Muriel Cole

Interview Number: 
35
Interview Date(s): 
5 Apr 1988
Interviewer/s: 
Other crew: 
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 
126

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Interview
Transcript
Biographical

Muriel Cole (1914 - 2012) was the first Head of Casting for Yorkshire Television, a position she maintained from 1968 to her retirement in 1978. 

Members of Yorkshire Television's Casting Department attended various theatre performances around the country, including performances by theatre clubs and drama schools, as well as performances at major city theatres. Reports were then submitted evaluating the performance of each actor, with a view to recommending actors to appear in Yorkshire Television productions. 

The Casting Department assessed many actors who would go on to prominent careers. These include Helen Mirren, Simon Callow, Julie Walters, Bob Hoskins, Anthony Sher, Art Malik, Alison Steadman, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce.

[Edited from Muriel’s own typescript dated 3rd April 1988, two days prior to her interview and perhaps intended to complement, or as a prompt for, the interview. I have suggested text where something was unclear or missing in the original DS]

Born just before the outbreak of the First World War.

June 1918 which means in two-month’s time I shall be 74. I was born in a small suburban

House in Willesden Green, which backed on to a quiet park. I had a happy childhood, although

it was somewhat blighted by the fact that my mother was a mild hypochondriac. My father

was an architect [who] dearly loved my mother and was a marvellous father.

After attending the little local primary school I  went to a  secondary schools The  Brondesbury

and   Kilburn  High. A depressing place, where because of several bad illnesses, such as an

appendix operation, and all the childish complaints, I insisted on proceeding to Pitman's  

College in Kilburn instead of taking my father’s offer to send me [to] university. A bad mistake. However,     I   loved  business study and to my astonishment, walked off with plenty of Firsts in typewriting, shorthand, commerce etc.

 

In June 1931, I got my first job, left to take up a post in the West End then, as my parents had

moved to Wembley Park and on my way each day to the station on the Metropolitan Line I

passed a film studio – Fox British. I thought it would be nice to work locally, so wrote off for

a secretarial post, which I got and became secretary to the Publicity Manager, Geoff Davien;

that period was short, as the ‘Quota Act’  was  revised, but thanks to Fox -British,  I went to

Pinewood as secretary and assistant to 2Oth Century Fox's Publicity Director, Hugh [name omitted] another  happy time as Hugh was often busy in London and I was left to deal with matters at

the studio end; then after two films, 20th Century ceased production, but again thanks to

'Jonesy’ the Studio Manager at   Fox-British, I was introduced to the Studio Manager at Ealing and started work there in the Spring of 1939 as secretary to him, Colin Lesslie and Freddie James

the Production  Manag er  on  Come on George. In addition to working for these three, I had to

stay late to type the call sheet for the next day and as Come on George starring George Formby

was out each day on Location, I often didn’t get away until 8.30 pm. There was no overtime in

those days.

 

I remember on one occasion I was hauled up before the Secretary of the Company,   whose office overlooked the main gate and reprimanded for    being ten minutes late, having been at the studio  for     10 hours the   previous day. I was distressed. Colin Lesslie

quietly spoke to Mr. Leslie and I was never checked for morning lateness again.

 

After the formality of secretarial work at that period of time, pre-second World War, I revelled in

the way I was left to 'get on' with all the lists and details of pre-production supplied  by

all Departmental  Heads. Costume Charts denoting every dress or suit worn by the artiste,

the sets they were to be worn on and every little detail down to shoes and jewellery.  

 

 

The Set Lists with all the details of the furnishings, and the artist's hand props required for each   scene on each set. Budget details for any department that had not got its own secretary.

The cross-plots handled by the Production Manager after consultations with the Director and Producer, the Set Designer and the Casting Director.

By the July of 1939 after Come on George, Return to Yesterday, The Happy Family, The Proud

Valley and Let George Do It I felt t had been at Ealing all my working life, and even the outbreak

Of war did not halt my enthusiasm although a distinct tremor passed through the studios as to

the effect it might have on production plans.

