Sunday, April 21, 2019

True-Life Prison Stories

by G. Jack Urso

For more Prison Chronicles stories visit Introduction: The Prison Chronicles.
A Crack in Your Argument:

One student was complaining about how crack cocaine was all a CIA scam meant to destroy the African-American community. Another student called him out and said, “Bro, you are HERE for selling crack!”

So, I asked the first student what he was charged with.


“Of what?”

“300 vials of crack.”

“Did you buy it from a white guy or a black guy?”

No response.

“Did you sell it to black people?”

No response.

“Are you on crack right now?”

“No, man. What do you think I am?”

“Well, right now I think you may work for the CIA.”


Rats Are First to Abandon a Sinking Ship:

A student in a county jail was complaining about how the cops were corrupt for arresting him on an accessory to murder charge. He kept loudly complaining about that it was total bullshit, he had nothing to do with any murder, and he was only here because the DA was squeezing him to rat on his friend and he, “Don’t rat for no one.” 

Aside from the double negative prophetically suggesting the obverse of that statement, I was tired of him disrupting class. Since he wanted to take up my teaching time, I thought we could use it as a little exercise in values clarification. 

 “What’s the deal with your case?” I asked. 

The student explained that a friend of his thought his girlfriend was cheating on him and needed a gun to “set things straight,” thinking he meant to threaten the guy she was cheating on. Instead, he killed her. 

“And how did your friend get a gun? 

The student explained that he knew a guy who sold drugs and kept a gun under his couch. So many people went in and out of the guy’s apartment that my student figured he could steal the gun and sell it to his friend and the dealer be none the wiser as to who stole it. 

“How much money did you get?” 

“100 dollars and a half ounce of weed.”  

“Was this the first time your friend ever got popped [arrested] before?” 

“Naw, he got some drug charges and a domestic violence.” 

“For hitting the same woman he later killed?” 


“So, you stole a gun from a guy you bought drugs from, sold it to a friend who you knew was arrested for beating his girlfriend who then used it to kill his girlfriend and all you got was $100 and a half ounce of weed?” 


“Well, you should have at least gotten a full ounce because they are going to send your ass to prison.” 

[Classroom erupts in laughter. Also, Einstein just told me and the entire class what he did.] 

Two weeks later, the student rats out his friend, cops to lesser changes, and is released on time served. 

Eventually, everyone rats in prison. E V E R Y O N E.


Sometimes, They Are:

In prison education programs, some students are there just to front for the courts. You know, show them they’re serious about their “rehabilitation.” In county jails, most are there serving short sentences of under a year or waiting for trial. One time, I had one very big, very angry inmate student up on attempted murder charges who was just pissed about everything, challenging me on every assignment I gave him, and questioning my competency. I kept telling him to keep his attitude to himself, be quiet, and do his work. I had to do this in several classes. Instead, he kept bitching and moaning about his charges, bullying other students, and trying to intimidate me. I told him he needed to behave himself or I would toss him out of the program.

“Why you treating me like a child!”

“Because you are ACTING like a child.”

Keep in mind, I’m locked alone in a room with this big angry man up on attempted murder charges and about a dozen other students. The only thing keeping him from beating me to death for challenging him like this in front of others is his common sense. It was a constant battle with him, but he had some intelligence and I needed some students to actually pass the GED that term. Nevertheless, he hated my guts.

As it turned out, he did get that GED and guess what? The DA exonerated him of the charges. He was innocent after all.


Sometimes, You Feel Like a Nut:

Mental illness is rife in prison, and even then we sometimes have students who have serious mental conditions who should be in a secured mental unit and not out in general population. One such student was David. He was prone to talking to himself and sort of lived in his own world. I don’t remember what he was in for, but something related to his behavior when he was off his meds. I made him my inmate clerk so he could get out of the block a little more often than the others. 

