â€œWho are we going to throw off the bridge?â€
Simon Ricketts and I were meeting at the Lower Red Lion in St Albans to discuss Last Train. This was a short film he and fellow Watford Observer (WO) reporter Lionel Birnie had written under the name of Goober Scripts. Theyâ€™d asked me to produce and direct, so Iâ€™d maxed out my credit card buying film stock and food while borrowing a 16mm camera from the BBC Film Club.
In return, Iâ€™d asked that the Goobers help out with logistics. Simon was now the 1st Assistant Director and our climactic scene involved a stuntman falling from a railway bridge. Iâ€™d found an experienced stunt coordinator with a huge inflatable bag designed for high falls. Perfect. Problem was, Malcolm the stunt man had hurt his back, so we needed a stand in.
Simon sipped his second Guinness. â€œWell,â€ he confided, â€œI did used to do a spot of rock climbing. But I gave it up a few years back when I had a fall. Not far but lost me nerve. Never got the courage to go back up.â€ â€œThis bridge shouldnâ€™t be that high,â€ I reassured him.
â€œMaybe,â€ he paused to imbibe dark courage through froth. “If no-one else is game, Iâ€™ll do it.â€
The bridge we’d chosen was over a footpath which used to be a single-track railway in Harpenden. It was maybe 25 feet up, which doesnâ€™t sound that much when you say it. Nevertheless, seeing is not saying. Once Simon was in the actorâ€™s wardrobe and Christine the makeup artist had given his cheek a dark bruise, he didnâ€™t look too keen. â€œIâ€™m not sure about this, Keith. Maybe Gavin should do it?â€ Gavin, our lead actor, peered over the parapet. â€œEr, I donâ€™t think I can,â€ he told us and scurried off.
Simon watched him go, looked back at me and inhaled. â€œItâ€™s me then.â€ He climbed over the edge, feet precarious on four centimeters of crusty cement lip sticking out below. Jason, our other actor, hung on to him from behind as I ran down to the path below. Simon looked out, straight ahead to the dark horizon. â€œMake it quick!â€
Jason let him go and, arms flailing like a gravity-defying Wile Coyote, our erstwhile screenwriter threw himself off the bridge. All for a story heâ€™d created, which he felt he needed to tell. Ploompf! The airbag caught him, perfectly on target. â€œCut!â€ And Simon emerged from the giant cushion’s canvas embrace to enthusiastic applause.
â€œThat was fantastic!â€ he said, â€œYou should have a go. Honest, itâ€™s really fun! Although I have ripped Gavinâ€™s trousers. Do you need another take?â€
Mended trousers, two more takesâ€””Wave your arms around some more!”â€”and Simon really did seem into it. One more jump for our stills photographer, Pete Stevens, also from the WO. Pete whirred off shots then â€œItâ€™s a wrap!â€ Last Train’s cast and crew gathered to celebrate with a glass of Champagne. â€œSo the bridge thing was okay after all?â€ I asked Simon. â€œNahhhh. To be honest, Keith, I was talking a load of cobblers. Mostly for myself. It was bloody terrifying!â€
But heâ€™d done it anyway.
Thatâ€™s how Iâ€™ll remember you, Simon. Last Train and you did it anyway. I hope that last journey was peaceful. I miss you, my friend.
Photo: Simon and Lionel confer over a storyboard on The Car, their second Goober Scripts collaboration. Photo credit: Pete Stevens/Creative Empathy
Note: I’d originally titled this piece “Jump, you fucker, Jump!” after the Peter Cooke/Dudley Moore “Derek and Clive” sketch. Then realized the reference will be missed by most