Ian Keill

Ian Keill
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Interview Date(s): 
15 Dec 1998
7 Jan 1999
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[Transcribed from Stephen Peet’s handwritten notes]

SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE. 15th December 1998.

Born Wallasey, now Merseyside. Schools: 11-15 Liverpool College, then Timbrook Tutors(?); 3 x ‘O’ levels. Interested in the ‘Theatre and Concert Parties’ at New Brighton Follies, etc.

Did ventriloquist act on radio! Interested in films, got into PRA-RADA (?)[Pre-RADA?] under a Mr Capon, for one term and then won a scholarship to RADA. At RADA two years, 1955-57, along with Peter O’Toole, Susannah York, Albert Finney etc., then in various West End plays. Lived next door to Selfridges [store]. Had four years of acting, including a play on Granada TV. Television and radio at BBC Manchester. Many stories of recordings and live performances for radio plays. Used to be booked as a ‘Northerner’. Also, in late 1950s did radio and TV work in London, including Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars etc. Then joined BBC Presentation Department (Television) and worked on contracts making mostly trailers for programmes. First thing he was taught was how to do his ‘expenses’.  This was the period when Television Centre was first coming into action.

Description of doing pre-News presentation announcements – as a vision mixer – and making a complete ‘Balls-up’ of it once. Worked on Points of View (Rowan Ayres producing). Often wrote or ‘rewrote’ letters from viewers! There were sacks full of letters about The Beatles (evidently early-1960s now). The BBC was taking on general trainees and “colour TV was coming”.

How Late Night Line-Up was born and first reactions to it. Trouble because BBC programmes were [being] criticised by the BBC. Spin-offs like Film Night. Was there for the very first Late Night Line-Up [LNLU] programme – and for the last.

Description of start of BBC2 (power cuts etc.). Descriptions of various people who worked on LNLU: Joan Bakewell etc.


Description of some of the films he made for LNLU, varying from 2 to 20 minutes, including Portrait of Ken Russell – Russell at Work – doing Isadora Duncan. Ian was untrained as a Director, so taught himself. Description of the great variety of films shown on LNLU.

In 1968, on attachment from Presentation, he joined the just formed Yesterday’s Witness team in the Documentary Department and made three films for the series. (Discussion with the producer of Yesterday’s Witness, who is conducting this History Project interview) about the first year of the series.

Then went (?1969) to BBC Bristol and worked with Michael Croucher on The Curious Character of Britain series. Describes many of the films made for the series. Then back to Late Night Line Up, which was coming to an end, but Up Sunday had started. Stories of working on it with John Wells, Clive James, Willy Rushton, Kenny Everett et al., all in Studio B. Stories of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan et al and many stories of graphic designer Bob Gale.

First time on television had animation using chroma-key. Suggestion to Rex Moore that they do a pantomime, so wrote and produced The Snow Queen, an ‘animated fairy tale’, based on a story animated by Errol le Cain – but trouble with BBC Graphics Dept. on employing an outside graphics artist. Description of making The Snow Queen.


More productions for Late Night Line Up back in the early ‘70s. Produced series One Man’s/Woman’s Week, (Alan Bennett, Cleo Laine etc., etc.).

Attitudes towards LNLU. How LNLU spawned The Community Programme Unit. Presentation Programme continued after LNLU folded. The End of the Pier Show etc etc., in the mid ‘70s. Stories of working with Andrew Gosling on Shipwreck series; trials and tribulations of Rutland Weekend series with Eric Idle. More on The Snow Queen, “The most successful thing I’ve ever done”.

1977 series In the Looking Glass – John Bird, John Wells, and John Fortune: experimental musicals. Then produced, with Neil Innes, three series of The Innes Book of Records, filmed in Minehead, Buxton, St Ives with BBC Bristol. [In 1980-81 still shooting everything on film.] Also wrote The Light Princess, which like The Snow Queen won an award. Made various other experimental productions, e.g. The Mystery of the Disappearing Schoolgirls, which included various animated fairy-tale characters; Carl Davis did the music as he did for The Snow Queen and The Light Princess. Story of how they ran into big trouble because [they] recorded a huge score for the programme with BBC Scotland Orchestra.