The teacher's office was adjacent to a classroom I worked in and had a long horizontal observation window installed so the officers could see in the classroom. These were situated about half way up the wall. Between modules one day, I say down to relax. Now, keep in mind, the observational windows are installed about halfway up the wall, and I’m pretty short, so when I sit down on a chair against the wall, no one can see me in the office. 

Another teacher just started that day. She was a veteran teacher who had been out on sick leave for the better part of a year receiving cancer treatments and, given the turnover in a county jail, the students did not know who she was. Also, she is a tall, bald woman with a loud personality. Frustrated with the changes in the program since she left, and the inmates’ behavior, she enters, shouting loudly and gesticulating with her arms in a wild manner. The glass muted the sound, but one could easily tell how agitated she was. 

We had the afternoon class and when it was over David waited for the other teacher to go into the office and then he approached me. He said he saw the other teacher widely failing her arms about and loudly talking to herself between modules today. David pulled me in closer to him and whispered: “Tell her it’s ok to talk to herself. Everyone gets a little crazy now and then.” 

I was touched by what David said. His empathy showed he was sensitive to the hurt of others. Here was someone incarcerated, alone, living with a mental illness, reaching out to show his concern for someone who was not in prison, but someone he thought was suffering like he was suffering. 

I didn't have the heart to tell him I was in the office all along, she was actually talking to me, and that he just couldn’t see me, so I never told him and let him think that my co-teacher was crazy.  


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Arthur of the Britons: The Complete Series

by G. Jack Urso 

Arthur of the Britons is a short-lived 24-episode British historical drama produced by Harlech Television (HTV) (now ITV Wales and West) in 1972 and 1973 and syndicated to the United States in the mid-1970s. The series departed from previous versions of the Arthurian legend on screen and placed events in the 6th Century, not long after the Romans left Britain. Previously reviewed media associated with Arthur of the Britons on Aeolus 13 Umbra include the 1975 film compilation of several key episodes, King Arthur, the Young Warlord and Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording (see separate articles on Aeolus 13 Umbra). In the U.K., it originally aired on Wednesdays at 4:50 p.m. and repeated Sundays at noon. The complete series is available below at the end of this article from a dedicated Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.


The series features Oliver Tobias as Arthur, not as a king, but rather as a local Celtic chieftain, one of many, who are disunited in the face of a Saxon invasion.  Michael Gothard plays Kai, a Saxon orphan raised as a brother to Arthur by Llud (Jack Watson), a fearless one-handed warrior (his missing hand replaced by a silver one) who adopted both Arthur and Kai. The overall plot involves Arthur trying to unite the Celtic tribes, including his cousin the vigorous Mark of Cornwall (Brian Blessed), against the Saxons, led by Cerdig (Rupert Davies). Along the way, he forms fragile alliances with other tribes, such as the Jutes and their chief, Yorath (Georg Marischka) and his daughter Rowena (Gila von Weitershausen).

Set in 6th Century Britain, there are no mailed and armored knights jousting for the hand of some fair maiden in distress. Indeed, reflecting the women’s movement of the time, the “maidens” are often fiercely independent, such as Rowena. Characters retained from the Arthurian legend include Arthur, his adopted brother Kai (analogous to Sir Kay), and Mark of Cornwall, who in the Arthurian legends is the uncle of Tristan and husband of Iseult (Isolde). Nevertheless, there are notable differences. The sword in the stone is actually a sword under the stone placed there by Arthur himself. There is no Guinevere, no Lancelot, no magical or supernatural elements, and, significantly, no Merlin. Maurice Evans, Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes (1968), was slated to play the mystical mentor of Arthur, reported TV Today in an article dated June 15, 1972, but producer Paul Dromgoole dropped the idea as being out of step with the more "realistic theme" of the series.

