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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

In the beginning there were five... and then there were none.


The history of their medieval fantasy TV movie seemed to have reflected the state of the band in its ever descending line-ups from their sensational beginning upon their return to the UK in 1967 to the fall-outs and their repercussions in 1969. The sheer amount of pointless posturing and self-declaration would have made Tony Hancock blush.


The events unfolded as follows...


1967. Robert Stigwood buys an interest in Associated London Scripts (ALS). The company represents Galton and Simpson, writers for Tony Hancock (and creators of sit-com classic Steptoe and Son), Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes and Johnny Speight, writer for Arthur Haynes and creator of Till Death Us Do Part. It was Stigwood's intention to move into film production, so the purchase would give him access the best pool of writing talent in Britain, but Milligan and Sykes didn't approve of his involvement, so they left the company they helped create. ALS move into premises in Brook Street, London which they would share with The Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO).


July 1967. The Bee Gees are approached to appear in the movie, Lord Kitchener’s Little Drummer Boys. The script, commissioned by NEMS Enterprises, would have been written by songwriter/screenwriter/actor Mike Pratt, although Spike Milligan's name would later be attached to the project in November. It was to start filming in Kenya in March/April 1968. Set in Nairobi during the Boer war the five-piece Bee Gees play a vaudeville act who are press-ganged into the army, but end up deserting. The Bee Gee's drummer Colin Peterson had previously acted in movies as a child in both in Australia and the UK, so was likely to have been given a prominent role. The movie was to feature six new Bee Gees songs, but due to the historical nature of the story they would not have the expected Bee Gees sound. Barry tells the NME in January 1968 "We'll be writing the basic script, the skeleton of it. Then we'll hand it over to an experienced scenario writer. If we don't like the finished film we won't release it. That was where The Beatles went wrong", referring to the recent Magical Mystery Tour.


August 1967. The Bee Gees are to film a special for German TV which would have involved two weeks location filming in Australia in mid-November. Un-named guest artists would also appear in the show. However, both Australian members of the band, guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Peterson, had been given until 17th September to leave the UK, although the threat of deportation would later be extended until late November. The NME quoted a Home Office spokesman "Presumably these boys arrived here as visitors, and any Commonwealth citizens wishing to set up business and stay here permanently must obtain a Ministry of Labour work voucher. But it can take up to 18 months to obtain." As a result of the Home Office action the TV special was temporarily shelved. A TV special based on their Polydor album Idea was eventually made and shown on Germany's ZDF in December 1968.


September 1967. Southern Television invite the group to make a TV special assigning Mike Mansfield to produce the show. "I see The Bee Gees as the best songwriting talent in Britain after The Beatles. They are the biggest influence on the pop scene at the moment" Mike Mansfield tells Disc. The show would also feature Lulu, Julie Rogers, Esther and Abi Ofarim, all of whom would perform Bee Gees songs. The show is to be recorded in October for broadcast the following month.


October 1967. It is announced that The Bee Gees have turned down an offer to write the music for the movie Wonderwall. The NME report in October that one of the features of the Southern TV special will see the group composing a new song in the studios and performing it within minutes of completion. The 14th October 1967 edition of the NME announces the show's title, Cucumber Castle, named after a song on their Polydor debut album.


November 1967. The NME announce Cucumber Castle has been extended by 15 minutes to an hour long show and would be made in colour for the world wide market. Filming was due to start on 4th December 1967 at Leeds Castle in Kent. One portion of the show would be a re-creation of The Beatles' All You Need Is Love recording session with The Bee Gees taking the place of The Fabs, and they would try to recruit as many of those who attended the Beatles' session as they could. The story itself was loosely based on Camelot.


January 1968. The NME report that after returning from Hanover on February 5th they will complete the TV spectacular Cucumber Castle, for which they have already recorded the soundtrack.


March 1968. Lord Kitchener's Little Drummer Boys is likely to start filming in May 1968. Talking to the NME Robert Stigwood said "The Bee Gees film has been delayed because of script troubles. Our link with ALS and all the brilliant writers it handles should overcome these difficulties. We hope now to begin shooting the movie on location in Kenya in May." Cucumber Castle seems to have been put on hold until the film is completed. In the same interview Stigwood claimed "In view of The Bee Gees' current international success, and the many demands for their services, it has so far proved impossible to go ahead with the TV special."