By 1940 we (the studio were busy on Ministry of Information projects such as Food for

Thought, Our Island Fortress and Salvage and in the same year, two for the Army: Signals

Office (Divisional) and (Corps). During that year the Studios also made five feature films:

Saloon Bar Convoy (our first war feature film), Sailors Three, Spare A Copper, Turned Out

Nice Again.             

 

In 1941 I became restless and wanted to go off and 'do my    bit' by joining the WRENS

[Women’s Royal Naval Service] - a state of mind engendered by the disappearance

from the Studio scene of many of the ‘best of British’, including Freddie James, Colin Lesslie

and many others, plus some of my women friends. I  talked  about  it several times over lunch

and suddenly l was summoned up to Michael Balcon (as he  was then), flanked by the

production Supervisor, I was told that I must remain in order to help the studio carry on

as the men were being called up to ensure that their jobs were there for them at the end of hostilities and that in this connection I would be made an Assistant Director!

 

My career as an Assistant Director started on Ships with Wings at the beginning of 1941 – a

film about the vicissitudes of an aircraft carrier on active service, with Leslie Banks, John Clements and Jane Baxter. As an Assistant Director (Office) I had myself to prepare many

of the lists I had previously typed, but now I had a Production Secretary to   type them!           

I also had far more personal contact with the artistes giving them their calls for the

following day....sometimes one caught them before  they took off for home, but mostly it was

on the telephone as the Call Sheet was typed and distributed. Then there were all   the  departments involved in the first shot of the following day to be alerted as to which scene,

where and who were involved.

Like myself,  Production Secretary and   Continuity Girl, many departments had to wait about

whilst the call sheet was evolved.

 

Many of the Production Secretaries with whom I worked became Continuity Girls or like

myself moved over into [Production. ?]

During the war years I remember on one occasion I was working late with the Production Secretary, and the nightly aerial bombing of  London  started  up      and the  thumps  came

steadi ly  nearer, so hurrying, we were ready to leave in half-an-hour. It was then half past eight and dark. When we reached the corridor doors that let us out into the cut between the stages

and the workshops we found them locked. I rang the front gate for the night duty porter;

 

 

I contempIated raising the Great Stage Studio Doors, but felt this might be dangerous, as the

planes might pick out the great yawning hole. Silly Me! So I rang the Studio Manager at home,

he located an off-duty porter and sent him racing over to the Studio to find the on-duty man

and told me and the P.A. to take taxis home. We did, although we had a job to raise one.           

The on-duty Porter was dismissed, as he had locked up without checking; if bombs had hit the

studio, no one would have known we were there.

 

I also remember the night, a Saturday, of the Great Fire of London [i.e.The Blitz. DS] I was waiting for my 83 bus home at about 7.30 at night and the red glow lit the sky in London.

During     the       war it was difficult to raise some of the artists for their first call on the production.  I was  greatly assisted by  the police in this connection as if up to 12  midnight I hadn’t raised them the local station would get a constable on his beat

(shades of the past) to knock and give the call to the person concerned if their home was still standing. They would then ring me as they came off duty confirming or not that they had reached the artist with their call. I am pleased to say that they were always able to confirm. My poor parents found it rather shattering to hear the telephone ringing at 4am as the police rang in.

 

Another occasion on location for The Foreman went to France at Mevagissey

in Cornwall, we bussed the French fishermen who had escaped to England

in their boats, over from Penzance and the Belgian fishermen from another

port. And as I had to sign them all off before they were paid, I made them

take it in turn of nationality to be signed off first. We used to have about 400

all together for about a week. One day there was a dispute about whose turn

it was to be first, there was quite a scene and a Polish officer in uniform who

was working with the unit had to weigh in with a drawn sword to get

everyone back into line. Our most difficult time on that location was when a

bee got trapped in Francoise Rosay’s Breton fisherwoman’s underwear.