While there was no actual King Arthur, the folk lore surrounding the tales could have its origin with several Romano-British or early British military commanders/war chiefs whose exploits melded together over time to form the basis of the Arthurian myth. Putting the Arthurian Legend into its historical context provides a matrix for audiences to gain an appreciation of a little-known period of time in the guise of an action-adventure drama.
(Left to Right) Jack Watson (Llud), Oliver Tobias (Arthur), and Michael Gothard (Kai).
Producing  History

Paul Dromgoole, executive producer for Arthur of the Britons, in his introduction to the book, Arthur of the Britons, by Terence Feely (adaptations of five episodes) acknowledges the Arthur of legend is “a fantasy.”

We do not pretend these television stories are based upon fact. They are as fictitious as all other Arthurian myths. They differ only in that they stay firmly within the bounds of historical possibility.

Upon first look at the series, one notices no castles or stonework ramparts, no fluttering banners, and no Round Table. It is a world of iron and wood and mud. This is the dirty Dark Ages, and one can almost smell it. In some respects, Arthur of the Britons takes its cue from the 1969 film Alfred the Great, starring David Hemmings, which took pains to provide a more realistic look at the clothes and dwellings of the inhabitants. This stands in direct contrast to the musical Camelot (1967), starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Hemmings as Mordred, whose fantasy of knights in shining armor, jousts, and immense castles more typify the classic Arthurian look. 
The gate to Arthur’s village. Not exactly Camelot.
According to the liner notes for Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording, released in 2013 by ITV Global Media, to effect the look of a Dark Age settlement, producers constructed ”two complete palisaded villages of thatched wooden huts and halls, cattle and livestock and rare breeds.” Appropriate for the period, little in the way of armor is seen and no more than a dozen mounted men are typically on screen at any one time, which no doubt helped to save money on the underfunded production.

This more modest version of the Arthurian legend also fit the small budget the series had to work with. There are seldom more than a dozen mounted knights on screen at any one time, and far less in some episodes. Given the fashion of the times, many actors, such as Tobias and Gothard, wear their own, long carefully coiffed hair. The women also often have long, naturally-styled hair not much different from then-contemporary styles, though the exception is with the short-haired Rowena. The clothes have a raw, organic, almost unfinished look appropriate for a people living after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the loss of the trade goods that came with it, and were almost wholly dependent on local resources for their sustainment.

Arthur of the Britons had much to draw on in its recreation of Dark Age Anglo-Saxon villages as post-World War II archeological efforts provided a great deal more insight into how ordinary people lived and worked during those times. Today, recreations of the villages and living history demonstrations, much like Colonial Williamsburg in the United States, take place in such sites as The British Danelaw Centre for Living History at The Yorkshire Museum and West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village. The set design for Alfred the Great and Arthur of the Britons reflect this increasing awareness.

As discussed in the liner notes to the soundtrack, all 24 episodes of the series were produced for GBP500,000 in 1972, which equals approximately GBP6,480,746.79 (US$8,343,223) in 2019. This turns out to be just approximately US$347,634 per episode, far less than the estimated US$785,596 budgeted per episode for the notoriously cheap 1972-1973 Canadian sci-fi series, The Starlost (in approximate 2019 dollars).
Period news clippings.
Casting Notes

The performers are, with a few exceptions, generally little-known outside the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries. Oliver Tobias (Arthur) has had a long career in film and TV in Britain, Germany, and Switzerland which continues to this day. Michael Gothard enjoyed a successful post Arthur of the Britons career with roles in such films as The Three Musketeers (1973), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Lifeforce (1985), and Jack the Ripper (TV mini-series, 1985, starring Michael Caine). Unfortunately Gothard, suffering from depression, committed suicide in 1992.

Brian Blessed.
American Fans of British comedy, drama, mystery, and sci-fi may recognize some of the other faces. Most familiar likely is Brian Blessed (Mark of Cornwall), whose appearances in such films and TV shows as Space: 1999 (two episodes), I, Claudius (TV mini-series, 1976) including Flash Gordon (1980), The Black Adder (1983), Henry V (1989), and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) have made him one of the most well-respected genre actors on both sides of the pond.