[TAPE TWO] SIDE FOUR [7th January 1999]
[Restarting interview after a few weeks and backtracking a bit at first]

About 1971, adaptation of L. P. Hartley’s Someone in the Lift.

1981 Presentation Programmes becomes Network Features. Directing Jane series = strip cartoons (Jane played by Glynis Barber). Stories about various one-off productions as a producer and/or director, including various girls’ school dramas, e.g. The Ghost Downstairs adapted from a Leon Garfield story, music by Edward Williams. Another Jane mini-series, Jane in the Desert. A one-off, This Office Life, by Keith Waterhouse, adviser on the show, T.E.B.Clarke. Then all about the spoof documentary-drama, The Face at the Window. Press and public reaction. In 1986, The Pyrates, a spoof on pirate films.

Network Features sort of folded about Talking Pictures, 1987-88, so started working on a series with Andrew Gosling called a history of ‘talkies’ particularly in Hollywood. Worked on History of Westerns and Politics in the Cinema. Stories of time in Hollywood, filming. Met Gene Autry, Lee van Cleef, Jack Palance etc.

Then joined Documentary Department: did a Forty Minutes with Lucinda Lampton called Desirable Dwellings. Then attached to Children’s Department to make a three-part ghost story called The Watch House. [DS1] Then ‘about 1989’ back to Documentaries and directed one of Frontiers series, with Freddy Raphael. Then offered redundancy money and ran; and joined Catalyst TV making gardening programmes. General feelings: was really an entertainer rather than a documentary maker.


Making gardening programmes with Catalyst TV under Tony Lye. First series, Dream Gardens, did three of first six, with Michael Hordern as presenter; Second series, Water Gardens, with Alex Dingwall-Main. Third series: Tresco, presenter Leslie Thomas. Then spent a year doing film sequences for Gardener’s World (through Catalyst, for BBC), with Geoff Hamilton, 1992-3?

In 1994, series, Quest for the Rose. Went to China etc., etc, and that was the last series he was involved in. Since then, various odd things and writing scripts etc.

General summing up, (with the help of June Hudson, who worked with Ian on many series, particularly on Jane.)

Finally: a final summing up by Ian Keill.




Ian Keill – cv/filmography. [edited from journal article. DS]


Born: Wallasey, Merseyside 11th May 1937

c.1950: BBC Northern Children’s Hour: first appearance for a fee . . .

Saturday Afternoon Variety - as a ventriloquist!

1955-57: Student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

1958- 62:      Professional Actor.

Various stage appearances including:

Tea & Sympathy at the Comedy Theatre - and Billy Bunter flies East at the Victoria Palace' Odd bits of rep - at The Richmond Theatre, etc.

Appeared in over fifty radio dramas - broadcasting from London, Manchester and Leeds, including:

Biggles, The Grass Rope, The Black Banner Players, The Raven, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Homer Jackson, Hindleford, The Wedding, The Funeral, Spycatcher etc. etc.

Also acted in over thirty television productions for Granada, Associated Rediffusion and the BBC, including:

Shadow Squad, Murder Bag, You Take Over, The Case Before You, Reunion in Vienna, Dixon of Dock Green, Ice Blink, Here’s Harry (with Harry Worth) The Charlie Drake Show, Into the Net, The History of Mr. Polly, Z Cars, etc. etc.

Wrote several radio/TV dramas, including:

Intermission (with Nigel Bellairs) - The Mystery of Edwin Drood

and Mr. Palfrey, etc. etc.

12.2.1962: Joined BBC TV in Presentation Department (Trailers section)

1962-1968: Member of POINTS OF VIEW production team.

