Interview with Celia Gregory (Ruth Anderson)


Getting the part of Ruth


"I'd done a lot of work before Survivors. I'd worked with Lawrence Olivier and all sorts of people in the theatre, but I hadn't had a lot of television experience. So I needed to do something that would give me a lot of publicity. Quite simply, my agent put me up for the job and I got it. I can't remember who interviewed me for the part. It was a long time ago, I was only twenty four!"

Joining the team

"What they do, or did at the BBC at that time was to have six months of filming on location. Then you'd go to the Acton studios in London. So you'd just get to know everyone and work. As actors we are all trained at Drama School to be incredibly together. It's a bit like training soldiers, so we just don't give in to feelings of 'will I be accepted by the others or not?'. You walk into a room full of strangers, and you sort of sense out the people you like, and then you get on with the work. Then you go home, work on the script and go back the next day and of course you get to know each other better and better."

Playing Ruth

"She was good and she wasn't frightened of people. She just got on with it. I watched a video of the series recently and it was really interesting to watch what I had done when so young. It was like looking at a child! Of course, over twenty years you change, but hopefully you change for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. You use your energy to learn; life is about learning."

Filming

"We had rehearsals in London at Acton, and then we'd go down to Monmouth. We'd have maybe two or three rehearsals down there and then we'd shoot it. Companies like the BBC don't spend a lot of money on time. You've got to be ready, you have to know exactly what's needed of you. You have to be so disciplined. I used to spend every night in my hotel room in Monmouth just learning my lines and making it work. Equity has certain rules, I think it's an eleven-hour day. You'd be collected in the morning and driven up to the hill, where they'd be setting up the lighting and you'd get dressed and have your make-up put on and then you'd sit around till they were ready. Just like any film set. There would be endless amounts of time to wait while things were set up; lighting etc. I'd go through it all in my head then, waiting around on that cold chilly hill. But there were plenty of us up there so we kept each other company. It was very cold and uncomfortable but they kind of look after that as they gave us huge amounts of food all the time."

Developing Ruth

"I didn't want to make her glamorous at all, I wanted to make her someo ne who was believable, someone who got on with it, someone who had been completely obliterated by what had happened. Ruth wore very little make-up, just like me. I felt that she must be very natural. They had racks and racks of clothes that you could choose. You have certain things that you always wear as that character. Everything, of course has to relate as it's all very carefully done. There has to be continuity of scenes. You can't have somebody sitting down and drinking coffee and then suddenly walking around with a different pullover on. They were very careful and organised about that sort of thing. The make-up department at the BBC was the best around, the girls were magnificent. I remember that when I first started out on this project, the make-up girl showed me pictures of people who had been discovered in forests, corpses and things. It was just because they had to study the whole thing. It was ghastly. And they said to me that that was how your body looked after five weeks, this is what it looks like when you've been shot, etc. So they had it all, they had to study the whole thing."

Scripts

"Survivors wasn't terribly well written. Some of the scripts in fact were surprisingly poor, you had to make something out of nothing. There were some good actors on it however and we had to invent and make ourselves more than the actual script was suggesting. I changed my lines all the time! They expect you to do that. The director is very busy and he hasn't got time to look at the script. You go up to him and say 'Can I change this line, it doesn't make sense?' or 'Can I say this instead of that?' You've got to be very organised about the way you work. That's what television is all about. Film is always very together but if it's video, and Survivors was video, you've always got a problem with the scripts. I suppose if the part were a minor one you wouldn't get away with changing the lines."

Television ratings

"It was very low rated, they didn't get any good ratings at all at the time. We were all so disappointed. Ten million may seem good today but there was so much more going on at the time. There was a much wider spectrum of drama on television in those days."