April 1968. Johnny Speight is now writing the screenplay for the group's movie, but it has been delayed until October. The movie now has a budget of £500,000 and will be shot in colour. Speight had seen The Bee Gees in concert at The Royal Albert Hall and enthused about the performance which saw the band play on stage with a 67 piece orchestra. Speight will later join the group on tour in order to get an idea about their personalities, while a photo with the group pretending to march like soldiers with Speight was taken for the NME. Another one of Speight's projects, the TV play 'If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have To Invent Them' had been turned down by the BBC and Rediffusion in 1966 for being too offensive. By 1968 Speight believed that an audience would now be ready for it and if a deal could be finalised The Bee Gees would have major roles. It gets made without them for London Weekend.


June 1968. The start of filming on the movie is pushed back to November and the location has now moved to South Africa.


August 1968. Peter Yeldhon had been assigned to write the script for the movie which now starts shooting in December 1968. Robert Stigwood was to be Executive Producer with Producer Jon Peninington for Associated London Films.


October 1968. Filming on the movie now begins 9th December. Rumours persist throughout the late summer and autumn that Barry is going to leave the band. He tells the NME in October "Sure I'm leaving The Bee Gees. I'm going into films. But it will be at least two years before it happens." He talks about a western he would be appearing in after Lord Kitchener is completed.


November 1968. It's now Vince Melouney's turn to say that he's leaving. His new group Ashton, Gardner & Dyke is taking up his time. Robert Stigwood issues a statement "No departures from the group are planned at this time."


December 1968. Robert Stigwood issues a statement "For some time there has been a musical disagreement between Vince and the Gibb brothers, as he wanted to play more blues-band material. We have accordingly decided it would be better for him to leave the group, though we have not yet decided about his future." The NME reports two 60 minute colour TV specials to be produced by Associated London Television, but doesn't name the projects. Barry talks to the NME about Lord Kitchener and claims "It's Warner Brothers, CinemaScope and two-and-a-half hours long. I think it's also very funny. It's about the Boer War and how we all got roped in as soldiers. There are going to be six songs although we won't be singing them as a group, we'll be sitting around a camp fire or something and the strings will come up."


January 1969. Production of Lord Kitchener would be delayed until March 1969 while location shooting was due to begin Spain, but if filming is delayed any further then they will revert back to the plan to film in South Africa. The Idea TV special was under consideration by ITV companies to show in the UK.


February 1969. A new Bee Gees single, First Of May is a Barry solo vocal. Barry tells the NME that he expects to begin work on his movie with Clint Eastwood next Christmas, but he also claims that Robert Stigwood is trying to place Robin and Maurice in movie roles too. Lord Kitchener now begins filming in April and will be a three month shoot. Maurice marries singer Lulu who would be invited to appear in Cucumber Castle.


It's been nearly a year since it was decided to put Cucumber Castle on the back burner.


March 1969. On the 6th March The Bee Gees promote First Of May on Top Of The Pops. Since the song is a Barry solo, Robin appears to do nothing but hold a microphone. Robert Stigwood's choice of the A side frustrates Robin, who preferred Lamplight, while Barry expresses no opinion. On Saturday 22nd March 1969 a three piece Bee Gees make a surprise appearance on BBC1's Lulu show. It was mentioned on the show that Robin wasn't feeling well and everyone sends their best wishes. He had in fact already left the group. Robin's departure and Barry's refusal to appear in Lord Kitchener kills off their involvement in the project, and Stigwood's efforts will now be spent on supplying other RSO talent for the film. Robin begins his solo career, and among his projects is his own movie, Family Tree. Barry phones Robin to find out what the problem is and is told to "bugger off." Barry later claims Robin's wife Molly is pulling the strings and that they have never got on with each other.


April 1969. The Bee Gees record a concert at London's Talk Of The Town. Replacing Robin is 21 year-old Lesley Gibb, their sister. She tells the NME "I couldn't believe it when Mr Stigwood, the Bee Gees manager asked me to stand in for Robin at the TV spectacular from Talk Of The Town on Sunday. I suppose the idea was to keep it in the family while Robin is ill."


