Friday, 22 July 2016

A 1977 interview with Mark Hamill from Blue Peter - and what it reveals about Star Wars

Mark Hamill interviewed on the BBC's Blue Peter in December 1977

Millions of children will have seen it in December 1977, but a fascinating clip of Mark Hamill on the British children's show Blue Peter has only recently reappeared. 

Episode Nothing considers what it tells us about the 1970s and the early days of Star Wars fandom.

Watch Mark Hamill on Blue Peter, December 1977

The YouTube clip above is taken from a fascinating short show compiled last year to coincide with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presented by Peter Serafinowicz,
 Star Wars at the BBC collected together some long unseen footage of corporation shows covering the saga. (One noticeable missing clip was the sequence from the Saturday afternoon favourite Jim'll Fix It in which a boy was granted his wish to see the film. I remember that one vividly but it may never see the light of day again, since the show's presenter turned out to be one of the UK's most awful child abusers.) 

This particular clip features Mark Hamill being interviewed on the BBC children's series Blue Peter. This was in December 1977, when Star Wars had already become an unprecedented popular phenomenon in the US, but very few people in Britain apart from a few lucky critics and trade insiders  had seen it.   

The Star Wars publicity was really cranking up now, ahead of the film's release in the West End just after Christmas. The first reviews were appearing, and the Blue Peter chat went out two days before this interview with Alec Guinness on the grown-up series Parkinson

Blue Peter: Britain's most trusted children's show

Mark Hamill jokes with John Noakes and
Lesley Judd on Blue Peter

A word about Blue Peter, for those who haven't grown up in the UK. Blue Peter has been an institution since 1958  and in the 1970s, it was at the height of its popularity. It was a magazine show for children that epitomised the philosophy of former BBC director-federal Lord Reith, who believed that broadcasting should inform, educate and entertain. 

Twice a week, it served up current affairs, features, history, arts and crafts lessons, pet care, charity fundraising and carefully regulated amounts of fun from the entertainment world. It was ruled by the redoubtable editor Biddy Baxter, who insisted that the presenters delivered the live programme word perfect, without the use of such new-fangled nonsense as an autocue. The presenters were household names, but the price they paid was that they tended to be forever associated with the show and rarely parlayed their popularity into success in other vehicles. 

It was into this very respectable, hugely popular show that Mark Hamill arrived on Thursday, December 15th, 1977. As this website, he was still sporting a T-shirt from London's Imperial College, which he had visited earlier that afternoon, as he arrived to be interviewed by Lesley Judd, with some comic input from her co-presenter John Noakes.

Since Star Wars had been breaking records for almost seven months in the US by this point, you might imagine the success would have gone to the 26-year-old leading man's head  but there's no evidence of that here.

Some revelations from Mark Hamill's Blue Peter interview 

Mark Hamill on Blue Peter

Now that the cast of Star Wars have been doing interviews about it for forty years, you don't expect to learn anything much about the movies. Yet this interview is fascinating for the way Hamill talks about the filmand yields a couple of facts that many people may not have known.

1. Mark Hamill was a Blue Peter fan.

Right at the outset of the interview, Hamill reveals that he used to watch the show himself while Star Wars was being shot.

"I'm surprised you can it a children's show because when we were going the movie I watched Blue Peter all the time," he says. 

2. Hamill had 148 credits to his name before Star Wars.

With that remark, the star reveals himself to be a young actor who has clearly spent a lot of time listing his credits for casting  directors.

3. Mark Hamill is a fan just like us.

Hamill says he was "staggered" to be working on a film with Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. Of Cushing, he makes this heart-warming admission:

"Unfortunately, I never had a scene with Peter Cushing but he was surprised because I went to work two days just to watch Peter Cushing work even though I didn't work with him. But I'm a fan at heart and I had him sign a couple of posters." 

4. Star Wars is a fairytale.

It's interesting to see how the film's story was described at the time, before George Lucas got started on decades of talking about "mythological motifs".

Here, Hamill says the story is "so much nonsense to hang a great visual experience onto".

"It's the stuff days fairytales are made of," he says, before mentioning the legend of King Arthur and the yearning of a farm boy to leave home.

5. Hamill felt sorry for the people wearing masks in the 1976 heatwave.

As John Noakes clowns around in the helmet of a TIE fighter pilot, Hamill reminds us that the British summer of 1976 was hot even for someone who had spent a good deal of time in California.

"That was worn by the actors in Britain's hottest summer," he says. "Remember the summer of '76?"

All in all, this clip is a little revelation, largely because Hamill is so engaged. His contract may have required him to promote the film, but he was under no obligation to be so enthusiastic and charming. 

What TV coverage of Star Wars do you remember most vividly? Do share your memories in a comment below.


John white said...

It would have blown my mind to see that, back then!
I was in transit from the UK to our new life in Ireland in 1977 and when I got to Ireland there was only one TV channel, with very little of this kind of stuff.
Mark always comes across a lovely guy. In these old appearances his manner can appear a little effected at times, though I may be misinterpreting, but! - always nice and extremely positive. And I've heard so many anecdotes about his kindness. Some of the best from Wicket Warwick.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks for commenting, John.
I don't remember seeing this the first time around either, although I guess I usually saw Blue Peter.
But in December 1977, I was still determined not to be taken in by all this Star Wars nonsense, because Planet of the Apes was the greatest screen science fiction there could ever be. I don't think that changed until just before the film reached the UK regions, when an ad for Star Wars Weekly suddenly persuaded me that resistance was useless and this Star Wars thing might be right up my street.

Unknown said...

My most vivid memory of SW on TV is the later Blue Peter appearance and the Ask Aspel show with Hamill which were shown during the same week.

Their broadcast dates are screwing with my memory, though. I distinctly remember seeing ESB the same week as these shows were shown. I also swear I had seen the film before I read most of the Marvel Weekly adaptation which also started in Spring. Yet, reportedly, ESB never went on general release until a couple of months later.

I've wondered if there were preview showings after the London world premier but before the UK release. I've also wondered if I'm suffering from False Star Wars Memory Syndrome though!

I've got the Saville thing if it's not on the tubes any more.