Random Memory #4 – Warhorse

Written by Jonathan Pagden

April 21, 2023

*Now! Listen as I revisit my past*



Another in the random series of random memories from a lifetime of radio, TV and live events: today’s is of a very memorable moment at the Savoy in November 2014.
I can be precise about the date because this awards had a theme of “Wartime”, the same thinking applied to the evening’s special guest Michael Morpurgo, whose book/play/film Warhorse was Flavour Of The Month around then.

The play was unforgettable for anyone who saw it, unique for the way the animals were portrayed (see picture – courtesy of the National Theatre).

The Spielberg film was also good but much less theatrical (obviously!)

Michael gave a great talk about his Belgian ancestry, connection with WW1 and how the Warhorse story came about.
Then he said “But what you’re thinking is – Has He Brought A Horse With Him?”
He gave the ‘hoot’ from the play/film, from outside the River Entrance doors there was a horse-type whinny: and 350 people gasped in unison as the doors opened and in came one of the horses from the play.

It was one of those moments where everything worked perfectly: lighting, camera shots, timing – the lot. The effect was quite magical.

The horse was brought and worked by the actors from the National Theatre, and during the afternoon when we were planning the moment I got talking to the actor who walked next to the head, dressed as a groom but in fact doing the head movements. He told me not to try and talk to the two guys inside as they went into ‘horse’ mode and wouldn’t answer: consistent with that was the horse box parked outside, to preserve the illusion the change from ‘actors’ to ‘horse’ always happened inside the box.
It was all so effective that during the afternoon I had to walk behind the horse – and found myself giving it space in case it kicked!

I met Mr Morpurgo again about three weeks later on another event (without horse!) at the Dorchester, and when he saw me he said “Hello! We’ve met before – the Savoy, wasn’t it?” That’s impressive given how busy he was on the publicity circuit just then.