We were recently contacted by Karl Williams, a collector of vintage British comedy memorabilia including script material whose collection contains items dating back more than sixty years. Always on the lookout for interesting additions to his treasure trove, Karl recently purchased the personal script archive of the late actor and light entertainment legend Nicholas Parsons – who provided the voice of Sheriff Tex Tucker in Gerry Anderson’s puppet Western Four Feather Falls. Much to his surprise, the collection included a story outline and script written by Nicholas himself for an episode of Four Feather Falls that was ultimately never filmed! We caught up with Karl to discuss this find further…
How did you come to be in possession of this material, and what does the collection as a whole consist of?
I’m a collector of vintage British comedy and associated memorabilia; scripts, autographs, theatre programmes etc, as well as where possible the shows themselves. So when the personal script archive of Nicholas Parsons came up via a trader in rare books and scripts I frequently buy from I found the comedy material sufficiently interesting for the large outlay it cost. Of particular interest to me were the scripts to the early lost Arthur Haynes Show. But also lots of appearances on the usual 50s BBC radio comedy and variety shows like Worker’s Playtime, Midday Music Hall etc. It’s a pretty comprehensive collection, especially with regards to scripts he wrote, co-wrote or contributed to himself. There are live cabaret show scripts too from the 50s to the 80s; also in 1947 he did three years repertory theatre in Bromley and he’s saved a bunch of the theatre programmes for the shows he was in then. I’ve also got the questions and answers to his bizarre short-lived 1956 ITV quiz show They’re Off, a horseracing themed quiz in which contestants sat on fairground type horses on a studio racetrack and were pulled forward by bikini-clad ladies along the course if they answered general knowledge questions correctly. It only lasted about 9 episodes! It’s all bound in snap-folders by general theme, as dapper as the man himself. There are 32 folders.
Is this a mixture of scripts from across Parsons’ career, or does it span only a particular era of his life?
Yes, it’s a good mixture. I haven’t read all of it yet and it’s not in date order but there’s stuff from the early 1950s at least, and whilst it’s mostly 50s and 60s it does extend into the 70s and 80s. There are gaps, there’s nothing for the obvious shows he’s known for like Just A Minute or Sale of the Century, which would have been at least partially scripted for intros etc but he’d have no need to take those scripts home to rehearse, it’s all done and left at the studio. Likewise, that’ll be why there’s sadly no scripts in the collection from his voiceover work on the 39 episodes made of Four Feather Falls, he’d go in for read through and into studio to record with the script and there was never a need to take them home with him. Unlike the scripts he wrote himself from home. Or needed the week to rehearse like the early live Arthur Haynes shows.
The presence of a story outline and script for a hitherto unknown and unfilmed episode of Four Feather Falls is of most interest to Anderson fans. Are there any notes or anything to indicate why the episode wasn’t ultimately filmed? We can only assume that it was written for a second series that was never produced…
Sadly no additional notes on rejection or intent. He has a BBC radio comedy pilot script he wrote for himself and wife Denise Bryer in 1959 which helpfully includes with it the rejection letter from BBC radio giving the reasons they don’t wish to proceed with it. But the Four Feather Falls synopsis and completed script have nothing with them to say whether they were sent to Gerry Anderson and rejected by him. Given that Parsons was a late hiring after Gerry heard him reading lines for the already-booked Denise it’s fair to assume that the first series scripts were probably already in or at least allotted to writers by the time Parsons was on board and aware of the characters, so it seems to me more likely that Parsons wrote it whilst recording the one series for a hoped for second series that didn’t materialise from Granada. As it’s not come to light until after the passing of Nicholas and Denise we’ll probably never know the circumstances in which it was written but left unmade. It’s a shame Parsons didn’t bring it up previously such as during the Filmed in Supermarionation documentary but he may well have forgotten about it 50 years later tucked away in early binders.
Were you aware of Four Feather Falls or any of the Anderson shows prior to this discovery?
I grew up with and loved Stingray in the 80s, initially through the Channel 5 videos that edited together 4 episodes and added some computer effects to the missile shots, but also later repeats and videos too – and for nostalgia’s sake I picked up the complete series on DVD a few years ago. That was my series, but I also enjoyed watching Thunderbirds with my dad, as that was his series from his childhood. I was aware of Four Feather Falls through occasional clips and saw that it was released on DVD but I have to admit I have a real dislike of westerns and western settings so I haven’t seen the series properly. It’s not really my cup of tea and my real focus is comedy.
