‘A Curious Death’: Going on an archival quest

Annette Kuhn (Queen Mary, University of London , UK)

4 April 2024


Late last year BBC Television broadcast a six-part drama series called Boat Story (BBC1, November 2023), one of whose stars was Daisy Haggard. The surname rang bells–not so much because of the actress’s previous TV roles (Uncle, Episodes, Back to Life) as for its connection with one of Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’s (CCINTB) participants. This association was relatively fresh in my mind because I had spent many weeks at home during Covid lockdown, working through transcripts of the interviews that were conducted for CCINTB back in the 1990s, checking and standardising them in preparation for their launch on the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive project (CMDA) website. As part of this task I researched and composed home pages for participants, immersing myself in their memories—a productive distraction from pandemic ennui.

In August 2020 I was working on the interviews conducted with men and women living in the London suburb of Harrow. Among these is CCINTB’s only upper middle-class interviewee, Beatrice Cooper, who was born in Hendon, North London, in 1921: recalling her earliest visit to the cinema as a five-year-old, Mrs Cooper tells the interviewer that she was accompanied by the family’s maid. The film they saw together in a cinema in Kentish Town was Seventh Heaven (1927).

Having studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in her teens Mrs Cooper was exceptionally au fait with the prewar worlds of British stage and screen, and one of the many film personalities referred to in the course of her two interviews is Stephen Haggard. This name was new to me. It turns out that, besides being a descendant of the nineteenth-century novelist H. Rider Haggard, Stephen Haggard founded a theatrical dynasty. Boat Story’s Daisy Haggard, daughter of television, film and stage director Piers Haggard, is his granddaughter.[i]

“I was fascinated by Stephen Haggard”, declares Mrs Cooper; and the memories of the actor that she shares are certainly intriguing. She recalls autograph hunting as a young woman growing up in North London in the late 1930s:

Beatrice Cooper: Erm, because at that time, I used to go very often. And eh, yes, erm, then, I was a real theatre, filmgoer. I used to go a lot to the Golders Green Hippodrome […]. And I used to wait outside the stage door and get their autographs. I’ve still got that actually–

Interviewer: Mhm.

BC: A book with all their autographs. And a wonderful actor called Stephen Haggard. Now he was in a play by Shaw, ‘Candida’. This was just before the war. This must’ve been 1938. And he had been in several films, but he was mainly a stage actor.[ii]

In her second interview Mrs Cooper shows the interviewer her autograph book and alludes to this encounter again:

BC: Erm, [I] met him outside the Hippodrome. […] I was with my sister. And she had already seen eh, the play with Diana Wynyard and the one that we saw at the Hippodrome was with him and Ann Harding. And she said that she’d seen the previous one with Diana Wynyard. And he said, “Well who did you prefer?” And she said, “I think I prefer Ann Harding.” And he said, “Oh well, you obviously have a knowledge of the fundamentals.”

Int: Aw!

BC: And she was very chuffed by that–

Int: [laughs]

BC: And off he went in his little car.[iii]

Figure 1: The Golders Green Hippodrome

A compelling instance of memory-talk, with Stephen Haggard at its centre, unfolds around this recollection. Several versions of the story, and of the associations attaching to it, recur across Mrs Cooper’s interviews. As Mrs Cooper tells it (“It was very strange, actually”),

BC: I read a book about [the artist] Chagall and discovered that Chagall had a mistress for seven years. And had a child by this lovely woman. And then when I read the book, there was a photograph in there of Stephen Haggard. Well of course, she had written the book and her name was Virginia Haggard. But I didn’t connect the two. […] But going with that photograph that was in there I realised that she was his sister. And erm, I wrote to her and eh, and we had quite a correspondence. Because I was fascinated by Stephen Haggard.[iv]

BC: I erm, you know, I was in touch with his sister because his sister lived with Chagall for seven years. And erm– she wrote a book. About those seven years. […] About her life with Chagall. And reading it and looking in the book. It was a second-hand book. I saw a photograph of this Stephen Haggard who was her brother. And erm, I was so amazed by this, I wrote to her and I told her my memories of having met him, outside the Hippodrome.[v]

Figure 2: Stephen Haggard c.1935, from ‘My Life With Chagall’

 

Figure 3: Stephen Haggard (centre) as Mozart in ‘Whom the Gods Love’ (1936)

In literary theory, a distinction is made between story time (the timeframe of narrated events) and plot time (the duration of the telling). Mrs Cooper’s story about Stephen Haggard spans the period from the late 1930s, when she sees him in a play and gets his autograph, to the occasion of coming upon a book written by his sister and entering into correspondence with her. Since the book in question was published in 1987, Mrs Cooper would have made the discovery only a few years before she was interviewed for CCINTB in 1995. While the story spans five decades, then, its telling condenses these years into a couple of (albeit repeated) sentences, bringing together the teenage fan of the distant past and the septuagenarian interviewee of the moment of recollection. But it is a bittersweet moment, for the pleasures of reliving a youthful encounter with the actor and of sharing the remembered experience with someone close to him mingle with a memory of tragedy and a lament for what might  have been:

