Artistic licence…

As part of our Lindsay Anderson centenary celebrations we recently welcomed David Wood to Stirling to introduce a special screening of If….. As well and sharing his experiences of appearing in the film as a young actor David also brought us some gifts for the Lindsay Anderson Archive. Along with his own personal shooting copy of the script and the school tie he wore in the film David presented us with a curious document which presents an alternative version of the film. This ‘dummy’ script was to be carried by cast and crew when shooting on location at Cheltenham College. It provides us with the final piece of a tale told in the archive of old school ties, misplaced expectations and artistic license.

In an issue of the school newspaper Coll, published on 14 December 1968, the headmaster of Cheltenham College David Ashcroft wrote an article on the front page with the headline Lindsay Conned Us All. (ref. LA 1/6/6/16/1). Anderson was a Cheltenham ‘Old Boy’ and returned to his old school to shoot the film. The version of the film presented by Anderson to the school authorities to gain permission to shoot on location proved very different to the finished work. In this article Ashcroft tried to prepare the school for the film’s release noting that “when it is seen all will be surprised and many shocked that we should have been associated with it: an explanation will certainly be demanded.”

Returning to the subject 25 years later Ashcroft wrote a more detailed account of events in an issue of the magazine Conference and Common Room (ref. LA 1/6/6/22/1). In the article he details the conversations and negotiations that took place, Ashcroft agreeing in principle to allow filming at the College following a look at the script.

“A disconcertingly skinny script arrived, containing a conspectus of scenes, some snatches of dialogue… the more fantastical scenes leading up the final shoot-out were very sketchy (to be developed visually, said Anderson). There was certainly nothing obviously objectionable… there was nothing nasty on the surface.”

Conference and Common Room, Vol. 31, No.2, Summer 1994

It is a copy of this ‘dummy’ script that David Wood has generously donated to the archive (ref. LA 1/6/1/11). The script, dated August 1967, runs to 33 pages and provides an outline of the film, setting out the structure and plot (and also marking clearly where the film switches to ‘fantasy’ – and back again). It begins with an introduction written by Anderson which provided the filmmakers with a certain degree of artistic license beyond the words printed on the pages of the script.

“The overall effect of the film is to be lyrical – to show the reality of the world and its innate lyricism. To achieve this, and because we are working outside the commercial framework of studio production, the film will be improvised.”

Lindsay Anderson’s introduction to ‘dummy’ script for If….

The gaps in this version of the script were subsequently filled on screen with several of the scenes which contributed to the film gaining an ‘X’ rating. And while the explosive finale of the film, where the young rebels fire from the rooftops at the symbols of the establishment below, is present, it is more clearly signalled as a fantasy sequence.

The film director LIndsay Anderson was born in Bangalore, India, in April 1923. The University of Stirling Archives is home to his extensive collection of personal and working papers. As part of our centenary celebrations we have created a new online exhibition which features reflections on Anderson’s life and archive from actors, artists and academics.

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