British Entertainment History Project
INTERVIEWEE – NEVILLE WORTMAN
INTERVIEWER – DARROL BLAKE
Transcriber – Linda Hall-Shaw
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I am Neville Wortman. I was born on the 28th March 1932 in London.
DARROL BLAKE: And what sort of family were you born into? Were they anything to do with the business? Or …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, I have been looking into this since this started and I was surprised to see that my grandfather on my father’s side was trained as a scene painter. He was a scene painter and also a portrait painter as well. It was strange because the artist who taught him, they used to project the image of someone on canvas and then paint over that and I can remember two large paintings in my grandfather’s house of his father. I liked that. And so yes, I think we were. My uncle Charlie was a pantomime dame, of some note actually at that time and I was very drawn to him. (TIME 01:11) I can remember sitting on his knee at a very early age and really being drawn to the fact that he could play the piano so wonderfully.
DARROL BLAKE: And your immediate family?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: My immediate family – I’ve got twins. A boy and a girl, Mathew and Rosalind. Mathew is a drama feature director and he is just about to start his first feature film which has just been financed which is going to be shot in Brazil and I am a sort of executive on that. You just sit in the armchair, you know.
DARROL BLAKE: No, I really meant your mother and father. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh, my mother and father. Well my father was a master tailor. He was trained as a tailor and my mother was simply a housewife. (TIME 02:00)
DARROL BLAKE: And what sort of atmosphere did you grow up in? Were they … I am sure they were hardworking people … but I mean, you had early ambitions, did you?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, I had very early ambitions actually because I can remember being taken at a very early age, I must have been four I think, to Westcliffe where we used to go for our summer holidays. And, the big event there was the bandstand used to play and I can remember sitting in the front row with my parents and the band started, and there were thousands there, they were not only seated there but they were all along the beach. It was a big entertainment in those days. And I felt, I have just got to get up there and sing. So, I put my hand up, I must have been four and a half, I think, or five. And the conductor said “Yes?” I said, “I’d like to sing” so he beckoned me up and he held me … I can still remember being held at this microphone and looking out at this vast field of faces. And he said “What do you want to sing?” and the song that I knew was “Hands, Knees and Boomps a Daisy” [Laughter] (TIME 03:10) And so, off we went. And I can remember this voice travelling out to all of these people and knowing in a sense that this was where I really want to be.
DARROL BLAKE: So how did life proceed from there then. Presumably you went to school at some point and then, it says in your CV that you became an actor.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. Well I went to Osidge School which was a primary school and it is really a mark of how brilliant a good teacher really is because … I can even remember her name, Miss Dormer her name was …and she somehow realised that I had a passion really for acting, particularly Shakespeare she picked up. And she was absolutely right. I think this is the mark of a really good teacher to actually spot what a child is really going towards. (TIME 04:05) But my parents did not want me to go onto the stage on any account because of Uncle Charlie, they felt that was theatre. Of course, it wasn’t really theatre, it was variety and musical really. So, they were dead against it and they were hardworking lower middle-class people really and they sacrificed a lot to send me to a public school, which was Mercers’ School. And, I was so lazy, I didn’t really want to be there at all.
DARROL BLAKE: You acted there?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Later on … No, I didn’t act there. You weren’t allowed to act there unless you were good at school in fact. It was an extraordinary time really. If you excelled in all the other subjects, you usually got a lead in the school play but if you were way down the list as I was, you didn’t get anything really. I think I was a ferret in Toad of Toad Hall. [Laughter] But that’s really what it was like. (TIME 0506)
DARROL BLAKE: Then how did you get into the cartooning business?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, the only thing that I was good at was that I became top of art at Mercers and so I went to an art school in Fleet Street called Broad Court which was next to Doctor Johnson’s house. And I think I was very good there. I won the National Award for Illustration at one point so I had a natural kind of bent towards cartooning really and that’s really where it developed.
DARROL BLAKE: But did you work professionally as an actor?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, we did. I was in the North London Players which was at the Intimate Theatre in Palmers Green, which it was known, and we did a production of All My Sons, in which I played the son, which got a really good article in the Evening News at that time. That was very successful actually. (TIME 06:08)
DARROL BLAKE: Now, if you were born in 1932 you had memories of the War.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, very much so.
DARROL BLAKE: How was that for you and your family in London?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, we were in London during The Blitz and I can remember the bombs falling, literally. I mean you just did not know whether your house was going to be hit or not and even just a few houses away, a house was blown away and someone in fact was having a bath, I remember, and he was blown out of the window in the bath into his garden. I mean extraordinary things happening in those days really with The Blitz.
DARROL BLAKE: No other memories? What about school during The Blitz?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, we didn’t have much school during The Blitz really because we were in the shelters most of the time, having singsongs and trying to conduct an education as best as people could really. (TIME 07:05) So, it was a kind of tough but it was an exciting time actually as well for children. You don’t actually see the horror of some of it. But a lot of people were killed in fact very close to us in Southgate where we used to live.
DARROL BLAKE: How did you become an employed cartoonist?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: There was a guy called Marcus Morris who was a vicar at Fleet Street, and he looked like a bookmaker actually, and he had this idea of producing really first-class comics and so he started “Eagle”, “Girl” and “Robin” and these …
DARROL BLAKE: Any idea when this was?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, it was certainly in the ’50s.
DARROL BLAKE: Early?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, probably even earlier. There were little cars that used to go around with golden eagles on the top of them. It was quite a movement – Dan Dare and Space. And I drew for one of those comics. Very, very, marvellous illustrators actually. (TIME 08:16)
DARROL BLAKE: Was that while you were still at the art school?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, that was after. Well I went to join the RAF in fact. I had to do National Service so I did actually just got the tail end of that and did two years.
DARROL BLAKE: Did you go abroad?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, stayed in England. I was stationed with the Americans at Lakenheath which was a bonus because we used to have American food going to the canteens. But then someone spotted that I was a cartoonist and said “Well, would you like to be a cartoonist on the Camp?” and I didn’t know what it was but they said “Why don’t you do that?” And so, I was a cartoonist on the Camp at Lakenheath and I used to do cartoons for all the different Messes in the Camp and that was very good fun. (TIME 09:12) Then someone spotted this and said “There is a vacancy in the Air Ministry.” So, they recommended me for that and I went down to Dunraven Street and had to sign the Official Secrets Act but became really the official cartoonist for the Air Ministry. That was in my National Service. So, I was living at home and based in Park Lane [Laughter] So it was a kind of cushy number really.
DARROL BLAKE: What happened when you left National Service after two years?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I came out of National Service and at that time the BBC … it was all in black and white of course … the editor of a local newspaper had got a contract to do short stories on television and so I illustrated those. I did some illustrations for television then. Not drawing live but just simply illustrating his stories which he read. (TIME 10:12)
DARROL BLAKE: Captions? … The camera looked at?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s it. That’s right. And that sort of developed.
DARROL BLAKE: So that was BBC before ITV started.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was before ITV started, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: In Lime Grove, presumably?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right, Lime Grove.
DARROL BLAKE: What do you remember of that dreadful building?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, it was rather dull really. I remember once apparently the Queen came to … I don’t know whether she opened it or it was … obviously it was some occasion that she was in … and everything was sort of dressed up for it because the Queen was coming. So, she went into this lift which was really very slow, a really slow lift and she said “Where are we now?” and they said well “Ma’am you’re in the lift” that sort of thing. [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 11:15) I remember. It was all draped in silk. It was a goods lift and they only went up one floor I seem to remember. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right. It was very slow.
