Saturday, June 23, 2007

A night with Moira Brooker

Don't know who Moira is? Then you are not a fan of the BBC comedy called As Time Goes By that starred Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as a couple who reunite after 38 years apart.

Moira played Judi Dench's daughter who also happened to be called Judy.

The show was on for 9 series and two reunion specials. I first encountered the show in the mid 1990s on my local PBS station and loved it the first time I saw it. It was very funny and Palmer's Lionel Hardcastle so reminds me of my dad. Dench's Jean Pargetter is hilarious and the situations that the characters get into are so funny.

My evening with Moira happened because of a $60 pledge that I made to my local PBS station. As a fan, I knew I wanted to go and hear stories about the series. I was the youngest person in the room and a lady sitting in front of me was happy that everyone there was her age then she pointed to me and said "except for this child". Another person commented that my parents must have forced me to watch the show but no one forced me. As I said, I loved it from the beginning.

The evening started off with Moira telling us about herself, what she is doing now, her family and upcoming projects.

Talk turned to As Time Goes By and it was interesting to learn that there was no ad-libbing, that they used the same house in Holland Park throughout the entire series even after the home changed ownership and the BBC had to woo the new owners. Even the neighbours had to be wooed because of the inconvenience filming caused.

I found it interesting that the show was originally to be called Winter with Flowers but Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer didn't like it at all. After filming of the first series, the episode where Judy, Alistair (Philip Bretherton), Jean and Lionel were having a picnic, a cake was presented by the crew with the Winter Flowers title on it and the cast said they wouldn't touch the cake until they changed the name of the show.

It was good to know that they had the same crew from camera men, to wardrobe and make-up all throughout the 14 years the series was filmed. Except for the specials when they had a different lead camera man because the original one retired.

Before each series, they would film for two weeks all the exterior shots then would do a week of rehearsals on each episode then film in front of a live audience. No laugh track. Very rare that they did retakes unless a technical glitch or a goof happened. Moira shared that sometimes they would ask the audience to laugh again at the same joke during a retake. Sometimes they would edit in the first laugh and insert with the second take.

There was a goof that shut down the set for 20 minutes. There was a scene when Alistair first asks Judy to marry him and she is making coffee throughout the proposal. The coffee press she was holding was filled to the brim with coffee and when she set it down on the table it went everywhere, on her, Philip, the table. The next time the scene saw the coffee pot with less liquid and this time her being ever so gentle.

She said that there was no chance that another series would happen, especially since Frank Middlemass, who played Rocky (Lionel's Dad) has died. She said that the sets for the specials had to be rebuilt because after the series ended the sets were destroyed. Moira said that they knew things were different as it just wasn't the same.

Moira also talked about the two Harry's. The only reason why they changed actors was because the other actor, David Michaels wasn't available. She said it was either change the actor or not do it at all. She talked about the specials and the joke they wanted to do about the actor switch and said that Sandy (Jenny Funnell) was coming back from Australia with her husband to England. When Moira said Australia, everyone in the audience said that it was Canada that they were coming from. She was horrified that she made the error since she was giving the talk in Canada and realized that it was Canada because Harry went to the RCMP.

Moira mentioned that Judi Dench was the practical joker on the set and her on-going joke would be to get everyone to hide whenever someone left a room. It went for a while until one day Geoffrey Palmer left and said that he hopes no one will hide. She said that everyone in the cast are similar to their real selves and that Geoffrey Palmer is a curmudgeon but a lovable one.