Jack Watson (Llud) is  much less familiar to American audiences, but Brit TV fans may recognize him from appearances in such shows as The Avengers (1965 & 1967), Upstairs Downstairs (1977), and All Creatures Great and Small (1978, 1988, & 1990). He also turned in memorable performances as the noble Cpl. Peacock in the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade and as R.M.S. Young in The Wild Geese (1978), starring former King Arthur Richard Harris.

Guest stars include Tom Baker (Dr. Who, The Black Adder, Monarch of the Glen, and many more) in a dual role as Brandreth/Gavron in the episode “Go Warily,” which  also features future Darth Vader David Prowse as Brosk (Prowse also turns up in “The Slave”).  Peter Bowles (I, Claudius, To the Manor Born, Rumpole of the Bailey) stars as Hecla in “Rowena,” Michael Gambone (Dumbledore, Harry Potter series) appears as Roland in “The Prisoner,” and the lovely Catherine Schell (Space: 1999, The Return of the Pink Panther) plays Benedicta in,The Girl from Rome.” 
(Left to Right) Llud, Arthur, and Kai. Mounted and ready for battle.
Concluding Thoughts

My recollection of the series dates back to about 1975, probably during its first syndicated run in the U.S. on PBS stations. My brother, a dedicated Arthurian scholar even then, made the family watch it every week, and I was immediately taken with the series, the action, and the revolutionary approach in putting Arthur within the historical context of the time from which the legend sprang. It was some four decades later before I saw the series again and, to my surprise, I was pleased to see I had remembered the final episode,The Girl from Rome.”

While definitely a fringe genre series, fan interest remained sufficient enough for the release of the four-disc series compilation Region 2 DVD box set in 2008 and the Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording in 2013, featuring the epic, rousing opening theme by Elmer Bernstein. That’s pretty good for a series nearly five decades old.  

Arthur of the Britons: The Complete Series
Descriptions by G. Jack Urso. Click on the links below to view the episodes 
on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Arthur of the Britons YouTube channel!

Opening theme.

Series 1 (1972–1973)

Episode 1: Arthur is Dead | Original Airdate December 6 1972
Arthur fakes his death in order to unite the various Celtic factions against the Saxon invaders led by recurring antagonist Cerdig (Rupert Davies), the Saxon chieftain.

Episode 2: The Gift of Life | Original Airdate December 13, 1972
Kai must return two orphaned Saxon girls to their village, but trouble erupts when the girls reveal Kai’s identity to the villagers.

Episode 3: The Challenge | Original Airdate December 13, 1972
Two cousins fight over their inheritance, leaving their village open to a Saxon attack.

Episode 4: The Penitent Invader | Original Airdate December 20, 1972  
Rolf, newly converted to Christianity, continues his violent ways. Llud tries to convince him to change.

Episode 5: People of the Plough| Original Airdate January 3, 1973
Kai, on his way to acquire weapons, encounters a Saxon woman whose husband was captured by a man who turns out to be the weaponsmith Kai is looking for.

Episode 6: The Duel | Original Airdate January 10, 1973
As the Celts ready for battle against the Saxons, Llud accidentally kills Mark of Cornwell’s second-in-command. Arthur must deal with the fallout and keep the Celts united.
Ready for the charge in “The Duel.”
Episode 7: The Pupil | Original Airdate January 17, 1973
Arthur is approach by a young man (Peter Firth) seeking to be trained as a warrior supposedly to protect his village, but really to take revenge against the man who killed his father, only to later learn Arthur is the killer.

Episode 8: Rolf the Preacher | Original Airdate January 24, 1973
Rolf, once a fierce warrior, returns in this episode now taking his conversion to Christianity seriously and preaching a doctrine of pacifism, which soon robs Arthur of fighting men needed for his army.

Episode 9: Enemies and Lovers | Original Airdate January 31, 1973
Arthur and Kai visit a village whose residents question whether they are really Saxon spies. The situation becomes more complicated when Kai gets involved with a former lover and the two plan marriage.