BC: I was fascinated by Stephen Haggard. If he had, unfortunately, he was killed during the war. […] If he had lived, he would have been an absolutely brilliant actor. I remember his performance in ‘Candida’. And eh, meeting him afterwards. Eh, at the stage door. And, he was shot during the war.[vi]

 BC: And off he went in his little car. And then I think, shortly after that, he joined the army. Well! He didn’t actually. He worked in Bush House as erm, broadcaster to Germany. […] It’s a whole sad history actually. He was murdered eventually. During the war.[vii]

BC: I saw him in a play at Golders Green Hippodrome. It was a Shaw play and eh, he was absolutely brilliant. Did I tell you about it?

Int: You did. You mentioned him. Yes. […]

BC: And eh, he was killed in the war. He was murdered actually. Erm, which is very tragic because I think he was just, well…. [viii]

Mrs Cooper’s thrice-told tale of an actor’s death is brief in relating its salient details. It is clearly and consistently narrated. It was wartime; he was shot; he was killed; he was murdered. Considered against the ways a soldier might typically lose his life in wartime, Stephen Haggard’s fate comes across as exceptional, not only because of the tragic nature of the event itself but also in its stark and dramatic mode of telling. What happened?

***

An archival quest beckons, the obvious starting point being the man’s war service details in the public records. A certain amount of delving in the UK National Archives (TNA) can be done remotely, but while the collection catalogue can be searched online from home, the records themselves are largely undigitised. There is indeed a file on Stephen Haggard’s wartime service. It is in the personnel records of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and an in-person visit to TNA in Kew, West London, is required in order to view its contents.[ix] But this is the Summer of 2020: a global pandemic is in progress and there is no vaccine. Nobody is going anywhere if they can help it. And so it was not until the following April that I was emboldened to make the journey to Kew from my base in the North of England.

The TNA catalogue entry indicates that the contents of Stephen Haggard’s file cover the years between 1939 and 1946, but most of the documents I find in it are dated 1942 or 1943. The record shows that in June 1940 Haggard joined the ranks of the Devonshire Regiment and in October that year moved to the Intelligence Corps, where he was quickly promoted to Captain and seconded to the BBC where he remained until April 1942, working as Programme Assistant, German Forces Programme (Haggard was a fluent German speaker) and being paid by the BBC for the last twelve months of his service there. In May 1842 he asked to join the Middle East and Balkan Mission. “He is to fulfil the duties of The Director of Programmes, SOE European Station”.[x] The SOE functioned during World War 2 to promote sabotage and subversion and assist resistance groups in enemy-occupied territory.

Other sources indicate that he was initially based in Jerusalem for a few months before being transferred to the Department of Political Warfare (PWE) in Cairo just before Christmas 1942,[xi] and that in early February 1943 he was transferred to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, “which has a branch organisation in the Middle East.”[xii] Captain Haggard was clearly doing a lot of travelling around Egypt and Palestine in these months, though his duties and activities are not detailed in his personnel file.

In March 1943 an exchange of letters took place between his offices in Jerusalem and Cairo and the War Office Casualty section in Liverpool. The events leading up to his death are set out in a letter from his Commanding Officer in Jerusalem (“I was Haggard’s O.C. from October to the end of December when he moved to P.W.E. in Cairo”) dated 7 March and marked “MOST SECRET”:

“I think I was the last person to see Captain Haggard before he left Jerusalem, since he left my house in my car and went direct to the station.

“He had lunch with me before going off to the train and was in a perfectly cheerful frame of mind, although he said how extremely tired he was.”[xiii]

It was on this train – taking him from Jerusalem back to Cairo – that Stephen Haggard met his death on 25 February. A telegram from Cairo dated 27 February states that he committed suicide, though “court of enquiry not yet held.” Correspondence over the ensuing two months alludes repeatedly to the court of inquiry, with some impatience expressed by the War Office (“On the 21st March we again cabled Middle East requesting them to expedite a reply to our enquiry of the 8th March, but have to date received no reply.”[xiv]) No official verdict is on record in the file, though, its final reference to the matter being a note dated 19 May to the effect that nothing had been made known in Cairo but that the PWE in London knew what the court of enquiry’s findings were. Other documents in the file suggest that there was some confusion over which department Captain Haggard was attached to at the time of his death (and therefore who was paying him and who was responsible for his pension), and also that the Political Intelligence Department was unaware that he had been transferred to them.[xv]

And so the manner of Stephen Haggard’s death — murder, assassination or suicide — seems to have remained uncertain in the muddle of war and in buck-passing and mix-up among the various agencies involved, most of which had a stake in secrecy and/or, more mundanely, in saving money.

