Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Peter Diamond

You won’t know the face, I can almost guarantee it, although you’ll probably have seen it a hundred times. More, possibly, as with a change of hat and or facial hair he’d often take several action roles in a single movie. Such is the work of the jobbing stunt performer, submerging his identity for the sake of the project; but it was behind the camera as stunt coordinator, fight arranger and swordmaster that Peter Diamond rose to A-list status. It was a career that covered five decades and the spectrum of screen work from domestic TV to international features. Highlander, The Princess Bride, the Star Wars movies… I can’t begin to list them, we’d be here all day.

In 1997, by means that were devious, roundabout, or fortuitous, depending on how you’re inclined to interpret them, I landed a project at ITV to which I’d attached myself as director. Didn’t think I’d get away with that, but I did. The project was Oktober, an action-chase three-parter based on my novel of the same title.

Producer Brian Eastman surrounded me with some solid industry veterans that included Production Manager Ted Morley and First AD Roger Simons. But the choice of Peter for stunt coordinator was my own.

I’m so glad I got him. I count working with him as a highlight of my career. He was around the same age as my Dad, and I think I related to him in much the same way. Being a first-timer directing a big-budget show means being constantly on the brink of a terror to which you can never afford to give in. That was my experience, anyway. But if someone was trying to shake my faith in one of my choices, or if my confidence was being undercut in any way, a glance over at Peter would get me a nod or a shake of the head that no one else would see.

A week or so back, while I was preparing some clips for the Stories About Science  event, I noticed that Peter’s credit was missing from Oktober‘s Internet Movie Database entry. Fixed that. Submitting a correction to the IMDB used to be a daunting undertaking, but the process is much smoother now. I hadn’t looked at the show in years but I was prompted to recall the work with Peter on one of our biggest action sequences, the third-act confrontation between Stephen Tompkinson and Richard Leaf.

The fight was scripted in the way I’ve described elsewhere using Crusoe as an example, and with that as his template Peter choreographed the action with two of his stunt team. He didn’t attempt to take over the direction, as I’d been warned that some of the younger stunt coordinators might. Stephen and Richard followed closely as the stunt players walked it through. While they were getting the moves, I was working out coverage with the operator. When we came to shoot it was 100% the actors, giving it their all. There’s an insert of the huskies tugging at Richard’s sleeve that was picked up later by a second unit, otherwise it’s all as staged.

Peter died in 2004, on his way home from the set of Heartbeat – working to the end. His son Frazer is assembling a tribute site  on which he’s hoping to pull together all of Peter’s film and TV credits. No mean feat, given that there’s somewhere around a thousand of them.

After Oktober, I didn’t go all-out to direct again. Don’t get me wrong, I’d loved the experience. But as a writer I had no new work ready, so had no money coming in for a year or more.

Also, when I put what I achieved next to what I’d imagined achieving, I thought I maybe wasn’t as good at this lark as I’d hoped to be. After revisiting the clip, I have to wonder if I was being too hard on myself. I’ve seen worse.

(With a special shout-out here to editor Andrew McLelland, who I see is now cutting the Sherlock Christmas special)