Interview with Peter Sykes
Peter Sykes was born on June 17th, 1939 in Melbourne, Australia. After
brief career as a dancer, he acted with the Melbourne Repertory Theatre,
before working as an assistant director on documentaries and children's
shows for Australian television. In 1963 Peter went to England, where
joined ATV and soon progressed to director. In the following telephone
interview, conducted on July 4 and 7, 1997, but with additional questions
answered by mail, I ask him about his involvement in the legendary Pink
Floyd-scored film The Committee .
D.K.: Peter, thanks for your time. You've kindly supplied me with a
filmography [see the end of this interview], so perhaps a good place
start would be to ask you whether there are any other directors you
particularly admire. There was a sympathetic review of The Committee in
Films and Filming; the review suggested that Rivette was an influence
the film. Is this the case?
P.S.: I particularly like the work of Resnais, Franju, Vigo, Kurasawa,
Fellini, Antonioni, S Ray, Hawkes, Ford, etc. Rivette was much admired
I'm not conscious of any specific influence.
D.K.: Why did The Committee never have a very wide release?
P.S.: The possibility of release for a film of this length that was
considered too austere for mainstream audiences was very limited, so
relied on art house cinemas in major cities, film clubs, etc. We had
release in London paired with Visconti's The Stranger from the Albert
novel. We conducted a survey on the queues outside the Regent Street
to find out which film had been the main attraction and discovered that
over 50% of the audience had come because of The Committee . The reason
did this was that the distributors were giving us less than 25% of the
takings between the two films. We presented our case to the distributors
but of course the deal remained unchanged.
D.K.: I seem to remember that at one point in The Committee the protagonist
says, "You are the Director. Of The Committee ". Is that a
reference? I was thinking that the film's concern with R.D. Laing ideas
might mean that the entire film could be interpreted as an "insane" response to an insane world.
P.S.: Yes, it is a metafictional reference. Both Max [Steuer, producer
of The Committee ] and myself were much engaged with his ideas at the time
we had contact with him through friends and patients.
D.K.: When I was discussing The Committee with you some time ago, you
mentioned you had a few anecdotes to recount about the film. Could you
share them with us?
P.S.: Certainly. The producers of "The Avengers" saw the film and asked
see me. They said they didn't understand the film but thought it looked
terrific and that it had lots of atmosphere. Would I come to direct
Avengers"? That is how I got started in the mainstream industry. Also,
when The Committee was first shown at the National Film Theatre the screening
had to be stopped when, during the beheading scene, a viewer sitting
front row had an epileptic fit and had to be attended to. The screening
D.K.: Do you have any anecdotes about Pink Floyd?
P.S.: Any stories about the Pink Floyd...? There's quite a funny one,
fact, that I may have narrated to you: Max was concerned at lunchtime
they hadn't created anything for the studio, which cost him a lot of
He went round the studio in a terrible state, saying "I think I'll
cancel; they just haven't created anything." But we said "No,
come up with something."
D.K.: Do you mean they were going to improvise?
P.S.: They arrived at the studio in London with no idea, that we are
of, of what they were going to create. They saw the film and inspired
certain scenes in the film they started played around with ideas. In
words they were creating on the spot, and it evolved into the text.
weren't actually improvising when once they started recording. They
a text and then played it. They hadn't come up with any sort of creative
ideas before, and Max thought this was a trifle strange.
D.K.: What sort of time period was there between the improvisations
P.S.: Well, this is it... They'd viewed the film and they waited in
studio. We sat there and they couldn't produce any music; they just
around. But after lunch they came back and it all started happening,
the end of the day we had all the music for the film.
D.K.: So it was all very quick, then?
P.S.: Yes. No doubt they'd played around with some of the pieces before.
heard familiar themes coming over.
D.K.: Did they all contribute equally to the music?
P.S.: I wouldn't say that. One or two of them, perhaps, but I can't
remember. Probably Roger and... Well, they all appeared to contribute.
D.K.: How did you and Max come to meet?
P.S.: I'd made a film about Australian surfing in Cornwall--A Walkabout
Cornwall--and it was screening at the university where Max was. He asked
guy I knew who directed the film. After he was told, I got a phone call,
and Max said "I have a story; would you like to make a film?" I read it,
and our relationship actually started off with a furious row. He's quite
strong-willed, and I had ideas about the film, and we shouted and screamed
at each other. That was the beginning of our relationship. But it worked
well, and we made the film.
D.K.: I was under the impression that The Committee was your first film.
P.S.: I had made Walkabout to Cornwall, but it was my first commercial
feature with actors.
D.K.: What is your opinion of it now?
P.S.: It's a long time since I've seen it. I thought it was pretty much
its era. Fairly pretentious--so art house! (Laughter.) I'm looking forward
to seeing it on video. There are some scenes I like very much. The whole
scene of Paul Jones and the sewing-on of the head--the whole beginning
the film works very well. I like the scene in the clock tower very much.