***

Those who were closest to him differ in their conclusions, some accepting that the truth will never be known. Writing just a few years after his friend’s death, Christopher Hassall sets out a detailed account of Haggard’s last visit to Jerusalem. About events on the train back to Cairo Hassall concludes:

He stepped into the corridor. And there, shortly after, he fell. […] No-one came forward as an eye-witness, and therefore such evidence as there was must leave the manner of his death unproven.

He adds, however:

There was certainly motive enough to incite an agent of the German minority to the risk of removing one whose advocacy of the Allied cause was daily becoming better known.[xvi]

No further third-party accounts appear until the 1980s, by which time the verdict of suicide had become accepted in some quarters. In her 1989 memoir Cairo in the War, Artemis Cooper observes that while it is a work of fiction Olivia Manning’s recently published The Levant Trilogy (about a newly-married English couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle, who are caught up in the war in the Middle East) is broadly based on its author’s wartime experiences. Among the novels’ characters and the real-life individuals on which they are based Artemis Cooper names Stephen Haggard:

Olivia Manning recorded a curious death which actually happened. The figure of Aidan Pratt is based on a real life actor called Stephen Haggard. Before the war he had been hailed as one of the most handsome and promising classical actors of his generation. […] Stephen Haggard shot himself in the corridor of a train travelling between Jerusalem and Cairo, in February 1943.[xvii]

However, in Life With Chagall, the 1987 memoir Beatrice Cooper refers to in both of her interviews, Stephen Haggard’s sister Virginia suggests otherwise: “He had been sent to the Middle East in the intelligence service and was killed there in 1943.”[xviii] Beatrice Cooper’s choice of words (shot, killed, murdered) suggests that she takes a similar view. In a second memoir, completed by family members and published in 2009, three years after her death, Virginia Haggard elaborates on her brother’s wartime service in the Middle East, alluding to the “heavy and responsible work in Cairo” with which he was tasked at the end of 1942: “A few weeks later came the dreadful news: Stephen had been shot in the train that was taking him from Cairo to Jerusalem [sic].”[xix]

According to Virginia Haggard, his widow believed that he had committed suicide: along with reports of a stressful workload there were rumours of an unhappy love affair. She adds that his parents, “who should be left to believe what they wish” … “are convinced that he was killed by the enemy but the official verdict is suicide.”[xx] Oddly, the suicide verdict is foreshadowed in March 1943 in a note from Cairo in Stephen Haggard’s TNA file, which states that the findings of the court of inquiry were not yet known, but suggests that the outcome has been unofficially decided: “Understand finding will be that he ‘took his life under strong provocation in moment of mental aberration’.”[xxi] This is the version currently given in most potted biographies of Stephen Haggard.

***

As already noted, the precise nature of Stephen Haggard’s job in the Political Warfare Department is not detailed in his TNA file. As an intelligence officer with a background in broadcasting and with the job title of Director of Programmes , it can be assumed that he continued in this line of work; and on the subject of broadcasting there is an intriguing passage in The Levant Trilogy. While travelling in Palestine, Harriet Pringle comes across a Cairo acquaintance called Lister who is on his way to Jerusalem on a “hush-hush” mission: “Everyone knows about it, of course. Everyone knows everything here.”

The other day I got into a taxi and said to the driver: “Take me to the broadcasting station.” “What you want, sah?” he asked. “You want PBS [Palestine Broadcasting Service] or want Secret Broadcasting Station?” I said: “How d’you know there’s a secret broadcasting station?” and the fellow roared with laughter: “Oh, sah, everyone know secret broadcasting station.”[xxii]

Harriet proceeds to Jerusalem with Lister, but eventually decides that she must return to Cairo. Seeing her off on the train, Lister says:

“I’m afraid I’ve bad news for you, Harriet. Your friend Aidan Pratt has been shot.’

‘But not dead?’

‘Well, yes. It was on the train coming back from Cairo. In the corridor.’

‘Who would shoot him? He had no enemies.’

‘No, no enemies. He shot himself’.”[xxiii]

***

Real-life events and fiction collide in CCINTB interviewee Beatrice Cooper’s account, too:

BC: And really, his life would make the most marvellous film. And his sister’s still alive. And I contemplated contacting her and suggesting it. Make a wonderful, wonderful film. I’ve already cast the main actor [..]. Erm, whose name I can’t think of. Erm, yes. Erm, Emma, Emma Thompson’s husband. What’s his name?

Int: Ah! Yes, erm, Kenneth Branagh.

BC: Kenneth Branagh.

