor Manager on shows such as Compact and Moonfleet, then as the director of Doctor Who, Blake s Seven, the Secret Army spin off Kessler, Warship and Blood Money amongst many others, his time as an independent producer, and finally a slightly surreal sojourn in Dutch television where every other comedy show appears to be a rebrand of a British original Along the way, we find out about his love of sailing which indirectly gave rise to Howard s Way, and the ups and downs of life as a HGV driverAs might be expected from the book s title, the primary focus is on Doctor Who Briant is a colourful and often amusing raconteur, and his behind the scenes knowledge of the shows that he has directed is both entertaining and insightful especially when discussing the classic The Robots of Death and The Green Death, from which the review quote is taken In summary, this is an interesting book with many insights into the production and direction of television shows I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in classic Doctor Who and Blake s Seven. A bright and breezy autobiography of a career spent in directing British television The main selling point of this book, and probably the reason it was published, is due to Michael E Briant s work on Doctor Who, for which he directed 6 stories during the tenure of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, although his association with the programme extends right back to various production rols during the William Hartnell era and then on through Patrick Troughton s time as the Doctor These early days on the show are covered briefly and somewhat perfunctorily before we get to when Michael becomes a fully fledged director in his own right Each of his six Who stories receives a full chapter, starting with the worthy but dull Colony in Space and ending with the sublime Robots of Death, which Michael himself rightly acknowledges as his high point on the show A lot of his stories and memories will be familiar to long term Who fans, particularly those of The Green Death and Revenge of the Cybermen but there are still some good insights and analyses into the practical and creative details of making a Who script come to life After he leaves the show in the late 70 s Michael went on to direct for a number of other well known British TV series,including Blakes 7 and many of these experiences are covered in the second part of the book There is also a great deal about his major passion in life, sailing and at times, as the autobiography moved away from the Doctor Who universe, I found myself losing interest Michael E Briant has certainly had an interesting, varied career and life and writes in an accessible style with flashes of humour and wisdom Overall, a solid and enjoyable read and worthy addition to the ever expanding Who library, especially as an ever increasing number of those involved with the programme during its best years of the 70 s have left us Thanks Michael. Making an episode of a modern day police, medical or domestic drama was nothing compared to imagining how Colony in Space should look and be made Twenty parts to be cast, locations to be found for two weeks filming in a landscape that looked like a foreign planet, a robot to be created and, and, and I confess that sometimes, during the preparation period, I would drive home thinking that if I just crashed the car into a concrete wall and injured myself, then I would not have to direct this show Michael E Briant directed numerous episodes of classic TV series throughout the s such as Blakes , Secret Army, Warship and most famously Doctor Who Many of his Who stories The Sea Devils, The Green Death and Robots of Death are regarded as all time greats by fans of the series In this memoir, Briant reminisces about his life and work, from his beginnings as a child actor in the s, followed by a highly successful career working for the BBC and later for Dutch television, right through to his impressive circumnavigation of the world and attack by pirates in the Gulf of Aden He includes separate chapters on each of his Doctor Who stories and also shares memories of his early years on the programme in the s, while he was working his way up in the TV profession, and William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were at the TARDIS controlsI am sure you will enjoy reading his memoirs as much as I have Christopher Barry, Doctor Who director

  • Paperback
  • 218 pages
  • Who is Michael E. Briant?: a memoir by the Doctor Who director
  • Michael E Briant
  • English
  • 06 May 2018

About the Author: Michael E Briant

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