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Stratford poster

The official Planet of the Apes Fan Club was launched in the UK in November 1975 by family-run PR and promotions company Television Character Promotions (TVC), which had secured rights from Twentieth Century Fox to arrange a string of photo-op personal appearances and live public performances by Apes characters which occurred across the UK between 1975-1978, capitalising on the success of the Planet of the Apes TV series in the UK. Run from a tiny office in London, Television Character Promotions concentrated solely on Planet of the Apes characters and comprised a staff of five: 'Big' Mike Caulfield, the man who started it all, thought up all the ideas and dealt with the financial side; his wife June Caulfield, who was responsible for the make-up, the upkeep of the costumes and authentic appearance of the Ape stars; Peter Caulfield, 'Big' Mike's smaller brother, who edited the Fan Club newsletter and answered queries; Fan Club Secretary Sally Skinner, who looked after the members' record-cards, etc.; and Mike McCarthy, who was recruited in 1976 as Technical Advisor and Fight Director for the Apes arena show appearances. The outdoor arena shows McCarthy directed had an action sequence involving two astronauts, Galen, Urko, Zaius and gorilla guards Virgil, Plato and Nero, usually with horses and a lot of stunts but no actual script.[1]

While the arena shows were at their height, Television Character Promotions ambitiously decided to add another string to their bow, as the May 1976 newsletter proudly announced the forthcoming Planet of the Apes stage play: "At last, the highly successful "Planet of the Apes" comes to the stage. Action, Drama and Excitement. Fun for all the family. 19th July for five weeks. Book now." This original Planet of the Apes theatre script was penned by Fight Director Mike McCarthy, based largely on the pilot episode of the TV series, mixed with elements of Pierre Boulle's novel, the films and an earlier script idea by producer Mike Caulfield.

SynopsisEdit

Script title

Title page from the Planet of the Apes theatrical script (provided to Hasslein Books by Mike McCarthy)

The story centered around two astronauts (named in the script as 'Taylor' and 'Brent', they were actually modelled more closely on Burke and Virdon; in fact each production gave the characters new names) as they take off, move through a time barrier while taking atmospheric readings, and crash-land on 21st March 3085. Taylor and an injured Brent attempt to repair their ship and escape but then they are befriended by a semi-mute human 'slave girl' (so-named in the script; initial newspaper and newsletter reviews named her 'Pila', script notes called her 'Pellah'; McCarthy himself refers to her as 'Pela'). She runs off as gorilla guards Zako and Orak (or 'Orack') approach to take the intruders to their "great warrior leader Urko" in the city. Urko and Dr. Zaius - an elder statesman who is leader of the Council - agree to study the astronauts before executing them, holding them in a cage. In Zaius' office, his assistant Galen finds a book with a picture of the two astronauts setting out from Earth in 1985. Zaius catches him and takes the book. Later, Galen goes to the astronauts and informs them that they are on the planet Earth - London, England to be exact - and that the girl they saw was one of a few surviving humans from a small tribe in the Forbidden Zone where they landed. Galen helps them escape but fires a gun, wounding a gorilla in the arm, and is caught by Urko. Galen is put on trial charged with being a traitor to the planet of the apes, under threat of the firing squad. In the Forbidden Zone, the astronauts again meet the slave girl, just as they decide to return to the city to help Galen. Two gorilla scouts appear, and the astronauts with the help of the girl fight and overpower them. (At this point in a later script revision, the girl suddenly speaks fluently, revealing she had to be sure she could trust them first.) Back in the city, the astronauts and the girl knock out another gorilla in order to free Galen. Urko enters, leading to a fight between Urko, the astronauts and two gorilla guards. Galen and the girl set off a bomb. Urko challenges Galen to a fight, which Galen wins. They all run back to the Forbidden Zone, and to the ship, pursued by the apes. They persuade Galen to go with them, but the girl refuses to leave and bids a sad farewell to the astronauts. They take off, leaving Urko shaking his fist to the sky.

Behind the ScenesEdit

Because the masks made their voices sound muffled, the voices of the ape characters, along with dramatic soundtrack music, were all pre-recorded by Robin Maddison at Molinar Sound Studios in London ("the old Studio B, at the Broadwick St, London W1", as Robin himself recalls). The actors playing the apes then mimed, while those playing the humans had to speak 'live' between the excerpts, requiring a tightly-rehearsed routine amongst the eight actors. The play also included elements of pantomime; when Urko fought Galen, children were invited to cheer and yell their support for Galen. The characters would then venture into the auditorium, the fugitives running through the audience followed by the apes. An optional ending would have the audience boo the gorillas off stage.