 

With the return, after the  war, of many of our  ‘old boys' I became Small Party and Crowd

Casting Director, a job that did not previously exist but with the production of  Hue and Cry and

all its hundreds of small boys, became essential, as it was a full time occupation finding them, sorting them and gett ing them to ring every evenIng for  the ‘off’. As the boys had no agents,

they had to ring in in gangs, one boy being responsible for telling several others. Even so I

had three secretaries manning the lines each evening.     

Another busy    small part and crowd production was Nicholas Nickleby – a very memorable production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One occasion that to me, demonstrated clearly the idiosyncratic nature of the film business occurred during the budgeting for Passport to Pimlico,  when submitting my figures I was told that

I could not possibly have the money for the numbers I had budqetted for. I pointed out that the Director and the Producer had already agreed  the numbers, and  that  the only way the

production could reduce the numbers wouid be by adjustments to the script. After a pause,

I was told I could have a certain figure and when I reached that  figure I had to consult with

the head of production, Hal Mason. After about four weeks into the production I warned him that I was fast approaching the limit. He told me to carry on. In the end on my part of the budget, with bad weather location cover, I spent just over the figure I had originally submitted

and nothing was said. It was however nearly a year before the studio produced a picture that needed such huge crowd scenes [again].

 

Meanwhile the Crowd Artists union, the Film Artists Association, became quite powerful, and

laid down hours, restrictions and a closed shop policy within a certain radius of  London.

On the whole the rules were fair - for the artists, but I sometimes had quite a headache

explaining them to a hard pressed on time, Production Manager, or First Assistant Director.

 

With the rising cost of production, Ealing began to  feel the effect of the falling cinema

audiences and the fact that we did not have a good outlet in America. I was advised that,

with the reduction in production, it might be as well if I found another outlet.

 

I left Ealing in 1955 to go into TV with Rediffusion, the [details of which follow]

 

So after sixteen amazingly happy and hardworking years I took their advice, and once again, through my oId Fox-British Studios contact, was  invited to join Associated Rediffusion, whose studio space  was at the recently acquired ex-Fox-British studios but this time I didn’t work at

the studios I had  to go up to their offices  in Klngsway, to work as a Casting Director with that

doyen of Casting Directors, Mr. Weston Drury.

It was certainly very different. There were no precedents to follow, we had to build types of

contracts up from scratch, list artists, and set out a work pattern of procedure in Casting as well

as create and build up a team. Luckily A-R had a superb and very experienced legal executive, with

an equally splendid legal lady in the wings, called Margaret Buchan and painfully

we collated and operated contracts to cover all the exigencies from advertising programmes

hosts to sports commentators, from puppeteers to rattlesnakes, from co-productions with America to local stations non-networked.

Our first team was splendid, thanks to Mr. Weston Drury. We had Anne Donne from the BBC,

Isobel Davie from Variety Bookings, Barry Forde (now – 1988- from stage and films head of

Central TV)

The one thing we lacked was adequate office space for a very busy team  and at one point, I

Had to worn Mr.  Drury that the whole team would strike if we didn't have breathing space.

Three people were trying to cast in a room 11 feet by 9 feet. We got another room, equally small, but it eased the situation.

 

 

One enormous difference at the beginning of working in     television, was the fact that when casting you covered the whole      spectrum of performers in front of     the camera. In a play,

from the stars to the ‘walk-ons’ and also the animals, whereas in films the Head of Casting

did the stars and the good speaking roles, small part and crowd was handled by someone else,

and the Property Department did the animals.

 

In the initial years of Independent Television, the Directors, many from the BBC were inclined to follow their own devices and get their Production Secretaries to advise the agents what they wanted. Gradually   they  began  to appreciate  the advantage of    having a  service department

that would be at their disposal, know the script, do the Cast budget and make lengthy lists of suggestions for every part.

 

Mary Habberfield made me a member of the ACT before I became an Assistant Director.

When I became Head of Casting [typescript ended at this point DS]

 

[END]

A note on Muriel's salaries in various posts is located under the pdf tab.

Further information: