Director Baz Taylor shares his memories of the first series of Lovejoy...
Lovejoy - no Christian name just Lovejoy - a man of mystery dealing in the world of antiques, a loveable rogue, a "divvy", a man of constant surprises.
When I was asked to direct this show, I was immediately attracted by the character and the format and original scripts by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. They were a delight, full of intrigue and potential comedy. We got together the cast to go with Ian McShane: Phyllis Logan, Chris Jury and Dudley Sutton. The brief was that the look of the show needed to be rich, thatched cottages, stately homes - all that was quintessentially English.
The whole thing started to find its feet in Episode Two because of a strange mishap concerning Lovejoy's Volvo. With the brief in mind, I thought I would capture on film some of the lovely English countryside around Lavenham by adding Lovejoy driving off in his car. I found somewhere with half-timbered houses and, when we got there, a wonderful panorama of oil seed rape presented itself before our eyes - a sea of glorious yellow rippling in the wind as far as the eye could see. Absolutely beautiful. It was perfect. I set up the camera to pan with the car until it disappeared into the distance. We saw Ian get into the car and drive off and the camera duly panned with him then stopped! " I lost him!", said the cameraman. "Let's try one more", I said. After 3 goes, the cameraman finally said that he still hadn't seen the car going through the oil seed rape. Ian was a bit fed up as it was hot and we were all tired. He and I stood together and gazed at the yellow rape then together turned and gazed at the yellow Volvo! No wonder he couldn't see it! We all collapsed laughing. The rape flowered every year for about 6 weeks. No good having a car you could never find! You never saw the yellow Volvo again after Series One.
When this series went out, I was besieged with mail. The public loved it - so did the locals in Bury St Edmunds, except when I cheated on the geography. One letter said "Why does Lovejoy go in The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmonds then escape out of the back door into Lavenham High Street ten miles away?" Nobody in all the millions of viewers, except the locals, would know that .
But that was nothing to Lovejoy's escape out of the Palazzo window into the Grand Canal in Venice in the double episode at the end of this series.
"You can't do it !" I was advised. The Grand Canal in Venice contains every disease known to man, the doctors advised. No way would the insurers cover Ian McShane for this stunt. A stuntman agreed, subject to certain conditions. We had a specialist doctor on set: the stuntman was inoculated with everything and against everything you can think of. He had eye protectors, ear protectors, special covering cream, every orifice (and I mean every orifice !) was stuffed with cotton wool - " Oh and by the way you've got one take. It'll take 4/5 hours to get him ready for another one". No pressure then. So that was that. I did it in one. When you watch the sequence you will see Ian himself jumping out of the Palazzo window from the inside onto a mattress you don't see on the outside. This was in the Maharishi's massive house, modelled on an Italian Palazzo, just off the M25 near Watford. Cut to the stuntman jumping into the Grand Canal (take one!), cut to a close up of Ian swimming in a swimming pool near Lavenham full of vegetable dye and bits of "clean" muck to match the colour of the water in the canal, cut to a long shot of stuntman swimming in the Canal in Venice and finally to Ian climbing up steps as if from the Canal. He never went into the Canal. Ian was hosed down with clean water just prior to walking up the steps out of the Canal to make the whole thing look completely believable.
This series was just the start of an enduringly popular show that was as much fun for the viewers as it was to make and there are as many stories behind the scenes as in front of the camera. I kept coming back to do more and more episodes as we went from series to series, right up to the end where Lovejoy - ever the man of mystery - was whisked away by helicopter from Lady Jane's off to - who knows where...
It was a great experience!