Callow Hill

"Everybody was moved by Callow, it's a beautiful place. It's got incredible power, it's a lovely, lovely place and we were so incredibly well looked after by the Davids. None of us will forget it I don't think! I didn't mind the mud or the wind. We were given our expenses and we could go back and forth as much as we liked. I fell in love while there. We had our dressing-rooms in the stables behind the farmhouse, it was all very rough and tumble. Callow Hill is a very special place. I don't think anybody can go to Callow without feeling altered. Whenever you're sitting on a hill you get a lot of healing power"

Leaving the show

"I'd just had enough. I didn't want to do any more. When I left Survivors I went straight into the West End, playing with Paul Schofield. I just went from strength to strength. I got so much more work after that. You have to be quite ruthless as an actress. You really do have to be ruthless about your choices. I was only twenty four or so and I had to carry on and do other things. To be in a BBC production which seemed stodgy when you were doing it wasn't good enough. I just couldn't afford to do another year in that company. So I went on to do some more theatre and some films. It is true that I didn't like the scripts that they were writing and I suppose I was quite snotty at that age. As a young actress you have to be very careful and discerning. You have to choose carefully where you're going to be at any given moment in your life because you've got to get up that ladder. I think Ruth probably got lost on the motorway going back to London to get some more soap!"

Lights of London

"We filmed till five in the morning. They were all over Denis' legs, everywhere! I hate rats, they're my phobia. What they did was to spray hundreds of rats and they all died. Then we had to get other rats. They certainly didn't throw any at me; I walked out! I'm not very compliant about things like that. I think Denis had rubber trousers or something like that. These brown rats, which I think are the worst, climbed up Denis' legs. They also had false rats; I certainly didn't have any real ones on me! But I loved the story, I enjoyed making it very much indeed. The whole experience was a very good one for all of us, we all enjoyed doing it. Nobody was unhappy, it was a good piece of solid work for all of us. I think what really upset us was the reception of the viewers, which made us feel very disappointed. We got very disheartened. Other dramas at the time were doing much better, although ten or eleven million seems a lot today, it wasn't then. Ratings are important for the actors because you want your work to be recognised, you want to be taken seriously. We believed in the subject, we really did. We didn't have an obsession about it but we really believed it could happen. It was an interesting project and hopefully they'll do an other one and make it more involved. There were some very inspired moments in that series."

70's actors

"People have even been writing to me about the series. My generation of actors has given an awful lot to the profession, and now it's all coming back. We were so involved with our work. When you go to work in the studio now, or any theatre company, you always find actors who aren't totally involved, and we were, even if it was only a tiny role we'd find a way to make it sparkle. People like Diana Rigg really worked hard. People like Lawrence Olivier really worked hard at what they did. It's a craft, and if you don't treat it like a craft then what's acting?"

Film over Video

"If you're working behind a film camera you've got real concentration. It's like having an eye that's watching you, it's absolutely brilliant and fantastic. You have such contact with the camera. You can't lie to the camera. But if you've got video you've got this loose, long three-dimensional thing which zooms around all over the place. Video just doesn't look right. With the newly devised cameras we had from Germany you just didn't get the right focus, so you couldn't make a proper picture. I know it's very easy to just 'film'. Anybody can do that. You can buy a video camera and film. But to get the three-dimensional essence, which is the actual atmospheric property of the story, plus the focus, couldn't be done with those cameras. The lighting didn't look right with those cameras. People don't look right, it's too flat, rather like looking at a painting instead of being drawn into something. Whereas if you look at some of my work that I've done on camera (film) you always get the atmospheric sensation whic h should accompany the story. That for me is what was wrong with the series. It doesn't look right. If you've got film you've got the shots which cut together and make sense and just look right, it's like making a piece of artwork, you put it together properly. To me the idea of studio cameras, even the videos which are very evolved nowadays, don't create the right three-dimensional sensation that I would require to touch people. I might do another series of Survivors just for fun. A new series should be done on film. if you've got the right lighting, camera-men, right script with actors who are happy doing what they are doing, with a good director you can literally make anything work. That's the magic of the camera."

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


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Page last updated: 16th February 2002    All text Andy Priestner   Screen Captures BBC