Sunday, 18 May 2014

Survivors - 1975

The sad thing was, I really liked Tanya Ronder. She was smart and fun, and we got on like the proverbial burning residence. Two child stars mucking about in the country and giggling so much we had to be ordered to go to sleep. By the time we went on our holiday to Herefordshire together, I was still riding my Heidi cloud. With the series being sold all over the world, I had fan mail arriving every day with ever more exciting postmarks, radio interviews, magazine spreads, book signings, and crowds gathering wherever I went. Tanya, however, was more in the moment, starring as one of only two children in the new exciting 50-minute drama, “Survivors”. 
Survivors cast - L-R: Lucy Fleming, Tanya Ronder, Carolyn Seymour, Stephen Dudley, and Ian McCulloch
My father was directing four of the episodes. The Producer had wanted to cast me, but my father had refused to consider it. I begged him to let me do it, but he explained he would be a “laughing stock” casting his own daughter.

The scriptwriter, Jack Ronder, had no such qualms, however, so his kid was cast instead.

I was desperately upset, not only because, being a 50-minuter, I would have earned adult wages as opposed to the meagre £30 an episode I had received from the BBC for Heidi (and to me, that would mean I could buy a pony), but it would have meant more time off school. It would also have meant a chance to work with my Dad – of whom I was insanely proud. Not only that, but it could have helped secure my future as an actress. Young as I was, I still knew I needed to consolidate.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Tanya had got the job instead of me, it “somehow” reached my father’s ears that when our little party had arrived at “The Barn” (a wonderful conversion near Leominster that my former dresser, Janice, had found complete with ponies), on the first evening, I had opted for a gentle bareback amble on Sunny, the dun pony, whilst daredevil Tanya, who had never ridden before in her life, had asked to go faster, please, on Midge, the feisty little grey. I had watched her being jolted up and down, teeth gritted, and hanging on to Midge’s mane with both hands and had felt rather smug. At eleven, I was already a veteran of  Gymkhanas, and knew that bareback trotting on a 12hh welsh mountain pony was about as enjoyable as strapping one’s arse to a pneumatic drill. Small as I was, even then, I would never have considered bareback trotting on anything under 16hh. Yet when I arrived home, my father bluntly interrupted my merry tales of the holiday to say:

“You didn’t trot.”

“No” I frowned, wondering where this was coming from.

Tanya did...” he said, using the voice my older brother Adam usually used to tell me I smelled. 

It later transpired that my father was having an affair with Tanya’s mother. It was in fact, the talk of the unit, which contained two of our friends who felt intolerably torn: Myra Frances, who had played my aunt in Heidi, and Christopher Tranchell, who had worked with my parents in rep. The first my mother heard about it, however, was when Jack Ronder turned up on our doorstep in Regent’s Park, and ordered her to keep her husband away from his wife. 
Myra Frances as Anne Tranter - Survivors
Stunned as she was, she invited him in. She sat him down at the kitchen table, and gave him a drink. He put his head in his hands and cried. In spite of her own shock and pain, my mother comforted him, telling him his wife must be mad to cheat on such a fine man. Jack, however, spared her no details. He showed her letters that had passed between his wife and my father, letters in which my father had said he wanted to leave us all. “Wife, kids, ALL of it”, he had said. Jack Ronder pushed them across the table at my mother, as if it was all somehow her fault. He watched as she crumbled. She might have had the class and the generosity of spirit to forgive him, but I never did. I hated him.

It transpired that when my mother, my brother and I were having a holiday in Folkestone with my grandmother, my father had taken Mrs Ronder to Hanover Gate. My mother, who had a profound psychic gift she stamped on as hard as she could most of the time (“When the Space telephone rings” she used to say, “don’t answer it...”), had spent a dreadful night in the little room next to the bathroom. My grandmother’s house dated back to at least the C15th. It had been in turns a chocolate factory and a smuggler’s den, and was full of secrets. There was a trap door in the floor of the morning room that led down to the cellar, and a bricked up tunnel in the cellar that had led straight down to the sea where the rocks were piled high.

All night (my mother reported), ‘something’ had been trying to communicate with her. It had sat on her chest, as she struggled to breathe. Finally, she managed to heave herself out of bed to snap on the light. The imprint of her body was outlined on the bed in sweat. She stayed up the rest of the night, smoking in the kitchen downstairs.

With hindsight, she came to believe the house had been trying to warn her. To tell her what was going on in London. That night, my father and Anne Ronder had slept together in my parents’ bed. She had been there when my mother had called that evening, and had been attempting to cover her giggles with my mother’s bedding.

And so Mummy gathered every last scrap of bed-linen, tied it up with string, tied on a luggage label that read: “For Mrs Ronder. A Souvenir”, and with the bundle in a bin sack, headed for the location in Hereford. In a cab. A black cab. 
Filming at Hampton Court. Actors are Ian McCulloch, and Christopher Tranchell
Once again, a combination of her lovely smell[i], her beauty, her charm, and her obvious guts, had made the cab driver refuse what would have been an astronomical fare. As she had poured out her story to him as they headed west, he had switched off the meter.

She arrived at the hotel at which cast and crew were staying, and presented herself at Reception, in full view of the bar where my father was drinking, oblivious, with cast and crew. She deposited the bundle on the Reception desk.

"Please give these to Mrs Ronder. I have no further use for them" she commanded the stunned Receptionist, as my father walked through, laughing, drink in hand, to stop in horror when he saw her. Mrs Ronder hovered uncertainly at the top of the stairs.

“Why don’t you invite her to join us?” Enquired my mother. “Don’t leave your mistress hanging about.”

Mrs Ronder, who my mother later told me looked not unlike a “hockey mistress”, declined.

“Dear God, I like your wife...” The Producer later told my father.

The problem was he had done it before. Twice before, to my mother’s knowledge, but they’d patched things up each time.

This time, however, was different.

The fairytale was over.

Things were going to be very different from now on.

Emma Blake
May 2014

[i] It’s more than likely given the year, that this was Guerlain’s “L’Heure Bleue” (created 1912).

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