DARROL BLAKE: Autumn of ’53 that was.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, yes. And then, ITV started, of course, and my brother said to me “Why don’t you try and get into ITV somehow, you know try and do something on ITV to do with cartooning.” So, I had this idea of discs being drawn to as they played, doing a parody on the lyrics. I thought well that’s not a bad idea, perhaps I could develop that. And this is just an indication of how easy it was to get in to see people in those days. The security is such that you can’t get past the front desk but I knew that they were down in Kingsway. (TIME 12:14)
DARROL BLAKE: AR?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It wasn’t AR, it was ATV to start with, because I think ATV was the first but it was known as ABC in those days until some problem because of ABC Pictures being in it. And so, I walked into Kingsway House, past the desk, up onto the second or third floor, and I just knocked on someone’s door, I had my sketch book and a record, and it happened to be Stephen Wade. His name was Stephen Wade and he said “Yes?” I said “I’ve got this idea.” He said “I’d like to hear. What is it?” I said “Put the record on.” and it was Frank Sinatra singing “Someone to Watch Over Me”. So, I sat there with my pad as this music played, and he said “Hang on a minute, hang on a minute I’ll get some other people to come in and watch this.” So, he went around the offices and brought in lots of producers whilst I sat and did this (indicates sketching movements). Well, he said “I’ll give you a spot. We are just starting a weekend magazine show on Saturday morning. (TIME 13:20) You can be on that.” So that’s how I got my first start. It was introduced by Noele Gordon and David Stoll.
DARROL BLAKE: Where did that happen in Kingsway, or Birmingham, or?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, that was in St. Mary Abbots Place. Do you remember that. Just off Kensington High Street. It started at 9.30 in the morning. It was really the very first breakfast show I suppose and it was in the second week of ITV I think. There were all kinds of people on that, Noele Gordon, David Stoll and Tommy Trinder, people like that. So, it was right in on that I became their sort of regular cartoonist.
DARROL BLAKE: So you were a variety artiste almost.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Pretty well, yes. [Laughter] Pretty well, in spite of my parents’ fears. Yes. They wanted me to do all kinds of things, especially for Christmas shows, so I just joined in with the cast. A lot of fun.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 14:27) All live, of course.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: All live, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: Do you remember any disasters?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, there was one where they had some acrobats and scenery and everything behind them. And these acrobats were going through their paces and the scenery fell on one of them and knocked her, poor girl, unconscious on the floor as they were going through their routine.
DARROL BLAKE: What were the high spots … what were the good bits for you?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, the good bits were meeting such marvellous people. I mean all the people at that time. People like Tommy Trinder and many, many, celebrities. (TIME 15:16)
DARROL BLAKE: And where did life lead you after that? Did it develop into Cool for Cats?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, no.
DARROL BLAKE: That was much later was it?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, I was working for Associated Rediffusion, as it was, to start with then. And they were doing all kinds of children’s programmes so I was appearing really, I suppose, about four or five times a week actually, doing various children’s programmes, actually drawing.
DARROL BLAKE: Still living at home?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Still living at home, yes to start with. [Laughter] And people like Alan Freeman came over at that time and that was really my first meeting with Alan Freeman. Fluff as he was called, of course, in those days. And he was telling stories and I was simply drawing for many, many, children’s programmes. (TIME 16:10)
DARROL BLAKE: And did you have any ambitions at that time? Did you see where you were going or did you have any notions…?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I always had one very big ambition and that was to join the BBC. That was the big thing. To be a director. That’s what I really wanted to do. And by any means just to try to get on the BBC Course as it was which was a very difficult thing to do because they were only taking people in those days from Oxford and Cambridge actually. I met Ned Sherrin at that time who is a good friend, really good friend. He was a floor manager then in those days.
DARROL BLAKE: He was doing those ITV programmes as well. I mean he worked at Mary Abbots as well before he came to the BBC. (TIME 17:04)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. He was a floor manager really, most of the time but he was a man of great theatre. He loved the theatre, Ned did. I thought how can I possibly get onto this course. So, I thought what I’ll do, I’ll write to one of the governors. So, I wrote to a governor, Cecil McGivern, I think his name was, and sure enough back came a letter saying yes, come in for an interview. So, I went to an interview and this chap said “I see you have done lots of television.” And as I was going out he said “Oh, I see you know Cecil McGivern, the governor.” I didn’t want to tell a lie so I sort of shuffled on my feet and nodded to him and went out. And then I didn’t hear another thing. I thought the only thing to do would be to do a tour of all the theatres and really know what was going on around the country. And so, I did a tour of all the theatres as they were in those days just to get to know the business a bit. Then came back and applied again and they said right, we’ll give you a place. (TIME 18:16)
DARROL BLAKE: Wow. That was the end of the fifties, was it?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It was the end of the fifties.
DARROL BLAKE: Because Cecil McGivern at that time, the early and mid- fifties, was the Controller of Programmes. I mean he was the Controller of Programmes at the BBC. There was only BBC really, before the beginning of ITV. So …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, this course was quite extraordinary because we had Waris Hussein … I am just trying to remember the names of some of the people who were on that [Refers to notes] … Gerald Blake, Cedric Messina. They were quite illustrious company actually. And, of course, you were taught by everyone in the BBC … David Attenborough … It was the most marvellous course to be on. And, of course, you had to do a production exercise to do at the end of it. (TIME 19:20) But the reason I got in was because I was quite well known as a cartoonist and the presenters at that time they said well what we really want is jazz. And I love jazz, so my production exercise then was a thing called “High in a Basement” [?] which was a little jazz band and dancers. So that was my production exercise.
DARROL BLAKE: I seem to remember that the contract at that time for the training course included one production.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, you did one production but on a very low budget actually.
DARROL BLAKE: Apart from the exercise, one real transmitted production.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, I didn’t do a transmitted one.
DARROL BLAKE: Ahh, that was later.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It probably came later, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: Were you taken up by LE? (TIME 20:17)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, I was taken up by Light Entertainment and I can remember going in front of this Board with Tom Sloan and various other people and engineers, and asking me very difficult questions, technical questions about the BBC but Tom Sloan defended me he said “We’ll teach you all that.” And so, I got into Light Entertainment and with Bill Cotton Junior, as he was then, we were the two youngest producers in the BBC. Because he was a song plugger before he became Assistant Head of Light Entertainment.
DARROL BLAKE: What was your first production?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: My first production was a thing called “Like Jazz” which was a traditional jazz programme with all the greats, Humphrey Littleton, Acker Bilk and all of these traditional jazz players.
DARROL BLAKE: This was before BBC 2 presumably?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh yes, way before BBC 2. (TIME 21:17) So, I set it in an empty studio, in a boxing ring, and the players were all sitting in this area with their names on the backs of chairs and the camera shot all around them. That was a good thing to do. I really enjoyed that. After that, the next programme I was given was Matt Monro, a Matt Monro series.
DARROL BLAKE: Where was that? Was that in the Television Centre?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that was at the Television Centre.
DARROL BLAKE: Shepherds Bush Empire?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: And the Shepherds Bush Empire, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: What was the best and the worst of that series, for you?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I think the worst thing of all was I was catapulted into position in the BBC not really knowing how to produce. Because they taught you how to direct, you could direct cameras, but no one really taught you how to produce. (TIME 22:21) Luckily, I was seconded to a man called Barry Lupino, whose sister was Ida Lupino, an American film star. He was a great, great chap and I thought well I’m fine, I’m going to learn from him. And we were going to do a show called “Twist”. It was a sort of dance show called “Twist” which was the rage in those days and I thought I am going to learn how to do this. And, he was a drinker and he drove out of the Television Centre and had a dreadful crash right outside the Centre. He was hospitalised and never actually came back. Then the BBC said Johnnie Stewart will have to come in and take the show over and you’ll have to do Juke Box Jury because I knew the business really. So that’s how I got that show. (TIME 23:22)
DARROL BLAKE: When did Juke Box Jury start? Do you remember?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh, way back before me, that’s certain.
