Interview with Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant)


Getting the part of Abby


"They didn't want me. My agent and I had quite a time trying to convince them to give me the part. I don't really know why, nobody really knows why. In fact, I was talking about this with Lucy (Fleming) just last night. I suspect it was because I was a little rowdy, I worked hard and I played hard. I was emotional and I spoke my mind which I have always done."


Real feminism


" I had a very strong personality and didn't always want the character to go in certain directions. I thought that Survivors was the perfect time to start introducing real feminism. I think we desperately needed a strong woman. She was indeed strong on many levels just because of what she was doing but there were other areas where she was always deferring to the men and I didn't see why she had to do that. In those days, you see, women still had to be quiet. And that is when it showed. They cast me as a strong woman and then found that they couldn't handle it! Yes, I know that I misbehaved, but then again we all drank hard and partied hard, it was just one of those things. In those days we did that and I don't think that I was particularly out of order. For example, I pushed the beeb into providing adequate comfort and facilities for the extras because they weren't providing that. I remember one day saying things to them like: 'I'm not going to shoot the next scene if we don't get a coach for these extras. There's no need for these old ladies to stand around outside in the cold'. Herefordshire in winter was absolutely freezing! The puddles were all frozen over and they were expecting these people to just sit around! They hadn't provided chairs or cover or a loo or anything! So I would push them a lot on this sort of thing. I was very opinionated! I had been given an awful lot really young and I just couldn't bear what they did. And that I think is the reason why they fired me in the end. Also, I was the highest paid actress that they had ever employed. That wasn't exactly very much, around 240 or 320 a week or something like that. Some people are only getting that on the West End today!"

Playing Abby

"There were many layers to the character of Abby, but you show me anybody in the world who hasn't got all those different layers! She was very much me. Abby never really had any romance, but the idea was that she shouldn't show any of the vulnerability, inevitably however she just had to."


Watching Survivors today

"Having watched a few of the episodes on video, I do think that they sort of drag a little bit. They are just a little slow in getting to the point. Perhaps that was just the style at the time. They were also quite strapped for cash. There are two high-budget movies of a similar theme out in the States at the moment. We couldn't afford, for example, to have lots of bodies lying around the place. Can you imagine what we would have had three months later!"

Production

"Well, it was chaotic. We would shoot one episode in the morning and the other episode in the afternoon. Luckily , because the episodes were evenly balanced, we all got equal amounts to do, every third one was mine and so forth, which made it much easier. Just occasionally we would overlap and so it would be an unbelievably long day which I wasn't used to while working for the Beeb, but now that I live in America I'm completely used to it. The usual routine was to have two days rehearsal at Acton and then we would travel and shoot. It was tough on all of us, particularly Lucy and myself because we had children and we would take them with us because they were too young to be left behind, so there would be this huge cortege of people arriving. Whenever I could and whenever it was possible I would take the children with me and Lucy would actually commute so that she was actually driving two hours after every day's shoot, which was naturally exhausting. I didn't commute, because I just knew that it wouldn't be worth it. Some of the time we ended up renting farm-houses or cottages."


Studio and location work

"You have much more control somehow when you're in the studio, but I don't really mind. I rather loved the spontaneity of shooting outside, you never know what's going to happen. The studio work would have been done in London, all the work with George Baker was done in the studio. It was like everything else, it just required a lot of preparation, because whatever you were shooting in the studio had to keep continuity with what was happening outside, and as there were sometimes two or three days in between it sometimes got a little complicated."

Comparing Survivors to television today

"It was slower, you had more to time to prepare, more time for rehearsals. As with everything, with lack of speed comes more respect. I really felt that all of us contributed as a whole, that there was a lot of respect paid to everybody's input, within certain boundaries of course. We don't have that now, it doesn't exist."

Scripts

"They weren't being given the luxury of time. They were suddenly faced with having to finish them, and I think we all had complaints about a lot of them, but given the standards now and the standards then I think that the quality was very high. Everyone always complains, I mean, what's the point of this or that ? And of course, we all wanted to change things so that we did bigger and better things than the others but of course you couldn't. The one where I had to pass judgement. This was terribly difficult for me because I do not believe in capital punishment so it was a very hard story for me to do. I really fought against it. I wanted to stop it because I have a moral objection to capital punishment. I would have banished the man found guilty. I would have banished him to a Hebridean island, that's what I would have done. I really didn't want him to be executed. I realise that individual communities had to administer their own justice the best they could, in the absence of law courts and police to enforce the law, but it was absolutely the wrong kind of justice that I would have meted out had I been Abby Grant. If I was really her I would not have done that, I would have found a way of making people pay society back for those kinds of crimes."


Talfryn Thomas


"We were poles apart on the personality scale. It wasn't just the physical attributes of the man being what they were, he had a really unattractive underbelly. There was an anger in that man that I found very difficult to deal with. You didn't see it on the screen, but it was just the comments about women and so on; he was very demeaning to us. He was very sleazy and made Lucy and me very angry."