Can you give us a quick summary of the plot of the script for the unfilmed Dusty’s Day?
Tex sends Jake to Ma Jones’ store for baccy and tells him to take Dusty. When they arrive at the store Mr Twink is complaining about her price of beans when there’s a commotion and gunshots out in the street. They look out the window to see a cowboy, Hickory, on horseback, brandishing a gun and shouting. Hickory fires at Mr Twink in the shop window, smashing the glass. Tex comes out of the Sheriff’s office and shoots the gun out of Hickory’s hand. Hickory tears off on his horse. Tex calls for Rocky who is stuffing his face with straw and not inclined to rush. But when Tex leaves town on Rocky after Hickory two more strangers ride into town and stop outside the bank; Spike Dooley and Bill Hemp. They’d planned it all to get rid of Tex.
In the bank Jackson is behind the counter and Slim Jim is paying in the saloon takings. Meanwhile, Tex is led by Hickory into an ambush by Big Ben and Red Scalp, and Red Scalp takes the magic guns and belt. Back in town Dusty is still at Ma’s window when he sees Dooley & Hemp leaving the bank suspiciously, and he barks at them. Hemp takes a shot at Dusty smashing another window as Dusty tries to get Jake’s attention. As Dusty runs across the road to the bank Jake follows him.
Inside all is quiet with no-one there, but Dusty sniffs around the strongroom door indicating for Jake to open it. Inside, Jackson and Slim Jim are bound. Dusty follows the scent out of town on the trail of Hemp and Dooley. After a while Dusty loses the scent, he is lost and alone, and frightened by coyote noises getting nearer. Suddenly Dusty hears horses’ hooves getting nearer and hides behind a bush but it’s only Rocky roaming free. They go in search of Tex with a tired Dusty riding on Rocky’s back.
Eventually they find Big Ben’s camp with Ben on watch wearing Tex’s magic gun belt. Hickory and the others are asleep and Tex is sat tied to a tree. Dusty bites through the ropes to free Tex. Ben sees Tex and is about to shoot him when the magic guns Ben is now wearing point upwards and shoot Ben’s gun out of his hands. The baddies are all tied up on horseback whilst Tex rides behind leading them all back to the town jail – with Tex thanking Dusty and breaking into song for the ending.
Does Dusty’s Day feature any major differences compared to Nicholas’ draft story outline, initially titled A Dog’s Life?
Parsons’ original four-page synopsis is largely the same as what he wrote up as his final script except instead of Jackson and Slim Jim held up by the crooks in the bank, Doc Haggerty is held up outside the bank then the crooks go in – but we don’t see Jackson or Slim or have Dusty and Jake free anyone from the strongroom. Also, at the end of the original synopsis, Tex manages to quickly get his gun belt back on before Big Ben notices, for the guns to shoot from Tex to knock the gun out of Ben’s hand. Parsons reworks this in the final version for the more original take of Ben wearing the guns and having them disarm himself.
Many fans will also be aware that Nicholas Parsons and Gerry Anderson collaborated on several productions for the travel firm Blue Cars, including several commercials and a short travel film Blue Skies Ahead. Does any paperwork relating to the Blue Cars projects exist in this collection?
There is a script for a 15 minute admag separate to the Blue Skies Ahead travelogue they made, and Parsons actually covers why this didn’t get seen in his autobiography. Nicholas was commissioned by Ken Fox at Blue Cars to produce 3 short adverts, a documentary and a TV admag commercial for them on a budget of £3,800.
Nicholas came up with the idea for the three short normal TV adverts in a comedic vein of speaking gibberish that sounded in turn, vaguely German, vaguely French and vaguely Martian with English translations on the screen. These were agreed and went ahead although I understand only the Martian one survives today. The documentary/travelogue also went ahead as Blue Skies Ahead. For the admag, for which I have Parsons’ rough drafts and the finished complete script, this was brought to a stop by the ITA. In this admag Parsons is throwing a party at home with his wife Denise for some friends for whom he intends to show his holiday film from his Blue Cars holiday. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a plumber called out 6 months earlier and the plumber cuts in talking about the holiday as Parsons narrates the coach holiday over the silent footage. In his autobiography Parsons says that he persuaded his comedy partner Arthur Haynes to play the plumber Arthur in exchange for a free holiday given the tight budget which Haynes agreed.