DARROL BLAKE: Late fifties or early sixties?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, I think so. Early fifties I think because it had been running some time. I think that’s right. It was, of course, at six o’clock in the evening with a huge audience. It had a very big audience but it was very cosy and Tom Sloan’s idea was that it should be much more popular. It shouldn’t just have disc jockeys and one or two celebrities but it really should appeal much more to everyone really. So, I decided that I would start to ask all kinds of people on the show not just disc jockeys and one or two celebrities but people like Morecambe and Wise and really famous names just to lift it a bit because we were in great competition with ABC at that time under Brian Tesler and Philip Jones, of course. (TIME 24:40) They were doing a thing called “Oh Boy!” which was in direct competition with Juke Box. The idea, as you probably know, in those days was that if you captured an audience at six o’clock, they usually stayed with you and that was the BBC policy usually. So, we had Juke Box which had an audience, I think, of about twelve million or something, probably even more, followed by Doctor Who. Doctor Who from studio 2 in a tiny little studio [Laughter] done by Verity Lambert. It was her really …
DARROL BLAKE: And Waris Hussein.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: And Waris Hussein, that’s right. He directed some of them. Yes, that’s right. But no one knew, no one dreamt at that time that this would go any further than that. It was just little models on the floor for children. [Laughter] (TIME 25:30)
DARROL BLAKE: How long did you do Juke Box for?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I think I was the longest producer on Juke Box. It went on … we held our audiences very well.
DARROL BLAKE: That’s the only time that we might have nearly met because, I can remember, when I came back from National Service I was put into a section within the Design Department called SDU, the Studio Design Department, which was given all the chores of television as it were. And, one of them was to re-design Juke Box Jury each season. I can remember one chap, Harry Smith …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, I remember Harry Smith, in Design.
DARROL BLAKE: … Re-designing Juke Box whilst I was there. So, we nearly met at that point. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Good heavens, that’s really so, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: So, where did you go after that, after Juke Box? Where did life take you?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I got various other series to do with the BBC. I did the Cliff Richard Shows (TIME 26:31) and a show called … BBC Enterprises came and they said we have got a show to do from Israel and would you like to do it. So, I said to Tom “Shall we do this show?” and he said “Well, it might be a good thing to do.”
DARROL BLAKE: It was a one off, was it?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It was a one off, yes. So, I went to Israel and met all the stars in Israeli Television at that time. And I was taken around, cossetted and met the musical director. We were going to do a show called “Shalom” featuring all their stars and dancers, Yemenite dancers and it was all financed by El Al, of course. [Unclear] the BBC had that idea to do … (TIME 27:32) And so, I came back with a presenter and with the musical director to set up this show at the BBC. And we went into rehearsal and the musical director then had … the BBC had big orchestras in those days which of course they don’t have now - it was a major orchestra, the BBC Variety Orchestra, I think … and this conductor got in front of this with all his arrangements and he couldn’t get them together, he couldn’t get them to play. And, of course, we were paying a lot of money for rehearsal time, as you well know. And it got worse and worse and nothing was happening. They just couldn’t relate to him. I thought, my god, what on earth am I going to do. So, I brought them all to a halt and I rushed into the corridor and rang my friend Harry Rabinowitz, who I knew very well. (TIME 28:32) And I said “Harry, I am in terrible trouble here, I am running out of money. This guy from Israel, it’s all his arrangements and all his songs but he can’t communicate with the orchestra, they can’t play.” He said “Leave it to me.” He came down. He got all these arrangements, he handed them out and in three minutes he got them on the spot, he got them right there. And it was a mark of …
DARROL BLAKE: What was the problem then? What they call the dots, was it? What was on the page was difficult for them or different?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No. They just could not relate to this …
DARROL BLAKE: To the man.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: … to the man himself. And, eventually we got it on the show. And this is just really an example of the BBC, of course, teaching you how to direct but not how to produce. I still didn’t really know how to produce shows. (TIME 29:24) And the presenter that I chose from Israel couldn’t really speak good English. So, it was a bit of a disaster this show. [Laughter] In the end I had to bring in David Jacobs who I was working with and he did the show in the end but it was a real flop. So, I got the sack, really virtually after that.
DARROL BLAKE: Were you in a staff position or were you on a ……
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I was on a five-year contract.
DARROL BLAKE: A five-year contract, OK.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: So that was the end really of that. That particular section anyway.
DARROL BLAKE: Under Cliff Richard, I have got The Beatles and Rolf Harris. Was that before The Shalom or …?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh yes, sorry I have got it out of sync, right out of sync. (TIME 30:14)
DARROL BLAKE: So, you are on a five-year contract, after Juke Box.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: After Juke Box. What did we do then? Then we did … Then what happened was … Then somebody said to me “You must meet John Lennon.” I said “Who’s he?” He said “They are a group in Liverpool, doing quite well and you should meet him. He’s quite an interesting character he would be really good on the panel” I didn’t know who ... Nobody knew who he really was. So, Isabel Logan and I invited him up and he came into The Centre and he had lunch with us. He was a really entertaining young man, in his leather jacket. But nobody knew him. We didn’t know him. Nobody in the canteen knew who he was and he told us … so I said to him, “What’s your take on music these days, and he said “Well, it’s going to change.” So, I said “How, how is it?” (TIME 31:14)
He said “You’re playing all the wrong music.” So, I said “What do you mean?” He said “It’s Black Music it’s Black Music that’s going to come to this country and that’s going to change the whole scene.” And I put him on the panel, so he was on the panel by himself, I can’t remember who was with him at that time, but what we did notice was living in our ivory tower, of course, at that time was the crowd that come down from Liverpool and besieged the theatre, all the Liverpool people, and it must have told us something, and then he went back and …
DARROL BLAKE: That was just one edition was it, of Juke Box?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was just one edition. Then Bill Cotton got the contract to do The Beatles on Juke Box Jury and do the big concert from Liverpool. And I had that to do and so we went down to Liverpool. (TIME 3216) We were going to do it in the Liverpool Empire and we all got set up for that. The big problem was Liverpool was playing at home and so it was a hell of a day. [Laughter] And we had no idea how …
DARROL BLAKE: Football as I remember is as strong as religion in Liverpool.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Absolutely. And I don’t know if you have ever seen the policeman there. They are about eight feet tall with batons. Our problem was getting the boys into the venue, into the theatre. We had no idea how to do it without them being torn to pieces really, virtually. Because everyone was on the streets literally. So, it was Isobel idea, my PA. She said well “We’ll get the GP vans.”, the GP Post Office vans. So, the Post Office came in and we got them into the theatre that way. (TIME 3316)
DARROL BLAKE: It’s a big theatre – two thousand plus, the Empire.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Two thousand plus. Of course, the BBC in their wisdom didn’t give us a first-class crew. It was an OB crew, you see, who really only shot sports actually. And they couldn’t handle the sound system so in the end we went to the Odeon. I think we did it in the Odeon. That was right wasn’t it I think?
DARROL BLAKE: The Odeon or ABC. It was a cinema anyway.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It was a cinema. One of the big cinemas there. So, we set it up and then the boys came in. And I really got a sense then of what it was like to be a Beatle actually because there they were in the dressing room; we were all together in the dressing room, with crowds outside screaming and shouting and they were like prisoners really, virtually. Wherever they went they were like prisoners. We got on stage and the OB crew couldn’t handle the sound. (TIME 34:22) That was the problem because the noise was … you could not believe the height of the noise of the fans screaming their heads off and the OB crew simply couldn’t handle it. But we shot the show and Epstein was furious because of the sound quality really, but there was nothing we could do about it. And the show got wiped.
DARROL BLAKE: I think there are one or two stills I’ve seen of it, you know, of them on that stage. I think even a bit of film but none of the actual programme of course.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No. But it was an exciting time … at that time. Yes, I am sorry I got out of sync with that a bit.
