ATV films in Tunisia

Crossroads – In Africa

AFTER ten days’ filming in Tunisia – and some 500 shots in the can – our Midlands Crossroads team are now back in Birmingham.

Last month viewers started to see some of the sequences filmed in North Africa by producer Reg Watson and his team. They will be fitted in over a three-month period.

Casting director Margaret French, production assistant Jenny Box and director Tim Jones were with the team at the start but they left after four days. This enabled production assistant Ann-Marie Smart and stage manager Elizabeth Stern to fly out.

They were later joined by director Alan Coleman, with sound engineers Paddy O’Connor and Barry Pritchard. The cameramen were John Varnish and Gerry Pinches while Ken Boyes was on duty taking stills.

Wardrobe supervisor Ron Wallis was there with three suitcases of clothes – thirty-five different outfits, two wigs and a travelling iron. He also bought three Arab outfits en route.

The party was completed by some of the Crossroads cast – Noele Gordon, Sue Nicholls, Tony Morton, Lew Luton and newcomer Richard Irving.

They flew out from London airport to Tunis and spent three days travelling by coach, stopping on the way to film sequences on the Tunisian mainland.

At the end of the 360 miles journey they arrived on the historic island of Djerba where Ulysses is said to have landed and eaten the famous lotus plant. They soon were at work filming amid the palms and the flowering pomegranate trees.

Naturally such goings on were a great novelty in a Mohammedan country which only secured its independence from the French in 1957. For a start nothing quite like the mini skirts of Sue Nicholls – seven inches above the knees – had yet been seen on the island of Djerba. They would certainly have given Ulysses more to think about than lotus eating.

Although President Habib Bourguiba has given Arab women the vote, old traditions die hard, and most familes still observe the three rules of the Koran for their women folk.

 – They mustn’t be financially independent of father or husband

– They can’t be seen out of their homes unless heavily veiled

– They can’t give orders to men

Hence, there are few, if any Arab women in the streets – all the shopping is done by men. Bedmaking and cleaning in hotels is done efficiently by young boys and only the hotels have bars since alcohol is against the Moslem religion.

Cafes sell nothing but soft drinks and coffee at fourpence a cup, very good too.

Hazel Adair, the Crossroads script editor, has been out obtaining such background information before the team arrived. In fact she asked so many questions the secret police started making enquiries.

In ATV’s Aston Road Studios in Birmingham, technicians have been building interiors for a make-believe Tunisian Hotel, ‘The Desert Coral Hotel’

“We are using the exteriors of five different real-life hotels” explained producer Reg Watson, “All the exterior scenes that we’re filming here will be fitted in with interior scenes which we’ll shoot in Birmingham later.”

Back home casting director Margaret French will be hiring actors and actresses to play the parts of the real-life German, French and British couples who were holidaying in Tunisia.

One couple who did not mind appearing were on holiday in Djerba – magician John Wade and his singer wife Elizabeth Gordon. Wade, a frequent broadcaster presented the BBC’s Five to Ten talks last month – Reg Watson was able to use them in a short sequence. Naturally, our unit’s activities were somewhat puzzling to the Tunisians who stood around resplendent in red fez and flowing robes.

Few knew anything about TV and anyway, it was against their religion to be photographed And as there wasn’t much inducement for them to become viewers for although there are aerials on some of the white domed roofs, Tunisian TV is restricted to two hours daily – one hour in French and the other in Arabic.

Indeed, on the Isle of Djerba where drinking water still has to be brought by lorry from the mainland, they reckon that TV proves no real alternative to their traditional pasttimes of fishing and rug making – dating back to Homer’s day.

So while the ATV folk, in shorts and bikinis, toiled away in the hot sun the Arabs withdrew to the shade of the palms. Our Crossroads crew were left to themselves to get on with it.

ATV Newsletter, written by ‘ATV Reporter’, 1967 With thanks to Reg Watson for this item.

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