That Day We Sang: Q&A

Enid and Tubby (Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball)
Enid and Tubby (Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball)

“IT’S letting your dreams literally come true. Which is rather beautiful.

“Ordinary people being extraordinary.”

Imelda Staunton talking about the truly glorious That Day We Sang, written and directed by Victoria Wood.

A TV musical drama destined to become an instant classic.

Screened on BBC2 at 9pm on Boxing Day – Friday Dec 26.

It stars Imelda as “PA not secretary” Enid and Michael Ball as insurance salesman Tubby, two lonely middle-aged people who grab a second chance of life via the power of music.

These fictional characters meet in 1969 at a reunion of the Manchester Children’s Choir which made the iconic million selling recording of Nymphs and Shepherds with the Halle Orchestra 40 years before.

The film moving between events in the late 1960s and the story of a young Tubby, whose real name is Jimmy Baker, and his difficult home life in 1929.

With Harvey Chaisty as the young Jimmy and the always engaging Daniel Rigby as Mr Kirkby, the war veteran who helps him through.

Victoria Wood is also responsible for writing all of the music – Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds aside – in the 90-minute film.

I attended the London press screening of That Day We Sang back in November, which was followed by a fascinating Q&A involving Victoria, Imelda, Michael and executive producer Hilary Bevan Jones.

So fascinating, in fact, that I took the time to transcribe it in full – although leaving out small sections containing major spoilers.

You can read my transcript below. It’s a rather lengthy read but, I’d argue, well worthy of your time.

Including Victoria on Imelda:

“Never mind the talent. You take the talent for granted. But what you also need is that great work ethic to get it all done in a day.”

And on a very funny – and pin sharp accurate – sequence set in a Berni Inn:

“Some of the most hideous meals of my life have been in a Berni Inn with my parents in Bolton.”

There is so much to love about this film, adapted from an original stage show, which also features Lyndsey Marshal and Ian Lavender.

Not least Ryvita, Campari and a street called Happiness.

Those who haven’t seen Michael Ball act on stage will find his TV drama performance a revelation.

Beautifully matched with a singing and dancing Imelda.

If the words “TV musical” send you reaching for the remote control, think again.

That Day We Sang is so much more and will live long in the memory.

You can also enjoy a ‘making of’ BBC2 documentary – Victoria Wood: That Musical We Made – at 3:30pm on Boxing Day.

Victoria Wood introduced the screening:

“This was originally a stage production commissioned by the Manchester International Festival and it was on in 2011 and it had 10 performances at the Opera House in Manchester (and later at the Royal Exchange in Manchester) and I wanted to give it a further life. So I went to the BBC and I talked to Ben Stephenson. This was at the old BBC so we actually were in an office sitting on chairs. Now if we have a meeting in Broadcasting House you have to book a slot on two adjoining treadmills. I said to Ben. ‘I would really like to do this musical.’ And he said, ‘Ooh, yes.’ So that was the first wonderful thing that happened. That Ben just said yes. And then the second wonderful thing was that he said, ‘I think you should work with Hilary Bevan Jones.’ And that’s been a brilliant collaboration for me. I felt totally supported, creatively and logistically. So that was a very happy experience.

“And then the third wonderful thing was that we actually got the cast we wanted. Which doesn’t always happen. When you’re casting, you sit round and say, ‘I tell you who’d be good as Tubby. Michael Ball. He would be great. He has a wonderful voice, he has charisma, he’s the right age, that’d be fantastic.’ And you get on the phone. Then three weeks later you’re on another phone, going, ‘So Bernie Clifton comes out…’ We got Michael Ball. We got Imelda Staunton, the pocket rocket. And we have many other wonderful people in the cast. We have Daniel Rigby, who played Eric Morecambe in Eric and Ernie. And we have Dorothy Atkinson who’s just been brilliant, by the way, in Mr Turner. But we had her first. She’s in this as well. I just really hope you enjoy it. My only aim, ever, when I write anything is just to give the audience a lovely time. So this is a musical, it has fantasy sequences, it’s a love story…so it’s sort of Moulin Rouge with slippers.”

Q&A with Victoria Wood, Imelda Staunton, Michael Ball and Hilary Bevan Jones (executive producer). Chaired by James Rampton:

Q: Victoria – what an amazing story. How did you discover it?

Victoria Wood: “Well I knew of the record, Nymphs and Shepherds, which I’d heard as a child, I suppose. It was always a part of my consciousness. There was that record of children singing Nymphs and Shepherds. When I was 22 and living in a bedsit in Birmingham, I saw a documentary about a reunion of that choir and something about…it was just middle aged people who’d come together in ’75, so they’re in their 50s, and had sung on the record, talking about when they’d made the record and talking about their lives since.

