“Who are we going to throw off the bridge?”
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. They’d asked me to produce and direct, so I’d maxed out my credit card buying film stock and food while borrowing a 16mm camera from the BBC Film Club.
In return, I’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. I’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. “Well,” he confided, “I 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.” “This bridge shouldn’t be that high,” I reassured him.
“Maybe,” he paused to imbibe dark courage through froth. “If no-one else is game, I’ll do it.”
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 doesn’t sound that much when you say it. Nevertheless, seeing is not saying. Once Simon was in the actor’s wardrobe and Christine the makeup artist had given his cheek a dark bruise, he didn’t look too keen. “I’m not sure about this, Keith. Maybe Gavin should do it?” Gavin, our lead actor, peered over the parapet. “Er, I don’t think I can,” he told us and scurried off.
Simon watched him go, looked back at me and inhaled. “It’s me then.”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. “Make it quick!”
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 he’d created, which he felt he needed to tell. Ploompf! The airbag caught him, perfectly on target. “Cut!”And Simon emerged from the giant cushion’s canvas embrace to enthusiastic applause.
“That was fantastic!” he said, “You should have a go. Honest, it’s really fun! Although I have ripped Gavin’s trousers. Do you need another take?”
Mended trousers, two more takes. “Wave your arms around some more!” 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 “It’s a wrap!” Last Train’s cast and crew gathered to celebrate with a glass of Champagne. “So the bridge thing was okay after all?” I asked Simon. “Nahhhh. To be honest, Keith, I was talking a load of cobblers. Mostly for myself. It was bloody terrifying!”
But he’d done it anyway.
That’s how I’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