BARRY CHATTINGTON INTERVIEW
Film Director Barry Chattington talks to Adrian Sinclair about the Bruce McMouse Show
The unreleased 1974 film recently liberated for Red Rose Speedway Deluxe Edition
Q: First of all, I was hoping you might answer a question that every Wings fan has been pondering for nearly 50 years: why was the Bruce McMouse Show never released?
Barry: Well, when we were making it, I was rather keen for it to be released for obvious reasons, as the director, and Paul kept saying, “No. It's a grandchildren film.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “It will be released when I've got grandchildren.” And I'm going, well that's a long time, isn't it? Bollocks. And, in fact, the joke is that Mary McCartney used to live around the corner from me – I lived in Maida Vale for a bit, and she lived around the corner. So, I would see her children and I would say, “Hang on, he's got grandchildren now.” And she would say, “Well, darling, there's no use asking me when it's gonna get released!”
It was a grandchildren film. We knew that right at the beginning. Well, not right at the beginning, but pretty much. [At the time] I was getting all excited about it going out at the same time as Dark Side of the Moon, because when I was doing this, I was also doing the film for Dark Side of the Moon.
Q: Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. You worked with Paul a lot over the years though, and Bruce McMouse is where it all began, right?
Barry: I made about 20 films with him over the years. But this was the first, and in fact, Mary and Stella, when they were about eight and six, came up to me and said, “Barry, are you our uncle?” And I said, “Why would I be your uncle?” “Well, you're here more often than anyone else.” Then I went, “Well, you've got Uncle John, Linda's brother, and you've got Uncle Michael.” And Mary said, “No, no, but you're here much more often than anyone else!” [laughs].
Q: So, if we go back to the very beginning of this whole thing – did Paul approach you with the idea for the Bruce McMouse Show, or did he just ask you to come and film a few concerts?
Barry: It was come and film the concerts first, with a few cameramen who had all actually made sports films. They were all quite small venues. Groningen was the first one, which is right in the north of Holland, [and the venue was] literally a sports hall. We filmed Groningen, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and then a theatre in the Hague. And then Paul said, “Can we do a fourth concert?” Which was in Berlin. And of course, all my cameramen were booked to go off and do the Munich Olympics. So, they all go off, and I had to start with a new lot of cameramen. Eric Van Haren Noman was the main cameraman who, although he's Dutch, had been working in the English film industry for ages and ages. But we did have another Dutch cameraman on it, Jaap De Jonge, and so I said to Jaap, “Berlin is happening, and all my lot were going off to the Munich Olympics, would you now be the chief cameraman in Berlin?" And he smiled and he went, “What? I tell the German cameramen what to do?” And I went, “Yeah.” He was quite funny, actually.
But it seemed to work out okay.
Q: I was looking through the film myself and trying to get my head around the various film stock you used: 16mm, 35mm, and obviously the animation stock. It must’ve been a technical headache back in '72, '73.
Barry: Yes. This is before the times of video assist, so this was like: brief the cameramen, hope they got what you want, and then at the end of the concert, “Did you get this? Did you get that? Did you get the other?” We invented, for this shoot, something that myself and the sound recordist Rene Borisewitz ought to have patented, and we would have been very rich. This was all shot on an Eclair (16mm film camera), the live action concert stuff. And Paul had a 16-track (Rolling Stones’ Mobile Unit) it was being recorded on. So how the fuck do we sync it up? How would it work? So, I said, “Well, the thing is, Rene, the Eclair cameras are working on a crystal (installed in the camera to sync sound without the need for a cable.)” So, he says, “If we put a tone on track 16, you can synchronise to that.” So that's what we did. And of course, it caused complete confusion at Abbey Road, because this is an audio track with just a “buzz.” And they would go, “What the fuck's this?”
Q: Then you headed back to London and into the edit with Gerry (Hambling).
Barry: We filmed the concerts, and we started looking at some of the material. And in fact, I think it took a few weeks to sync it all up - with five cameras. And there was no timecode, so in fact there was a little cut of a flashing light where we used that to synchronise onto a guide track – camera one went beep, camera two went beep, and all that sort of thing. So, in fact, it was a technical success, but it was very risky.
Q: When did the idea of an animated family of mice arrive? Based on some of Paul’s doodles it looks like he was messing around with this character as early as January 1970 in Antigua, maybe earlier, who knows? And now he decided to throw ‘Bruce’ into the mix?