Int: Yeah

BC: He’d be a marvellous star for the part.[xxiv]

In 1987, BBC Television broadcast Fortunes of War, an award-winning serial dramatization of Olivia Manning’s cycle of six novels — The Balkan Trilogy as well as The Levant Trilogy. The protagonists, Guy and Harriet Pringle, are played by Kenneth Branagh, then aged 26, and Emma Thompson. The talented and glamorous couple famously met whilst filming the series and married two years later. In 1995, naming Branagh to star in a biopic about Stephen Haggard, Mrs Cooper surely has Fortunes of War at the back of her mind. In it, Aidan Pratt, the fictional character said to be based on Stephen Haggard, is played by Greg Hicks. Who might be cast today in the film that Beatrice Cooper envisions?

In memory of Karen Vibeke Jorgensen, 1947-2022


Beatrice Cooper’s interviews can be accessed in both audio and transcript via links on her home page on the CMDA website. All Cinema Memory Archive (CMA) items referred to may be consulted in both physical and digital form in the CMA at Lancaster University, by appointment with Special Collections

If you wish to cite and/or re-use any of CMA materials, please consult  the CMDA website for information on copyright and using the materials from the collection and for a citation referencing guide.


Notes

[i] Ryan Gilbey, Piers Haggard obituary, Guardian 30 January 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2023/jan/30/piers-haggard-obituary [accessed 17 March 2024].

[ii] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow, 20 July 1995. BC-95-208AT001. Cinema Memory Archive. Stephen Haggard’s feature film credits are Whom the Gods Love (Basil Dean, 1936), Knight Without Armour (Jacques Feyder, 1937), Jamaica Inn (Alfed Hitchcock, 1939) and The Young Mr Pitt (Carol Reed, 1942).

[iii] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow, 27 November 1995. BC-95-208AT002. Cinema Memory Archive.

[iv] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow, 20 July 1995. The book in question is Virginia Haggard, My Life with Chagall: Seven Years of Plenty. London: Robert Hale, 1987.

[v] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow 27 November 1995.

[vi] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow, 20 July 1995.

[vii] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow 27 November 1995.

[viii] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow 27 November 1995.

[ix] TNA: Special Operations Executive Personnel Files (PF Series), HS9/643/4, Stephen Hubert Avenal Haggard — born 21.03.1911.

[x] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4, note dated 26 May 1942.

[xi] Christopher Hassall, The Timeless Quest: Stephen Haggard. London Arthur Barker Ltd, [1948]: 208-211; Virginia Haggard, Lifeline. Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2009: 98, 100; Haggard, My Life with Chagall: 46.

[xii] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4, telegraph from Cairo, 4 March 1943.

[xiii] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4, letter from G.S.I.K Jerusalem, 7 March 1943; corroborated by Hassall, The Timeless Quest: 217.

[xiv] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4,letter from War Office Casualty Branch Liverpool to War Office Whitehall, 9 April 1943.

[xv] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4, letter dated 8 July 1943.

[xvi] Hassall, The Timeless Quest: 218.

[xvii] Artemis Cooper, Cairo in the War: 1939-1945. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989: 159-160. Aidan Pratt’s death takes place in the third volume of The Levant Trilogy, ‘The Sum of Things’, which was first published in 1980.

[xviii] Haggard, My Life with Chagall: 40.

[xix] Haggard, Lifeline: 101, 102.

[xx] Haggard, Lifeline: 102.

[xxi] TNA-SOE HS9/643/4, 25 March 1943.

[xxii] Olivia Manning, The Levant Trilogy. London: Penguin, 1982: 502.

[xxiii] The Levant Trilogy: 532.

[xxiv] Beatrice Cooper, Harrow, 20 July 1995.


Annette Kuhn FBA is Emeritus Professor in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London. Publications include Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination; An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural MemoryLittle Madnesses: Winnicott, Transitional Phenomena and Cultural Experience; Exploring Cinema Memory; and, with Guy Westwell, Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies. She was Director of the ESRC project ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ and is currently Co-Investigator of ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (AHRC).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP): Its history, content, and a call for volunteers

Sue Malden (Secretary, BEHP)

28 March 2024


I am the Secretary of the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP). It was a pleasure to attend the IAMHIST symposium, ‘Hidden Archives: Marginalised and Alternative Collections and Practices’, in Dublin at the end of January, and to have the opportunity to address the Council and post graduate student attendees. I told the assembled academics that the BEHP is a small group of volunteers who record interviews with people who have worked in cinema, television, radio and theatre. This is because many careers overlap from one industry to another.

