Vivienne Cozens is a highly respected director of theatre, TV drama and documentaries and corporate productions. Her credits include Brookside, Fair City, Grange Hill, Emmerdale, Fraggle Rock and Eastenders. She also directed two popular episodes in the final season of Blake’s 7. In the first part of this interview, Vivienne recalls her experiences on Games.
SA: How did you come to work for the BBC?
VIVIENNE: I trained originally at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and from there got a job at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London on the stage management team. It was at a very exciting time when Sir Peter Hall was expanding the company. There were plenty of jobs there until too much money had been spent and the cut backs started to happen. It was at the point that BBC2 was looking for people to staff the channel and I got a job in the drama department as an Assistant Floor Manager. I worked with a lot of well known directors and on some popular dramas like Z-Cars which was then transmitted live! From there I went on to become a First Assistant Producer/ Director before being selected for the Film and Television Director's Course.
SA: What was your first directing job?
VIVIENNE: It was called Some of My Best Friends. The film was part of a series of films on BBC2 for new directors. I was the first woman to be given an opportunity to direct. As such they were given a high profile and had a screening at BAFTA with lots of press and publicity. The film was given good reviews. I was extremely fortunate to be given a first class camera crew and budget which in those days was quite large as it came under the Plays Department. The cast included Margaret Tyzak, who had played many roles in films and television as well as the theatre, Elizabeth Bell who had little television experience but who had played important roles for Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough and Sylvia Coleridge who was a well known character actress in her day. The only male role was played by Ian Cullen who had starred in Z-Cars for several years. The production was shot all on film and locations were in the East End of London in Brick Lane Market and on a farm near Banbury.
SA: How did you come to work on Blake's 7?
VIVIENNE: I had worked with Vere Lorrimer on Dixon of Dock Green and when he was made producer of Blake’s 7 he remembered me and asked me to direct the episodes Sand and Games. I was very familiar with the programme as it was in the fourth series. I would not say that I had watched it avidly as I was usually quite busy in those days being away on location.
SA: Were you daunted by the special effects?
VIVIENNE: The special effects all took a long time to devise and we were at the forefront of effects being done electronically by a man called Mitch Mitchell who went on to do many feature films and commercials. The visual effects which were filmed on location using dry ice, special sand and stunts were very time consuming and an added time constraint to the schedule. All very worrying when you are a new director!
SA: What are your recollections of filming at Winspit Quarry for Games?
VIVIENNE: I can remember getting sunstroke! I was so involved in the filming which was right beside the sea and I did not wear a hat. The weather seemed quite cool as there was a sea breeze and I had no idea how strong the sun was. It was part of National Trust land and there were long beautiful walks overlooking cliffs and the sea. The caves were very flat inside so we could light it and go into it easily with a lot of people. A large sliding door was erected over the entrance to the caves so that Servalan could walk through into Belkov's area. We spent an enormous amount of time and effort getting the quarry area to look as if it was really a working area for the Mecronians who were dressed like monks. A large amount of extras and effects were used to create an underground factory feel, another world inside the caves. Part of the quarry had original railway tracks and trucks which we lit with red lights, smoke and plenty of dry ice. This was probably the biggest design effort I have worked with when Servalan arrived to see Belkov's world; a sort of Bin Laden of his time.
SA: There were a lot of explosions and fight scenes in that episode – was this something you enjoyed?
VIVIENNE: I particularly enjoyed setting up large explosions in the caves and a stunt man had to run out of the cave in flames. As it happens his heat resistant suit caught fire and the stunt man came rushing out and he was literally on fire. That was all by accident rather than design and created a brilliantly dramatic effect. Fortunately, he was not burned just very hot!
SA: What was Stratford Johns (Belkov) like to work with?
VIVIENNE: I had worked with him many times before on Z-Cars and Softly, Softly when we had become good friends. I can remember some very funny instances working with him on Z-Cars when the cast would always play tricks during the filming on other cast members and production teams. I can remember one instance when he and Frank Windsor weighted down a tea pot when I was trying to set up a false table top during the filming of one 'live' episode of Z-Cars. It was impossible to lift it up and we only just managed to get it on set before the scene came on air. At the time we shot Games, Alan (as everybody called him) had begun to work on other dramas but was finding it difficult to find roles that interested him having been so associated with the police series for such a long period.
He was very keen to create a role with impact - which I think he did in the case of Belkov. He was always very easy to work with and was tremendously helpful in coming up with ideas of how to enhance the part. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him and he is very much missed on our screens today. He was an obvious choice for the role although not my first choice. I would not like to mention the first choice but actually Vere thought that Stratford Johns was more of a household name. He was a very experienced actor with a brilliant sense of humour. At the time we filmed Games he had not been working very much though and was probably very glad of the work. He had been the luckiest of actors to get so much work continuously - although I think it was something that the BBC had probably worked out with him.
VIVIENNE COZENS - THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
This interview was first published in Issue 2 of Scorpio Attack which was published in 2006.