May 1969. Robert's Stigwood's interest in buying the film rights to Hair leads the media to suggest that Barry and Maurice will star in the film.


5th June 1969. Blind Faith were filmed live in Hyde Park, London, for possible inclusion in the upcoming Cucumber Castle, however TV producer Mike Mansfield was also meant to go to Honolulu to film them. By the time their clip is included in Cucumber Castle Blind Faith had split. The NME reports that Mike Mansfield will produce a promo clip for The Bee Gees single Tomorrow Tomorrow, while Cucumber Castle is now due to begin filming in July. This is the first mention of the project in over a year and presumably replaces the abandoned Lord Kitchener movie.


July 1969. The NME reports that Cucumber Castle could now be a feature film, clocking in at 93 minutes. Another NME report in July 1969 has the TV show budgeted at £50,000, while Robert Stigwood tells the paper that negotiations were being made to turn the special into a thirteen week series.


August 1969. Just before filming begins Disc newspaper reports "SUPERGROUP Blind Faith, Eleanor Bron, Sammy Davis, Hermione Gingold, Lulu and Vincent Price are the extravagant list of stars set for the Bee Gees TV spectacular "Cucumber Castle." And for future shows in what is to become a 13-week series Richard Harris, David Hemmings, Arthur Mallard and Rita Tushingham are already signed." The press advert for Don't Forget To Remember To Forget has a photo of the three Bee Gees, Barry, Maurice and Colin. Despite having a director, Hugh Gladwish, the comedy scenes were apparently going to be directed by Maurice.


August 1969. Filming on Cucumber Castle finally starts 11th August in the grounds of manager Robert Stigwood's 36 acre Stanmore, Middlesex home, despite Maurice's fractured arm. A North American tour is postponed in order for filming to be completed. Colin Petersen who was to appear in the film was rumoured to be leaving the band on 1st September, but this was denied by Robert Stigwood and Petersen himself. The NME reports that Robin Gibb will star in his own 45 minute TV special, but this was just speculation. American choreographer, Joanne Steuer was hired the handle the dance routines, as she had done on London Weekend's recent Vikki Carr series. The show, which was referred to as a "Tudor Style Laugh-In", will feature slapstick comedy routines. Don't Forget To Remember, which is featured in the film, is released as a single, reaching number 2 in the UK. The first photos from the film appear in the press by the end of the second week of filming, with the NME referring to it as "the BBC TV musical." Talking to the NME Barry Gibb says "It began as a fairy tale a year ago when I began writing it, but now it's become a classic. It's about the King of Cucumber and the King of Jelly whose countries are always fighting each other, but there's not allowed to be any bloodshed. This is my way of saying 'wipe out war'. The governments should do the fighting, not the people."

Disc quotes Maurice about the rumours of Colin leaving the band. "Who's putting these stories around? It's simply not true that Colin is quitting." Despite the denial earlier in the month Robert Stigwood announces at the end of August that Colin Petersen has left the group. Petersen himself made a statement "I received a letter from Barry and Maurice Gibb on Tuesday evening to the effect that they no longer desire to be associated with me. I am a partner in the Bee Gees and as a result of getting this letter I have no alternative but to put the matter to my lawyers and ask to dissolve the partnership theretofore known as The Bee Gees. I intend to continue under the name Bee Gees even if it means forming another group."


September 1969. With filming finished scenes including the recently sacked Colin Petersen are to be removed. Negotiations now begin to sell the independently made show to TV stations around the world.


October 1969. It is announced that Robert Stigwood will meet TV executives in the hope of selling Cucumber Castle as the first of a proposed thirteen week series. The NME print a insider pop-business joke "By the end of the year it will be THE Bee Gee."


December 1969. Barry leaves the duo, meaning the end of The Bee Gees. He tells the press that he is "fed up, miserable and completely disillusioned." Any thought of a Cucumber Castle series is therefore abandoned.


April 1970. The Cucumber Castle LP is released, but no one had yet seen the film. The album cover features the Gibb brothers in costume from the film, but it was not meant to be a soundtrack album. It excludes Lulu's songs, presumably for contractual reasons, and Blind Faith. Despite the single Don't Forget To Remember reaching number two in UK singles chart, the album failed to get into the top forty.