“And something had just stayed with me. This idea that you would have a very exciting day and that perhaps your subsequent life might not match up to that memory. I didn’t remember it very well but over the past few years I’ve had a little list of things to write about. Nymphs and Shepherds was always on my list. In my office I’ve got a list pinned up and that was one of them.

“The others, some other people have made, actually. One was about the man who faked his own death in a canoe…anyway. I just thought something about that recording that day would be a nice piece. I didn’t really think about it much more than that. But then when I was asked to do the thing for the Manchester International Festival and they said, ‘Have you got anything that is to do with Manchester?’ And I immediately went, ‘Well, yeah, Nymphs and Shepherds.’ And they went, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You know, the record in the Free Trade Hall when they had to talk posh..’ It didn’t fill them with confidence but I thought, ‘Oh well, I shall just do it anyway.’

“And then as I started to write it, something about the documentary from all those years ago just stayed with me. And I thought, ‘Actually, I do want to write about the choir, I do want to write about the record. But mainly I want to write about these two middle aged people and how that could be their second chance.’ Because music is so powerful. Something about connecting with a piece of music could just propel Tubby and Enid to take a second chance and plunge back into life.

“Then half way through writing, they sent me a copy of the documentary. But it’s nothing like I remembered at all. I’d shot an entirely different documentary in my own head. When I saw it I was appalled. They didn’t say anything of the things that I remembered them saying. Except there was just one man who’s sitting in front of his lathe and he’s eating a sandwich. They’ve actually interviewed him while he’s having his lunch. It’s a terrible piece of television, actually. And the man says (posh voice), ‘Are you happy?’ And he goes (Lancashire accent), ‘Ooh, that’s a question, isn’t it?’ And then he said (posh voice), ‘What does singing mean to you?’ And he goes (Lancashire accent). ‘Well, it’s an expression of joy, if you can put it like that.’ And that was the bit that I had remembered all those years from when I was 22 and a benefit scrounger in Birmingham. And I put those words into Enid’s mouth. That singing was joyful.”

That Day We Sang

Q: Was the double time frame a challenge?

Victoria Wood: “On stage it was slightly easier, I suppose. You would have the 1929 bit and then you’d have the 1969 bit and it was a question of how quickly could you get 200 children on and off stage. So I was constrained by that, really. And so when I was making a film of it I had more of a challenge really because, of course, you can be much more fluid. You can go like ‘that’ quickly, quickly. Also I wanted to put Tubby and Jimmy together in the same space. It was more complicated and we actually did re-configure it as we went along in the edit.”

Q: Imelda – what appealed to you when you were first offered this?

Imelda Staunton: “Well, Victoria Wood sends you a script…and I suppose, looking at it going, ‘Ooh, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this on the telly.’ And the chance to be able to sing a wee bit. But then to do some proper acting as well. And that she was quite a…I liked the fact that she was quite plain and yet she has all her jazzy moments, a bit of fantasy. Glorious to do that. Glorious. On every level.”

Q: Were you and Michael cast at the same time – because you have this history together?

Imelda Staunton: “We did one show together. That was wonderful to be able to do that because we have great shorthand and, I speak for myself, but mutual respect and…so you can give notes to each other…and that’s sort of healthy. And there wasn’t much time to make it and that’s very valuable in a short time, to be able to actually, go, ‘That’s rubbish. Fine.’ And not take offence. Just go, ‘Right, we know what we want, we know how good we all hope we are and we just want to make it better, so that’s how we’ll do it.’”

That Day We Sang

Q: And what about you, Michael? What drew you to this?

Michael Ball: “I got sick of them begging. (laughter) I’d do anything with Imelda. Absolutely anything. The time we spent doing Sweeney was an extraordinary time for me. I learned more from her than I think from anyone else.”

Imelda Staunton: “You’ve forgotten it though, haven’t you?” (laughter)

Michael Ball: “As for Vic, I verge on being a stalker-ey fan of everything she’s done. I think she’s brilliant. I really died and went to Heaven doing this. Working with these two, on something so different, so exciting, so challenging. It was a joy. You never know as well, either if…the fabulous atmosphere that we had on the set and the happiness that we had creating it, is it going to translate into what turns up on the screen? And I really hope that it has because it was a brilliant time. And it’s such a brave thing, as well. I’ve never seen anything like it. So to be allowed to be a part of it was the best thrill for me.”

Q: And did you immediately connect with the character of Tubby?