DARROL BLAKE: And Rolf Harris about that time?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, Rolf Harris. It was strange because … Working in Light Entertainment you could do all kinds of programmes, so you could do children’s programmes. (TIME 35:28) So, they said why don’t you do a show with Rolf and Shirley Abicair. I remember her, she was a sort of Zither player. And we didn’t want to have Shirley Abicair in this show on any account, and err …
DARROL BLAKE: He didn’t?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No we didn’t. [Laughter] We didn’t but we thought that Rolf might be rather good actually with the children. He’d done small things, I think, in those days, probably for the other channel I think. So, we said we would do a show with him, just with children. We did a thing called “A Swinging Time” which was with Les Read and his Orchestra. So, we made it really into a kind of light entertainment music show. It was really the first of its kind in a sense where you had an audience of kids but it was really a pop music show, and Rolf doing his drawing. (TIME 36:23)
DARROL BLAKE: He was the front man? He was the presenter?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: He was the front man, he was the presenter. But we were talking about the aftermath of Rolf and where he is now. It was an extraordinary time because we had no, honestly had no inkling as to what was really going on perhaps behind the scenes. Because we used to go down to Great Yarmouth every week, where he was playing in the theatre, with his wife and family and everything seemed absolutely fine on the top. And we did this show but there was no inclination, rather in the same way that there was with Jimmy Saville on Top of The Pops, he was a man that you just simply couldn’t get past really because of this persona of his. (TIME 37:22) And yet, to see Jimmy driving down Manchester High Street in his white Rolls with people cheering, you really saw what kind of following he actually had. But who was to know the repercussions of all that.
DARROL BLAKE : At what point did you take over or guest on Top of The Pops? Have we leapt forward or gone back, or what? ’64 I’ve got Top of The Pops. Did you do a few editions of Top of The Pops as a producer/director?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, of course, I did. I am trying to think. Oh yes, of course, I was with Johnnie Stewart, who is a good mate, and he left the radio to become a producer. He gave up his big contract in radio to come to television. (TIME 38:22) And he said “Come up to Manchester because we’ll do the programme from Manchester, from Didsbury from a church.” So, I went up with him.
DARROL BLAKE: That was the very beginning?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was the very beginning of Top of The Pops, in black and white, of course. He said “What we’ll do, we’ll just pack the studio with kids. We’ll just fill the studio with kids and we’ll do the show from there.” And really that’s what he did. I used to go up to Manchester and fill in when Johnnie either did something else or went on holiday. I did a lot of editions from there.
DARROL BLAKE: This was part of the five-year contract?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Part of the five-year contract. That’s right. It was a marvellous time, because it was live, of course. There was no health and safety. The cameras used to plough through these children. I mean there was never an accident. It was quite extraordinary. (TIME 39:18) You realised then the power you had over pop music itself because there was payol [sic] going on in The States, of course. People were, being bribed to …
DARROL BLAKE: Payola.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Payola, that’s right, to put songs in the … I was never ever approached [Laughter] Never ever approached but there were producers who were - I won’t give you their names at the moment - who did in fact succumb to it. So, you realise the power simply putting one of the numbers in the show and how it went up in the charts the next day because of the following of this show as it built. And I can remember doing one with Dave Berry. Dave Berry, it was called “The Crying Game”. I just loved that song. I thought it was quite brilliant, quite a brilliant song. And we put him in the show. We did him twice or three times and they just shot up right into the charts. (TIME 40:27) And then there were the police waiting for him in the wings after one of the shows. Which we never really found out what all that was about. [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: I thought you were going to say to escort him through the crowds. You didn’t mean that, you meant for something else
NEVILLE WORTMAN: [Laughter] No, I didn’t mean that at all, yes.
DARROL BLAKE: Did he then become an actor? I seem to remember him as an extra.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: He may have done.
DARROL BLAKE: Actually Dave Berry, I vaguely remember. Anyway, perhaps I am wrong. I have got a query against 1965. It doesn’t seem to have happened in your life at all. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: 1965 [Thinking]
DARROL BLAKE: The end of the five-year contract, what happened?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: [Refers to his notes] Did we talk about Cool for Cats? (TIME 41:28)
DARROL BLAKE: Oh but that’s … did you go then … You can’t have gone to Cool for Cats then. Cool for Cats was before that surely, much before that.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes it was. It was Joan Kemp-Welch …
DARROL BLAKE: She was a great friend of mine
NEVILLE WORTMAN: …and Una Stubbs
DARROL BLAKE: That must have been 1960 possibly, or ’59 / ’60
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes that’s right, yes, just ’56 actually.
DARROL BLAKE: OK, let’s go back to …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Is this really going to bugger you up? [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: No, no, no it doesn’t matter at all [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Because it is all out of sequence.
DARROL BLAKE: I’ll give you a feed. Tell me about Cool for Cats. It must have been ’59 or ’60.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes that’s right
DARROL BLAKE: You worked with a friend of mine, Joan Kemp-Welch, as a director.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Joan Kemp-Welch I worked with. She was just wonderful, and I can remember her taking the cast at one point and she said “I want everyone, everyone, to get together to wear …” What do you call these things that you wear to cover your private parts? (TIME 42:35)
DARROL BLAKE: Boxers, no, briefs, no. I know what you mean, I can’t think of the word. … [Jock Straps is suggested]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Jock Straps! She said “I want everyone to wear Jock Straps, even those with small parts.” That was her famous line. [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: It was about a production of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve been told by the actors who were actually in it and they were stood there trying not to laugh as she said it.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I have a feeling that it was on this show that she said this when she took the whole crew together
DARROL BLAKE: Well, perhaps it’s a favourite line of hers. Tell us a bit more about the form and the shape and the look of Cool for Cats.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Cool for Cats was with a whole set of dancers including Una Stubbs, of course, who were, err I don’t know whether they were good or whether they weren’t really. (TIME 43:34) Because of the American capture of the market, I mean the Americans had everything, we had no way really of showing popular music other than by doing a dance show and having guest artistes sing on it, you know, and so that was the idea of Cool for Cats, it was a dance show. I was with them for a long time actually, with many different choreographers, Dougie Squires, people like that.
DARROL BLAKE: As a director?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, as a cartoonist.
DARROL BLAKE: Oh, sorry. It was that far back
NEVILLE WORTMAN: [TIME 44.15] It was that far back. I was drawing for them. I was their cartoonist really, drawing for Cool for Cats and also appearing on the show in various guises, actually, when needed with people like Freddie Earle [?] who used to do the mime then at that time. (TIME 44:32) That went twice a week that was. They recorded it and played it later in the week
DARROL BLAKE: Tell me about the production pattern then, how much rehearsal and how much time in the studio. Can you remember what the day was like?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. It was really pretty well just a day’s rehearsal actually, with all these numbers, camera rehearsal anyway. I think we rehearsed outside with the dancers, but brought them in for camera rehearsal, probably just a day actually.
DARROL BLAKE: It was a half hour show?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It was a half hour show. It was very popular, a very popular show really at that time, featuring many artists and many singers as a guest spot as well.
DARROL BLAKE: Tell us a bit about Joan Kemp-Welch. (TIME 45:27)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, she was a bit of an innovator really in television. She was always trying to do different things, and she was very interested in animation at that time. She knew that I’d done … but the animation was very basic. What she got me to do was to do little cut out characters, animals mainly I think they were, really cute animals, and she said “Somehow we are going to marry these with the dancers.” And, of course, there was no special effects in those days. And that’s what she did. She really broke ground quite a lot on animation.
DARROL BLAKE: I think the effects in those days consisted of superimposition or split-screens that was the limit.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right. Or you would record and go back and put the ... and record over it. She was a great innovator and a marvellous drama director of course. (TIME 46:25)
DARROL BLAKE: So we’ve gone back to that. So let’s go back in to the sequence that we were in which was what happened to you when you finished the five-year contract. Shalom you said, and off you went.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. [Checks his notes]
DARROL BLAKE: The next thing I’ve got is Eamonn Andrews which is obviously ABC/Thames.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, that’s it. My big idea then, I thought that ABC was really the best thing that happened to ITV at that time, under Brian Tesler and Phillip Jones and suddenly Phillip Jones rang and said “Would you like to come and direct Eamonn’s show? Come and be a producer/director with us at ABC.” I said “Yes this is something I would like to do more than anything else.” (TIME 47:32) And I remember they changed the whole style of design, ABC. I don’t know if you remember it, but it was all done against white cycs and they had that marvellous dancer, who has always been ridiculed, with his sister … Lionel Blair, yes Lionel and Joyce Blair, but they were really very good actually and the shows they did there were just brilliant. They couldn’t hang on to Jack Good who went to the States. But all the shows had a marvellous mark to them. They looked terrific on the screen, and so yes, I was asked to come and do Eamonn’s show with Malcolm Morris who was the producer.
