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David Drummond gave a talk about his time playing Bertie in the 1960s TV series.

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Biggles, The Biggles TV Series

Report


David Drummond, who played Bertie in the 1960s, talked about making the TV series on 5th June at the CAA (the Club for Acts and Actors) in London at a meeting of the Max Wall Society. David admitted he had never read Biggles, he was much more of a Just William fan.  David is an engaging speaker and he remembered quite a lot after 50 years - actors often don't.


The promised set of all the episodes Network have promised us is still not available. David showed us three episodes, the first two of “Biggles on the Home Front” and the last one of “Biggles on Mystery island”. David obtained these episodes from ITV. He was told they had every episode in their archives, but when asked to find them, this was sadly not the case. We must hope that Network was not relying on them for copies of the series.


The main cast was Nevil Whiting (Biggles), David Drummond (Bertie), John Leyton (Ginger) and Carl Duering as von Stalhein.  David had been in a commercial in which he played a submarine commander, and he was remembered from that when they were casting the series. At the time he was appearing in a play that was not very successful so there was no worry about contracts, he became available for the series. There was some discussion about Algy and Bertie, and it was decided to combine the two roles, possibly because there was not sufficient funds for a fourth actor in the team.


They were told to go to Bermans and equip themselves with flying jackets and boots, which David rather enjoyed. The director first wanted Bertie to carry a hamster. David managed to get this changed to allow him to carry a walking stick, of which he had quite a collection.


Director Matthew Boddy decided the actors should have a flying lesson. They went up with David in the second pilot’s seat and John Leyton in the back. At the point where David was to take over, he was told “Don’t go up.” But he thought that was actually the safest thing to do! When they got down, John was green, they had gone up so sharply he thought they were going to loop the loop!


Nevil Whiting played the lead in a number of musicals. The youngest member of the team, John Leyton, received a lot of fan mail during the series. It was after this that someone suggested to Leyton that he might try his luck as a pop singer because he looked like one! The second song he recorded, “Johnny, Remember Me”, became a big hit, and Leyton still tours as a singer to this day. David continued acting, and has a specialist bookshop in Cecil Court, in London.


The series had some interesting actors in the supporting roles. Oliver Reed and Terrence Alexander were both in the first series. Reed played baddie Gus Norman in “Biggles on the Home Front”. Reed was already a hell raiser and was in a fracas in Oxford Street, Manchester, just before they started filming so they thought they were lucky to get him in one piece! David says he was asked to speak with his friend Max Wall to see if he would play Ragpicker but “No" said David in his lovely ‘Max Wall' voice so the part was taken by John Gabriel. John Laurie was also in "Flies North”. The team were expected to be role models. In one of the episodes we saw Biggles was offered a cigarette and responded “No thanks, I don't use them." I wonder what Johns thought of that!


Granada sold the series to Australia, where it was repeated, was shown again on late night TV, and is probably better known than in the UK. The composer was Tony Spier who also wrote the "Coronation Street” theme. The script writer was Tony Warren, whose heart was not in it, said David. Warren had the idea for another series called “Florizel Street”, which was later to become a big hit when renamed “Coronation Street.”


According to Network, the series will be available on 31st December 2099!

 

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