Michael Ball: “Totally. The only difference, I think, is that’s he’s really comfortable with being overweight. He has no issue. Me, I’m still suffering. Yeah, I did. We all have lost opportunities in our life. And I understand – I can’t imagine my world without music. And the fact that he’d lost music in his life, both literally and metaphorically was…I just so felt for him. What a lovely, lovely man. And to be able to explore that was just great.”

That Day We Sang

Q: Hilary, when you became involved with the project what made you think, ‘Oh this will work as a transposition from the stage.’ There are challenges in translating anything, aren’t there?

Hilary Bevan Jones: “There’s a lot of challenges but I’ve got such confidence in Victoria and just seeing the script and talking about it and the opportunity to put it on screen meant that we could let our imaginations run wild. And then, of course, contained within the schedule. So there was a double act going on. But there was no question, really. You hear that music and you just want to take it on.”

Q: Some of the sequences are very complicated. Were they hard to produce?

“No. Paul Frift was the producer and he was very good at organising it all and making sure the sequence of how it was done. It was all down to the planning that we’d done with Victoria, the rehearsals – we had proper rehearsal time with Nigel (Lilley) and Sammy the MD (musical director) and the choreographer. Victoria was there at every step of the way and they were a vital part of the process. They were the most important thing.”

Imelda Staunton: “Of course the thing that’s disappeared unfortunately with television is a terribly old fashioned word called ‘rehearsing’. As if it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need it. Well, you do need it. And I think you need it for everything, particularly this. And thank goodness we got it. There’s no way we could have done it without. We all mourn the days of – they were awful – the BBC rehearsal rooms in Acton. But you rehearsed. You did The Singing Detective, you rehearsed it. And then you did it. Like any piece of work you do. Whether it’s a play or a theatre or a film, you don’t just turn up and go, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m doing, I’ll do that.’ It was very valuable for this and I wish more people would think about putting an extra two bob in to allow people to have a bit of time. Because we’re living in world we’re you want instant things – just to do it now, we want it instant, we want it good, we want it successful. Well the best things take time. Whether it’s a very good stew or a show. The best things take time to cook and develop. And I think people underestimate that. And because we do it, because we go, ‘Oh Christ, well come on, let’s just do it.’ They think, ‘If they can do it in three days, let’s do it in two.’”

That Day We Sang

Q: What were the biggest challenges for you, in terms of directing. Some very complex sequences?

Victoria Wood: “I lived in a blissful world of ignorance and I think that really helped. I look at it now and think, ‘Blimey.’ It looks really scary when you look at it. But each day you did what you had to do. David Higgs was the DoP (Director of Photography), he did major, major parts of working everything out. And so I never felt that the responsibility was on me for the shooting or the arranging or the choreography or the arranging of the music. And I think when you direct something you’re wobbling about on the top of a human pyramid of expertise in the circus. Some days I thought, ‘I’m not even in the bloody tent.’ But anyway. I just knew everbody else would do their job and it was my job to just really…what is this about? Every scene: What is it about? And just tell the story. That’s my main job. I know the story, I know the script. We had a fantastic team, we had a fantastic DoP and the lighting and the sound and everything’s there – and I’m just on the top of people’s shoulders and I just see whether the story’s working. That’s all I can do.”

Imelda Staunton: “But also you were very clear about…because you’d written it, because you knew it so well…you were clear about what you wanted. And that is very helpful. No point all of us going, ‘How do we do it?’ But you thought, ‘Well, I might know how to do it but what I want is this.’ And we go, ‘Well, this is how I think we can find it for you.’ So you need someone who goes, ‘Right, it’s got to be this.’ And you’re brilliant on rhythm and how a line works. And that’s very helpful.”

Q: And Michael it was helpful that the director and writer could talk to each other and say, ‘Oh yes, this is how we’re doing it.’?

Michael Ball: “They weren’t speaking.” (laughter) “There was such a fall out.”

That Day We Sang

Victoria Wood: “Well it does mean you can…on the day, if something’s not quite right – we had a bit of palaver with the little boy and the gramophone and the gentleman who’s giving him the gramophone. It all got very complicated. He’s supposed to put on the pavement and open the lid. And you think, ‘Ooh, that’s going to take forever.’ And you will just cut it out. When you get to the edit, you cut it out because it’s not interesting. So you say, ‘Give me a pen.’ And I just cut those lines out. I didn’t have to go and phone anybody. I just decided to do that. So I could slightly slice as I went, which I think probably streamlined the process to an extent.”

Q: You had some lovely scenes with (young) Jimmy. (Played by Harvey Chaisty) They say never work with children but…

Michael Ball: “Oh my God, he was amazing. Those eyes. You can see them up there. (on screen) He’s so honest, so open. A really funny little boy as well. But such a professional on set. He was always ready, always prepared…”

Victoria Wood: “Always cold.”

