The best thing about blogging is ‘meeting’ so many interesting people. Ones who are just like me, only lovelier and more exciting. One such friend is author Linda Sargent, who lives somewhere nearish Oxford. She sent me a Christmas card (at Christmas time, I hasten to add), in the shape of a photo of the house she lives in. This is what I said about it: ‘What a beautiful house! Very Midsomer, although hopefully without the dead bodies.’
As we all know, I am a witch. That’s why this week Linda’s house was full of corpses (maybe) and Barnaby (the new one). And a few other people. Green with envy, I asked Linda for a first person account of the murderous proceedings, so here she is:
Midsomer-in-the-Marsh: A Rare Bird – August 2011
“Are you really sure you’re up for this?” our landlady asked after we’d decided that we were prepared to turn our house and garden over to the Midsomer Murders team for a day. Well, over a period of three days almost; one to set-up and “dress” the dining room and car-port (magically transformed into a bird-watcher’s studio), one to film and one to dismantle – or strike, as it’s called in the business. It was a good question, though, and she was asking from an informed point of view, since she’s also a film maker and knows what a disruptive process it can be, but as a friend of mine said when we were talking about it beforehand, “Anything interesting in life tends to be disruptive.” True! And since we are all, in some fashion, involved in the story-making fields, we said, “Yes”.
It all began back in June with a note through the letterbox from the location department of Bentley Productions saying they were looking for properties similar to ours for possible use in the upcoming series of Midsomer Murders. We contacted them and there followed a few visits to check us and the house out; first the director and the art/props man, who took one look and obviously decided fairly quickly that not much would have to be done to make the place look like the home of a slightly untidy, techie bird watching chap – a lone parent bringing up a ballet-mad little girl. Then came the recce with fifteen of the team arriving by coach, including the sound man who was thrilled when Andy, my partner in crime, produced an oscilloscope after the director (who looked uncannily like an older version of my rheumatologist) had waved his arms about saying he wanted the character to be staring at some sort of screen with a moving green light thingy. Two weeks later the art team arrived and spent a large chunk of the day setting up, mostly in the car-port, building a false wall and filling the place with monitors, shelves and the soon-to-be famous oscilloscope. Meanwhile, the art director replaced some of our ornaments with some others, a few unnervingly similar, plus photos of the little girl and her ballet certificate next to a wooden swan. Off came our bits on the fridge and one went some of “her” drawings and three soft toys – a giraffe, a bear and a tiny hedgehog – were scattered in the sitting room window seat. Tea was drunk, Kit-Kats were eaten, Asda was visited and lunch eaten in our sunny yard.
We reset our alarm for 6 a.m. the next day and everything was ready.
At 7 a.m. the crew were already building the filming tower in the drive across the road, the Stop/Go traffic signs were in place, the village recreation ground was stashed with lorries, plus the essential catering truck. Shooting was due to begin with exterior shots, but the weather decided otherwise, perhaps, as I tactlessly observed, because they’d renamed our village Midsomer-in-the-Marsh. Soon the team (around thirty of them) were filling the house, big plastic mats were unrolled across our floors, the camera was temporarily parked in the kitchen, the three actors, Neil Dudgeon/DCI Barnaby, Jason Hughes/DS Ben Jones, Paul Bigley/bird-watcher (suspect?) introduced themselves and everyone was very friendly and gracious, aware that they were in our space, pretending to be theirs, but only for a day.
Several short scenes for what will probably amount to around five minutes of film time were rehearsed, rehearsed again, shot, re-shot, shot again from the other direction, the actors trying to keep the same momentum and expression every time. Shirts were changed, lunch was eaten, Chelsea buns were shared, the sun came out – but in the wrong place, so a “flag” was erected to pretend it wasn’t where it actually was. We were invited to sit outside and watch and listen (pic) on the monitors, just behind the continuity lady whose eyes were trained on every detail and hand gesture the actors made. It’s no longer, “Lights, camera, action!” Although they do say “Action!” and there is a clapboard and Take 1, 2, etc. – here it was “Turnover, turning, speed”, and the runners guarding the exits to keep everyone quiet during the takes.
Finally, it was 7 p.m. and more or less everyone had left, including the lovely Kerry in charge of location for the day, who’d insisted on sweeping the floor, making sure we were happy. We were.
The next day, the props team arrived to clear and restore everything, and leaving us with a warm glow by telling us we were in their top five. Phew!
A friend in the business had advised us to go out for the day, because filming can be a laborious, repetitive process, but not for us. We can go to the pub any day, however, this was surely a one-off, time to play pretend in a bigger way. Sometimes in our old cottage I’d go outside in the evening and stare in through the window, as if it was a stranger’s house, secretly proud it was ours looking, as it did, so cosy and inviting. Yes, that was what it was like. And afterwards, although we were unaccountably tired from a day of sitting around watching others work, we also felt a little sad.
But now, the caravan has moved on, and even the neighbourhood dogs are quiet…
(Episode title: A Rare Bird.)
We’ll have to look out for that one.