Where am I?
Several answers to that. Somewhere in the Cotswolds; outside an actor’s mobile dressing room; the 1950s.
Um … when you’re recognised on the red carpet, yes it must be. But when you’re cooped in a rusting trailer on the grounds of a fire service training centre, maybe a little less so.
So why do it?
Well let me show you behind the scenes and we will find out what makes a BBC drama such an exciting thing to be part of. Here we are in make-up, with a detached hand that will be used in a murder scene …
Did I not mention the bodies? Yes, Father Brown is the Catholic priest created by GK Chesterton who solves crimes (usually murders) through guile and thoughtfulness. Oh, and the tactical use of wigs.
Why were you here?
The brilliant chap up ahead, Will Trotter, runs BBC Daytime Drama (which produces a huge number of hours of shows) and very kindly asked if I’d like to bring my family for a visit to the set. This is the costume van. The suits and dresses are measured for every actor, even extras in crowd scenes. Everyone we met was meticulous.
What about period pants?
That was my first question too. Where there is a scene with visible 1950s underwear, you’ll be needing a pair from this box. No danger of going home in them.
Wrong nail varnish?
Again, an important issue. Sometimes an actor will walk up a driveway on Monday and then be filmed coming through the front door of the same house on Tuesday week. This log book in the costume trailer is used to record every detail of what the person wore on the Monday – right down to nail varnish – so the Tuesday shot has no break in continuity. A hat the wrong way round is a major fail. The costume lady in the pic has even greater powers of observation than Father Brown himself.
My own fascination
… is with sets. This is the police station. There is no ceiling, but the lighting and props make for a dramatic shot with my kids. Everything you see is 1950s (except me).
Lights and props
Also fascinating – the way, as Will explained to me, lighting has got much subtler in the last twenty years. Look at the way the ceiling cloth diffuses the light above it – stopping harsh shadows and making the real lamps on set do some of the work. And this 1950s dining room is realistic in every detail. Props include placemats, plates, books, candleholders; even wallpaper.
When filming starts (on the other side of the chipboard wall you see on the right) phones are muted and we all listen intently.
Time for your close-up
Mark Williams acts Father Brown. His career has ranged from comedy in the Fast Show to Shakespeare on stage and the film part of Ron Weasley’s father, and he brings intelligence, and a twinkle, to everything he does. Here he makes a speech that lasts about 50 seconds – with that many people watching the take, the pressure is on.
Out of costume
My wife and kids had a chance to meet Mark – who was completely charming. Alongside Will is his wife, the TV producer Alex Fraser. I can see how inspiring this kind of production would be to a youngster. Behind the scenes it’s all rust and laundry baskets – in front of camera they are after a kind of perfection.
The finished result
And here it is. Next time I see this on iPlayer I will remember the backstage team!
The abandoned bicycle
… made me think, as I left, how much attention has to go into every detail. And this bike might only appear for two seconds.