Michael Ball: “Always freezing. He was divine. I wish I’d looked like that and behaved like that when I was a kid. He was adorable. And it all translates up there. You see what’s going on in his head. And you root for him right at the start. You think, ‘What a gorgeous kid.’”

Q: How did you find him?

Victoria Wood: “Well, I didn’t do the original casting. Robert Sterne from Nina Gold saw about 150 little boys. So I only saw probably the last 10 or 15. Robert’s top choices.”

Q: And what made you think, ‘Oh, this is the one?’

Victoria Wood: “There was something…I don’t know…there was something very ordinary in a lovely way about Harvey. I felt he was an ordinary boy, he didn’t look like a stage schoolboy. He also…it’s a very hard song to sing, the song that he sings in it – a very hard top note. And even in his audition he just really went for it. There was something hugely straightforward about him. And also he had really, really thin legs which was great.” (laughter) “And he really looked like a child of the 1920s. Because a lot of children are just whopping and he was like this little skinny thing. He looked good in a vest.”

That Day We Sang

Q: It is something that hasn’t been done before. Is it because it’s so difficult to achieve a brilliant musical on television?

Victoria Wood: “I can’t really say why it hasn’t been done before. I think people do love musicals, though.”

Michael Ball: “For us, the big plus was being able to sing live on set. At the bus stop – that’s us, that’s our voices. We weren’t in a studio doing it. And it felt really natural. We had these tiny earpieces in. So we’d get a playback in there and then sing along to it. Because normally if you’re in a studio, you hear yourself. You have foldback monitors. You’re very, very aware. Here there was none of that. It was just our voices, we’re just singing to each other. And there was never a point where it felt awkward, where it didn’t feel like it wasn’t the language of the piece. And that is what I think…I’m delighted to see it…has come across so well. That when we’re at the bus stop and we just start singing, it doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh this is weird.’ It’s just, ‘Oh yeah. I get it. This is setting the tone of it.’ And it was really important that we were able to do it live and do it on the set because your rhythms change. How you would approach a song, how would you phrase something changes moment from moment depending on what the other performer’s giving. So if we’d gone in, recorded it beforehand and then had to do it to playback on a set, it would have lost a lot of spontaneity and a lot of the natural feel to it.”

Imelda Staunton: “And I think as well that you retain your character. And because – even when they do Fred and Ginger, they’re still Tubby and Enid. You could have done it that the voices became something else. We could have put on American voices. But the fact that they just are those people having those fantasies…or in the bus stop, you’re not having a fantasy, they are just your thoughts you’re singing…it allowed you to stay in the character, which was nice.”

Q: Some critics have said the recent James Brown movie where the actor is lip-synching does lose some sort of spontaneity because you can almost tell that it’s not him doing it.

Victoria Wood: “Well you can’t change it. You can’t have a thought and suddenly sing in a different way depending on how you’ve spoken the previous line. And that’s the benefit you get.”

Michael Ball: “It’s different if you’re doing a number. If you’re doing a production number or you’re doing something in a concert, then that’s the way you would do it. But if it’s actually thought processes or dialogue that’s put to music, it’s essential that you have that. That freedom.”

That Day We Sang

Q: You and Imelda have both done lots of stage musicals. Why do you think it’s so hard to transpose them to television?

Michael Ball: “I don’t know. I really don’t know. We kind of fell out of love with them, I suppose. It’s quite difficult. Everyone has gone far more towards naturalism. You look back at the great Hollywood movies and they suddenly break into song. We accept it because it’s in that Hollywood setting and it sort of works. But to put it into this scenario…I think it does work. And it’s a shame that people are not embracing it. It’s just another language, another way of speaking to an audience.”

Q: Do you think – maybe it’s hard to predict – but it might presage a return for TV musicals?

Michael Ball: “They’re going to do the news. (laughter) Fiona Bruce, as we speak, is having lessons.”

Victoria Wood: “I don’t know. It all depends on writers and writers have got to want to do something. You bring your passion to something and if there’s nobody else wanting to write a musical, it probably won’t happen. I don’t know who would do it.”

Imelda Staunton: “It’s interesting seeing a television musical…”

Michael Ball: “Is there another television musical? There was The Singing Detective. But that was different.”

Q: Blackpool…and Glee, I suppose…but they don’t use original songs. They use pop songs.

That Day We Sang

Q: And you have also made a documentary about this?