Episode 10: The Slave | Original Airdate February 7, 1973
With all the men of a village enslaved by the Saxons, Arthur, Kai, and Llud instigate a daring plot with the help of a Saxon girl to free captured Celts.

Episode 11: The Wood People | Original Airdate February 14, 1973
A former Saxon gladiator captures two children of the Wood People to trade for Arthur. Arthur’s men unite with the Wood People to save the children and bring yet another tribe into alliance with Arthur.

Episode 12: The Prize | Original Airdate February 21, 1973
Arthur, Mark of Cornwall, and a select group of men disguised as Saxons plunge deep into Saxon lands purportedly in search of treasure, but Arthur’s real prize is the lives of the captured Kai and Llud.  

Series 2 (1973)

Episode 1: The Swordsman | Original Airdate September 12, 1973
Defending Kai from a false accusation of murder, Arthur must face a great swordsman in a duel to the death.

Episode 2: Rowena | Original Airdate September 19, 1973
In exchange for new horses from Yorath the Jute, Arthur must escort his Yorath’s reluctant daughter Rowena to her betrothed, the Celt Hecla (guest star Peter Bowles).

Episode 3: The Prisoner | Original Airdate September 26, 1973
Mark of Cornwall hunts a Saxon who injured him in battle and who turns out to be a childhood friend of Kai. Guest Star Michael Gambone as Roland.

Episode 4: Some Saxon Women | Original Airdate October 3, 1973
Yorath the Jute must turn five Saxon women over to a Greek trader in exchange for wine. Rowena seeks Arthur’s help to stop the deal. Arthur must find a way to help the women without damaging his alliance with Yorath.

Episode 5: Go Warily | Original Airdate October 10, 1973
Two twin Celt brothers disagree over whether to join with Arthur’s alliance. Llud has a dream which may be key to resolving the conflict. Guest stars Tom Baker as Brandreth /Gavron and David Prowse as Brosk (as Dave Prowse).

Episode 6: The Marriage Feast | Original Airdate October 17, 1973
Mark of Cornwall plans to marry Rowena in order to get her father Yorath’s land. Yorath agrees to fight the Saxons for Arthur if Arthur can prevent the marriage from happening.
Rowena (Gila von Weitershausen).
Episode 7: In Common Cause | Original Airdate October 24, 1973
When the Saxons’ livestock begin to die off due to disease, a monk who claims to have the cure forces the Celts and Saxons to work together. A wary Cerdig, the Saxon chieftain, demands a hostage from Arthur before he agrees to cooperate.

Episode 8: Six Measures of Silver | Original Airdate October 31, 1973
Kurk, a friend of Llud, sells three head of cattle to Rowena, but trouble erupts when the man form whom Kurk stole the cattle from wants them back — at any cost.

Episode 9: Daughter of the King | Original Airdate November 7, 1973
Eithna, the daughter of Chief Bavick finds herself captured by Arthur’s men. Arthur wants to use her to compel her father to enter into alliance with him, but the fiercely independent Eithna has other plans.

Episode 10: The Games | Original Airdate November 14, 1973
Mark of Cornwall tries to use the annual Celtic Games to maneuver out of his alliance with Arthur.

Episode 11: The Treaty | Original Airdate November 21, 1973
Scots invaders lead Arthur to try and convince Cerdig the Saxon and Yorath the Jute into alliance with Arthur’s Celts

Episode 12: The Girl from Rome | Original Airdate November 21, 1973
Despite protests from Kai and Llud, Arthur finds himself falling in love with Benedicta (Catherine Schell), an imperious Roman aristocrat shipwrecked in his territory.
Benedicta (Catherine Schell).

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Retro TV Commercials: A Resource for Historical Study

by G. Jack Urso
Please wait while video previews load. 

