The rediscovery of a dusty video cassette in Perth, Western Australia, has seen four Forest friends reunited online. Tracy Batt, Caroline Treherne, Garry Gardiner and Caroline Cinderey recently came together to remember their role in a BBC TV documentary about Forest of Dean author Winifred Foley.
Tracy, who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, had a VHS copy of the programme from 1976 in which she played the young Winifred Foley. She recently decided to dig it out and find a way to share it online. With the help her partner Andrew she hooked up an old VCR to play the tape and, with everyone watching told to keep quiet, she used her mobile phone to film it on the TV screen. Now a digital file, Tracy’s ingenuity meant she was now able to upload it to YouTube (you can watch it at the bottom of this page), sharing what had until then been a largely forgotten little piece of Forest of Dean television history. A follow-up post on Facebook saw the four former child actors linking back up to share their memories of that week over forty years ago when they had, briefly, become part of the exciting world of Television. Shortly after they’d reconnected they were kind enough to join up again for a live video-chat with Reading the Forest to tell us about the filming - and what happened next.
Winifred Foley’s unpublished memoirs were first serialised on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour programme in 1973. It proved so popular that in 1974 the BBC published them as a book, A Child in the Forest. It was a huge success. At the time there was a growing interest in working-class and women’s histories, and in stories set in the pre-War English countryside. With the support of local publisher Doug McLean, a few years later came Winifred’s second book No Pipe Dreams for Father (1977). Several others were to follow, as well as a stage play, television dramatization, and several reissues of A Child in the Forest (today available under the title Full Hearts and Empty Bellies). In 1976 the BBC screened Abide With Me, a one-off television adaptation by Julian Mitchell of parts of A Child in the Forest. The year before that producer Keith Sheather was tasked with making a television documentary about Foley for BBC Two. The production team were soon in the Forest of Dean looking for locations, and for children to take on the roles of the young Winifred, her siblings and friends.
They all remember the day that the BBC turned up. Tracy and Garry were at Ruardean Primary school, whilst Caroline Treherne and Caroline Cinderey were at Ruardean Woodside school (the very same school that Winifred Foley had attended in the 1920s). They were all lined up at the front of the class whilst Keith Sheather briefly spoke to each of them in turn. Tracy remembers he seemed to speak to her for an especially long time. “I just knew in my heart that I’d got it” she says. Later that morning Tracy was called into the office of the head, Mr Kent, to be told that she had indeed got a part, and it was to play ‘Poll’, Winifred’s nickname growing up. “I was going home for lunch and sprinted down over Duberley’s field, jumping over fences, so I could get in to tell my Mum,” says Tracy, but unfortunately Mr Kent had got their first with a phone call to tell the news. Garry remembers the excitement of that day too: “In class my eyes were out on stalks, I was so keen to get a part”. Once they had all been cast, details of the production began to arrive, and receiving BBC scripts, production schedules (and then pay slips) through the post was quite something for them all. Tracy’s Mum bought her a scrap book. She carefully pasted in every piece of production paperwork and she’s still got the scrapbook to this day.
Ruardean Woodside school was costume and make-up HQ where the four of them, along with their fellow cast members, would meet each morning to prepare for filming. Caroline Treherne remembers the old-fashioned boots being very uncomfortable, but the period dresses were wonderful. Whilst Garry had the odd tooth blackened (to simulate missing teeth) and fake dirt applied to his face, he, Caroline Cinderey and Tracy were to undergo a more significant transformation: they were given period pudding-basin haircuts! The conversation between the four of them is full of very positive memories, but Tracy’s tone momentarily darkens as she remembers how that haircut lead to a period of real torment for her as children relentlessly teased her about it. Apart from that one less than happy memory, what comes across from all four of them is what an exciting time it was being involved in the programme. They remember too how well they were looked after by the crew and Garry remembers producer Keith Sheather in particular as a “really lovely gentleman”.