Victoria Wood: “I’m just in the middle of making it. In fact I’ve got to go and finish making it…we’re making a documentary about how the story came about and also behind the scenes footage. So it’s half a ‘making of’ and half a history of the real choir and the real Halle Orchestra. And I’m trying to find out within the documentary how I came to write it, really. How that odd thing that I saw when I was 22 that I didn’t even remember turns into something real but is fiction.”

Q: Have you learned more about it in the process of making the documentary?

Victoria Wood: “Not really. I’ve walked round Manchester a lot. I’ve learned a lot about Manchester. Probably more than I wanted to know. I don’t know…while you’re writing something the memory part of your brain is not engaged. So it’s very difficult to re-capture the process of writing. So it was really about memory because Tubby and Enid’s plot is about a memory. And then me remembering the documentary. So it goes back to 1975, to the documentary, to the real reunion, to the real record. So it was just different layers.”

That Day We Sang

Q: That’s a great point – the potency of memory. Because the first scene where Tubby bursts into tears and that’s the incredible power of a memory?

Michael Ball: “That’s the power of music. Nothing will send you…apart from smell…nothing will take you back to a memory – it’s all about emotion.”

Victoria Wood: “And it’s hard to write a musical about smell, I think.” (laughter)

Q: Has it made you want to do more of this sort of thing?

Victoria Wood: “No, not more of this sort of thing. Because I’ve totally been in this world and I’ll finish at Christmas with the documentary. And then I never want to do the same thing again. So I’ve got ideas for new things.”

Q: And you can’t say what they are yet?

Victoria Wood: “No, because I’ve not really worked them out yet.”

That Day We Sang

Questions were then opened up to the media in the audience:

Q: (From me as it happens) Firstly, can I say Victoria, we had more than a ‘lovely time’ watching that. Congratulations. A wonderful film. Can I ask about the challenges and joys of re-creating, in particular, the 1969 period. And also if you could talk a little bit more about the performances you got from your two lead actors?

Victoria Wood: “The main challenge in recreating any period is the cost of doing it. It’s much cheaper to do something set in the modern day because as soon as you have any other period than this you’re talking about buildings, telephones, light switches, cars, shoes, hair, everything. So your budget is suddenly massively compromised. And so the real challenge was…we had about 200 children in our choir, all of whom had to have 20s’ costumes. There was a production of That Day We Sang going on in Manchester at the same time and they had all the costumes. They had a children’s choir. So we were snatching them off the warm bodies of children…(laughter)…putting them in a van and taking them to our children. So there’s always that…where can we get the costumes from and can we make costumes look like real clothes and not just everything that we’ve got from Angels.

“But the performances, well, you know, I couldn’t believe my luck, really, that I got Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. Because I was not joking…when I first was doing it on the stage and we used to sit around, we’d go, ‘Ahh, Imelda Staunton. She wouldn’t do it. Ahh, Michael Ball. He wouldn’t do it.’ And, ‘Huhh, we couldn’t afford them.’ And then to have them…we did the whole thing in about four weeks and Imelda only could give us three weeks of her time because she was slicing us in, inbetween that very brilliant performance in Pride and then a wonderful performance in a play in Hampstead and then doing Gypsy. So I don’t know if she remembers being in this. (laughter)

That Day We Sang

“So it would only have worked for us, schedule-wise…Imelda has a most professional attitude. And I’ve worked with some very wonderful people. She’s very at the top of my tree. Her wonderful professional attitude, real speed of learning, real accuracy and that’s what you have to have. Never mind the talent. You take the talent for granted. But what you also need is that great work ethic to get it all done in a day.

“And the scene where she goes to Tubby’s house and she’s got the big speech and the chip pan’s on fire – it’s a bit like the top of Casualty, I know (laughter) – but that is a whole page of dialogue which we probably did about five times with no mistakes right the way through. That’s what I treasure. It’s not just Imelda’s great, fantastic voice, energy, also brilliant comic timing, very good at running up and down the stairs in court shoes and a fantastic work ethic.

“And Mr Michael Ball – some people were a little bit dubious about the fact that he was being cast in a straight role. People who’d seen him and loved him on the West End stage for many years and seen his concerts, and they were saying, ‘Will he be able to bring it down? Will we believe him as a Manchester insurance man?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. I have no doubts. I’ve just said – will he just keep his dimples under wraps (laughter) and then when he’s up the ladder, he will release them into the wild.’ So it was lucky.”

Q: This is, again, about period detail. Because obviously you want it to be right and you must always be thinking, ‘Well did they have Boil-In-The-Bag Cod in 1969?’ But isn’t that an added pressure to have to think about that as well?

