Gilbert Taylor, the legendary British cinematographer best known for his work on such films as Star Wars; the 1976 film The Omen; and Dr Strangelove has died at the age of 99. Taylor’s wife Dee told the BBC that he had died on Friday.
I got another call from my friend at AFN to tell me that they were casting for the new Van der Valk series that was so popular in England. The crime series followed the Dutch police detective Van der Valk as he solved various crimes. He was played by the late actor Barry Foster. You might know him as the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. A brilliant actor he had helped make Van der Valk a hit in the seventies.So once again I went down to Amsterdam to meet with the assistant director and to my surprise the writer. Of course the most surprising thing was that the writer was none other than Peter Snow. Peter had been a mainstay on British televisionfor years. He was a presenter and he also used to show how the general elections were going. A very nice chap to meet and to talk to.I was going for a non-speaking roll. The set up was this: A nightclub owner has just had his opening artist murdered. He has had a close relationship with the artist for years. He is desperate to talk to anyone in order to take his mind off his distress. I was to play a beer delivery man who doesn’t want to talk at all. We auditioned in pairs. I played the delivery man to my partners nightclub owner. We got given our directions and the camera rolled and we started.I pushed in my imaginary trolley full of beer. The nightclub owner started talking awkwardly to me. I shot him a glance and ignored him. Cut! “Michael?” This from the director. “Yes.” I replied. “You just don’t want to talk to him, you don’t want to murder him! Can we tone that look down a bit?” Much laughter from everyone in the room including me. “Sorry. I’ll try to lose the Homicidal Look.” I did my bit again, this time with no interruptions and we were then switched around. I would be the nightclub owner this time.
I was slightly lost. What did a nightclub owner do? I decided that as we were in Holland and that this nightclub served beer, it would sort of be like a pub. If there was one thing I knew about it was pubs and publicans. So we got set up, cameras rolled and… Action! I started wiping down the imaginary bar and polishing imaginary glasses. The delivery man strolls in and I say “Hello mate, you all-right?” Very English old boy. Immediately every head in the room swivelled in my direction. Uh-oh, I thought, I’ve either done something very good or very wrong. Not sure of whether what I had done was either I continued being the English publican for the rest of the scene. When we had finished, the director asked if I would mind very much doing that for the rest of the actors auditioning for the delivery man. So I did…about twenty more times.
At the end of the day, the folks that had been cast were told what they would be doing. When they got to me the director said, “Sorry Michael we have nothing for you today.” Before I could say anything, he finished with,”But Peter liked what you did so much as the nightclub owner, he is writing you a part in the show.” I was flabbergasted. I looked dazedly at Peter and he was nodding his head in affirmation. The director then asked if there was any time when I would not be available for shooting. I said yes, we had a NATO tactical evaluation in the first week of June. My new boss had never gone through one before and I needed to show him how things worked. The director nodded and wrote something in his notebook. “Okay, Michael, thank you. We will call you when Peter is finished.”
I never heard from the director or Peter again. It turned out much later that the time period I was not available for was right when they would be shooting that episode.I did get to work on Van der Valk eventually but not on that episode and in a part not as big or exciting.