Much of the filming took place in and around Brierley where Winifred Foley had grown up. Tracy remembers filming the opening scene between Brierley and Piano Corner: “They had a camera mounted on a car, and as it set off they just told me to run – whilst they drove along-side filming”. Tracy’s Dad was a cine film enthusiast so whilst the BBC crew were filming for the documentary he was hidden out of shot making his own film of the filming taking place. Garry played the part of one of ‘Poll’s’ friends, and at one point was told to walk up the hill whilst looking at the camera with a smile. “I was supposed to be coming home after a twelve-hour shift at the pit,” says Garry, “and I remember thinking there’s no way I’d be smiling if I’d just done that!”. After several re-takes walking up and down the hill, the crew relented and finally let him do it his way – a real method actor!
As well as the location shooting the youngsters also got to go to the BBC studios in Bristol. This was where popular children’s television show ‘Animal Magic’ was filmed, and they’re pretty sure that another children’s favourite ‘Why Don’t You’ was actually being filmed in another studio whilst they were there.
Sometime after filming was completed (by which time the four had just started secondary school) the producer got back in touch to say he now had a slightly longer slot for the broadcast, and so wanted to film some extra scenes. Caroline and Tracy remember that this is when the ‘going to tea’ scene was filmed. In A Child in the Forest, with Winifred about to leave school to go into service, her teacher, Miss Hale, decided to take her and her friend to tea. Caroline and Tracy remember being filmed in a vintage car, and then filmed having tea at the old vicarage in Newnham which was standing in as Miss Hale’s home.
As well as the dramatised scenes featuring the children the documentary included several pieces to camera by Winifred Foley herself, with shots of her walking up past her childhood home at Brierley Banks, digging her garden, and seated as she remembers the people and events that informed her book. She comes across as an utterly engaging presence on screen. The four remember being given copies of Foley’s book, each containing an individual, handwritten dedication. Caroline Treherne remembers meeting Winifred Foley too. Even so, all four of them admit they’ve never, yet, actually read A Child in the Forest – though they all promise to rectify that soon!
With almost anyone able to broadcast themselves today via platforms such as YouTube, it’s easy to forget how remote and glamorous the world of television seemed to us in the 1970s. Listening to Tracy, Garry and both Caroline’s, it’s clear that their involvement in the documentary was very exciting for them and has left a lasting impression. “I was ready to head off to Hollywood,” says Tracy. Garry remembers writing to producer Keith Sheather after filming was completed telling him how much he’d enjoyed it “and that my services were available for any future films. He wrote a lovely letter back to me,” says Garry, “saying he’d keep me in mind. I’m still waiting for his call!”
The documentary seems to have been screened in the West TV region in the January of 1976 but due to a power cut in the Forest few local people were able to watch it. The good news was that the documentary was repeated, this time on BBC Two on 18th December 1976 at 6.55pm. Here’s the text from its Radio Times listing:
“I've mourned for my childhood all my life. I think probably because of the sudden death of it.” At 14, Winifred Foley, a miner's daughter, was forced to leave her beloved Forest of Dean and go into service. It was the depression years of the 20s when the miners were fighting for their lives. In this dramatised documentary Winifred Foley recalls her deep love for the forest, and the poverty and hunger that its beauty could hide.
Foley would continue to write for many years diversifying into novels in her later life. She would appear many more times on television and radio too. But Hollywood didn’t come calling for any of the four friends in the end. After leaving school Tracy worked in banking before getting the travel bug. She spent time living on a kibbutz and exploring the Middle East, and it was in Israel that she met her first husband, an Australian, which led to her moving to Australia. Tracy still works in finance and lives with her new partner and her two children in Perth. She regularly speaks online with her family who still all live in the Forest. Caroline Cinderey worked in local government, lives at Ruardean and is now practice manager at Drybrook Surgery. Her grandmother was married to Winifred Foley’s brother. Caroline Treherne lives in the Forest too, though after retiring (she worked for many years as a careers adviser) she’s also got the travel bug and spends most of her Winters in Spain. After various jobs and a stint in the Army, Garry went into business with his brother, at one-point renovating and running The Inn On the Wye (formerly The Castle View). After further success with property development he sold up and got on a plane for… Australia! Though there are hundreds of miles between them by odd coincidence two of the four friends have ended up half way around the world on the same continent. Winifred Foley would surely have been very pleased that, through their brief involvement in her story, these four children of the Forest have re-connected across thousands of miles and multiple time zones all these years later.
Keith Sheather went on to produce long running series such as The Kitchen Garden, and several series of the television chef Keith Floyd. Keith published his own first novel in 2019.