A special message from Rod Taylor and an unusually heavy snowfall in Britain brought a glimpse of a white Christmas to summertime Australia in 1967.
The Christmas Day broadcast also delivered a sneak peek at Rod’s next movie, “The High Commissioner” (1968), one of many special promotional efforts for the film in which Rod Taylor plays an Australian detective on an important assignment in London.
Rod recorded the Christmas message on the grounds of the Hall Barn estate, a grand old ancestral home in Beaconsfied, Buckinghamshire, about 20 miles northwest of London. The setting was a frosty one, as England saw an unusually snowy winter in 1967-68.
“It was a notable occasion,” declared the Australiasian Exhibitor in its Jan. 4, 1968, issue, stating that it was “the first time that a film distribution company and an Australian television network had combined to present a Christmas message from an international film star whilst his current film was still in production.”
Australia’s Channel 7 network scheduled the message in peak viewing times in all the major city stations across the continent on Christmas evening.
Millions of people saw Rod’s Christmas greeting and also were treated to a scene from the movie. “The High Commssioner” (known as “Nobody Runs Forever” in the U.K.) was not scheduled to wrap shooting until the end of January 1968 and wouldn’t be released until later in 1968. Thus, it was quite an achievement to get a film clip for the December 1967 TV broadcast.
Coordinating the message and the film clip took six weeks of organization between Sydney and London, involving British Empire Films, Pinewood Studios, the Rank Organisation’s overseas publicity department, and Channel 7 executives. The latter had to arrange special time slots and distribution of the film for all the stations — Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberrra.
In “The High Commissioner,” Rod plays an Australian detective on a major assignment in London. It was one of the rare times in his career that Rod, an Aussie, actually played an Australian.
A London-based contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Sally K. Brass, interviewed Rod while he was filming in “the drawing room of the Australian High Commissioner to London.” She described Rod as “standing against an elegant background of antiques, objets d’art and valuable oil paintings which furnish the Jacobean mansion in Beaconsfield where ‘Nobody Runs Forever’ is being filmed.”
“His shooting schedule was tough that day,” Brass wrote, wryly. Rod’s scenes called for him to make passes at Camilla Sparv all morning. Then, the afternoon would be devoted to rehearsals for a bedroom scene with Daliah Lavi.
Lunchtime was spent at the Saracen’s Head, a pub also known as the Royal Saracen’s Head thanks to a legend that King Richard the Lionheart once drank there. The complete Los Angeles Times article is here (PDF).
Another big promotional effort for “The High Commissioner” occurred in September 1968, when Rod went to Australia for the movie’s premiere and met with Prime Minister John Gorton. More on the movie and the meeting can be found on the page for “The High Commissioner” on the Rod Taylor Site.