DARROL BLAKE: (time 48.25) So, presumably you were learning from producers as you went along.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I was learning.
DARROL BLAKE: You said earlier there was no training at the BBC.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, yes. (TIME 48:33)
DARROL BLAKE: So working for all these people … you were with these people … you acquired a few ideas, a bit of polish.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Beginning to acquire it a bit, a bit of polish, that’s right, yes. What I didn’t tell you, of course, going back a little bit, on Juke Box, Cilla Black really made her name, because I gave her a spot on Juke Box and then people realised what a presenter she really was. And she has always said that it was that that really launched her career.
DARROL BLAKE: She was on the panel or …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: On the panel.
DARROL BLAKE: Aah I see, she wasn’t David Jacobs.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, no. [Laughter] But it really was. And, of course, with Eamonn’s show we had the most marvellous guests, and it was a top Sunday night show. The designer was, do you remember Darrell Lass, he was the designer on that show. (TIME 49:39)
DARROL BLAKE: I remember him because my name is Darrol [Laughter] Who is this man?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was a great show to do but the chief problem was with this that Eamonn was good at sports but when he came to really high blown people like John Houston he used to sweat profusely and he really felt out of his area. It was quite a task actually to work with him, with all these amazing celebrities that came on the show.
DARROL BLAKE: And they were competing and they were violently different always.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Violently different.
DARROL BLAKE: I can remember one extraordinary edition. I don’t know whether it was yours, which had Noel Coward …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was mine. I must tell you about it.
DARROL BLAKE: … Lucille Ball, and Mohammed Ali and somebody else, Dora Bryan or somebody extraordinary, and everybody, other than Mohammed Ali, just fell back because he was SO charismatic and SO funny and he just wiped the floor with everybody. (TIME 50:48)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But before this, I must tell you this story about Shirley Bassey because she was on the show. She had a big spot on the show, we had a sixty-piece orchestra. So, she came on, we started to rehearse. It was to go live later in the evening and then recorded for the rest of the network. That was how it was. And so, in she came. In Shirley came and as she started to rehearse her numbers with the orchestra, Kenneth Hume, who was like a Svengali character, said, “We are not doing this show because the sound … you are not getting the sound that we get on our recordings.” This was always the big problem, not getting the sound that you get on your recording. And, of course, it is impossible to do that really even with really good sound engineers.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 51:50) You must remember that at that time on BBC, particularly the BBC which was where I was, particularly pop shows, there was a certain number of sound supervisors who were allowed to work on those shows.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right.
DARROL BLAKE: The recording companies would not work with sound supervisors who were grade B or C or whatever.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: We should have seen that coming shouldn’t we.
DARROL BLAKE: There was a shortlist of sound supervisors who were allowed to do these shows because the sound quality was … which was why so much of it was mimed. They used the original recording.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But you see the BBC at that time made a dictum that there was to be no miming, They went back to it in the end but there was to be no miming.
DARROL BLAKE: You had to.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Anyway, Shirley got into a terrible state. She locked herself in her dressing room and refused to come out. So, we had this orchestra and the audience were starting to come in, and the only thing I could do was to put Dora Bryan and Kenneth Williams to keep the audience happy. [Laughter] (TIME 52:55) And so, their stories got filthier and filthier as they went on. The audience were having a marvellous time. But we had no rehearsal time at all and she was locked in this dressing room refusing to come out. And so, we said “Shall we pull the show?”. But we couldn’t pull the show because all the newspapers got news of it and they all came down to Teddington and besieged the place wanting to know what was happening, you see, with Shirley. And we were in a real impasse and I was sitting there with Malcolm Morris, who was an executive producer then, and I said “What are we going to do? We can’t pull the show. We can’t do the show, we can’t go without her because she was billed.” And so, I thought well I will just go and have one last go. I went to her dressing room, knocked on her door and I said “Shirley can I just come in?” and luckily, she opened the door, make-up streaming, and I got down on my knees I remember. [Laughter] I literally got down on my knees and I said “Shirley there is a whole audience out there, not only just an audience out there for you but there are millions who want to see you darling, won’t you please come.” And to my amazement she said “Yes, all right.” And she came. (TIME 54:13) But we did the show without any rehearsal whatsoever. We had the Clancy Brothers, who were a marvellous singing group from America, I don’t know whether you remember them, who I hadn’t even met and I just managed to see them, I said “You come on from the left and get into this position here, Shirley you do that.” And, of course, the interviews themselves were easy to do, they weren’t difficult, but the show itself was really difficult to do. But the crew loved it, because we went on live without any rehearsal at all. We just did it.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 54.50) Without any boring rehearsal [Laughter] Wow! And was that, … that wasn’t an Eamonn Andrews show?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was an Eamonn Andrews Show.
DARROL BLAKE: It was an Eamonn Andrews show. I see, I see, it wasn’t a one off?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, no that was a series. And the one you’re talking about was the one I where I got … because I worked with Noel Coward at the BBC and Dr. Cole Lesley [?]… so I got him to do the show and at that time you got Lucille Ball, I should say, as well, and we had an American comedian called Milt Kaymen, poor man, Mohamed Ali, as he was then - Cassius Clay, as he was then - and who was the other one [Thinking]
DARROL BLAKE: It wasn’t Dora, was it?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No. [Consults his notes]
DARROL BLAKE : I can remember that they had four. Who fell silent?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was Milt Kaymen. That was the American. [Continues to consult notes] (TIME 55:59) Oh, Dudley Moore, of course. And Dudley would only appear ever as long as he had his trio with him. Because what he liked doing more than anything else, and I believe beyond anything else, was just to play jazz. That’s what he loved doing. So, we had, as you say, Cassius Clay, Noel Coward, Lucille Ball, Dudley Moore and this poor man, Milt Kaymen, who got nowhere really with anything. I can remember Noel Coward learning over to Cassius, as he was then, and asking him seriously “Does it actually hurt?”
DARROL BLAKE: Being a boxer.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But, as you say, he was a the most beautiful man. And he changed his name on that night, on that very night, to Mohamed Ali. And I think we had to pay. I think Malcolm paid a lot of money, to his brother actually, to get him on the show. (TIME ( 57:04) To go to some charity or another.
DARROL BLAKE: Yes, what was the deal on those sort of shows. On those chat shows? Were the guests …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: They all got paid the same.
DARROL BLAKE: Aah, right, OK. They were paid. They weren’t there to promote something or …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Not so much then. Of course, they were. I mean, they spoke about their book or their film. They all got the same money.
DARROL BLAKE: That was the producer’s responsibility.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: The producer’s responsibility. That’s right. There was another show I wanted to tell you about. [Consults his notes] Oh, yes, that’s right. At that time, I had Peter Sellers because I was working with Peter Sellers on something. I think it must have been Eamonn’s show I think. Anyway, I said to Peter, I’ve had this idea that we do a show for the BBC with Peter, called “Sellers at the Centre” where he was going to come in on every programme during the day. (TIME 58:14) And I went to Bill Cotton. I said “Do you think we could do this, do you think it would actually work. To get Peter to come in and just do something funny, on every show? And, they got the Controller to agree to do this. It was to be “Sellers at the Centre”. And the next day he disappeared. [Laugher]
DARROL BLAKE: Flunked it!
NEVILLE WORTMAN: He was just like this. No, he went to America and became Inspector Clouseau. So, we lost the show but we got Inspector Clouseau.
DARROL BLAKE: OK. We’re getting towards the end of the ’60s really with the Eamonn Andrews show. How long did you do that for? The Eamonn Andrews chat show.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I suppose about 18 months, two years, something like that.