June 1970. Disc reveals that the three brothers met at Barry's Chelsea home for the first time in many months. However, Barry still has a solo project to complete.


August 1970. After Robin and Maurice record together Barry comes back and the trio are reunited.


26th December 1970. Cucumber Castle finally gets a UK TV airing on BBC2 between 1.30 - 2.25 pm. Aside from a brief extract in a 2001 Bee Gees documentary and a 2013 Frankie Howerd documentary it is never seen again. The same night as the broadcast the reunited trio perform Lonely Days on ITV's Startime.


The Robert Stigwood Organisation Presents The Bee Gees in Cucumber Castle

Devised and written by Barry and Maurice Gibb. Produced by Mike Mansfield. Directed by Hugh Gladwish. A Robert Stigwood Organisation Production in association with A.L.S. Television (Associated London Scripts).

The story begins with a dying King (Frankie Howerd), attended by his nurse Sarah Troutsbottom (Pat Combs). His two sons Frederick (Barry Gibb) and Marmaduke (Maurice Gibb) turn up to interrogate him on what is to become of the Kingdom, and of them, upon his death. Before he dies he vows to cut the Kingdom in two, Cucumber, which is given to Frederick, and Jelly which is given to Marmaduke. The two Kings then address their subjects at a banquet and are pelted with food for their trouble. The Kings then fall out over who takes the hand of the old King's nurse who stands to inherit a chamber pot full of gold, so a duel is arranged by Count Bogsville (Vincent Price) to resolve the issue. After realising that the Count has tricked them into using real weapons the Kings then wrestle each other to the ground. The two Kings then dress as birds in order to shoot a peasant (probably Spike Milligan), while Marmaduke then performs with The Cucumber Quartet with Troutsbottom, Julian (Julian Orchard) and Lady Marjorie Pea (Eleanor Bron). The court jester (Spike Milligan) is sent to entertain the King of Cucumber, who is not amused and hits him over the head with a cucumber, before having the luckless jester executed. The two Kings then attempt to play tennis dressed in armour, with Julian as the umpire. The two birds then reappear up a tree and play out a Pete and Dud routine in order to introduce a clip of Blind Faith. Troutsbottom and Julian pretend to be beggars and con The Kings into giving their money away, while the King of Cucumber addresses his subjects on his birthday. After a misunderstanding the castle is ransacked. The show's end credits run with an orchestral version of Holiday, a song from their first Polydor album.


The songs included are

The Bee Gees - Don't Forget To Remember (excerpt), The Lord, My Thing, I Was The Child, Then You Left Me, Don't Forget To Remember

Lulu (as Lulu The Cook) - Morning Of My Life, Mrs Robinson

Blind Faith - Well All Right (live in Hyde Park, London)


Comedian Frankie Howerd appeared in the film, along with Spike Milligan, despite his objections to Stigwood over the purchase of ALS. Howerd kept his copy of the LP which was found among his possessions after his death. Howerd would also make a Thames TV special with The Bee Gees and made an appearance as Mean Mister Mustard in Stigwood's movie of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, also starring The Bee Gees.


Cucumber Castle was probably meant to be shown around Christmas 1969 when not only was Robin out of the group but Blind Faith were still a thing. By the time it was shown not only had Robin rejoined, but were enjoying their first hit again as a trio, Lonely Days.


The Gibbs weren't finished with medieval fantasies quite yet. The group were to start shooting Castle X for Virgin Films on 15th September 1972 in Yugoslavia with a ten week shooting schedule. The medieval horror was scripted by director Ridley Scott and John Edwards and produced by Ned Sherrin. The Gibbs were to star in straight acting roles as well as writing the incidental music.


In the 2001 documentary This is Where I Came In Barry claimed "Pure silliness. I think it was good that we did Cucumber Castle, it doesn't mean I think that Cucumber Castle was good. I just think it was good that we did something really silly, and some of it was fun. Anything to escape that whole era of drugs and to grow up finally. Although from watching Cucumber Castle I don't think we grew up at that very point! That was to come."


Cucumber Castle was a spectacularly unamusing film, it has never been repeated or released legally in any form. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it.



CUCUMBER CASTLE


BBC2 / RSO

26th December 1970