Also contributed various items to (and was one of several overall producers of) ‘live’ late-night magazine programme:

LATE NIGHT LINE UP. Directed many films for this series,

including THE PUFFER - about a Para Handy-type tramp steamer plying a trade round Scotland’s Highlands and Islands.

RUSSELL AT WORK - a profile of Ken Russell directing Isadora Duncan.

SOMEONE IN THE LIFT - A drama based on L. P. Hartley’s horrific ghost story: filmed using a subjective camera technique.

1968: Attachment to the Documentary Department. Directed three programmes for Stephen Peet in the series:

YESTERDAY'S WITNESS, Subjects included:

Flight pioneers in I HAVE FLOWN AND IT’S MARVELLOUS.  First World War pilots in: THE FIRST WAR IN THE AIR. The last boatmen trading on the English canals in: THE NARROW BOATMEN.

1969: Directed four topographical films for Michael Croucher in the series: THE CURIOUS CHARACTER OF BRITAIN. Areas featured included:

BLAENAU FFESTINIOG (a portrait of The Royal Oakley Brass Band - playing manfully as the slate industry slowly disintegrated).

ISLAY (a portrait of the Hebridean Island at the heart of the whisky trade).

EDINBURGH (An idiosyncratic view of the The Royal Mile in which the houses were-“like a mouthful of teeth, some intact, some filled and some missing").

THE DUNTISBOURNE VALLEY, nr. Cirencester, G1os. (A view of a hidden Eden linked by a brook – and by a farmgirl who was leaving her uncle’s primitive farm to get married).

1970-72: Returned to LATE NIGHT LINE UP as a producer/director.      Among several spin-off films directed were:

WAKING DREAMS - a surreal portrait of a rich country squire poet and a poverty stricken photographer who lived on the estate - and who, together produced a series of ‘photographic poems’.

WORDSWORTH - a film featuring the celebrations of the people of Lakeland at the time of the bi-centenary of Wordsworth’s birth.

THE QUEEN  MARY  - portrait of  the  original Queen Mary on the Clyde which dropped an enforced ‘2’ when the newer Cunard Queen Mary retired.

SIX AND SEVEN EIGHTHS - a  sequence of weird and wonderful short dramatic items - including exploding chickens, wayward butterflies and a pair of zombies lost on a ghost train!

1971-73: Joined the light hearted romp Up Sunday - Became a director and principal producer of several series. Described as a programme with "dirty-minded insomniacs" in mind, by John Wells, this featured satirical sketches, monologues and songs by a group of resident performers.

These included: John Wells, William Rushton, Kenny Everett, James Cameron and Clive James.  In the final series Kenny Everett was replaced by John Fortune ... and Madeline Smith joined the company. There were guests each week, including: Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Roger McGough, Eric Idle, Barry Humphries, John Bird, Eleanor Bron, Terry Jones, The Electric Martian, The Singing Postman, Vivian Stanshall, Max Wall, Adge Cutler and the Wurzels and Sir John Betjeman. Bob Gale supplied graphic backgrounds and foregrounds and animated cartoons.

1971-73:  Became co-director (with Pat Ingram) of long running series: ONE MAN'S/WOMAN'S WEEK (Running concurrently with Up Sunday):

Among the famous and not so famous who looked back over a week in their lives were: Patrick Litchfield, John Aspinall, Alan Bennett, Kenny Everett, Nell Dunn, Bill Tidy, Derek Dougan, John Wells, John Fortune, Frank Carson, John Tavener, Roger McGough, Humphrey Lyttelton and Vivian Stanshall.

1974: THE END OF THE PIER SHOW - Produced a chroma-key (or, in BBC parlance: C.S.O) enhanced musical revue:

This teamed old Up Sunday [DS1] favourites John Wells, John Fortune, Madeline Smith and Carl Davis (who wrote the music/songs) - and the artwork of Bob Gale - plus two guests per show. (These included Percy Edwards, John Laurie, Ivor Cutler and Peter Sellers.

1975: CORNISH SHIPWRECKS - Directed two fifteen-minute films on Cornish and Scillies shipwrecks.

Subjects included the shipwreck photography family:  'The Gibsons of Scilly', and dramatic sea disasters: 'The Mohegan', 'The Bay of Panama' and 'The Schiller'. Historical adviser: Clive Carter.

1975: RUTLAND WEEKEND TELEVISION - Produced and directed six ‘Pythonesque’ revues written and performed by Eric Idle and featuring songs by Neil Innes. A mini repertory of players included: Terry Bayler, Bridget Armstrong, David Battley, Henry Woolf and Gwen Taylor. Co-director: Andrew Gosling.

1976: RUTLAND WEEKEND TELEVISION - Produced and directed seven more surreal revues with Eric Idle and Neil Innes.

1976: THE SNOW OUEEN - Produced and co-wrote adaptation (with Peter Glidewell) of an hour-long chroma-key fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Andrew Gosling directed. Special art work was created by Errol le Cain. Carl Davis wrote the music.

1977: IN THE LOOKING GLASS - Produced six experimental chroma-key musicals by John Wells, John Fortune and (in two programmes) John Bird. Carl Davis wrote the music and Madeline Smith provided ‘the interest’. Directors included: Tony Tyley and Andrew Gosling.

This production received a BAFTA nomination for 'Most Original Programme'.

1978: THE INNES BOOK OF RECORDS (series 1) - Directed and produced six programmes featuring the performance and songs of Neil Innes. There were two guests per programme. Andrew Gosling directed three of the programmes.

1978 THE LIGHT PRINCESS - Adapted and produced a chroma- key fairy tale, from the book by Victorian author: George MacDonald. Cast included: George A. Cooper, Gwen Taylor, Irene Handl, Stacey Dorning, Anna Quayle and John Fortune. Cartoon voices supplied by: Kenneth Williams, Peter Bull and John Wells. Art work was created by Errol le Cain and Carl Davis wrote the music.

This production won the Royal Television Society’s award for Technique.

 1979: THE INNES BOOK OF RECORDS (series 2) - Directed and produced six more programmes featuring the songs and performance of Neil Innes (lead singer with “The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band"). Guests in this series included: Michael Palin, Rowan Atkinson, Zena Skinner and Roy Plomley. Andrew Gosling directed three of the programmes.

1980: MOVING PICTURES - Produced a chroma-key fantasy/satire on the fine art business in which characters from famous painting came alive. Cast featured: John Wells, Alison Steadman and John Savident. Andrew Gosling directed.

1980: MYSTERY OF THE DISAPPEARING SCHOOLGIRLS (or Fortunatus Rex and Co.) - Adapted and produced a chroma-key fairy tale from a story by E. Nesbit. Cast featured: Anna Massey, John Savident, Patsy Kensit and Howard Goorney. Andrew Gosling directed and Errol le Cain created the artwork paintings. Music by Carl Davis.

1981: THE INNES BOOK OF RECORDS (series 3) - Directed and produced six more programmes featuring the words and music of Neil Innes. Andrew Gosling again directed three of them.

1982: JANE - Produced a television ‘strip cartoon’ based on the famous war time character from The Daily Mirror. The cast included: Glynis Barber as Jane, Robin Bailey, John Bird, Frank Thornton and Max Wall. Script by Mervyn Haisman. Andrew Gosling directed the programme and the artwork was created by Graham McCallum.

This production won a BAFTA award for Graphics and The Royal Television Society’s 'Most Original Programme' award.

1982: SCHOOLGIRL CHUMS - Produced and directed a 'jolly hockey sticks' schoolgirl film set in the Thirties. Cast featured: Lalla Ward, Barry Jackson, Martin Benson, Brenda Cowling, Charlotte Long and Patsy Kensit. Script was written by Peter Glidewell - with music by Carl Davis.

1982: THE GHOST DOWNSTAIRS - Adapted and produced a Faustian ghost story set in Victorian times, from the book by Leon Garfield. Cast included: Cyril Cusack and Mike Gwilym. A chroma-key production. Andrew Gosling directed the programme. Errol le Cain created the art work. Edward Williams composed the music.

This production won The Art Director’s award: 'Most outstanding use of graphics in a drama'.

1983: ST. URSULA’S IN DANGER - Directed and produced a sequel to the Angela Brazil-type 'jolly hockey sticks' children’s drama: Schoolgirl Chums. Cast included: Doreen Mantle, Barbara Bolton, Freddie Jaeger and walking-on: Tara Palmer-Tompkinson!

1984: JANE IN THE DESERT - Produced a sequel to Jane. Cast: as per previous series. Artwork by Graham McCallum. Title music by Neil Innes. This production won a British Academy Award for graphics for the second time.

1985: THIS OFFICE LIFE - Produced and directed a film by Keith Waterhouse - starring Dinsdale Landen and Jenny Agutter.  Cast included: Roy Kinnear, John Quayle, John Savident, Bryan Pringle and Geoffrey Bayldon. Music by Trevor Jones. Ealing Studios adviser: T.E.B.Clarke O.B.E.

1986: A QUESTION OF FACT - The Face at the Window - Produced a spoof documentary on Hitler’s secret visit to England. This April Fool joke caused a furore in the national press. Plot and script created in association with Alistair Beaton and Andrew Gosling. Second most requested programme at the INPUT TV festival in Granada, Spain in April 1987.

1986: THE PYRATES - Produced a swashbuckling chroma-key spectacular adapted by Mervyn Haisman from the book by George MacDonald Fraser. Cast included: Josette Simon, Robin Bailey and Nosher Powell [BEHP Interview No 543]. Fights arranged by Derek Ware. Directed by Andrew Gosling. Artwork by Graham McCallum. Music by Rodney Newton.

1987: TALKING PICTURES - Directed two fifty-minute documentaries in this series about Hollywood since the start of 'the Talkies' - one on a history of Western films the other on politics in the cinema on and off the screen.Judy Lindsay was the producer.

1988: FORTY MINUTES - Produced and directed Lucinda Lambton in a documentary on curious houses: Desirable Dwellings.

1988: THE WATCH HOUSE - Directed a three-part ghost story for the BBC Children’s department set in Tynemouth. The script was adapted from Robert Westall’s book by William Corlett. Music by Rodney Newton.


1989: FRONTIERS - The Pyrenees. Produced and directed Frederic Raphael in a BBC 1 documentary on life in the mountains on the border between France and Spain.

1990: DREAM GARDENS - Wrote and directed three evocations of 'the ideal garden'.

Improving on Nature - a portrait of 19 century landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, introduced by Sir Michael Hordern.

A Mirror to the Sun - a celebration of water gardens, with Alex Dingwall-Main.

Island Paradise - a tour round the sub-tropical Abbey Gardens on Tresco, in the Scillies, with Leslie Thomas and head gardener Mike Nelhams.

1991-1993: GARDENER'S WORLD - Directed many programmes in this celebrated BBC 2 gardening series. Principal presenter and expert: Geoff Hamilton.

1994: THE QUEST FOR THE ROSE - Directed three programmes on the history of roses, featuring Roger Phillips and plant expert: Martyn Rix. Our journeys took us to Colorado, California, Yunnan-China and Norfolk.

1995-6: THE COLOUR OF MAGIC/THE LIGHT FANTASTlC - Involved with the setting up and commissioning of a seven-part series set on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, for Catalyst Television.

1995: THE SHANAGARRY PLOT - directed a pilot featuring the creation of a garden in East Cork, Ireland, with Roger Phillips.

Currently [1999]: CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES. Writing a screenplay adapted from the children's novel by Penelope Farmer. In association with Andrew Gosling.