DARROL BLAKE: So what took you into the ’70s? (TIME 59:20)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I am trying to think how I got out of this. [Refers to notes] Oh, I got an offer, that’s right. I looked around at that time and the stress of working in television was enormous. I don’t think you found that so much.
DARROL BLAKE: Yes and no. At times it was.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: A good friend, Tony Issacs, and Jeremy’s brother, died of a heart attack literally. I was experiencing the pressure of doing these shows, especially big audience shows, and decided that this was somehow enough and I didn’t continue. I didn’t stay with Thames. But I had an offer. I had an offer from The Royal College of Art. And we had just started our family and I realised that this really at that stage wasn’t a life for me anymore, but I loved it. (TIME 01:00:23)
DARROL BLAKE: Just to backtrack ever so slightly, at what stage did you get married, did you meet Emily?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: You will have to ask my wife actually. [Laughter] Oh, I met her when I was at the BBC, so she was with me at that time. So, I was invited to join the Royal College of Art. I don’t think a lot of people know about it, it is the sort of Oxford and Cambridge of the arts.
DARROL BLAKE: Oh, I know all about it.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Did you go there?
DARROL BLAKE: No, but the two chaps I shared a flat with in the early sixties, Ridley Scott and Geoff Kirkland …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right, Geoff. I knew them both very well.
DARROL BLAKE: … were there. Came out of the college into the BBC Design Department and that’s how we met, you know, shared a flat. So, that’s how I know about it.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: And so, it’s sixteen schools all allied to industry. So, if you were a tutor there you had to continue with your work in some form or another. (TIME 01:01:27) You had a day off, you had all the holidays, you were paid very well. And, I was asked to set up the Film School there. It was just a totally different departure for me.
DARROL BLAKE: So, we are now at ’69, ’70. Somewhere around there. But there had been a film section in there, way back at the beginning of the sixties.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: It had started under Keith Lucas, he was a professor there. And I just came in with a good friend of mine. I can’t think of his name, I’m terrible at names [Refers to notes] Roger Hill. (TIME 01:02:29) And Roger Hill got me into The Royal College of Art. He was an extraordinary man. In his National Service, he had a Gurkha Regiment, at eighteen, and coming out, he was a member of MI6. He was a brilliant, brilliant man. He was a producer with World in Action to Granada. And he was one of the tutors at the school at that time. He said “Come in, we are going to build this school up into something [Unclear] Because the Fashion School is very famous, of course. And there are all other schools. Silversmiths, Goldsmiths and Stained-Glass Windows. Sixteen different schools all allied to industry. And it built from there. (TIME 01:03:26) We had amazing students, Albert Watson, Richard Longcraine and, of course, David Hockney was there at that time. And, in another department, Paula Milne, who was the granddaughter of A.G. Milne [?], who they always wanted her to continue writing. But she wrote Nurses of course …
DARROL BLAKE: Yes, I did one of her scripts for Granada
NEVILLE WORTMAN: …Wallace and Grommet of course, they were in our department they were [Laughter] … animation.
DARROL BLAKE: You mean the creator thereof. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, the creator thereof. Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Albert Watson, he is, of course, very famous, and it was Robin Darwin, whose grandfather was Charles Darwin, of course, who was the Director there at that time. We had marvellous students. (TIME 01:04:28)
DARROL BLAKE: Tell me how did that function? What did you do day by day with the students?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, first of all we had about three hundred applications every year, for fifteen places, from all over the world, not just Britain, so we had a marvellous choice. For instance, Tony Scott came, he would do a marvellous little film. We all had to show a film, or show some evidence of what they did and he did Incident at Owl Creek [An Occurrence at Owl Creek?] when he was very young, he must have been eighteen or nineteen but brilliant. And he was a brilliant cameraman, of course. They come in and they all want to be directors, of course, it’s rather like a musical college. But they end up being cameramen, editors, researchers, people like that. And so, as best as we could we used to train them. We’d give them that experience bringing speakers from the ITV network. (TIME 01:05:32) And at that time, I was asked by the ITV network at that time, 16 Programme Controllers, to start the ITV training course. They realised that they needed a course like the BBC, and they wanted one like that, so they said would I do it at the RCA.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 01:05:53) Which they would fund.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Which they funded, very handsomely in fact. And Lew, Lew Grade as he was then, got his Knighthood through that actually, and then eventually became a Lord. And we got a television station from London Weekend with cameras, we were very well endowed. So, we were set up but I was set up to do this course which was just like the BBC course, so I was able to draw from all my mates and all the famous people I’d come across in those days to come and talk on the course. We had someone from every one of the 15 different ITV companies on it. So that we did at the RCA. (TIME 01:06:38)
DARROL BLAKE: How many years did you do that for?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I was at the RCA for 12 years actually.
DARROL BLAKE: Really, gosh!
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But because of that I was able to do other programmes. So, I am just trying to remember what other programmes we did [Consults notes] Oh, with Bernard Braden, I did the Bernard Braden show.
DARROL BLAKE: Was that ATV?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was with ATV, yes. Difficult man to work with.
DARROL BLAKE: Really.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Erm, but very clever.
DARROL BLAKE: How difficult?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Difficult because he wanted to run the whole show, wanted to do everything you know and wanted to do it in his own time really. It was interesting because I did a programme with him called “Braden on the Box” which was really the first kind of outside broadcast where you had cameras and you would stop people in the street and ask them their various opinions, with Bernard leading it. (TIME 01:07:36)
DARROL BLAKE: He was getting viewers’ reactions to the television programmes. Is that what you mean?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, yes. [Refer to notes] We did the Bernard Braden Special. But we also did … With the students we did a production of Hamlet with Helen Mirren and Quentin Crisp as Polonius. It was brilliant, he was absolutely marvellous. And that was all done shooting on one-inch tape.
DARROL BLAKE: Who played Hamlet then?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Two twins, called the Meyer twins they were identical
DARROL BLAKE: Oh, David and Tony.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Do you know them?
DARROL BLAKE: Well, I know of them, yes.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: And it was directed by a young student there, because students were quite brilliant really with their ideas. I can remember one of the particular scenes in Hamlet where one twin jumped onto the back of the other one and so the soliloquy was being given in two different voices. It was a very clever idea really. (TIME 01:0842) They had some pretty marvellous ideas, students.
DARROL BLAKE: And that was in a studio at the RCA.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was in the RCA, yes. Then we had a change of direction when Stuart Hood came in to become professor there. I knew Stuart of course from the BBC, when he was Controller at that time, he wasn’t a very popular Controller, but he was a very brave man. He was a patriot in the Italian Resistance, so I admired him enormously, but he wanted to change the whole fabric of the school itself. There was a great movement then. There was the riots in Paris, if you remember, the student revolution, so he wanted to change the whole thing from being a rather uptight double-suited people training people for the industry to video artists. That’s right. So, the whole pattern of the department changed, I don’t think for the better really. (TIME 01:09:51)
DARROL BLAKE: And was that the end of your time there, or did you survive the change?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I didn’t survive the change because what he did was to bring in students to choose the intake. Which wasn’t a bad idea provided it was balanced but what he was really doing was cutting down the authority of all the tutors there and so they got rid of us. (TIME 01:10:22)
DARROL BLAKE: Was that in any sense political, I mean obviously …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Highly political.
DARROL BLAKE: …Political with a small P, but it was capital P political as well, I would imagine.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Capital P political, yes. I mean there was some right in it all I think but they were trying to overthrow the Establishment virtually. That’s what it was. It was happening in other areas I gather. But I always admired Stuart, I got on very well with him. He didn’t stay very long, he was superseded by somebody else who was a violent communist. (TIME 01:10:55) [Laughter] A real communist, and I got on well with him too but in the end, I thought this is enough, you know,
DARROL BLAKE: Was it at this point that you set up on your own, your own a production company.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes that’s right.