How it Began

The History Project began back in 1987 when a small group of members of the film and broadcasting union ACTT (Association of Cinema and Television Technicians) – now part of BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) – decided to record the individual histories of men and women who had made their working lives in the industry. They decided to do something immediate and practical to rectify that cumulative loss of memory and achievement and to bring to the project their wide personal knowledge of the industry and its history. They were led by Roy Fowler our Honorary President, and distinguished film maker. To quote from the Bill Douglas Centre:

Roy was something of a cinematic prodigy; in a typically entertaining piece on his career in our collections (EXE BD 78556) he describes his adventures as a ‘film barmy’ teenager. Obsessed with the film industry he visited sets and met filmmakers, determined that this would be the life he would lead. After service at the end of the war he then published two beautiful books in the Pendulum Popular Film series on ‘The Film in France’ and the first ever book biography of his great hero Orson Welles. He was just 19 at the time!

Faced with austerity and an industry in crisis at the end of its 1940s golden period in Britain, Roy then moved to the USA and worked as a producer in film and television. He returned to Britain in the 1970s and became closely involved with the film industry’s trade union, the ACTT. This proved to be one of his greatest achievements and hundreds of former industry personnel from household names to vital but little-known workers on set were encouraged to tell their stories and the recordings were made available to researchers. Now, the BEHP continues to go from strength to strength and Roy was involved right up to his death in August 2019. Without his passion and energy this testimony would never have been captured for posterity. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy’ Fowler’s biography of Orson Welles, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy Fowler’s study on Film in France, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Supported by the Union which gave the group the autonomy to get on with the work in hand, they began to create an archive of oral history recordings by interviewing staff from across the sector, from processing workers and producers to sound assistants and directors, including writers and performers.

Vision and Achievement

The vision of those pioneers has resulted in a unique and internationally recognised archive of more than 800 recordings which provide an extraordinary insight into the economic, technical, aesthetic and personal histories of the key cultural industry of the 20th and 21st Century. Some of them are more than 20 hours long and are social documents of our time.

As our industry has grown, we have extended our recordings to new occupations and new media.  We are determined to remain relevant to our time and to future generations.  We welcome the active engagement of all those with the ability and enthusiasm to assist us in our work.

What is it?

The BEHP is organised and operated entirely by volunteers who select interviewees and undertake the interviews. Interviews were originally recorded on audio tape but are now recorded audiovisually.

Our archive is unique and the majority of those whose working lives are recorded within it cannot be heard in any other place.

We have over 800 interviews on audio (in the early days) and video since 2000. Since 1987 a substantial database and website have been developed of fascinating interviews covering careers in the industry as well as many social history issues. We continue to record interviews – recently Bruce Robinson, writer/director of Withnail and I (1987), and Ronald Grant, the founder of the Cinema Museum. We welcome suggestions – Tobias Hochscherf has suggested Jodi Routh, grandson of Hein Hechroth, set designer who won an Oscar in 1949 for his visionary work on The Red Shoes (1948).

A wonderful example of real experience being brought to life in a film is the cimematographer for Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Christopher Challis, talking about his WWII experience:

They said the Hague had fallen and Amsterdam. So I set out to go to the Hague in the Oyster because we were dropping food to the Dutch. They were in a terrible state, they suffered more than anyone else, they were all starving and we were dropping food. We got about half way and we realised, the pilot and myself that there were no sign of any of our troops and there were still German sentries on the bridges across the canals and things. And although they didn’t attempt to fire on us we hadn’t got enough fuel to go back so we had to carry on and we flew right at N and got to the suburbs of the the Hague. And there was a football field and some cows and a little house all around. We decided we could land there. And we landed with these cows going in every direction. Hundreds of Dutch people swarmed out of these houses and said what at you doing. They spoke English. We said we’ve come to film you. They said the Germans are still here and they surrounded us and took us to a house and a German half track appeared at the edge of the crowd which numbered several hundred people and they just stood and watched, they did nothing and went away. The Dutch resistance people turned up by then and said you’ve got to get out of here because although the war is virtually over for us it’s not and the Germans are still here. (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/christopher-challis)

Some of this chaotic experience must be visualised in the movie!

Now that many of the interviews are accessible we welcome anyone who would like to curate elements of the collection by identifying themes, technology, film titles, TV productions, personalities for academic projects. For example we have done work on Dr Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005 -) , a BBC TV classic to mark the centenary of the BBC. We embarked on  research into this iconic BBC series to establish if we hold recordings with  any interviewees who worked on the production over its 60 years, as the winner of 118 Awards and 215 nominations from among others – BAFTA – Scotland, Wales and England, Broadcasting Press Guild, and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (USA). There have been thirteen actors portraying the Doctor and many more behind the scenes contributing to its success.The 50th anniversary was broadcast In 94 countries and screened to more than half a million people in cinemas across Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. The scope of the broadcast was a world record, according to Guinness World Records. Truly a major BBC production! So, in alphabetical order, here you go:

