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  • James Cellan Jones RIP

    James Cellan Jones, television director best known for ‘The Forsyte Saga’ and ‘Fortunes of War’ – obituary



    James Cellan Jones in 1968, with his dog Betsy
    CREDIT: DAVID JOHNSON/MIRRORPIX/GETTY IMAGES
    13 SEPTEMBER 2019 • 5:50AM

    James Cellan Jones, who has died aged 88, joined the BBC in 1955 as a call boy and worked his way up to be head of plays and a leading director with dozens of television film and drama credits, notably The Forsyte Saga (1967), the 26-part adaptation of John Galsworthy’s novels, and Fortunes of War (1987), the seven-part dramatisation of Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levant trilogies, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.

    Cellan Jones was an exceptional storyteller, a master of the art of letting a long narrative expand without slackening, and adept at providing a fine sense of time and place. But his greatest skill was in bringing out the best in writers, actors and technicians.

    Indeed the worldwide success of The Forsyte Saga, which he co-directed with David Giles, was largely due to his sensitive handling of the stars, Eric Porter, Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth More and Susan Hampshire.

    It was not an easy job, largely due to Eric Porter (brilliantly cast as the stiff-necked Soames Forsyte), whom Cellan Jones remembered as “the biggest bastard ever made”. Porter caused so much trouble that, after the series finished, Cellan Jones’s wife made him sign a piece of paper saying that he would never work with the actor again.

    “He was cruel to the other actors, and a nightmare for a director,” he recalled. “He would object to every move you gave him, and he would object to you giving directions to the other actors as well … The only person he couldn’t upstage was Kenny More. He’d say: ‘There, there, that’s right, Eric dear, you just carry on.’”

    Eric Porter, Margaret Tyzack and Kenneth More in 'The Forsyte Saga'
    CREDIT: CHRISTOPHEL /ALAMY

    Towards the end of production, Porter was rushed to hospital with appendicitis and refused to undergo an emergency appendectomy until he had been assured that, if he did not survive, Susan Hampshire, as Fleur, could play their last scenes together over his corpse.

    The series was phenomenally successful, winning six million viewers when first broadcast on BBC Two and 18 million when it was repeated on BBC One.

    Fortunes of War presented other challenges. The idea of televising Olivia Manning’s wartime saga was first aired in the 1970s when the writer was still working on her Levant Trilogy. Somehow the BBC never had the money for it, and when the corporation’s head of drama Jonathan Powell eventually decided to go ahead, the rights had been bought up by the independent producer Primetime.

    But Powell managed to persuade the producer Betty Willingale to take it on as a co-production with Primetime. Cellan Jones joined the project as director and a
    script was commissioned from Alan Plater.


    Eric Porter in 'The Forsyte Saga'. Cellan Jones recalled Porter as 'the biggest bastard ever made'
    CREDIT: PICTORIAL PRESS LTD/ALAMY

    Primetime, however, had signed up a US co-producer bringing in a handsome up-front sum, but Betty Willingale had had her fingers burnt before with interfering American casting directors and after acrimonious exchanges the project was effectively wrested from the company (although it was still credited as a partner), the deal with the co-producer ditched and a more modest but creatively freer tie-up with PBS initiated.

    But with a budget of around £7 million – the BBC’s most expensive production to date – the project still held considerable risk and Cellan Jones’s determination to cast Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in the leading roles as bookish Guy and prickly Harriet Pringle (the actors met filming the series and married in real life), led to problems when the underwriting was being arranged.

    continued....
    Last edited by Maurice; 13th September 2019, 05:48 AM.

  • #2
    James Cellan Jones: Telegraph obituary (continued)





    Richard Chamberlain in 'The Portrait of a Lady', directed by Cellan Jones in 1968
    CREDIT: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/GAMMA-KEYSTONE VIA GETTY IMAGES

    Branagh was the golden boy of British theatre, but more or less unknown in the US. Emma Thompson, mainly known for the television series Tutti Frutti, was even more of a gamble.

    The BBC held its nerve, however, and managed to strike a $2 million deal with WGBH, the Boston-based public service station, that made the project possible. But it was Cellan Jones’s unwavering pursuit of perfection – including employing a Cambridge historian to correct any errors of military detail in Manning’s text – that lent confidence to the telling of the tale. On one occasion he reluctantly abandoned a cross-cultural clash of Scots bagpipes and Gregorian chant because there were no Scottish soldiers in Athens at the time.

    With a cast of more than 80, location shooting took place on an unprecedented scale. The Romanians, regarding The Balkan Trilogy as an insult to their national honour, denied permission to film in Bucharest; Cellan Jones made do with Ljubljan a instead.