Normally admags were 15 minute slots in which multiple products were advertised within a loose regular cast story, the most popular being Associated-Rediffussion’s admag Jim’s Inn starring Jimmy Hanley running a fictitious pub where the locals discuss products in a conversational way. When ITV was created the ITA set out that there was to be no product placement or direct advertising within programmes, but there was a loophole for a time that specific advertising magazine programmes could run self-contained like extended ad programmes. These were hugely popular in the mid 50s to early 60s but eventually the government held an enquiry due to the complaints that such admags blurred the line between programming and commercials, and that enquiry led to admags being outright banned in March 1963.
But even in 1960 Parsons hit a snag. He’d decided it’d be more impactful rather than book a standard 30 second, 1 minute or 5 minute slot within Jim’s Inn to pay for the whole 15 minute admag slot on Associated-Rediffusion for this one Blue Cars admag. There was nothing explicitly against this in the ITA rules about admags (even though no one had done it before) and so Parsons came up with the 15 minute script to feature Arthur Haynes as the plumber in this comic admag. The film was actually produced with Haynes according to Parsons in his autobiography, they shot it in one 15 minute take as he and Haynes were so used to working together. Unfortunately before it was ever broadcast the ITA thought about it and decided although it wasn’t against the letter of the rules it was against the spirit of the rules, and they blocked its broadcast!
The Blue Skies Ahead film was allowed to go ahead as it was seen more as a travelogue/documentary about the places visited rather than just an outright ad for Blue Cars, but this Haynes admag one never saw the light of day. Sadly there’s no indication as to what happened to Parsons’ admag film with Haynes, it’s never turned up that I know of and I only bought a script archive but it’s an interesting extra note in the Parsons/Anderson Blue Car story, as Anderson or at least his team would have been behind the filming of this like the Blue Skies Ahead film. Parsons had agreed to split the £3,800 budget down the middle for Anderson to fulfil the contract. It sounds fun, if not a little unfortunate to have a story in which a plumber comes round to a suburban house party where they’re all watching Blue (cars) films on a projector! Open to other interpretations beyond the gent that was Parsons…
What other interesting non-Anderson surprises have turned up in this collection? We hear there are one or two other scripts written by Nicholas for lost or unfilmed projects – including one in which he would co-star with his then-wife Denise Bryer?
Yes, he wrote a radio sitcom pilot for himself and Denise called Dobson & Son with popular British character actor George Benson as his father and his mother an undecided ‘Jeanne De Cassalis type’. The rejection letter from the BBC is paperclipped to it, dated 22nd December 1959 by Pat Hillyard, Head of Light Entertainment (Sound) who gives his reason “we feel that the central character of the gay ne’er-do-well with an eye for a pretty girl is too conventional for our purposes, and the situations and subsidiary characters do not strike a sufficiently new note in light comedy”. So it appears to not be original enough or taking any new or interesting angle for them to develop further. There’s also an idea for a sitcom to star Arthur Haynes that also wasn’t taken further.
Looking at your larger memorabilia collection, what are some of the favourite items you own?
Comedy is my main love and I’ve the script for the unmade pilot for my favourite radio comedy Round The Horne, initially to be called It’s Ken Again, after Beyond Our Ken. I’ve a script for a recorded but unbroadcast radio comedy pilot from 1947 written by and starring Terry-Thomas called Terry’s Topics, some early Tony Hancock scripts from Calling All Forces in 1952, and as a big Carry On fan I’ve the highly amended various progress scripts for the 1976 Scarborough stage play Carry On Laughing: The Slimming Factory originally written by Sam Cree but eventually given to script doctor Dick Vosburgh. Given all the rewrites it was a train wreck to produce, but the attempts to make it work are far more interesting than the finished dull play.
In recent years Anderson Entertainment have been bringing to life the worlds of Anderson as audio dramas. Would you be willing to see Dusty’s Day finally come to life on audio somewhere down the line?
Yes I’m a big Big Finish listener with their Doctor Who ranges and have bought and heard the Stingray ones they’ve done, huge fun and very evocative of the original series. Will try the Thunderbirds ones eventually. Hope there’s more to come. I’d be perfectly happy to share the script for Dusty’s Day to be made by them – although obviously I only own the physical script, not the copyright to the material, which presumably you’d have to settle with Parsons’ estate.
Our thanks to Karl for this interview! Let us know in the comments below if you would like to hear Dusty’s Day brought to life on audio!