DARROL BLAKE: I could see that coming over the horizon. [Laughter] How did that come about?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, it was purely by chance actually. This is really an indication for young people. It’s just the people you meet isn’t it, people you come across in your life. I was in a sort of fallow period, I didn’t know where to go actually at that point, that particular point, and I was invited to go to the London Film School to see the students there. I don’t know if you know there’s a London Film School, I don’t know if they’re still running, just to see the students there and talk about their films. So, I went in and I knew the guy very well who was running it and we spoke about their films. I came out for a break and right next door was this advertising agency (TIME 01:11:59) and I thought I know these guys, and I remembered that I rented a space, when I was an artist, when I was a cartoonist in Fleet Street, from them. I remembered I had a space, a desk space, from them in Fleet Street where I used to do my cartoons and go about from there. So, I knocked on the door and they said “Hi! You’re just the guy we’re looking for.” They said “We want to branch out into film, we want to do commercials and corporate films. We’ll finance you.” So, that was it. And I was given … We were in number 20 Soho Square, a beautiful house in Soho Square. We had the top there as the headquarters and it launched us into corporate films. (TIME 01:12:59)
DARROL BLAKE: What sort of things did you do?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: We did commercials, like for The New York Herald Tribune. [Refers to notes]
DARROL BLAKE: For British consumption presumably?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: British consumption, yes. And they were rather hoping that this would really take off in a really big way and … So we got working there. But it’s interesting because The New York Herald Tribune, I remember, they wanted a presenter for it, and the guy I thought of was a young guy I’d seen called Douglas Ray, who was a presenter on, I think, some of the children’s programmes when I came across him. And I called him in and I said “Do you think you could do this?” and he said “No I couldn’t do this.” and I could see he wasn’t right for it, so I said OK and so we got someone else and did the commercial. But then he said to me “I can give you a programme. I want you to come and take over what I am doing at Aspen.” (TIME 01:14:13) They produced corporate films, big corporate films. And, of course, he ran Ecosse Films in the end. He is the Dougie Ray who produced Mrs. Brown. And so, he handed me over virtually his whole portfolio of programmes. So, I was producing for Aspen, doing really big corporate programmes for all the major banks and …
DARROL BLAKE: By programmes, you mean programmes of films or individual programmes?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: They were really programmes about the companies.
DARROL BLAKE: But on film.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But on film, yes, for their shareholders really. That was the big fashion in those days. But they had huge budgets, I mean large budgets and we could do what we liked.
DARROL BLAKE: Did you have your own crew or ….?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, we used to bring in freelance people for all of that. (TIME 01:1512)
DARROL BLAKE: Which was the way the companies were going.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s the way, that’s right, it was all freelance.
DARROL BLAKE: I mean the BBC got rid of all their staff, sold off the props, sold off the scenery and just made per show.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: And that’s when I really learnt how to produce so it’s come back to that [Laughter] Because up to then I really didn’t have a clue as to how really to get the best out of people. And how to …
DARROL BLAKE: Choose the right people.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Choose the right people for the show. So, it was a long way in coming. And so, I just formed my own company Venture Communications and we …
DARROL BLAKE: Did you own it solely or were you in partnership?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, we were in partnership with the agency, but then the agency lost their big contract which was Mothercare and we weren’t really able to sustain it and so I had to leave that. (TIME 01:16:15) And then I went into something totally different. I started courses on training the voice and Shakespeare.
DARROL BLAKE: So, how long was your own company, in partnership or whatever? That was what, ten years or five years, eight years?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: [Consults notes] I haven’t put the date down. [Thinks] I have no idea actually. [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: It was quite a time though. I mean it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh no, it was quite a long period, yes. It was marvellous because you could do what you liked. You could take cameras out, shoot anywhere, not just in studios. Of course, you were beholden to the company you were working for but they were always very pleased with what we did mainly. (TIME 01:17:24)
DARROL BLAKE; So, did you have a base for teaching voice, or did you ….
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, where I am now in Mandeville Place which is in Bond Street.
DARROL BLAKE: Oh, you are still at it. [Laughter]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I am, yes. I run two courses. I run one called The Confident Voice, which is oversubscribed, on Saturday mornings, where I train in voice production and everything to do with presentations, you know, gesture, movement, everything to do with the voice. Plus Shakespeare. I do a course on Shakespeare as well.
DARROL BLAKE: Do you get pro actors or …?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, this is all public. All people coming in off the street.
DARROL BLAKE: Oh, I see, to give people confidence in public speaking.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. (TIME 01:18:21) I do Inspiring the Future which is Robert Peston’s thing, which you may have heard of, where we go into schools where we tell people all the mistakes we have made and not to do it yourself. [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: So, you are still at it.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Still at it yes, just on weekends.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 01:20:09) So, is there any area that we haven’t talked about?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Oh probably, but I can’t … [Unclear] [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: No, no I just … Whether you want to be critical or laudatory of areas that you’ve been in, either BBC or Thames or Fleet Street or whatever. I mean so much of this is now in the past, you know the hierarchy …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: [Refers to notes] Yes, it’s all in the past. I did something I am just looking at here. When I formed Venture Communications, which I just spoke of, I was approached by British Cable Programmes to do the Arts Channel. So, I started The Arts Channel, and eventually Rupert Murdoch took over and …
DARROL BLAKE: It must be making money then!
NEVILLE WORTMAN: The Arts Channel is doing really well. I did a tribute to … I produced a programme for it myself called A Tribute to Duke Ellington with Humphrey Lyttleton, (TIME 01:21:13) and produced Country Houses which is a series with Viscount John Julius Norwich on Country Houses and that was directed by Douglas Ray from Ecosse Films and that was his first production really.
DARROL BLAKE: How did he get on with John Julius?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Marvellously. He’s a marvellous man. Did you ever meet him?
DARROL BLAKE: I did a Chronicle with him in Iran, about the history of Persia.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Was he difficult?
DARROL BLAKE: No, no, no. He did his first piece to camera with his dark glasses on, and we finished the first piece to camera and I said “Do you always wear your dark glasses.” “Oh.” [He replied] He forgot he had them on.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: But he could go into a country house and he could sit and start to talk and tell you the whole history of the place. He’s an amazing man really. And so, we did those and that was Douglas Ray’s first production really, that series on country houses. [Time 01;22;38]
DARROL BLAKE: I’ve got through the prompt list, as it were, that I was given. But as I have just said, is there any area that you think that we’ve not really covered, I mean going right back to the family at the beginning or … you’ve covered the Blitz. Could you compare for instance the BBC and Thames?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I think Thames took over really, I think they show what television really was about. Because the BBC in its way is a great monolithic elephant isn’t it really? It sort of moves at its own pace, it’s got its own rules and regulations. I mean, I don’t know what things are like there now, but I do know it’s going down the drain, television, really in the form that we know it. Don’t you? There was some marvellous drama being done. (TIME 01:23:47)
DARROL BLAKE: No, no. I went from the BBC to Thames and the difference I noticed was that the BBC was fantastically resourced and had departments for this and departments for that, engineering research, … And, as you know a vast record library. And my first show at Thames was for children’s programmes and I said to my PA “Oh, I had better do something about the music, where’s the music library?” So she said “Oh well, you go down that corridor above and it’s the last door on the left.” So I said OK … [Makes sound of knocking on door] Open the door and there’s a woman sitting behind a desk, so I said “Oh, I’m sorry.” and she said “Can I help you.?” I said “Well, I was told this was the music library.” So she said “You’re from the BBC aren’t you?” [Laughter] So I said “Yes” She said “Well, here.”
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Here we are.
DARROL BLAKE: Here. You tell me what you want and I’ll go out and buy it. That was the music library. (TIME 01:24:45) And that to me epitomises the difference between Thames and BBC. BBC was a vast organ which you play …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Quite right.
DARROL BLAKE: …and it brought wonderful music back to you. Whereas Thames, I mean you didn’t have a carpet in your office unless you were head of department or whatever, whatever. Everything was as you know …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: We had two offices, one in Teddington and one in …
DARROL BLAKE: Euston Road
NEVILLE WORTMAN: No, not in Euston road, in, erm, right in the centre of town actually, just off Old Burlington Street
DARROL BLAKE: Oh! When you were at Thames, yeah, because I knew …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: You were never in the right place [Laughter] because everything was in the other place, we had two offices.