    The small Greek port of Navplion substituted for 1941 Piraeus, but most of the filming took place as in Manning’s books – in Athens and the temple at Sounion in Greece, and in Cairo, Alexandria, the desert and Giza, in Egypt.

    It took two years to make and production was not entirely trouble-free. When the crew were about to shoot a sleigh scene all the snow in the Yugoslavian mountains melted, and when they found a perfect beaten-up old Greek ship with original 1940s features they returned horrified to find that the boat’s crew had done it up because it was going to be in the film.

    In Cairo the authorities objected to a vital funeral scene on the basis that it would suggest that people die unnecessarily in Egypt.

    Yet amazingly the production, which scooped a clutch of Baftas, came in under budget and on time.

    Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in 'Fortunes of War'
    CREDIT: EVERETT COLLECTION/ALAMY

    Alan James Gwyn Cellan Jones was born in Swansea on July 13 1931 to Cecil and Lavinia Cellan Jones. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the RAMC. James was educated at Charterhouse, then at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences.

    After National Service in the Royal Engineers, during which he served as a troop commander in Korea, he joined the BBC as a call boy in 1954 and rose steadily to become a production manager, then a director, before going freelance (it was as a freelance that he served as the BBC’s head of plays from 1976 to 1979).

    Cellan Jones was Bafta nominated seven times, for Roads to Freedom (BBC, 1970), a miniseries based on a trilogy by Jean-Paul Sartre; Eyeless in Gaza (BBC, 1971), an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel; Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (Thames Television, 1974), a miniseries with Lee Remick which also won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series; A Fine Romance (LWT, 1981-82), a sitcom starring husband-and-wife team Judi Dench and Michael Williams, which also won the Broadcasting Press Guild award for Best Comedy; Oxbridge Blues (1984), an anthology dramatised by Frederic Raphael from his own short stories, which also won the 1987 CableACE Award for Best Dramatic Series; and Fortunes of War.


    Cellan Jones, second row, left, with the production team on 'The Forsyte Saga'
    CREDIT: BBC

    Other credits included Portrait of a Lady, the BBC’s 1967 film rendition of Henry James’s novel; The Golden Bowl (BBC, 1972) an adaptation of Henry James’s study of adultery, jealousy and possession, and The Adams Chronicles (PBS, 1976), for which he was nominated for another Directors Guild of America award. His 1993 television film Harnessing Peacocks won the Golden Nymph award for Best Television Film at the Monte Carlo Television Festival.

    Cellan Jones did little work for the big screen, an exception being Bequest to the Nation, the 1973 film version of Terence Rattigan’s stage play about Lord Nelson’s affair with Lady Hamilton, starring Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch.

    Cellan Jones recalled that the two stars had an unhappy relationship, as Glenda Jackson refused to talk to Finch and would not look him in the eye, causing the actor to develop a nervous cold sore on his upper lip.

    Finch’s wife, however, an uninhibited Jamaican woman called Althea, was having none of it and during a day’s shooting in Dartmouth she arrived on set and grabbed the film’s 72-year-old producer Hal Wallace in front of the crew and assembled guests. “Listen man,” she said, “if you don’t get that f---in’ Glenda Jackson to stop makin’ a monkey out of my Finchy, I goin’ to cut her f---in’ throat.”

    Not all Cellan Jones’s projects were crowned with success. Slip-up (1986), a £600,000 comedy written by Keith Waterhouse about the failed Daily Express plot to arrest Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, was held up by the BBC after former Detective Chief Supt Jack Slipper (“Slipper of the Yard”) threatened to sue for libel. When the corporation eventually went ahead, Slipper carried out his threat and in 1990 was awarded £50,000 in damages. The BBC was also ordered to pay costs of more than £400,000.

    After Slipper’s death it was rebroadcast by the British Film Institute as part of a retrospective for the director.

    Cellan Jones, who listed his recreations in Who’s Who as “scuba diving and wine making”, was chairman of Bafta from 1983 to 1985. In 2006 he published a memoir, Forsyte and Hindsight.

    In 1959 he married the television editor and production manager Margot Eavis, who died in 2015. He is survived by their daughter Lavinia and son, the director Simon Cellan Jones; another son, Deiniol, died in 2013. He is also survived by a son from a relationship before his marriage, with Sylvia Rich – the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

    James Cellan Jones, born July 13 1931, died August 30 2019
    Last edited by Maurice; 13th September 2019, 05:53 AM.

    Comment


    • #3
      R.I.P.

      I first came across his work with the film Bequest to the Nation (1973). Of course he's famous for the quality of his TV direction, working on many fine serials. I was particularly fond of his two Mary Wesley TV Movie adaptations: Harnessing Peacocks and The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew featuring the great Tara Fitzgerald. He was known as a fine director of actors.

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