The Arthur Brown... Yes, there are lots of things I like very much.
D.K.: What became of the actors, incidentally? I had only heard of Paul
Jones, through his association with Manfred Mann.
P.S.: Tom Kempinski was a very interesting guy. He was an actor who
the National Theatre under Olivier--Laurence Olivier--and he acted in
very big production. But then he had a, well, sort of nervous breakdown.
He started writing, and became a very famous writer. He won a number
national awards, including Play of the Year. His most famous you've
probably heard of is Duet for One. There was an article in the paper
him recently... He married Frances de la Tour...
D.K.: Who was in Dennis Potter's Cold Lazarus?
P.S.: And Rising Damp, yes... Anyway, he was one of the actors. Paul
you know of, although he was also in another film called Privilege.
made by Peter Watkins, who made The War Game. Then the other actors
mixture of friends and people who were around the place--some of them
D.K.: Have you ever used any of the actors in any of your other films?
P.S.: I've worked with Paul Jones again. And I've worked on scripts
Kempinski, but no, I can't think of anyone else.
D.K.: This is a horrible question, but which of your films are you most
P.S.: All the films have sections in them that I like...
D.K.: What about The House in Nightmare Park, with Frankie Howerd?
P.S.: Yes, yes... I think Frankie Howerd was absolutely wonderful. The
people who wrote the script wrote a thriller with comedy parts...
D.K.: And your latest film? I think you said you're going to Italy on
fourteenth to work on it.
P.S.: Kaosmos? Yes, that's very interesting. . . .
D.K.: You mentioned its Kafka influences.
P.S.: Yes, it's related to Kafka, and of course The Committee is related
Kafka as well.
D.K.: How did Pink Floyd actually get involved in the project?
P.S.: We knew some of the Pink Floyd. Socially. And they were the obvious
people to do the music for the film. And in those days Roger Waters
around, and he agreed to do the script. I'll tell you another little
I just remembered... Arthur Brown--you know, the guy with the flaming
headdress--he had clear plastic tubing running in his apartment, and
plastic tubes running all the way across the ceiling, with captive white
mice running everywhere. (Laughter.)
D.K.: What do you think of Pink Floyd's latest music?
P.S.: I like it very much.
D.K.: How much were Pink Floyd actually paid for doing The Committee ?
P.S.: You know, I can only guess there...I can't remember exactly. The
complications with Max over lunch time... No, I can't remember. You'll
to ask Max.
D.K.: You told me once before that Max has a musical background--that
plays the bass guitar. I suppose the initial meeting between him and
Floyd came about through music?
P.S.: Partially... But I think Pink Floyd early on may have played at
LSE. Certainly a lot of groups played there.
D.K.: Max has spent much of his life at the London School of Economics,
P.S.: Well, all his life in England. He's American, and did an MA at
D.K.: Peter, thank you very much for your time.
P.S.: My pleasure.
Films Directed by Peter Sykes
For space reasons, the filmography below shows only some of the many
films and TV productions Peter has directed; it does, however, illustrate
the diversity of his directing. (Fans of Barbet Schroeder's La Vallee should note the appearance, in Magicians of the Future, of Bulle
1968: Walkabout to Cornwall, surfing documentary; festival prizewinner,
1968: The Committee , starring Paul Jones and Tom Kempinski.
1969: Two episodes of The Avengers: "Love All" and
1970: Venom, starring Simon Brent and Sheila Keith.
1971: Demons of the Mind, starring Patrick Magee and Yvonne Mitchell.
1972: The House in Nightmare Park, starring Ray Milland and Frankie
1973: Steptoe and Son Ride Again, starring Harry H. Corbett and
1975: To the Devil a Daughter, starring Richard Wydmark and Christopher
1976: Magicians of the Future, starring Maurice Ronet and Bulle
1978: Jesus, starring Brian Deacon and Rivka Noiman.
1980: Alexander the Great: 4 1-hour television dramas for Time
1981: The Blues Band, starring Paul Jones and William Rushton.
1983: The Irish RM: 3 x 1 hour films, starring Peter Bowles.
1985: The Lost Secret, BBC production starring Miranda Richardson.
1988: MAC Satellite Broadcasting, documentary for the IBA.
1989: The Other Britain, documentary for Longman.
1990: Castle of Holstebro, video from the stage play at Odin
1995: The Merger, 1 hour drama, Longman UK Ltd.
1996: Kaosmos, drama production based on Odin Teatre play, for
the National Film Board, Denmark.
King is an expert on Floyd films, and a special contributor to Spare
Bricks. Portions of this article may be reproduced, provided that
David King and Spare Bricks are properly credited.
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