Archeologists piece together ancient lives by the careful study of artifacts. Bits of bone, clothing, tools, and art give us an insight into how our ancestors. In the future, archeologists will piece together dreams and time-specific social-psychological influences by studying perhaps the most ephemeral of sources: TV toy commercials. The following video clips at the end of this article from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel feature toy commercials on American TV from the late 1950s through the 1970s, and period of time covering the youth of those born during the Baby Boomer era (1946-1964).

Over five hours of advertisements for toys are included here, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a duplicate commercial in the bunch, which only goes to underscore the creativity and imagination of toy makers in this period. Early on, there are the usual family board and card games, dolls, cars, and trains, but also toys based on TV cartoons, military-themed play sets, and action figures. There are also toys echoing the burgeoning space race of the era, one of America’s more noble aspirations, and nearly endless variations of Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. 
Despite America being embroiled in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s,
war toys are among the biggest selling items of the era.
These commercials don't just give us insight into the types of toys available in decades past, but also the many different manufacturers, some of whom still exist, but many that have vanished from the marketplace. Additionally, we can also glean some insights into period-specific fashion, hair styling, and language. Typically, the commercials feature actors and narrators using a Mid-Atlantic accent while other regional dialects, such as Southern or Western, are generally avoided unless character specific. In this way, the commercials provide not just information about toys, but also help spread a common culture, giving children from the East Coast to the West Coast and all points in-between more in common than just the toys on their shelves.

As the commercials continue into the late 1960s and 1970s, and the Civil Rights-era emerges, the all-white cast gets some color as African-American children get featured and dolls and action figures accordingly manufactured on a wider scale, and sold alongside with their Caucasian equivalents — achieving a racial integration in the marketplace, if not always in real life. In this way, toy manufacturers helped sensitize the public and soften the ground for wider acceptance of integration by the next generation. Na├»ve, yes, but civilization moves forward in such incremental steps.
Games like Mystery Date not only reinforced societal expectations for girls,
but also what kind of “man” a boy should be.
While obviously an idealized version of everyday life is presented, collective hopes and fears can be surmised from studying the commercials. The variety of military-themed toys, from guns, action figures, and playsets is a curious phenomenon in a world that just saw millions die in two horrible World Wars. Just as boys are being conditioned for war, so are girls are being conditioned to serve as homemakers and mothers with games like Mystery Date, the Easy Bake Oven, doll houses, and dolls of all sizes. This is not always a negative thing in and of itself, but the gender roles in this era are fairly specific and limited.

Tie-ins with cereal company brands like Cheerios, Trix, and Lucky Charms, and with TV cartoon characters like Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Dudley Do-Right show that cross-promotional mechanizing are not new ideas. Most, however, are simple classics like Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Frisbees, Hulu Hoops, Inch Worm, Creepy Crawlers, Crazy Straws, Rock Em Sock Em Robots, Barbies modeling a variety of new roles with each generation, and G.I. Joes with fuzzy hair and Kung-Fu grip.

I admit, for most people, these commercials are quaint reminders of a fast-growing, post-war America that no longer exists. For those over 50, this is a more of a walk down memory lane, but whether you are researching mid-20th Century popular culture as presented in TV toy commercials, enjoying a bit of nostalgia, or just having a laugh at what your parents and grandparents played with as children, put up a chair, pour yourself a bowl of your favorite sugar-laden cereal, and enjoy!
Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 1.0 1:47:50

Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 2.0 57:20

Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 3.0 18:19

Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 4.0 59:56

Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 5.0 49.12

Retro TV Game and Toy Commercials 6.0 38:37

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel

Arthur of the Britons is a British historical drama produced by Harlech Television (HTV) (now ITV Wales and West) from 1972 to 1973. The show also saw syndication in the United States on PBS stations in the mid-70s. The 24-episode series is noted for putting the Arthurian legend in context of the times in which the legend first arises — the Early Dark Ages as opposed to the High Middle Ages of the movie musical Camelot  (1967). The 1975 film compilation of several key episodes, King Arthur: The Young Warlord, was previously reviewed on Aeolus 13 Umbra (see link for more information, including the full-length film). Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording, was released in 2013 by ITV Global Media. The full album is provided above from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel and the track list is below at the end of this article.

