RUDOLF CARTIER was in the highest echelon of television directors, writes Charles Castle. I was his assistant at the BBC in the Sixties, for seven or eight years, on opera and drama productions, and learnt everything I know about television from him.
People were strangely frightened of Cartier. He was precise, pedantic even, and had the manner of a big film director. He was economical in his commands: with a shake or a nod of the head - one never had long conversations with him - he would say 'Bring me a camera' in the manner of an Emeric Pressburger. His mind was always clear and he was absolutely unbending in what he wanted.
One of our largest productions was of Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow. Jeremy Brett was cast as Danilow. Brett had the charm necessary for the role but was not a particularly strong singer; yet Cartier drew a performance out of him that no one else could have.
That production was also a typical demonstration of Cartier's musical knowledge and his technical skill in marshalling his forces. It ran, live, for more than two hours, and we had six weeks' rehearsal in the studio. The orchestra was in one studio and the set in a completely different one. There was an international cast: with principles, and singers, in-vision and out-of- vision. Cartier, who was the complete master of lighting and of the details of each lens in each camera, also knew the score backwards and each singer's part by memory, and showed a tremendous ability to co- ordinate all the disparate
In 1969 Cartier was offered the script of Conversation at Night, a 30- minute play by Friedrich Durrenmatt about the assassination of a political figure. I suggested asking John Gielgud to play the part of the assassin. Cartier said he would be frightened to direct Gielgud, but Gielgud rang immediately on receiving the script to express interest in the project, and suggested that Alec Guinness should play the other part.
Rudy was petrified at the prospect of directing two of Britain's greatest actors and stage directors. Gielgud and Guinness, attracted by the prospect of working with Rudy, were performing drama on television for the first time, and were likewise filled with trepidation at this new and vital medium.
On the first day of rehearsal both actors arrived at the studio absolutely word perfect; and Rudy was slightly shaken by the fact that they would not be holding scripts in early rehearsals. But the three men worked well together and the production was a great success.
Gielgud made another television play, Good King Charles, with Cartier, a production which saw Elisabeth Bergner play her first part for television. She was very shy and nervous at first at the novel prospect of performing live to several cameras at once. But Cartier gave her the confidence she needed. His command of his art gave actors the stability they needed to perform at their best. His peers admired him for his knowledge of his craft. His productions, like a Rembrandt, had a personal stamp and were instantly recognisable as his own.
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