DARROL BLAKE: I knew Teddington, but they also had studios on the Euston Road from which they did the local news programmes and things. I remember having the odd read-through there, and press release or whatever. (TIME 01:25:45)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I think ABC really was the one that set them going, with Tessler. He was pretty brilliant.
DARROL BLAKE: That was one of the first ITV programme companies, wasn’t it really, ABC. But they started up in Manchester as I remember. You said there was a problem with ABC Films, Associated British …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, my first contract with Lew Grade was ABC and that was Lew Grade, and they had to change all the contracts.
BARROL BLAKE: No, Lew Grade was ATV …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, but he was first ABC.
DARROL BKAKE: Oh I see, I beg your pardon.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: His company was known as ABC on the contract, and then as you got in he suddenly realised you can’t do this because there’s a company coming in, Associated British, so they changed it to ATV. They paid a fortune for that logo, he paid a fortune for that. Lonsdale Hass did it for him, who did CBS, the CBS logo. (TIME 01:26:47)
DARROL BLAKE: Associated British Films set up ABC Television …
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes that’s right, they did.
DARROL BLAKE: One hears about this later, because I was in the monolith of the BBC at the time. So, you don’t really know about these things, except the staff went off to start all these production companies, you know, BBC staff. I was in the Design Department and Michael Yates started Rediffusion, Dickie Greenough started ATV, Tim O’Brien started ABC.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Tim O’Brien was a tutor at the RCA as well, with us on the Film School
DARROL BLAKE: I think he’s still around actually
NEVILLE WORTMAN: He probably is, marvellous man, very quiet. Of course, I did Let’s Go, a whole day on Saturdays, doing cartoons in between all the sports events. (TIME 01:27:51)
DARROL BLAKE: That was back in the fifties?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes. With Kent Walton, of course, doing the wrestling.
DARROL BLAKE: And how were you cued? How were you sparked into the …?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, talking about buying records, you see, I had to go into the record shop and find records that I could draw to, to introduce each sports item, whether it was horse racing or wrestling or dog racing. They had different sports all the way through the afternoon in between times.
DARROL BLAKE: But you could only use records that were broadcastable, surely. I mean you couldn’t use American records.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, use anything. I used to go into record shops and buy, for instance, if it was the horse racing I would use “Walking My Baby Back Home” and the jockey would have the horse on his shoulders, you know. [Laughter] Things like that. So, they were joke cartoons in between all the sporting events of Let’s Go. (TIME 01:28:57) Because ITN presented the whole thing. That was all day Saturday.
DARROL BLAKE: Because it was all live and coming from all different sources, all sorts of things would go wrong, or could go wrong, so you presumably were there as a stopgap.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, that’s right. [Laughter] [Time 01;29;13]
[Pause. Refers to notes]
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Its very funny trying to get an audition with the BBC. You had to go to the Nuffield Centre where Steve Race, if you remember him, an old friend of mine, used to conduct the interviews there, and so my first BBC audition to try and get in as a presenter / cartoonist was at the Nuffield Centre with Steve Race. I did a short story called The Night the Ghost Got In which was a James Thurber story. I never got anywhere with it at all. (TIME 01:30:02)
DARROL BLAKE: Tell us about the Nuffield Centre. I know what it was, but can you remember?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, the BBC just used it as an audition place, for anyone who wanted …
DARROL BLAKE: It was a rentable space, but what was it originally? The Nuffield Centre.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: I don’t know really … It had a stage. It had an auditorium.
DARROL BLAKE: It was set up for the Armed Services, wasn’t it? It was a sort of… during the war and afterwards, because I remember going there when I was doing National Service, I mean it was a sort of |NAAFI.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That’s right, yes it must have been.
DARROL BLAKE : Not terribly relevant. [Laughter] (TIME 01:31:00) Can you look back over all those years and pick out key people which have been, caused you to turn a corner or gave a chance or whatever, are they dotted through your memory?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Often, you don’t remember their names, but I knew I was going for this interview for the BBC course, I knew it was important and it was the next day, I was the first one in. I was at a party the night before and there was a BBC executive there and I said to him “I’m going for an interview tomorrow for a BBC course, a Directors course.” He said “Oh are you.” I said “Yes” He said “I’ll give you a tip, tell them you’re really interested in Jazz” [Laughter]
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 01:32:00) Did that person know that you were or was it just something …?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Well, it just happens that I was interested in Jazz
DARROL BLAKE: Yeah, I know, but that was a coincidence, was it?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: That was a coincidence. But he said that to me “Just tell them you’re interested in Jazz, you want to do Modern Jazz.”, It was just a little tip really. So you go in there and say the right things, everybody else is trying to catch you out somehow or other.
DARROL BLAKE: But I’m sure you were quick to see the various personalities behind the table,
NEVILLE WORTMAN: You sus it out quite quickly don’t you, who’s with you and who’s not.
DARROL BLAKE: And who they are. I hope they introduced themselves properly.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes but you wouldn’t necessarily know them, they’re engineers …
DARROL BLAKE: No, but you’d know which department they were. What was it called Staff … its now called HR …Personnel … that’s the word.
DARROL BLAKE: (TIME 01:33:07) Of course, BBC Television was set up in the image of BBC Radio, so it was Civil Service. That was set up in the [?] of the Civil Service.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: One really memorable thing was on the course we had Hugh Carleton Greene come and talk to us, a giant of a man. Was he ever a Controller …
DAROLL BLAKE: No, he was Director General, mid ’60s.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Director General, that’s right. He came in and he told us on the course how he met Hitler. Because he was a Times correspondent, of course, and he described vividly walking into Berlin and walking in to this room where this little man standing at the window, with one arm slightly longer than the other, and knew that this man was evil, he just knew he was evil. And that really struck a chord at that time. Of course, unless you lived through those times it doesn’t mean so much to the younger generation really. (TIME 01:34:13)
DARROL BLAKE: They do, they get these, youngsters these sort of high spots, like as you say, Hitler and whatever … They get their own version of who they are and why. Sorry I interrupted you, we started off with the man who gave you the tip, were there anybody else, other people dotted down the years who helped?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: There was Ned Sherrin really. You, as well? Yes. Because Ned was just an extraordinary man, he was generous and open and whatever you asked him afterwards, he would always write back, he would always help, he would always introduce someone to you. He was a real innovator because he was a man of the theatre and I think a great influence in television itself. He was backed by Grace Wyndham Goldie, of course, and did all the That Was the Week That Was and all those programmes. (TIME 01:25:17)
DARROL BLAKE: And what he really wanted to do was musicals, he and Caryl Brahms wrote musicals, which didn’t do very well.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: They were no good, were they?
DARROL BLAKE: They didn’t last very well in the theatre, but meanwhile the BBC were pushing him and pushing him in to these very successful series of programmes.
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes, and how my gosh, yes. they were. And so, really our lives were together in many, many ways. We followed on like that. [Refers to his notes] My brother was more of an influence than him in a strange kind of way. We both left school at 15 …
DARROL BLAKE: Is he older or younger? (TIME 01:36:10)
NEVILLE WORTMAN: He’s younger. He was delivering my cartoons to various places and one man said to him “What are you doing?” He said “I’m not doing anything, just helping my brother.” He said “I’ll get you a job. Would you like to be a photographer?” He said “Yes, yes I would. I was always interested in photography.” And so he got him a job on Country Life and he trained there, and then he went and joined John French who was on the Daily Express. So, he was with David Bailey and Terry Donovan and he launched himself into the United States. It’s just a question really of who you meet, what they say to you and whether you take the opportunity, of course, as you well know.
DARROL BLAKE: Were there just the two of you?
NEVILLE WORTMAN: Yes.
DARROL BLAKE. Anybody else have any questions? No.