  • Robert Beatty no 50 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/robert-beatty, in ‘The Tenth Planet’. He played General Cutler;
  • Bill Cotton, Controller of BBC1, no 153 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/bill-cotton was involved in the 1985 postponement of Doctor Who. His precise impact on the production was that he hired John Nathan Turner and is likely to have signed off on Peter Davidson’s casting as the fifth Doctor. His biggest contribution (according to https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/Bill_Cotton) is that he was the bridge by which Michael Grade joined the BBC and when Cotton moved up the management structure, he became Grade’s boss  and on 28 Feb 1985 announced the BBC had to live within its income, but a year later he told the DR Who Appreciation Society that Dr Who would be returning!! I’m sure he talks of other very significant BBC issues in his time as a senior manager!
  • A. Englander no 22 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/tubby-englander – Camera operator on two serials, the season 7 adventure ‘The Ambassadors of Death and the season 8 ‘The Claws of Axos’.
  • Waris Hussein no 655 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/waris-hussein –  director of the very first Dr Who serial. In fact he directed the pilot episode of Doctor Who in September 1963 plus all of ‘An Unearthly Child’;but he only directed 6 of the 7 episodes of the ‘Marco Polo’ serial.

All these interviews have been transcribed and are readily accessible on the above links. The following have been digitised, but we do not have a transcript for them. These interviews can be put through OTTER ( an automatic speech to text recognition software, but they will still need to be proofread and corrected). WE NEED VOLUNTEERS!

We asked people to name the most significant people who we do not hold an interview with and should be interviewed. They nominated

  • Philip Hinchcliffe, producer – being recorded by Paul Vanesis
  • Mat Irvine, – Visual Effects –  now done, but needs transcribing
  • Ken Westbury – He started at Ealing, working on films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (*) as a clapper loader, focus puller and camera assistant and when the BBC took over the studio, he came with it. He worked of the Patrick Troughton serial ‘Fury from the Deep’. – this has now done by Steve Brook Smith,  but needs transcribing
  • Marcia Wheeler, production manager – this has also been recorded, but needs transcribing

We have curated themes on Powell & Pressburger, Alexandra Palace, the starting place for Television to name a few, but there are so many more!

How to Join us

We welcome all offers of practical assistance in undertaking the interviews themselves or in providing the camera and sound skills needed for the recordings.  Members of the project do not have to be or have been members of the Union, although many are.  We are a broad church, and we want to reflect the gender, ethnic, geographical and sectoral range of our industry in our interviews.

There are many, many more productions, personalities or themes than can be researched, however, there is still work to do. All this involves a lot of work digitising and transcribing the interviews. As I told everyone at the IAMHIST event, we welcome assistance managing the project such as transcribing interviews and proof-reading transcripts we have produce using automatic speech to text transcribing. For example, Llewella Chapman will be studying interviews we hold with costume designers and wardrobe personnel as well as assisting in possible recording interviews for the BEHP.

The challenges to free up this valuable collection for access and research have been considerable – we needed  clearance from all interviewees to digitise and make their contribution accessible. Jill Balcon (daughter of Sir Michael Balcon and mother of actor Daniel Day Lewis) had not given her consent so we had to find some one in her family to give us permission to digitise – her son did!

So this is an appeal to scholars and practitioners  to be in contact with me to explore academic project ideas making use of the BEHP collection of interviews and of course help us with funding to sustain the collection. Please get in touch with me at: Sue.Malden@btinternet.com.


Sue Malden is the recipient of the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries (FOCALInt) in 2023, Formerly Head of BBC Broadcast Archives, conference planner for FIAT/IFTA; member of RTS Archive group. Currently chair if the Board of Trustees for MACE (Media Archive of Central England) and Secretary of the BEHP (British Entertainment History Project) (formerly BECTU History Project).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Review, Tomb Raider I: Tomb Raider I – III Remastered, 2024, Aspyr/Crystal Dynamics/Saber Games, RRP: £24.99 (Steam/PC version)

Llewella Chapman (University of East Anglia, UK)

17 February 2024


‘Made by the fans, for the fans’ very much sums up this lovingly-crafted and faithful remaster of the first three games and their accompanying expansion packs of the Tomb Raider franchise, originally developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive between 1996 and 1998.