Victoria Wood: “Well, I don’t have to think about that because you have a designer, you have a costume designer, you have somebody doing the props. Of course I would cast my eye over it, yeah. But you trust people to do their job and we just had a really, really, pernickety, brilliant designer, Tom Burton, and I knew that he would check what sort of boil-in-the-bag would it be in 1969, what sort of Blue Band Margarine was it, what did a packet of Ryvita look like? He was totally across it and I would just look it and say, ‘Yeah, that looks fine.’”

That Day We Sang

Q: Also the Berni Inn scene. How fond are you of the Berni Inn?

Victoria Wood: “Not in any way. (laughter) Some of the most hideous meals of my life have been in a Berni Inn with my parents in Bolton.”

Q: Is this revenge, then?

Victoria Wood: “It’s not really. It’s just this idea – that was the poshest restaurant I’d ever been in. It was all fake panelling and little pink shaded lamps. I can’t remember why – I wanted to set a number in a Berni Inn. It just made me laugh.”

Q: Victoria – just to get the chronology right. Did you go and see Imelda and Michael in Sweeney Tood and then think, ‘Ooh, they’re my Tubby and Enid?’

Victoria Wood: “Oh no, I thought that before. I thought it before they’d done Sweeney Tood. I’d already thought of them but I just thought they were out of my league. We were going to do 10 performances in a festival and Imelda is very particular about what she does and I sort of had this feeling that she perhaps wouldn’t want to come and do it. I don’t know why I didn’t ask you?”

Imelda Staunton: (curt) “You didn’t ask, did you?” (laughter)

Victoria Wood: “I self-deprecated myself out of the question.” (laughter)

Q: But did you then go and see them in Sweeney Todd?

Victoria Wood: “Oh yes, I saw them anyway. I’m a huge fan of both of them. I’d worked with Imelda before. She had a little tiny part in a Pride and Prejudice spoof we did and we’d also done a cabaret together in Kenya and a couple of charity things. So I always knew Imelda was great. And I just took a punt on Michael.” (laughter)

Michael Ball: “It works both ways that…” (laughter)

That Day We Sang

Q: I wanted to ask Imelda and Michael about the period costumes. Was it weird? Did it feel like you were a kid again? Do you remember your parents…

Michael Ball: “I’m a lot younger than both of them…(laughter) I look my dad. I look like a fatter version of my dad. He came on to the set, didn’t he?”

Victoria Wood: “He did. It was scary.”

Michael Ball: “And those suits, everything…it’s exactly what you wore. And it does. It takes you right back. And what was great is that the design team dressing the set and everything…and we did it mostly on location in houses that still looked like they hadn’t had a lick of paint since 1969. And you felt like you were there. It just slotted in. It just felt right.”

Victoria Wood: “People would come on the set and go, ‘Ahhhh…we had one of those.’”

Michael Ball: “It was all our yesterdays, wasn’t it?”

Q: Imelda – did you ever have one of those hair things (dryer) with a tube..?

Imelda Staunton: “My mother was a hairdresser. So I’ll answer any of your questions about hair dryers, applicances, (laughter) lacquering set. Lacquer as we used to call it. Not hairspray, it’s called lacquer. Yeah, absolutely, I had that. Yeah. So that’s not a strange place for me, that.”

That Day We Sang

Q: Victoria – were you not tempted to pop yourself a cameo in there? Did you not want to get joined in with the dances?

Victoria Wood: “I was not in any way tempted to be in it. My big delight in editing this has been that I wasn’t in it. I didn’t have to look at my big, stupid face. (laughter) And that’s my depressing time at the moment editing the documentary where I am in it and I have to look away when I come on to the screen. So, no, I didn’t want to be in it. I was very happy not to be in it.”

Q: Question for all of you – of course we’ve got a school choir at the centre of this. I wonder if you’ve got any memories of being in school choirs and what that was like?

Imelda Staunton: “I loved being in the choir. Mainly because it gave us access to the boys’ school across the road. But I remember singing the Hallelujah Chorus, aged 14, and just thinking it was the best sound, the best feeling. Because I did shows at school but being in a choir was very different and very, very fulfilling. I loved that.”

Michael Ball: “I liked getting the solos. (laughter) They always used to have a go at me in the choir because I would sing too loud and not sing in the right…so they would give me a hard time. Being ‘Wrenglish’ – I’m half Welsh, so my association with choirs is all about the male voice choirs. So I’d go down to Wales and listen to my Uncle Tom singing with the Mountain Ash Rugby Football Male Voice Choir and you compare that to a school choir, it’s not the same. That would bang you against the wall. Amazing sounds.”

Q: Were you in a school choir?