Barry: I think Gerry had actually edited a few numbers together, and then it was like, "Well, it's just gonna be music, music, music. Shall we come up with a story?” And we came up with a story. You've got to remember that Paul owned Rupert Bear, in fact, I had storyboards of Rupert Bear for years when we were doing this, but very much the story came [during the edit.] I had a couple of writers on it at one point who had worked on commercials, they came up with dialogue. But I think, in the end, we all wrote it ourselves. And the characters in it, as you can see the characters are pretty much based on the nuclear family of three children.
Somehow the story evolved. I don't want to say Paul thought it up, or I thought it up, or the bloody cleaning lady thought it up, but it sort of evolved. I know we got heavily into the characters of the family and the spider had a name, the spider was called Rachnid. So, it evolved, the story evolved.
Q: And there are some familiar faces, well voices I suppose, to Beatles fans in the film.
Barry: Yeah, we got Deryck Guyler (A Hard Day’s Night) and Pat Coombs to do Bruce and Mum. Derek Nimmo (of Quarry Bank fame) is the small kid, and the two middle kids are Paul and Linda.
(Author’s note: For anyone wondering, the names of the mice were Bruce (Dad) and Yvonne (Mum) and kids Soily, Swooney and Swat.)
Q: What I found very interesting watching it back, is there are also occasional documentary moments. So, ‘Wildlife’, for example, feels almost ten years ahead of its time, because you've got images of oil-soaked birds, car pollution and commercialism. It feels more 1982 than 1972.
Barry: ‘Wildlife’ was very, yeah, predated lots of stuff. You've got to remember that Paul and Linda were quite famous vegetarians. I don't know if they were official vegetarians, but they were definitely on the way. I remember going to the house one day and smelling bacon. Then I went, “Ah, caught you out." And he went, "No, no, no." I said, "That’s streaky bacon." He said, "Have a bit. It's neat. We found this in New York – it's soya bacon." I went, "Hmm, right. Bollocks." So, they were very ahead of their time.
Q: The other interesting side of it, obviously, was the (mostly) live music. Alan Parsons’ 16-track mixes, made using the Rolling Stones' rig. But there were also overdubs recorded by Paul, Denny and Linda. Was that just to tidy-up some of the rough edges?
Barry: It was mainly to tidy up. You talked about Alan Parsons [laughs]. There was one number, I can't remember which one it is now, but there was one of the tracks that we just didn't have enough [footage to cover] and there were more tracks than what's in the final film. But we just didn't have enough material. And so, we cut out a verse. Paul must have seen the film about five or six, maybe ten times. Every time we ran it back for Paul we used to sit there, Gerry and I are going, "Yeah, he's not noticed yet." And suddenly he goes, “Hang on. You've cut out a verse.” And we went, “Yeah?” He said, “Well, I do a key change in there and you've changed it.” We went, "Well, we told Alan we needed this and he slowed it down or sped it up or something, to keep all the keys right." And Paul went, “Shit.” I can't remember which one it is!
(On inspection ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ was the edited number)
Q: The plug was pulled on production in 1974. Did you did get to see the finished film at the time?
Barry: I remember we had a four-track screening once at Pinewood, which was really funny, because Pinewood Studios was then run by Cyril Howard. And he was unbelievable. And we're in the theatre at Pinewood, and Linda had with her Mary and Stella. And of course, at Pinewood then you couldn’t have tea anytime, you could have tea between three-fifteen and three-thirty [laughs]. I remember Joan Cherrill screaming at Cyril Howard saying, “Can I get some tea for…” Cyril says, “Who the fuck for?” “Paul McCartney.” “Oh…” And the tea arrived in no time.
Q: Fast-forward 46 years and you’ve done 20 films with Paul.
Barry: When I first met Paul on this, which was before the Groningen shoot, a couple of days before in another town, I went to shake his hand and he went, “Oh, very German.” And then I remember when we were doing Standing Stone, it was all big hugs. And I thought, “Hmm… life has changed!” [laughs]
© Content copyright McCartney Legacy, 2018
Excerpts from a conversation between Barry Chattington and Adrian Sinclair for McCartney Legacy Volume One. More information on the Bruce McMouse Show and much more from Barry in our upcoming volume.