Fans of these games have been calling for them to be remastered for many years. Following the publishing takeover of the franchise by Embracer in 2022 and the commission that shortly followed, Aspyr employed fans experienced in creating their own Tomb Raider engines, renders, mods and artworks in order to achieve this, including Timur ‘XProger’ Gagiev, Yousef ‘Troye’ Shaqqouri, Michael Chaban (Arsunt), Giovanni Lucca, Konrad Majewski, Monika Erosova (Raina Audron), Ian Turner, Axel Hatté (Delca) and Jason Chester, as well as others.[1] As XProger tweeted on the day of the remaster’s release, aptly on Lara Croft’s fictional birthday:

I am grateful for the heads of @SaberGames for trusting me to lead the project and assemble a dream team of true fans … From the beginning, we had complete freedom and set ourselves an impossible goal, which could only be approached by a small ‘Development Team’ of crazy people, ready to work 24/7 [over the] next year with an absolute vision of what and for whom we [were] doing. Thanks to all the original developers and community, we eagerly read ALL your comments, interviews, reviews and reactions. The responsibility to all of you was higher than the fear of deadlines and the insane amount of work.

(Twitter, 14 February 2024, 10.20pm, https://twitter.com/XProger_san/status/1757892574092636206)

 

Besides XProger’s tweet thread acknowledging fan involvement in the remastered games, the admission of working ‘24/7’ and the ‘insane’ amount of work over the period of a year echoes the pressures of the small development team who originally worked on Tomb Raider (1996). This included crunch and tight deadlines, leading to the high levels of exhaustion that some of the original team experienced, which have often been overlooked when discussing and celebrating the ingenuity of what made this game, and its subsequent sequels, remake and now a remaster, special and appreciated by many.

It is with this understanding that I review the remaster of Tomb Raider. This will be followed by further reviews of Tomb Raider II (originally released in 1997) and Tomb Raider III (originally released in 1998). In some ways, it is difficult to review the first game, owing to my familiarity with it and its ‘tank controls’, although this has also helped me to make a comparison between how the original was/is played, versus what is offered by its remastered version.

‘Take a look at this, Lara’: The design

The remastered Lara model is certainly a beauty; it is clear that this is one of the elements that has received a lot of time and investment, and it shows. Lara (designed for the original game by Toby Gard) now retains the same model in all three remastered games (Figure 1). The model, designed by Konrad Majewski, was inspired by the three games FMVs, and in the first game Lara now also wears her hair in the bubble braid style. The hair extension doesn’t always work; at points it flicks over her backpack in an awkward way, at other times, it thins out and sometimes passes through her body, which was one of the reasons the original development team removed the unruly braid from Tomb Raider in the first place. But, nonetheless, the model has been beautifully rendered, and no longer does Lara need to source her bras from Jean Paul Gaultier.

Figure 1

On reviewing the original game’s levels in 1996, Charlie Brooker praised ‘now, thanks to Core Design, it’s possible to be an explorer without leaving your seat … Tomb Raider’s environment is utterly believable. Architecturally, it’s often stunning … some of the architecture is prettier than Lara herself’ (emphasis in original, PC Zone, December 1996: 75, 78). Many of these textures and environments have been respectfully and creatively upscaled, in keeping with the look and feel of playing the originals, with a few, rather lovely, environment additions. For example, in ‘The Cistern’, there are now puddles of reflective water on floor tiles, as well as dripping water that falls from the ceiling. When you kill Egyptian mummies and Atlantean enemies in the later levels of the game, they not only explode beside Lara, but also form a cloud of blood around her (Figure 2), enhancing the experience of being in the environment as a whole – something that the original version achieved so admirably in 1996, and has been wonderfully captured and updated in the remastered version.

Figure 2

Admittedly, I believe that some of the upgraded (and AI-upscaled) textures do not quite work, particularly in the ‘Atlantis’ and ‘Great Pyramid’ levels. In the original Tomb Raider, the textures, attributed to Heather Gibson, and atmosphere and design, attributed to Neal Boyd, always reminded me somewhat of Alien (1979) – very much a return to the womb – and the ‘body horror’ genre of films such as The Fly (1986). Whereas the textures for these levels as they appear in the remaster are somewhat cartoonish in their renders (Figure 3), removing the feeling of pulsating claustrophobia and fascinating grossness, which the originals levels captured so well in 1996. The FMVs, too, are probably the least restored of the remasters, likely owing lack of original sources, budget and time constraints, and merely offer AI-upscaled versions as there was little that could be done with the low-resolution originals.

Figure 3

A more troublesome issue is that owing to the upscaled textures and change to lighting (many areas appear darker than in the original), this means that the items to be collected – keys, medipacks, ammunition, etc. – are sometimes difficult, and at points near impossible, to spot, which will likely cause frustration to new players unfamiliar with Tomb Raider.

However, there are some wonderful upscaled textures, artistic renders and lighting to be admired when playing through the training and game levels. Who knew Lara owned such a prestigious collection of artworks in her manor (to the point where she owns four – presumably original and subsequent copies – of Girl with the Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665)? It’s an art historian’s dream. I also enjoyed travelling through Greece, where much was to be appreciated regarding the male form (Figure 4), including a humourous placement of key slot and tile (Figure 5), and some beautiful, evocative lighting (Figures 6 and 7).

