I am deeply sad today as we’ve lost the great Edward Woodward.
He was very dear to me and a dream to work with, as I hoped he’d be.
I was first aware of Edward Woodward not as The Equalizer or even as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man, but as the lead of the espionage TV series Callan.
Callan (1967-1972) was one of the first real tough guys on TV. The show was repeated in the early eighties on British TV and while I was perhaps too young for it, I recall three things about it.
One is my mother pretty much singing Edward’s name. It’s an amazing name and she would seem to have so much fun just saying it. It’s a testament to how famous this man was and how he’s ingrained in our culture, not just for three legendary characters, but even his name gave birth to at least three classic and oft repeated jokes.
My other memory of Callan is this classic opening credit sequence with the swinging lightbulb. These titles were seared onto my brain as a child.
My other dim recollections of Callan mostly revolved around Woodward’s character beating people up, but also getting beaten up. Couple this brutal action with that amazing poker face and he was one of the most intense actors on TV. I could see that even as an eight year old. Edward Woodward was badass.
Like Simon Pegg also, I had faint childhood memories of seeing the Callan movie (1974) on TV, where Woodward has a psychedelic fight with David Prowse whilst on an acid trip.
(Several years later, after Hot Fuzz was released, Quentin Tarantino showed me, Simon and Paddy Considine his own personal print of Callan the movie and we amazingly got to see that fight on the big screen.)
After Callan, Woodward later became famous to me as The Equalizer (1985-89) another TV show that thrilled me with a great title sequence, great theme tune (by Stewart Copeland) and another terse, intense performance by Woodward.
This credit sequence, again, was a huge part of my childhood and I remember being terrified by it.
Later I saw The Wicker Man for the first time on BBC2 in 1988, as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome series.
Needless to say, as Hot Fuzz should attest, it had a huge effect on me. It’s quite astonishing given how little known and under seen the film was on its first release, that it now has such a huge cult reputation.
I remember remarking to Edward on the set of Hot Fuzz how amazing it was that the film’s fame continued to grow, even passing into the language as a go-to term for any creepy countryside activity. (“It’s all a bit Wicker Man”)
The film is a masterpiece and quite unique in the annals of British horror due to it’s folky vibes, which were at odds with much of the gothic horror output at the time. One of my favourite things about the movie is that Woodward’s Sergeant Howie is almost the villain of the piece and arguably a lot less likable than Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle.
It’s a film I returned to again and again. The soundtrack too is something quite beautiful and it may not surprise some that me and Simon wrote a lot of Hot Fuzz to the sound of The Maypole Song.
On the set of Hot Fuzz, when I talked to Edward about how much I loved the soundtrack, he remarked that he had never owned a copy and would love to hear it again.
When editing Hot Fuzz, I went to see the unnecessary 2006 remake at the cinema. I knew Edward had mixed feelings about it, even though he was flattered that they had named a character after him.
One of many things that baffled me about the remake was the choice to dispense with the folk music element completely. I’d even read an interview with Neil LaBute where he disparaged the folks songs in the original. I swear that’s one of the best parts of the film. Its status as a horror movie is equal only to its place as the oddest of musicals.
After seeing the remake, I then sent Edward a vinyl LP version of the re-released Wicker Man soundtrack with a note attached saying…
“Just seen the Wicker Man remake. Do not fear, your place in film history is unassailed. Edgar”
I received a letter back from Edward saying how much he loved hearing the soundtrack again and how it took him right back.
Sadly I fear that the sentiments of my letter have been proven partially wrong. While the original Wicker Man (hell, it pains me to even have to preface the title with “the original”) still has a great cult following, there is a generation growing up that only know The Wicker Man (2006) as a camp classic thanks to internet mash ups of Nicholas Cage screaming about bees. When occasionally I hear people talking about the ‘bees’ version without having ever heard of the original film, it depresses me. This is why this endless trend of remakes is very bad indeed.
I digress slightly, but let me say that if you wanted to pay tribute to Edward today, then simply watch the original version of The Wicker Man. It is a film that he was very proud of and I think that it ranks as one of the best British films of all time. It certainly has an indisputably harrowing ending.
I cast Edward in Hot Fuzz in 2006.
We had a very funny first meeting where he regaled me with anecdotes. His opening gambit about the script was this. “I read the script. I thought… It smells a bit Wicker Man”. He was very happy to be involved and very happy to be cast in a comedy too. I had remembered last seeing him in the BBC series ‘Common As Muck’ which had utilized his little known knack for comedy.
I also remember telling him that Quentin was a huge fan of his film ‘Sitting Target’ (another great soundtrack – btw) and he looked shocked. I’m not sure anyone had ever complimented him on it. He replied “Well, you must tell your friend he is very strange indeed”.
Edward was full of stories about every production he’d ever been on. One of major regrets about the shooting of the film was that I was so busy physically shooting the film, I missed out on what all of the other actors got in the make up trailer: ‘anecdote time’ with Edward.
It would pain me that in-between takes, Edward would start telling me a story about the Wicker Man shoot and then halfway through I would be called back to set as we were ready to shoot. Simon and Nick heard all the stories. I was most envious.
This was such a shame to me that I rectified it in two ways. One was to ensure there was a commentary track on the Hot Fuzz DVD that featured all our film’s elder statesmen and greatest raconteurs. If you’ve heard it already, you’ll know that Edward Woodward is very funny on it.
The other instance of making up for lost time with Edward came after the release. We had a UK premiere in Leicester Square on the 13th of Feb, 2007 and even though all the cast were in attendance – it was impossible to speak to anyone. The after party (as is usually the case) was quite a noisy affair and the chance of catching up with anyone properly, Edward included, was zero.
While it was great to have such a big premiere and good turnout, it was sad not to be able to chat to the cast. It bothered me so much that when the film opened at Number 1 in the UK, I asked Eric Fellner at Working Title if we could have a ‘second premiere party’ that would be a lot smaller, more intimate and where I could actually talk to the cast and crew.
A week and a half later, at Soho’s Union Club, this is exactly what we did.
I actually contrived to sit, not with Simon and Nick, but next to Edward and his lovely wife Michelle Dotrice, along with Paul Freeman, Ken Cranham, Jim Broadbent and Anne Reid, some of the actors whose amazing stories I’d missed during the shoot.
Needless to say, my plan for more anecdote time paid off and I got to hear many of Edward’s amazing stories. This includes the one where while filming in Australia for Breaker Morant, a man walks up to him during a hike in the outback and introduces himself. As ‘Edward Woodward.’ He met his Australian namesake in the middle of the desert.
At the end of dinner Eric Fellner stood up to make a speech and congratulate us all on the film’s success. When he sat back down a voice called out.
“Now, I’d like to make a speech too”
And lo, Edward Woodward stands up and begins a good fifteen minute monologue about his career and the fun he had on our film. It was one of the sweetest and funniest things that occurred during the whole production.
That was the last time I saw him.
Rest in peace Edward. My thoughts go out to his lovely family.