Victoria Wood: “No. I was in this very, very boring school and there wasn’t very much music. So my love of music didn’t come from anything to do with the school. The seven most boring years of my life. But I loved choirs and my daughter was a choral scholar when she was at Cambridge, so I listened to much more choral music since she’d been singing it. And I adore the sound of the voices. Also I love singing myself. I don’t do it very much but…because it’s such a physical thing, a connection with other people, singing alongside other people.”

Michael Ball: “It was lovely being able to hear, when we were filming in the Free Trade Hall and listening to the choir, being in there live and listening to the orchestra there. It was just magnificent. The hall itself has a lovely acoustic and it created the atmosphere beautifully.”

Victoria Wood: “And that was the Halle Orchestra. The Halle Orchestra.”

Michael Ball: “All dressed up…in the tank tops.”

That Day We Sang

Q: I wanted to ask about Daniel Rigby’s character…it’s a lovely performance by him…is he based on a real character?

Victoria Wood: “He’s not, actually. Michael and I went on Wogan a few weeks ago to talk about the song, about the record, and somebody phoned in and said that their grandfather had helped with the choir and helped with the pronounciation and were given a gold watch. So he’s not at all based on a real person but there were people in that choir who took that role.”

Q: A very nice detail that he’d been in the war and all that. Why did you bring that in?

Victoria Wood: “I’m not sure, really. I can’t remember. But I know once I knew Dan was playing it and I started to write the script for the film, that part got a lot bigger and then I started to develop the relationship between Jimmy and Mr Kirkby with his leg. I don’t know, because I really like Dan as an actor, I wanted to make that part bigger. I find him very touching.”

Q: I’m so glad you caught the excitement of yoghurts in 1969. I just thought it was terrific. Especially the baddies, skewering those pretentious people…I’d love to see you do more TV plays like that to give Alan Ayckbourn, of course, a great run for his money. Is that something you’d like to do? Stage and TV?

Victoria Wood: “I don’t know. I just go on instinct, really, whatever seems to be the next idea that comes to the front of my head, really. I’ll just do that and I never know really what it’s going to be until I do it. But it always has just be something that really, really excited me.”

That Day We Sang

Q: Just to pick up on a thing Imelda said earlier. You talked about how you were really grateful to have time to rehearse properly for this and that’s something that’s missing elsewhere nowadays. I wanted to see Michael if you feel that as well. That rehearsals were lacking, maybe, and other aspects…

Michael Ball: “I’ve done bugger all on the telly so I wouldn’t know. (laughter) When you do a show, you do five, six weeks in a rehearsal room before you get on to a stage, before you get into costume. So you’re really, really prepared. The little I have done in drama before this, it’s literally you’re sent the ‘sides’ (the part of the script shot on any one day), you learn it and you then turn up on to the set and you’ll block it and then you have to do it. So any preparation that you have is entirely on your own. You’re not even working with the other actors. And it doesn’t produce the best work. The best work is when actors are able to sit with the director to actually sit…what are we trying to say, what ideas have we got? So you can have five ideas, four of which you’re going to discard and then you’ll agree on the one way that you’re going to do something.”

Imelda Staunton: “But in a way, also…it’s actually probably a question for Hilary…you’re a producer who then has to deal with networks who give you the money. Or don’t give you the money. Or don’t give you the time. How difficult it is for you to do your job?”

Hilary Bevan Jones: “Well I think rehearsals are worth the wait in gold and I would always…if you can get the cast in time and you have the scripts, it’s completely bonkers not to rehearse. Because you think of the cost of Victoria, Imelda and Michael and perhaps a pianist, a choreographer, in a room. And you think of the cost of 50 people on a film set, when it might be about to rain. And the whole crew and everyone else is waiting while there’s an intense discussion about, ‘Is this the right Marmite shape? Or the right Ryvita? Or something.’ Which you do have because they are important things. But if you can have thought things through like that in advance it’s good for everybody. It’s the same for Chris Ashworth, who did the sound, for him to be able to come in and out of rehearsals. For David, the DoP (Director of Photography). They can then see what they’re going to be faced with on the day and they can plan. It’s really vital, I think.”

Q: Do the three you of think, then, that TV suffers because of lack of rehearsal and, if so, who do you think is to blame for that?

Victoria Wood: “Oh, I’ll take the blame…” (laughter)

Imelda Staunton: “Well it suffers and it doesn’t suffer. There’s a lot of good television on at the moment. We’re not saying, ‘Oh look at television, isn’t it terrible? That means no-one is rehearsing.’ It’s not as simple as that. Because some projects won’t need much and some will need more. So you have to take everything on its own merit. But no-one wants to rehearse to waste time. It saves time. That’s what the head boy and girl need to know. Whoever they might be.”