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

‘A kind of evolution on steroids’: Camera movement

An apocryphal story, once read and never, unfortunately, forgotten, is that there was once a fan-created ‘guide’ to advise players where best to view Lara’s posterior captured by different camera angles. Not any more in these remasters (unless you toggle the key to flit between the original and remastered graphics)! The removal of the ‘bottom line’ means that no longer does the camera at times caress Lara’s backside, but rather, directs us to admire other elements instead. The difference in camera position and angles, however, does mean that this changes how the game is played in some ways. At times, I found the camera position a little irritating, and needed to switch to the original graphics, but ultimately it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the gameplay. Although for new players, I suspect the camera may cause frustration at points, especially when combined with the unfamiliar control system.

‘No!’: Attempting to control Lara

As part of the remaster, players can now switch between ‘tank’ (original) and ‘modern’ (remastered) controls whenever they so choose. The new controls are based on those implemented by Crystal Dynamics for Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), Anniversary (2007) and Underworld (2008).[2] So how ‘modern’ these controls actually are by 2024 standards remains to be seen.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of the original games, the way Tomb Raider was programmed by Paul Douglas and Gavin Rummery led to a grid system that players navigated with tank controls to make, sometimes often precise, movements to explore the 3D level terrains. As most other reviewers of the remasters have found, these controls not only offer a factor of nostalgia for those who played the originals, but you are also left wondering how new players will react to this control system.

In terms of the ‘modern’ controls, they are generally fine when using it for combat situations or exploring open areas, however not so much when you need to make that precise jump and grab to reach a ledge there, or that flip backwards when landing on an exact spot to reach a secret area here. Basically, the modern controls have difficulty connecting to the very grid system the original game was built upon, and I found that at points the camera angles offered when using ‘modern’ rather than ‘tank’ controls were problematic. This is not helped by the inability to perform certain moves in order to achieve certain feats, such as ‘side’ and ‘back step’ being unavailable, and that ‘side’ and ‘back’ flips only work when guns are drawn. I believe that either control system is where it will make or break playing the game for newcomers to these games in particular.

‘Say Cheese!’: The additions

Additions to the remaster, besides being able to choose between original and remastered graphics as well as control systems, include a ‘photo mode’, now a mainstream inclusion among newly-released games. I attempted to use the photo mode for the purposes of this review, which led to Figure 8, but other than for my own gratuitous fun, it didn’t really do anything to enhance my overall experience of the game. Photo mode is more likely to be enjoyed by players wishing to share their ‘favourite’ or ‘comical’ captures on social media, and as is common in gaming nowadays, to assist in the marketing of the game.

Figure 8

Achievements and trophies to be collected have also been added, as with other remastered games, and the inclusion of these is a requirement of Sony and Xbox. Again, this feature isn’t really aimed at gamers such as myself: back in 1996 it was an ‘achievement’ in itself to finish the game without the need to receive a notification for completing it. But I think that they nicely capture the inherent wit and humour afforded in the original games, such as ‘Like Dorothy’, which is a cheeky reference to the inspiration of The Wizard of Oz (1939) behind the level cheat codes used in the original games. Although these features don’t appeal to me personally, I understand that for some fans and new players to these games that these will enhance their gameplaying experience.

Summary

From the outset, it is clear that despite time constraints, the sheer amount of work needed to realise the remaster project as a whole, and possibly, I suspect, budgetary ones too, Tomb Raider I (as it has been classified so as to differentiate itself within the group of games offered in the remaster) is a labour of love for those involved in its development. While I believe that it is Tomb Raider fans and game historians who will get the most pleasure out of this game/project as a whole, owing to their desire to play these games, whereas the control systems/camera angles may be off-putting for new players, I think that the remaster of the first game is an admirable achievement. For all three games, and their expansion packs, to be so lovingly restored and available on a variety of consoles, at an extraordinarily reasonable price too, is to be celebrated. Vivat Lara! I don’t think we’ve ever seen enough…

A copy of Tomb Raider I-III Remastered was provided for review by Crystal Dynamics/Aspyr.


Notes

[1] With huge thanks to Alex, webmaster of core-design.com, for helping me to identify some of the fans involved in the remasters of Tomb Raider.

[2] As confirmed by Aspyr (8 February 2024): https://support.aspyr.com/hc/en-us/articles/23948827137549-Modern-Controls-Overview-Tomb-Raider-I-III-Remastered


Llewella Chapman is a visiting scholar based at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her research interests include film and video game history, gender and costume. Her first monograph, Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007 was published by Bloomsbury in 2022. She has also published an article on the work of Vicky Arnold (script writer) and Heather Gibson (level designer) for the early Tomb Raider franchise in the journal Feminist Media Studies (2023), DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2023.2217346.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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