Two theatre shows - at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London and the Windmill Theatre in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - were produced at the same time in the Summer of 1976. The July/September ’76 newsletter printed a glowing review of the two parallel productions of the show: "So at last it happened. The long-awaited stage production of the Planet Of The Apes. The World Premier was on July 19th at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, London E15. It played there until 20th August and was a sell-out. I saw this production six times and each time it was funnier than the last. The show was a mixture of drama and pantomime with lots of audience participation. The whole TV cast was there, Galen, heroic as usual doing his best to rescue the astronauts, Brad (John Haden) and Jeff (Geoff Freshwater) and getting caught himself. Urko was as mean, sly and double dealing as ever, bullying Dr. Zaius and beating his own warriors. The two gorilla guards (Steve Oxley and John Munday) were absolutely hilarious. Living examples of the expression, "Big dumb apes". The glamour is provided by the beautiful slave girl Pila, (Petrina Derrington) who captures Astro Brad's heart which leads to a tear-jerking farewell at the end of the show... This is a very good show and the fights were very realistic."

Ukstageshow
Lance

Picture with a stage show gorilla. (Photo courtesy of Lance Alexander, "the small one, unimpressed at the time.")

Cast-members Nigel Jones (as Urko?), John Mundy and Geoff Freshwater were seen in costume on the London Underground in a publicity shoot for the Stratford show. Matinees were at 2pm and tickets were 50p and £1.00. Fan Martin Gainsford was one of the children lucky enough to witness the Apes live show: "My older cousin appeared one Saturday and flashed a grin 'Ready Martin?' 'For what?', I asked. 'The Planet Of The Apes stage play' he replied. My head was spinning as a week or so earlier I had seen a photograph in the paper of some gorillas on a tube train with a small article about a play that was being staged. It was in a part of London I had never even heard of. After what seemed an eternity of buses and tube trains we ended up in East London and at a theatre packed with kids like me. The whole thing was a little bit hokey even for me as a kid and quite like a pantomime with audience interaction and loads of shouting from the kids and stuff but it was still an amazing experience and one I will cherish forever." Similarly, the show made a lasting impression on Lance Alexander: "I went to see the show in about 1976, I was living in Thurrock, Essex at the time. Really not sure which theatre I went to but I do remember the Ape soldier jumping off the stage and running up the gangway waving his rifle around. He then decided to pick on me, as I was on the end row, and started asking if I was hiding the humans? He tried to look under my seat and was going back to get his net.....for me! Needless to say at the age of 5 I was slightly concerned! ...After the show the guard that 'attacked me' felt so bad for making my bottom lip wobble he had his photo taken with us." "I also remember the bit when the space craft crashed at the start of the play - smoke, flashing lights and the astronauts in upright cylinders... I have always enjoyed thinking back to those days and it was one of the reasons that part of my work now is designing Ape and Chimp themed art pieces."

Yarmouth review
Yarmouth1

Picture with a stage show gorilla. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Pamieta, "This is me taken at the live summer show in Great Yarmouth which ran for 8 weeks in 1976.")

The second company, playing the Windmill Theatre in Great Yarmouth, opened a week later than the Stratford production and ran until August 29th. There would be twice-daily performances - except Saturdays - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Tickets, according to Andrea Pamieta's photo, cost 65p for children and 95p for adults. Theatre producer Bill Kenwright co-produced the Great Yarmouth show - "for David Gordon Productions in association with Mike A. Caulfield for T.V. Character Promotions", according to a program given out at the Great Yarmouth show which cleverly doubled as a cardboard Ape mask. Tom McCabe was listed as director, but during rehearsals Mike McCarthy replaced him, requiring McCarthy to travel between London and Great Yarmouth to direct and oversee the two productions. Bill Kenwright suggested Angela Daniels, from the ITV show Sale of the Century, for the role the 'slave girl', while Mike Caulfield asked Rory Lister to play 'Astro Danny' (Lister had already appeared in several Apes live arena shows beginning with the Christmas show in Newcastle). The rest of the cast were Mike Dalton ('Astro Mike'); Fortunato Evangelista (Galen); David Downs (gorilla guard 'Orack'); Melvyn Bedford (gorilla guard 'Zako'); Mike Ayris (Urko); and Andrew Lord (Dr. Zaius). Peter Caulfield's July/September newsletter review continued: "Great Yarmouth also had the show but with a different cast. Here the Astros were played by Rory Lister and Mike Dalton. The part of Pila was taken by Angela Daniels (of 'Sale of the Century' fame). The fights were, I felt, not up to the standard of the Stratford show, with the exception of the duel between Galen and Urko. In that, the stunting was fantastic. Hopefully the stage production will go on tour, so keep your eyes open for more news."

