Margot Hayhoe was assistant floor manager on The War Machines, Fury from the Deep and The Ambassadors of Death. She was also production manager for Logopolis, Castrovalva and Snakedance. Margot worked on many other classic TV series including The Day of the Triffids, The Tripods, Eastenders and Bergerac. We were delighted to speak to her recently about her work on The Ambassadors of Death from Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who in 1970.
WhoSFX: Can you tell us a bit more about what the role of Assistant Floor Manager actually entailed?
Margot: In the 1960’s to around the 1990’s the job of an Assistant Floor Manager in the BBC Drama Department was to be responsible for the ordering of props – both action props and those required by the Designer – having broken down the script into the various needs for location filming and for the studio recordings. You had to telephone the artists to give them their calls, mark-up the rehearsal room with tape to represent the outlines of the sets plus order rehearsal furniture.
We’d attend rehearsal and mark the artists’ moves into the script for the Director to be able to write the camera script and note any dialogue changes for the script editor. We’d also mark the furniture on the camera plan for the Production Manager. We had to attend filming on location with the responsibility of checking artists into costume and make-up, making sure the action props were loaded onto the props van and available at the right time for the correct scenes. Sometimes you’d help to stop traffic or passers-by whilst shooting as well as generally helping out during the shoot. At the end of the day you had to make sure the artists had transport back. In the studio you would check the action props, check the furniture positions were in the right place and prompt the actors if necessary.
The basic production team would be the Director, Production Manager, Directors Assistant and the AFM with a Floor Assistant joining the team for the studio to get the actors organised onto set. When most BBC Drama went over to mostly ‘location’ type work, the roles were changed into a bigger team and the titles were changed to Director, 1st Assistant, 2nd Assistant, 3rd Assistant, Location Manager, Script Supervisor and Runner, Accountant and Account Assistant, Art Director etc
WhoSFX: How did you get involved in this line of work?
Margot: I went to a stage school (The Arts Educational) in London as I was considered to be a good dancer. The school also had an agent and I auditioned for various acting parts in TV, Film and Theatre. I was lucky enough to be chosen for some jobs for the BBC when I was 13, in one production I played the sister of Anneke Wills who was also at the Arts Educational. This was in the time when TV was often transmitted live. I loved the atmosphere and excitement and decided I wanted to work on the production side. I applied to the BBC and was told that I had to get experience as a Stage Manager and be over 21. Instead I did a secretarial course and managed to get a job as a Secretary to BBC Enterprises, then became a Producer’s secretary in Drama Serials and eventually got an attachment as a trainee AFM. My first assignment was Doctor Who on The War Machines trailing Lovett Bickford. I eventually ended my production career as an Associate /Line Producer.
WhoSFX: There’s a lovely extra on one of the Doctor Who DVDS which shows a BBC internal training film with Barry Letts and yourself demonstrating the Colour Separation Overlay technique. Do you remember anything about this?
Margot: I remember this day well. I was about to start working with Nicholas John as my Production Manager on The Ambassadors of Death. Barry Letts was the producer and he was determined to show that you didn’t necessarily need blue to be the only key colour for obtaining effects in the studio. So he booked a studio day and used Nick and myself as the figures to be superimposed into various situations. As well as blue floors and rostras for us to perform on he also used green material and also lit white cyclorama cloths in various colours to see which gave the best result. Model sets were used to lay over the colour. Although the BBC continued using blue, Barry proved that green was equally good and it is interesting to see now on a large FX type film set a massive use of green screen. I vaguely remember a shot with Nick looking into a box with myself shrunk to toy size in the box looking up at him.
WhoSFX: Did you get on OK with Barry Letts?
Margot: I believe I got on well with Barry. I’d been a Production Manager on a Z Cars for him which I think was one of the first things he directed. I remember him as being a very kind, humane being who was always willing to listen. However, he did get quite overwrought on the studio with the time ticking by!
WhoSFX: How about Michael Fergusson?
Margot: I enjoyed working with Michael who had also been my director on The War Machines. He knew exactly what he wanted which is always a bonus and like to push the boundaries to achieve the best for the programme. He was also good with the actors and technicians plus he had a nice sense of humour.
WhoSFX: Was The Ambassadors of Death a particularly difficult serial to work on?
Margot: The most challenging thing about it was the amount of stunts and location filming the story needed. Although the studio had its own Doctor Who type challenges, at least it had a bit more time due to the amount of filming already shot.
WhoSFX: The location filming looks particularly cold on this one. Were you required on location throughout filming?
Margot: Very much so! And, yes, it was cold and wet. The worst thing I can remember was an accident during the filming of a stunt which involved the stunt bike riders having to fall off their bikes at speed. One of them mistimed or shot over the mark and the falling bike careered into the Camera Assistant and Pauline Silcock, the Director’s Assistant. She was in shock and injured her leg so I went with her to the local hospital. Luckily the camera assistant wasn’t hurt, just a bit shaken, but even luckier the camera was OK! So filming continued. Nowadays of course one would have a paramedic or ambulance on site for such stunts.
WhoSFX: Did you know Caroline John was pregnant when she filmed the stunt sequences on the weir?
Margot: No, I didn’t know she was pregnant. When I worked with her in 1986, on A Perfect Spy, she told me then.
WhoSFX: How did your name come to be on the van that appears in The Ambassadors of Death?
Margot: The van was being used for bad happenings so it was necessary to use a name that didn’t belong to a real laundry or bakery firm for libel reasons. As the production team didn’t get screen credits in those days I suggested we could use my name and Pauline Silcock was also happy for her name to be used. It also gave our parents a laugh!
WhoSFX: What are your memories of the main cast?
Margot: All three actors were a pleasure to work with but obviously Jon was the most memorable. He had an immense personality and always wanted the best for the show. He would come up with lots of suggestions but often we were unable to follow them through. Nick was very straightforward with a dry sense of humour and Caroline was just a delight.
WhoSFX: This was a particularly ambitious story in terms of stunts. What are your memories of the boys from HAVOC?
Margot: Derek Ware was the Stunt Arranger and also did the jump from the helicopter. Roy Scammell did the fall from the gasometer at Southall Gas Works which terrified me as it was so high. I stood some way away clutching coins to ring for an ambulance if necessary. There were no mobiles or paramedics on site in those days. Marc Boyle was one of the motorcycle riders and was very attractive to all the girls in his tight leathers. They were a fearless lot, which was always a worry!
WhoSFX: What are your memories of the space-suited aliens?
Margot: The problem for the lovely actors playing the aliens was that there costumes were somewhat restrictive and the helmets kept steaming up so they couldn’t see properly. I remember having to be inside the caged set with them to give them cues with me hidden out of shot.
WhoSFX: Were you very involved with the Visual Effects Department?
Margot: I don’t remember having much to do with them on this serial. I think they did a lot of model shot filming at Ealing which didn’t involve me. I can’t remember what they did in the studio. I had worked with Peter Day on Fury from the Deep and have also worked with Ian Scoones. He was a bit of a Warlock!
Margot Hayhoe, thank you very much.