Jean Trend | DOOMWATCH

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As Doomwatch, the BBC’s influential early 1970s cautionary drama exploring the perils of unchecked scientific experimentation and the increasing damage done to the planet’s fragile ecosystem arrives on DVD, STARBURST spoke to actor Jean Trend who played the vivacious and straight-talking scientist Dr Fay Chantry in nine episodes of the second series and its 1972 feature-film spin-off, about working on one of the most important and ground-breaking genre shows of the 1970s.

STARBURST: Have you enjoyed catching up with Doomwatch again after all these years?

Jean Trend: I have, they very kindly sent me all of them, the whole kaboosh, series one, two, and three and as I’m in series two, those are the ones I’ve concentrated on. I’m in nine episodes but if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago I’d have told you I’d done six! The whole point was to trigger my memories, but I just sit watching, absolutely stunned! I was the one who had to deal with all the science! I look at them now and think ‘Wow! That came out as though you knew what you were talking about.’ There are some really damned good stories in there! A young friend of mine watched it with me and said ‘Really, not a lot has changed in that the themes are still very pertinent to how society is now’.

Is it true that you contacted Terence Dudley, the show’s producer, and asked him if there might be a role for you in the series?

I had worked with Terence Dudley before and I think I did contact him and ask him if there was anything suitable coming up. I didn’t specifically ask him about Doomwatch but he immediately came back and offered me Fay Chantry. No audition; none of the writers or directors had ever heard of me – that wouldn’t happen nowadays. These days you’d have to have at least six auditions!

Were you given any character brief or outline to work from in developing Jean as the series wore on?

I don’t know what ideas they had about her but I certainly wasn’t given any breakdown as you are given now. I think I found out at one point that I had a daughter.  Nowadays I like to make up a little ‘back story’ in my mind if there’s nothing much in the script about the character even though you know damn well that no-one’s going to ask you about it – about your grandfather who had a wooden leg or anything like that. But actor all like to do it, we cross the t’s and dot the i’s, for our own benefit really.

Doomwatch had been a huge hit in its first series and, of course, you joined in the fourth episode of the second. How familiar were you with the series and were you excited to find yourself a part of it?

I was extremely excited to be in it. It was one of those shows almost where everything stopped because everyone was watching Doomwatch and everyone was talking about it the next day. It was so ahead of its time, thanks to Kit Pedler [who co-created the series with Gerry Davis] who was an absolute genius.

 


How involved was Kit in the day-to-day production of the show and did his enthusiasm for the show’s issues rub off on the cast?

I can’t remember Kit always being there when we were recording; I think he may have been there at the read-throughs but I certainly knew him because otherwise we wouldn’t have got talking. We probably caught up after recording or in the BBC Club where we’d go after recording, I think that’s when we would get together and chat. I think my interest grew enormously especially with Kit. For example, Kit was very concerned about water conservation – you know, not leaving the tap on and all that! – and I’ve passed that down to my children who have passed it on to theirs.  The thing was with Kit was that’d we film something, for example an episode where there was leads in mackerel causing poisoning – that would have been filmed three months before but the week it was transmitted  was the week the papers came out with ‘lead in mackerel scandal!’ headlines. Kit was extraordinarily ahead of his time in that respect.

As the ‘new girl’ was it difficult fitting in with the established cast – John Paul (Quist), Simon Oates (Ridge) and Joby Blanshard (Colin)?

I’d known Simon for many years; we’d belonged to a very forward-thinking group called ‘The 24’ who were all actors and writers – Terry Frisby, who wrote There’s a Girl In My Soup, was one of us - and we would do play readings and we all helped each other to get work so that’s where I knew Simon from. Joby and his wife Isobel became really great friends and they were godparents to my son. John Paul was lovely - re-watching him he’s just so wonderful! That performance isn’t dated at all, it’s so truthful and beautiful. He burns like the character should do. The scenes with him and lovely John Barron (The Minister) are so intense and you really feel that you’re there with them when they’re raging at each other. Have you noticed how long the scenes are? I was watching with a friend of mine, Shirley Dickson who’s in ‘You Killed Toby Wren’ and we watched it together and we were saying that there’s so much information that’s being given to the audience whereas now you’d have to give it in bite-sized chunks. The dialogue is wonderful. I’m watching it and to me it’s like I’m watching this woman from 40-odd years ago who isn’t me.

Do you remember specific instances of recording or being on location?

There’s one bit of filming, a night shoot in the car and I’m driving and there’s a beautiful old house and I have no idea where that house is or when it was! I have no memory of the night shoot and bearing in mind at the time I was married with children there would have been issues affecting our daily life but it’s amazing I just can’t remember it. I seem to remember some of the clothes; Fay wore a lovely long suede dark brown coat and I did say it’d be rather nice to buy that and they said ‘Oh, no, that’s got to go back into wardrobe.’

The series also made its way to the big-screen in Tigon’s 1972 feature film version but the regular cast, who appear occasionally, are side-lined in favour of Ian Bannen’s new character Dr Del Shaw. Was that something of a frustration for the TV cast?

We did think it was rather strange that there’d been this highly successful television programme and it was being handed over to complete strangers and we, the actual Doomwatch team, were just sort of peripheral. But I got to work in the same studio as the legendary George Sanders, which was quite something at the time. I remember he was at his desk and I was in another part of the studio watching him and he was this very old man sitting very quietly and then they say ‘We’re ready Mr Sanders’ and the actor in him just kicked in and he had all the verve and energy of a much younger man. That was fascinating to watch.

 

You’ve had a long and distinguished career since Doomwatch – including the role of Helda, the mother of Peter Firth’s ‘innocent abroad’ time traveller in the two fondly-remembered Dominick Hide TV plays from the 1980s. Do you have good memories of working on the plays?

I loved doing those, they were so clever. They were beautifully- written and Peter Firth was such a dear boy – well, as he seemed to me at the time!  What I really loved was that they were so positive about the future because in the 1980s everything seemed so negative but this was saying ‘Well, there is a future, in 150 years’ time there will be a world – and we’ll all have curly hair!’

Is Doomwatch a series you’re particularly proud of and do you think a similar series on TV today could work?

I’m very proud of it. Of course very few youngsters today would know what it is but I usually put it in my biog depending on who’s going to be reading it. But I think we’re all too aware of everything these days and of course everything moves so fast nowadays I think that by the time you’ve got the scripts written and filmed it would already have happened. I think that if they did a series like Doomwatch today they’d feel obliged to sensationalise it so it would become more science fiction than science-fact.

Doomwatch – The Remaining Episodes is available on DVD now from Simply Media.


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