Thursday, 4 June 2009

Ian as Dr Joseph Bell

Every occasion in which I was in Ian Richardson's company was memorable, but there were some standouts.

One of them was when he came to Glasgow (where he had studied drama at what is now the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) for a couple of months to film his first appearance as Dr Joseph Bell in Murder Rooms - The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes in the autumn of 1999.

I made my own arrangements with the production company to watch some exterior filming one afternoon and Ian wasn't in the scene I observed being shot. After I'd finishing watching the actors, crew,extras and director Paul Seed (who also directed House of Cards and To Play the King and has provided some highly interesting input for We Could Possibly Comment) at work, I heard Ian's unmistakable tones.

Ian and Maroussia were just heading in for a night shoot and he had just finished doing an interview for the Radio Times. I trailed poor Maroussia round the Glasgow book shops for a book Ian was looking for and when we got back to where the car was waiting to take her back to Ian's trailer and I expected to say 'goodbye', the driver told me that Ian was expecting me to join him there.

Whilst enjoying a meal with Ian and Maroussia in the trailer, Ian decided that I should watch a scene being filmed that would be far more beneficial to me with my interest in scriptwriting, than the one I'd just seen. He left us and went to ask Paul Seed, assistant director Harry Boyd and co-star Robin Laing (who at that stage was playing Arthur Conan Doyle) for permission for me to come back and observe one of the main scenes being filmed.

A week or two later, I reported to the 3rd assistant director inside Glasgow's beautiful Pollok Park and he showed me to Ian's trailer. With Maroussia looking after me, we went down into the basement of Pollok House.

I was given a headset and a ringside seat in front of a monitor and watched first as the scene was being rehearsed and then filmed. It was a scene which mirrors the one in The Sign of Four in which Holmes examines Watson's pocket watch and makes deductions from it. Ian had himself starred in the film and so had a sense of deja vu, the difference being that he was making the deductions as Joseph Bell, from Doyle's watch.

It was so interesting observing Ian at work - he was totally focused and mindful of every minute detail - checking with the continuity girl to know exactly where he was coming in and moving Robin Laing so that the younger actor was in the best light.

He was also full of fun and had everyone laughing when he told the Director of Photography, John Kenway, 'I'm lining the watch up with your knob, John', to which he recieved the reply, 'I'm surprised you can see it from there, Ian.' Later on, the DP return the compliment by saying 'I'm lining the camera up with the first of your chins, Ian'.

The atmosphere on the set was extremely relaxing and I think a lot of that was due Ian's sense of fun and lack of self-importance or pomposity.

I spent nine hours watching that scene, which took several hours to rehearse and film from various angles, plus a further scene being rehearsed. I called it quits after eleven, whilst Ian and everyone else was there working into the 'wee small hours' of the next morning.

A couple of days later, Ian posted me out the Call Sheet from that day, which had my name on it as a visitor to the set. It was an act of thoughtfulness that was so typical of him.


  1. A fascinating remembrance. Whenever I've watched filming, I've always been impressed at everybody's stamina and patience.

  2. Yes, it can be an extremely lengthy process with very early starts and late finishes - particularly if there are night shoots.

    And I think it must require even more stamina to be an extra because they've literally got so much standing around to do.

    I should imagine filming must be very difficult when there are actors involved who are 'up themselves' and think they are superior to everyone else.

    There are several interesting comments on that - and Ian's reaction to inconsiderate behaviour in the book.