Yarmouth program

Combination Program & Ape Mask from the Great Yarmouth production (provided to Hasslein Books by Mike McCarthy)

In the November 1976 ‘Birthday Issue’ newsletter, ‘Big’ Mike Caulfield wrote "that's another of [Mike McCarthy’s] talents; play-write. He wrote the 1 1/2, hr stage play that was so successful this summer; Well done Mike. The show might go to the Kilburn Empire, London, at Christmas, and maybe to Ireland. Irish fans watch out". ‘Big’ Mike’s brother Peter, in the same issue, summed-up a very successful 1976: "Do you realize that the club is now one year old? What a year it has been as well. The Apes have appeared at a total of 38 venues, of which twenty three were straight-forward personal appearances. At the other fifteen venues they performed their arena show no less than 31 times. Also there were the two summer seasons, one at Stratford for five weeks and one at Great Yarmouth for eight weeks. At each theatre they did two shows a day for six days a week. That makes a staggering one hundred and fifty six performances all together. Now the Apes are on holiday - but just where does an ape go to get away from it all??"

Tvc circular

An undated letter was circulated by Television Character Promotions from their Ilford headquarters highlighting their two successful 1976 theatrical runs of six weeks each, with "two acts of four scenes" featuring "excellent sound effects, background music, fight and chase sequences, explosions and gunshots, comedy and audience participation" lasting 90 minutes with provision for extension, and advertising the company's availability for Easter and Summer dates.

Cleethorpes poster

Although it seems that the plans for a Christmas run at the Kilburn Empire or a tour of Ireland never came to fruition, Mike McCarthy was invited back to direct the revived stage show for a two week run during the summer season at the Pier Pavilion Theatre in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire in 1978. The show ran from 24th July to 5th August with performances Monday-Saturday 11am and 2.30pm, and tickets were 80p, 70p per adult and 70p, 60p per child. Although the cast is unknown at present, a newspaper article and photo survives, listing astronauts Bob and Geoff (Jeff?), Pela, Galen, Urko, Doctor Zaius and gorilla guards Zako and Orak. The article maintained that this was "the first time that the Planet of the Apes show has been enacted on stage", with Mike McCarthy adding "The Planet of the Apes events went down really well in Cleethorpes in the last two years, so it was a natural progression that we should come here to stage our first ever show. We are hoping to tour the country with it." In a reminder of earlier events, some fighting had to be cut from the final scene of the performance witnessed by the news reporter when a gorilla was rushed to hospital with a suspected broken nose. Actor Robert Angell was apparently among the performers at Cleethorpes.[2] Television Character Promotions seems to have disappeared off the radar after August 1978, taking the UK’s only official Planet of the Apes Fan Club with it.


Cleethorpes review


In 2010, Mike McCarthy supplied copies of both the theatre script and a synopsis of the arena show to the Hasslein Books website, where the originals are reproduced along with text transcripts. Following on from this, the BrokenSea team (also responsible for audio adaptations of the first two Planet of the Apes movies) produced an audio dramatization of the Stage Show, released as a free online download in November and December 2013.


CastEdit

  • Galen ... unknown (Stratford)
Fortunato Evangelista (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Mark Kalita (audio dramatization)
Mike Dalton (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Chris Sutton (audio dramatization)
Rory Lister (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Mathew Weller (audio dramatization)
  • Zaius ... unknown (Stratford)
Andrew Lord (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Gareth Preston (audio dramatization)
  • Urko ... Nigel Jones? (Stratford)
Mike Ayris (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Paul Mannering (audio dramatization)
  • Pila / Pela, the slave girl ... Petrina Derrington (Stratford)
Angela Daniels (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Elaine Barrett (audio dramatization)
  • Orack / Orak ... Steve Oxley? (Stratford)
David Downs (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Stevie K. Farnaby (audio dramatization)
  • Zako ... John Munday/Mundy? (Stratford)
Melvyn Bedford (Great Yarmouth)
unknown (Cleethorpes)
Brian Bochicchio (audio dramatization)

With

  • Plato ... Chris Barnes (audio dramatization)
  • Nero ... Lothar Tuppan (audio dramatization)
  • credit announcer ... Gaylin Didur-Tate (audio dramatization)

Production CrewEdit

  • Writer ... Mike McCarthy
  • Producers ... Bill Kenwright and Mike A. Caulfield (Great Yarmouth)
  • Director ... Tom McCabe (Great Yarmouth)
Mike McCarthy (Great Yarmouth, Cleethorpes)
  • Script adaptation for audio ... Bill Hollweg (audio dramatization)
  • Sound design and mixing ... Lothar Tuppan (audio dramatization)

NotesEdit

External linksEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Apes Live with Mike McCarthy, by Rich Handley, John Roche, Neil Moxham & Dave Ballard - 'Simian Scrolls' #18 (2015)
  2. A working life: The actor, by Mark King - 'The Guardian' (5 February 2011)

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