Soundtracks to short-run TV series  particularly those nearly five decades old are often overlooked, but this one deserves a closer listen. Elmer Bernstein, a master of the genre who composed the title theme for Arthur of the Britons, is widely known for his memorable work on such films as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960), True Grit (1969), and The Shootist (1976), among many others. Nevertheless, Bernstein’s contribution to the series is just the title track. The bulk of the music produced for the series was composed by Paul Lewis, who worked on numerous British TV shows including Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Benny Hill Show, as well as the film Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972).

Lewis was tasked with three challenges. First, he needed to establish a library of musical cues and short pieces that could be used as background throughout the series: battles, chases, early morning sunrises, stormy nights, happy village life, sacking villages, etc. Secondly, whatever he composed had to be synchronous, or at least not widely varied from the general tone established in Bernstein’s title theme Finally, he had only twenty-five days to complete the project.
Bernstein’s theme for Arthur of the Britons is a dramatic piece that evokes action and movement, and in several respects it reminds one of Richard Roger’s theme for Victory at Sea (see links). Both pieces have soaring horns and swelling string arrangements that evoke the military context of each series (the movement of the ocean for Victory at Sea, and the rush of galloping horses for Bernstein’s Arthur of the Britons). Additionally, like Arthur of the Britons, while famed Broadway composer Rogers was tapped for the theme for Victory at Sea, it was Robert Russell Bennett who was responsible for all the incidental music, much like Bernstein was hired for the title theme to Arthur of the Britons while Lewis composed the incidental work. In each series, the theme is an immediately recognizable and irreplaceable facet of the show. Even if the production is sometimes less than epic (the armies are quite small and few horses are seen on screen at any one time), Bernstein’s theme raises it to another level.

Top, Bernstein
Bottom, Lewis
For tracks 27-33 (beginning at time stamp 1:01:58 in the video above), Lewis composed several variations of Bernstein’s theme, adapting it to different moods, from military to pastoral, while retaining its familiar leitmotif.  This builds on Bernstein’s theme and allows the series to utilize it as an emotional touchstone. In a sense, this turns the theme almost into a character in and unto itself. It makes an impression almost as physical as any of the stars, and when it appears it reminds the audience of the epic sweep of the series. In this sense, it demonstrates the importance of a strong theme and the critical error made by producers who underestimate its value, though not in this case. Even on the modest budget available for the series (GBP500,000 in 1972, equal to approximately GBP6,480,746.79, or US$8,343,223, in 2019 for all 24 episodes), HTV recognized they could spend a bit on hiring Bernstein for just the theme, and then hire a talented, but more affordable, composer like Lewis to do the journeyman’s work on the incidental music. It is much the same tactic as used in Victory at Sea.

In the liner notes to the album, Paul Lewis provides us with insight to both the soundtrack and the composing process. He had mixed feelings over Bernstein’s title theme, in his own words, preferring “to compose my own title theme,” and noted that it was reminiscent of Bernstein’s work for American Westerns rather than a piece suited for “Dark Age Britain.” Nevertheless, Lewis acknowledged the theme as “rousing and instantly memorable,” though he made some changes, such as replacing the electric bass suggested by Bernstein with three trombones and a kettledrum, making the piece sound more contextual within the historical setting. Altogether, Lewis turns in a complement to Bernstein’s theme that helps draw the various dramatic elements of the series together into a more uniform production.

Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording accomplishes everything a soundtrack for a historical drama should. It evokes the time period with familiar leitmotifs and orchestrations evocative of the era. Rather than being unobtrusive background music, the soundtrack in this case becomes a proactive part of the production. Lewis intertwines Bernstein’s theme in various compositions that the producers use to signify dramatic elements pertinent to the story. Not only for fans of the show, but those seriously interested in film scoring would do well to study and appreciate this rare album.