Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

On Set - Eric and Ernie

Feature from 2010

Some of the extras

The shelters

Tight squueze
It began as a rainy day in September but would become a mixture of boredom, surprise, elation, fun and excitement all rolled into one; yes life on set is not all glitz and glamour.

I am, of course, talking about the new Victoria Wood drama about the early lives of Eric and Ernie, mostly filmed in the North of England including several locations very close to our base, and the chance one of us had to be an extra on set.

I had been notified of the filming some days before, and had been desperately trying to find something suitable to wear. Any extras that wanted to participate would have to provide their own clothing, and that meant 1940’s styles. Sadly no one I knew had any, but all was not lost.

Luckily, a very generous offer (thanks Phil) got me an APR outfit that would be waiting for me at the agreed location. Clothing sorted I just had to get to the location at the right time.

By the time I arrived at Stockport Air Raid Shelters it was 2:45pm and the crew had been filming since 7am at another location, Stockport’s Plaza Theatre, a few hundred yards away. I met up with the other select group who had been invited along, all of whom were already dressed in full 1940’s clothes.

I must say at this point, what a fabulous place this is. An original and huge WW2 shelter, unchanged since the war and open to the public. If you ever get a chance, go and visit, you won’t be disappointed.
Visit the website.

It was a very surreal experience to find yourself in the 1940’s feeling strange because I was dressed in modern clothes. I quickly found my costume and complete with tin helmet, re-joined the others who were busy chatting about the events of the day.

It was now 3pm and about 14 of us were now gathered together waiting for something to happen. I suspect none of them, like me, had been extras before, and so had no idea what to expect.

All we had been told was to be at the shelters for 3pm. The group were mixed, and included children of 12 and 13, through 20’s,30’s,40’s and beyond. Ideal for this kind of location work where people of the town would gather during an air raid.

From here, and to the surprise of us all, we were collected by mini-bus and taken to a nearby car park and placed in a small mobile waiting area. If you have ever seen Ricky Gervais’ Extras, you will know the kind of place I refer to, rather like (and probably was) a converted bus.

One by one we were taken away for ‘checking’. Each returned and something odd had happened to most of them. Some came back with wigs, others in completely different clothes, many with different haircuts and makeup. One gentleman arrived in a full 1940’s suit and came back in a night shirt and overcoat!

Many of the women came back in night clothes! It was then we found out it the scene was supposed to be shot during a night-time raid. Luckily, having an ‘official’ ARP uniform, I just had to undergo a 1940’s buzz cut – at least I got a free haircut!

Once we were all ready it was back to the air raid shelter, and by this time it was 5pm, two hours after we had arrived. Sitting in a portable hut wears thin after the first twenty minutes, although the arrival of sandwiches did help to alleviate the boredom.

Back at the shelter and it was all systems go – well at least for the lighting and set dressing people. Modern signs had to be taken down, benches moved into place, lights setup and the smoke machine tested.

It is amazing how a place can take on a completely different feel once the film crew had worked their magic. The dimmed and baffled lights, the bleak walls and smoke thick atmosphere all helped to make this place look very authentic. With the other extras in full costume, it looked stunningly scary.

Back up at the surface it was now 5.30pm and all of the waiting extras were gathered together for the producers to check and use. We were picked out a few at a time and taken down. First to go was an ARP warden. There were only two of us there and I had switched my metal helmet for a more comfortable ARP beret. Then a call came up for a warden with... You guessed it.. A metal hat. Damn!

This role was for an important shot too. Sat opposite Victoria in the shelter, and the person whose helmet was to be used as a drum by the young Ernie. If only I had kept mine on! Sadly it looked stupid, my head sat untidily beneath it rather than in it.

As more of the group went down they were placed along the benches in different groups; small families, mother and child, father and son etc. This went on for a few more minutes until there were only 4 of us left; me, two young girls and a nurse.

Then it was our turn.....

© 2010
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