Wednesday, 8 April 2009

TV and the Crimean War, by Don Houghton: Wargamer's Newsletter #95 February 1970

I have just finished scripting a children’s T.V. series called 'The Flaxton Boys' for Yorkshire Television. By the time this gets into print the show will be running on all stations. It may be of some interest to Newsletter readers because the setting is the Crimean War period. Of course, being a keen devotee myself I lost no opportunity to feature as many uniforms of the times as I could. Unfortunately we discovered that the dress and uniform hire people had very little to offer us in re¬gards to Crimean uniforms. It seemed that the wardrobe people were continually being offered vague 'chocolate-soldier' stuff which, it must be admitted, looked very colourful, but had absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever. I had strange nightmares in which I saw puce and orange hussars charging lines of sky-blue infantrymen.

However, being a wargamer has its advantages. I rang through to Donald Featherstone with the problem - and he immediately put me in touch with John and Boris Mollo and their Historical Research Unit. I should imagine that these two specialists, whose names must be known to all military enthusiasts, are the final authorities on the Crimean period. Anyway, John lost no time in coming to our aid. Evidently, des¬pite the popularity of the film 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (and John Mollo was responsible for the uniform detail in that), it seemed there is an acute shortage of Crimean militaria in this country. But he immediately put some cavalry uniforms at Yorkshire Television's disposal and their wardrobe people were able to use these and also make some copies from them. Readers may, when they see various episodes of the show, criticise and pick out erroneous detail in the uniforms used - but I hasten to assure them that this is not John Mollo’s fault. He could not be on hand for the filming and without him being there some mistakes were bound to slip through - but without his invaluable help I doubt very doubt whether we would have been able to re¬present the 11th Hussars and the 17th Lancers, etc., in any of their glory.

I got help also from René North (another name readers will, or should, know) who went out of his way to send me uniform sketches at very short notice. On several occasions I had to ring up René at odd hours, relay the uniform detail I needed - and then, almost next day, I always found that the sketches were to hand.

I also wrote in a couple of scenes featuring lead soldiers (54 mm figures) - and viewers with eagle eyes might just be able to recognise their creators. I gave the Producer the name of two or three Makers and it will be interesting to try and identi¬fy the ones he chose.

You might also be interested in Episode 5 of the show, entitled 'The Bridge'. Here the Producer has used a troop of the Royal Horse Artillery in the story. I defy anyone to criticise their uniforms, however. They are members of the Queen's Troop, E.H.A. - and their uniforms and equipment are absolutely correct down to the very last detail.

I regret that there are no scenes of the Crimean battlefields - the stories are set in Yorkshire - but I believe we may have captured the atmosphere of the time.

Although we would not even have done that if it had not been for the good offices of the Newsletter - and our closely knit little community of wargamers, military en¬thusiasts and specialists. May I, therefore, take this opportunity of thanking Donald Featherstone, John and Boris Mollo, René North and the others who made my job just that much easier - and that much more enjoyable.

Don Houghton wrote the fondly remembered “At the Colonel’s Table” series of articles in Wargamer’s Newsletter – the complete series will be posted here in the coming months.

IMdB (the Internet Movie Database) shows Don’s work including the Flaxton Boys, Dr Who – the Mind of Evil, New Scotland Yard, Sapphire and Steel, The Doombolt Chase, and (whisper this quietly) is credited as the creator of Take the High Road.

1 comment:

Michael Flynn said...

Amazing,,,, As a child I loved watching the Flaxton boys and was greatly inspired by the uniforms and story lines in the show to play wargames, not a term I would have used then. I would tell my mum I am having a battle and commandeer the living room carpet, pushing back the sofa and setting up on either side of the room two gloriously unrelated armies. The combatants were a mixture of very old lead 54mm figures, Timpo cowboys and indians ( I know I should say native Americans !) and airfix ACW "little soldiers" . The center piece of my battles was always the Timpo OK Ranch set along with a rather nice chuck wagon.
Thank you Mr Houghton for the wonderful Flaxton Boys and giving me a life time of wargaming pleasure.
Michael Flynn