RUSSELL FALLS OUT WITH YTV
A major row has broken out between playwright Willy Russell and Yorkshire Television over the screening of a new five-part film, 'One Summer', which begins on Channel 4 this Sunday.
Russell, author of the West End musical hit 'Blood Brothers' and the film 'Educating Rita', is the scriptwriter of the series, but his name does not appear on the credits at his own request. Despite this, YTV have issued press releases and organised a conference to launch the series in which Russell is featured as the author.
Russell, speaking from his Liverpool home before leaving for a timely holiday, told TO that the programme had been fraught with misunderstandings and lack of co-operation from the start. Produced by Keith Richardson (Head of Drama at Tyne Tees TV and producer on YTV's recently acclaimed 'Harry's Game') and directed by Gordon Flemyng, 'One Summer' is the story of two working-class Liverpool 16-year-olds who run away to the Welsh countryside and try to recapture the enjoyment of a far-off school camping holiday, encountering adventures and aggravation on the way.
'I have no beef with David Rose, Channel 4's Head of Drama, or David Cunliffe, the executive producer with whom I go back a long way,' says Russell. 'But I hate the way the series has been directed. It's not what I intended and I am in profound disagreement over the way it was cast.
'I could give a whole list of disagreements but the casting is the most thorny problem. The producer and director reneged on a promise not to cast the play while I was out of the country. They ignored actors that I recommended and selected others without my knowledge or consent. The result is that the boys are played by two people who I have nothing against personally - who are much older than 16 and the result is that a great deal of sympathy - which is vital to the point of the series, has been lost. Parts of it are brutal and even pornographic as a result.'
Russell says that 'not once' was he invited to discuss the script with director Flemyng, who 'made it clear that (Russell's) direct involvement in the shooting was not wanted.
'I didn't like the way the storyline was sacrificed to a lot of pretty shots of the Welsh countryside. I wrote the best film sequence I've ever written and they cut it and substituted a traffic jam. I wrote about a derelict cottage which they turned into a £150,000 bijou Hampstead residence and they did the same thing with a caravan. These details add up. But the whole tone isn't what I intended and I asked sometime ago to have my name removed.'
The series features many non-actors and previous unknowns (including Dave Morrissey and Spencer Leigh in the main parts). Russell says: 'On previous plays I've written where unknowns or non-actors have been cast loads of kids have been seen. On "Our Day Out" for the BBC we saw 300 and selected 20. Here, they only looked at about 40.'
Russell did admit that the series would 'probably work on its own terms' and a spokesman for YTV told TO: We don't want to get involved in a slanging match with Mr Russell. We are proud of the series and think we have done justice to his work. Obviously we are saddened that he took his name off it. We saw as many as 200 young people to find the leads, not 40. His script has been changed very slightly and only when scenes were impractical and wouldn't have worked on TV.'
Main One Summer site