That Day We Sang

Q: First off, I just have to say it was glorious. Absolutely glorious. And then having sat and watched it this morning, I’d like to ask all of you which was your favourite moment or your favourite scene? And why?

Imelda Staunton: “Well, I did love going from my kitchen…we had a lot of discussion about the door…door knobs…from the kitchen going on to the rooftop to do the West Side Story. That was a lovely moment. But that was…we were all head scratching. ‘If I shut the door then on that beat…and then when I…’ But I liked it.”

Michael Ball: “I think, for me, the whole Fred and Ginger sequence. We are blue with cold in Peel Square. Literally blue. Poor old Imelda.”

Imelda Staunton: “I was so still…Victoria came up to me and said, ‘Can you move your mouth at all?’ Of course I ‘an’. I’m ‘seeking’ aren’t I? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’” (laughter)

Michael Ball: “But to go from that and then find ourselves ‘jujzzed’ up – she looked amazing as Ginger Rogers. Absolutely amazing. So to be able to take difficult scenario with doing the number and then be doing this glorious number with all the dancers around us in the warm was fabulous. I loved it. There isn’t a scene I don’t like. The ladder…”

Q: Was that scary?

Michael Ball: “Yeah, because it wasn’t like a light supportive ladder. It was a proper old period ladder.”

Q: Were you on a harness?

Michael Ball: “I wouldn’t have one. I had one for a bit.”

Victoria Wood: “He had to have one at a certain point – but he climbs up and down the ladder by himself.”

Michael Ball: “The stunt co-ordinator was giving me a really hard time. Because I said, ‘I can’t have a harness – I have to go up and down and I have to sing. I’ve got to be able to do that.’ And they were like, ‘You’ll have to sign a disclaimer.’ I do my own stunts.” (laughter) Did you see Mission Impossible 3? He tried the same thing.”

Q: Do you have a favourite scene?

Victoria Wood: “I don’t know. I do have lots of favourite bits that make me laugh…probably one of my favourite bits…the thing I was most scared about was writing the underscore. Writing the bits of music that go under the action. I was a bit nervous of that because I had never really done that before to that extent. And so when I watch it now I think, ‘That’s when a little music comes in there.’ And I just really like watching how the music and the action goes together…”

Imelda Staunton: “There’s something about the whole thing, actually. Why I think it’s so glorious is that there’s ordinary people being extraordinary. And I think that speaks to all of us. All of us ordinary people going, ‘I wish I could be Ginger Rogers, I wish I could…’ Well, of course, we can’t. But in our minds we can. And I think it speaks and feeds our own desires. None of us can be all those things. But you can dream about it. And it’s letting your dreams literally come true. Which is rather beautiful.”

Q: Is that one reason why it’s very appropriate to be showing it at Christmas? Because it is an uplifting message?

Imelda Staunton: “We’re showing it every Christmas.” (laughter)

Michael Ball: “We’re getting rid of the Queen.” (laughter) “The Queen’s actually now going to sing her Message.”

Victoria Wood: “It’s got snow and children.”

Michael Ball: “It’s got snow and children. What more do you want? It is a lovely, heartwarming…”

Victoria Wood: “It’s supposed to be a treat. I wanted it to be a treat. That was all I wanted for it, really.”

Michael Ball: “It’ll work at Easter…”

Q: (Another one from me, as it happens) A question for Michael – I know you’re busy enough as it is but has this given you a taste to do more television drama?

Michael Ball: “Oh, you’ve no idea. I had, as I say, the best time. I realise how spoilt I’ve been. To have producers and directors and co-stars who were just amazing. And it isn’t always like that. But I loved learning about the new challenge of it and working out how to perform with a camera as opposed to an audience and the finessing all of that thing. Absolutely, is the answer. So send your scripts in. We’ll get ‘em made.”

Q: Victoria – we fondly remember your Christmas specials. Would you ever do another one?

Victoria Wood: “Oh yeah, I would. I love Christmas specials. I love doing them. So yeah, I definitely would.”

Q: Next year?

Victoria Wood: “Possibly.”

Q: Another question for Imelda. Would you say this is one of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on?

Imelda Staunton: “Yeah.” (laughter) “What a daft question.” (laughter) “Why wouldn’t I? You get to do everything. It’s lovely. Lifted up by boys…”

Victoria Wood: “There’s not many people that can butter a Ryvita while singing…”


That Day We Sang BBC Site

Victoria Wood: That Musical We Made BBC Site

Endor Productions

Victoria Wood

Imelda Staunton

Michael Ball

Daniel Rigby

Hilary Bevan Jones

Nymphs and Shepherds

Halle Orchestra

Berni Inn



Ian Wylie on Twitter