Hampton Court

"I enjoyed [Hampton Court] very much. It gave us a permanence. That's when the children came up and we ended up being able to have a sort of life as well as the work. We had cottages close by, I had a farmhouse that I lived in. You tell me that Lucy found Hampton Court rather spooky. I never found it spook y . It never bothered me at all. I know that it was supposed to be haunted and we had lots of rumours flying around on that and I think that a couple of people even refused to work there! But Hampton Court was fine, not only did we have somewhere to sit down , rest and get warm, but mostly because you knew where you were going to be all the time, you weren't constantly running around and I find that that's the most difficult part about location work; never knowing how you were going to find it and so on. Cert ainly with Survivors you had someone to drive you wherever, but I like being in one place and I don't like moving around a lot. It was a great location."

Richard Heffer and wrinkles

"I remember Richard Heffer, who played Jimmy Garland, he was pretty stunning, wasn't he! He was beautiful. Of course, we all have many more wrinkles now! I'm slightly more wrinkled than then, but what do you expect after twenty years! I have put on some weight since then, I've put on probably close to fifteen pounds. I was thin when we did the series. Certainly I've put on weight but I exercise and work out a lot and I walk my dog four miles a day."


Departure


"No, I didn't know but of course Terry Nation knew. I think they decided half-way through that they didn't want me. It was always described to me that Abby Grant had become too strong, that she was top heavy and that she was unbalancing the trio at the top of the show. Well, that's what they told me and Lucy. I was in effect just fired. They knew that there was going to be a second series. Nobody ever told me why I wasn't picked up for the second series. Terence Dudley, the producer, is now dead so perhaps we'll never really know for sure."

John and Lizzie

"I got on with them fine. The boy, however, just couldn't act. He was treated cruelly. The whole thing was cruel. We all had enormous compassion for him but whenever he was in a scene it would take twice as long to do as any others because, for example, he used to get very scared and tended to cry a lot."

Corn Dolly

"I remember the story of course because I actually got pregnant and so did Lucy and about five other women! The corn dollies we made worked! The fertility symbols worked and that was what was so eerie about it. Lucy and I ended up pregnant by the end of the show, Lucy with Diggory and I with Cornelia. It was a bit of a shock! As far as the story itself is concerned, I'm sure that in real life women would react the same way that Abby and Jenny did, they wouldn't wish to get pregnant like this, but I think they would have done what was required of them. It was a necessity to procreate and there weren't that many women who could procreate so we all should have done! Cornelia in fact was premature. I remember that when we finished shooting in July, by the end of November I went to a restaurant in the Fulham Road called LaFamila and Lucy showed up the same time. I had already had my baby but Lucy's baby, Diggory, wasn't born till December 20th."


Survivors relevance today


Does Carolyn think that a new series of Survivors would still be of relevance for an audience in the 1990's? "I think that a lot of it would, I really do. I mean, the 90's is about having to pull back, the 90's is about having to be self-sufficient on many many levels and the 90's is particularly about learning how to take care of yourself. One of the things that we all learned in Survivors was to be self-sufficient and it is something that we wil l need to do. We could do without the waste that we allow ourselves under the guise of convenience and being modem and all of that; this is clearly ludicrous! if there was another series, Abby would have to be a character that would run the encampment and w ould become chamberlain to the group in the same way that the native Americans do; no decision is made until they have worked out how it would affect the seventh generation. I think that if we ran our countries and built our power stations according to th at principle, things would be much better. The reality is that things are motivated by greed and power, and we have no respect for the world in which we live, none at all."

Terribly middle-class?

"I don't think that that criticism was entirely unfair! I really don't. When you look at it, what we should have had is someone like Talfryn who knew how to live out there running the place with us. We were really all desperately middle-class, running about in our helicopters and so on! I don't think these things would matter so much today. I do however think that they had a fairly valid point. We could bring up racism as well. There weren't other people of a different race, no black people for instance and this really was appalling. When you think what a hotch-potch and a wonderful mixture of races Britain is, we could have had some extraordinary people who would have brought their own cultural advances and things into it. They would have had their own cultural points of view which would have been fascinating. But I think that would have made it too intelligent; it was very simplistic because it was the first of its kind."

Cowboys and Indians?

"Yes, but otherwise you wouldn't have had any story. If everybody had banded together and there had been no factions you wouldn't have had any conflict, which you need for drama, and it would have been like Coronation Street. It would have been too cerebral without the conflict; you needed the action. It wasn't enough just to milk a few goats or learn how to harness a horse. Without the conflict you wouldn't keep people watching."


Star Trek or Survivors?


"I invested much more in Survivors, I really invested so much in it and enjoyed it more than anything else I have done."

Reprising Abby

"Yes, of course, as long as the scripts were good and I had some input. I would very much like to go in a much more environmentally-conscious way and I would love to make a statement in a way that would show people how to survive well and be kind to the earth. I think we really need to do that."

[N.B. Carolyn's recollections are taken from an interview conducted by Kevin Marshall in the mid-1990s]


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Page last updated: 22nd November 2002    All text Andy Priestner   Screen Captures BBC