Moira lives in Brighton, close to Jenny Funnell with her family and made a joke that you had to live in Brighton in order to be in As Time Goes By because Judi Dench lives near Brighton, the 2nd Harry lives in Brighton and the actor who played Lionel's "son" in the special also lives in Brighton. She told a story about how the BBC wouldn't spring for a driver to get her from Brighton (they would only do so if she lived in London) to bring her into work. Moira said that she was always tired because at the time her daughter was very young and she had to get the set early, so she would drive herself in and was tired all the time. Judi Dench noticed this and asked why wasn't the BBC giving her a driver and Moira said they wouldn't spring for one. Judi didn't want to make a fuss so she got the driver that the BBC provided for her to pick Moira up from Brighton and pick Judi Dench up on the way. Dench didn't live in London but the BBC gave her a driver because she is Judi Dench. Word got around that this was happening and the BBC finally paid for a driver to pick up Moira. That was pretty cool.

As for the final two episodes of As Time Goes By, Moira was quite frank about being disappointed with the results. She said that the script could have been better instead of trying to tie all the loose ends and getting everyone in from Penny and Stephen, Rocky and Mrs. Bale, who she said is quite a fashionable lady in real life and enjoyed driving the motorbike her character drives around on the show.

Speaking of Stephen, she said that she loved all the episodes that he was in and that he gets way more laughs than they expected from rehearsals.

During the Q&A, I got to tell her how much I loved the show and how the episode where Judy, Jean, Lionel and Sandy are all in the living room planning how many people can fit into it after Jean and Lionel's wedding. Moira said that we should have seen the rehearsals for that scene. Anyways, I said that my dad couldn't stop laughing at the scene to point that he was crying. Then I mentioned that my dad was in a car accident a few years ago and that he has dementia and doesn't really react to anything anymore but when I put that episode on or any episode of As Time Goes By, my dad still laughs. And I told her I love the show more because of that. She seemed very touch by that. I then asked her what her favourite episode was. She said that it was the one with the dog and in fact they wanted to keep the dog as the dog for series but it was decided against as it would become a distraction. But the episode she really loved was the one where Jean and Lionel come back to England after being in LA. I love that episode too because of the scene were Judi Dench is stumbling out as if she were drunk but in reality was jet lagged.

It was interesting Moira would steal the custard tarts from the set because she was the one who loved them and Geoffrey Palmer was not. If you watch the show, you will know that Lionel loves custard tarts.
As for what the cast is up to now, Moira just finished filming a drama, Judi of course is always busy doing films and theatre, Geoffrey is fishing, Philip is always working and Jenny does a lot of voice work for British television and raising her family. The cast gets together twice a year for lunch and one time both Harry's came!!!! Moira said that she and Judi Dench are close and talk once and awhile on the phone and Dench sends her kids presents. Because she and Jenny live close together and Moira's youngest is close in age to Jenny's and that they live in Brighton they do see each other often. She doesn't hear from Geoffrey that often because he fishes so much and is a solitary figure but talks sometimes on the phone. her and Philip talk once and awhile and he visits her kids often.
To me the highest point of the evening was just being able to hear all these stories about As Time Goes By and being able to tell her how much the show means to me was great.
There is talk of her coming back but this time bringing Philip (Alistair) or Jenny (Sandy). I think that would be cool.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I am also a young person who loves this show.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I found your blog post on Moira via Wikipedia. You've given us some great insights into As Time Goes By. We all love the show and appreciate your taking the time to write about Moira's personal appearance. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I really enjoyed hearing your first hand account of the evening. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about it. What a thrill to see Moira in person. If PBS would have a any of the cast back to the U.S. during a fund raiser, I'd travel to see them. My favorites are Jenny Funnell and David Michaels, I was so disappointed he wasn't in the reunion show.

Misty said...

Thank you so much for writing this blog. It's always great to hear about this show. I am a long time fan of ATGB; I was 22 in 1994 when it finally made it's way to my local PBS station (it has never stopped airing here). I loved it then and still think it's one of the best shows ever made.

Mindy said...

I am in my mid-twenties now, and I just discovered this show on netflix. I am hooked. Actually, I am a doctoral candidate and this show is so addicting that I am distracted from my Ph.D work! Thank you so much for writing this and giving us deeper insight into the series and the wonderful actors that made it so great.

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