When King Arthur was rescued by the Irish Army

The Times We Lived In: Published, August 24th, 1953. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

Robert Taylor, Mel Ferrer and Stanley Baker. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

Robert Taylor, Mel Ferrer and Stanley Baker. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

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The summer of 1953 was a typical mixture of drizzly, cold weather and brief spells of sunshine. Not a problem: unless you were attempting to shoot an Arthurian epic involving huge numbers of peasants, archers, knights and horses, and using the latest in cinema technology, the wide-screen CinemaScope format.  

Add to that an actors’ dispute that meant no extras were available in the UK – and if you were the director of MGM’s Knights of the Round Table, Richard Thorpe, you might well have pulled down your visor and galloped off into the sunset. 

But guess who came to the rescue? Ireland did. To quote the TCM movies website, “Thorpe approached the Éire government which allowed the director to use their soldiers as extras in the battle scene”. Some 300 soldiers and as many horses were marched to Luttrellstown Castle, where drizzle promptly put a stop to filming. So they had to march away and do it all over again the next day.

Readers of this newspaper were kept up to speed with the developing drama, as we published several reports from Luttrellstown – including one in which a disgruntled “Irish Times reporter” had to get up at 5.30am for a day of, mostly, waiting around doing absolutely nothing. 

Knights of the Round Table starred Mel Ferrer as King Arthur, Ava Gardner as Guinevere and Robert Taylor as Lancelot, with Stanley Baker taking on the part of Arthur’s nemesis, the evil Modred. 

Today’s photo shows the arrival of the male trio at Dublin airport. Taylor looks particularly raffish and Baker appropriately brooding; Ferrer, meanwhile, is unrecognisable in the film thanks to an especially dreadful blond wig.

Knights of the Round Table was eventually released to that traditional critical reception, “mixed reviews”. But that battle scene, shot at Luttrellstown over a period of a week, is still an impressive sight.  

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, €19.99

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