Hi everyone. This week, Peter Fleming has written to me about his relationship with windmills as one of the leading lights of the golden age of British children’s TV. Take it away, Peter!
Hello there, my friends!
I must say I’ve had a quite delightful relationship with windmills over the years. That wonderful silhouette always inspired me as a child when I saw one standing against a rural skyline. They can’t help but make one dream, can they? But I wasn’t always so enamoured!
Early in my career, I had a terrible falling out with Gordon Murray and his Camberwick Green production team. We were discussing the possibility of collaborating on a series in which a miller was the main character. He disagreed and said the miller should be but one figure in a louder community. Shout and bang the table as I might, I couldn’t convince him otherwise, and so we went our separate ways with our own separate programmes. I rather gloated at the time that he didn’t even have the budget to hire more than one actor – had to make his own cast! Preposterous, I cried!
And so the race was on. I pursued my own vision with Mildred’s Mill, which was duly broadcast in 1967. And, yes, in the end, Gordon Murray got his programme out first, and Camberwick Green was much better liked and is better remembered by viewers, but who won out in the end, eh? Him, most audiences would conclude. But would I come to the same conclusion, I ask you? (Yes.) After a time, I moved on from that disappointment, although the two series I made following Mildred’s Mill, following the lives of two towns in the same fictional county, both had their thunder pre-emptively stolen by Murray yet again, which was deeply frustrating.
Nonetheless, my love of windmills held fast, and years later, long after I’d stopped making programmes regularly, I ended up moving into one! Trouble is, if you tell anyone you live in a windmill, they’ll always say, ‘Ah, just like Windy Miller!’ Impossible to break the association, even though all the evidence offered by Camberwick Green‘s opening sequence is highly suggestive that Windy Miller lives in a music box.
I decided the best course of action would be to do everything in my power to break that connection in the minds of the public. Accordingly, I spent the next few years loaning the use of my windmill to various television production teams in the hope of wiping Windy Miller from the public consciousness. A good source of income – better, in fact, than trying to sustain your living by actually working the mill to produce flour. Windy Miller made it look much easier than it actually was (a further flaw of Camberwick Green!).
Throughout the next few years, productions were queuing up to use the mill! First of all, Mark Curry was strapped to the sails for a Blue Peter item, and round about the same time, Stanley Baxter moved in for a few weeks as Mr Majeika (1988). Alan Davies also settled into the living room for a few years as Jonathan Creek, although I have to say I can’t imagine that programme going down well with parents at all. While all this went on, I made further money by providing all the catering as well! Meals would largely consist of raw grain that I’d purchased upon moving in and was now desperate to shift, but I didn’t hear any complaints. Luckily the noise of the mill drowned them out!
It was a very happy time, all in all. But eventually the interest wound down and the costs of upkeep became too much for me. I went on my way again, leaving the mill behind and wandering through the fields instead. Finally I opted to drift further away still on my little raft, and here we are! I look back on that decision at times and wish I’d had a hot air balloon to travel around in instead, but mine was stolen by Geoffrey Bayldon in the early 1970s. Just flew away in it, never came back. I tried looking out for it every morning when I lived in the windmill in case it floated by and snagged on a sail, but no luck.
As it is, I drift on along the water instead, but I always enjoy spotting a mill as I go past, and looking back – unless it’s a watermill, in which case I always have to immediately paddle as hard as I can the way I came. (Failing that, I abandon ship, let it get caught in the machinery and apologise to the owner, and anyone whose water supply I’ve cut off.) Windmills, balloons, clouds and rainbows. The things that bring the sky to life for children. And nothing shall ever change that – in spite of that vampire Gordon Murray’s best efforts to ruin them for me!
All the best,