Filming Grapevine Two

Unlike Grapevine One, I was on location for every minute of this one. As we had found with A Week By The Sea you write quite differently when you know the actors in advance. We both felt Grapevine Two significantly better than Grapevine One because of this. We also didn’t recycle many old ideas (just the one), but wrote new ones from scratch.

The major blow was that Cathryn Harrison was filming a major series so was unavailable. We decided not to replace her, but to have several different actors, focussing on Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney as the basic team. Cathryn was back with us for Grapevine Three. Jaye Griffiths from Lambert & Stacey in Grapevine One was one, with Sara Griffiths (no relation) and Judy Loe. They were each available at different times. Jaye had quite a few small parts, probably because when we heard Cathryn was not available, we wrote fewer major female roles. Judy Loe, as Lady Alton, was in one of the scripts we wrote with Cathryn in mind.

Gareth Davies was the new director. Gareth had trodden the boards at Stratford-upon-Avon with Richard Burton, had become one of the first soap opera stars in Compact, and had directed the Dennis Potter Nigel Barton plays on TV. He was also from my mother’s home town, Tredegar, in South Wales and I knew his godson, Gareth Armstrong, who had lived on the same floor in the same Hall of Residence at Hull University. This all came out over the filming. Gareth came from a Welsh-speaking family in Tredegar. His assistant was Welsh, and the three of us were usually together on set. Gareth would comment on something in Welsh, and couldn’t believe I couldn’t understand it. My mother was from an English-speaking family in Wales. He advised me to learn Welsh as it was a very useful way of commenting on what was going on without the actors or crew knowing what you’d just said. The British army used the same device in WWII, as did the Americans with Navajo.

The production was based in Bristol again, and we didn’t move far away. Bristol was popular with film production units because you can find any era of architecture in and around the city, there are two  broadcast TV studios where space can be rented, and there is a strong local film industry, so that lighting crew, grip crews, costume and make up people are all available locally. I suspect that Bristol lost some of its shine later, because like London, really bad traffic wastes so much time moving around the city. But all three Grapevine, and parts of English Channel, were Bristol-based.

Dennis Cook’s Trip was based on Bristol Airport, where planes take off uphill, and which is located in one of the foggiest parts of Western England. They can’t have known that when they put the airport there. For the scene in the bedroom where Dennis looks for his passport, a production assistant with blonde hair filled in for Tricia Cook. We’d known Cathryn wasn’t available so scripted for this.

Dennis Cook’s Trip: Dennis (Steve Steen) discovers he hasn’t brought his passport

We weren’t popular at the airport. We went in to film the security scanner scene, plugged in the lights and blew out the electrical circuit, thirty minutes before the Dublin and Belfast flights departed. This was in the days when the IRA were considered a major threat. Fortunately, film electricians work at far higher speed than their domestic counterparts and had it working again just in time. This came up again in the doctor’s surgery, where the lighting guy said he wanted all the light switches replaced with dimmers. Get a domestic electrician to do three dimmers and you’re into two hours labour. These three switches were done in twelve minutes flat.

Dennis Cook’s Trip. The queue at the airport. Dennis bumps into Jaye Griffiths (the business woman)

Dennis Cook’s Trip: The check-in desk

Jim Sweeney plays the airline check-in clerk. When the businesswoman checks in at the airport, she says And can I have a window seat, please. The check-in clerk replies No, I’m very sorry. There isn’t one … Would you like a seat on the aisle? to which she replies, Please. The Fokker aircraft that they eventually board only has two seats on either side of the aisle. So there’s not much choice. We noticed that before filming this scene (we’d already done the plane), which is why the check-in clerk gives a quiet little smile of smug self-satisfaction as he issues her boarding pass.

Dennis flew KLM because they were the most friendly and helpful. I had an issue with an extra who seemed desperate to get a line in while waiting in the queue. He kept speaking on camera. He said he was improvising to make it look real. I asked him to keep quiet. No one agreed with me, but they didn’t have  to write the Activity Book, knowing that students would want to understand what he had said, even if it was in the background. The other situation in the airport queue was that Dennis had to bump his guitar into the businesswoman in front of him. He did it twice bumping into her back. We were watching the playback and someone said, ‘It would be much funnier if he bumped it into her bottom.’ And everyone turned to look at me. I was torn … it was the obvious joke, but we don’t do those sort of sexist jokes in educational material. I was about to sound very prudish by squashing the idea, when Jaye intervened and said, ‘No way. I don’t do Benny Hill.’ That got everyone laughing, and got me off the hook.

Dennis Cook’s Trip: Dennis goes through the scanner.

There was an incident in the video where we had to go back and change something after the initial edit. Dennis goes through the airport scanner which “beeps” because of the many things in his pockets, which he then puts on a tray. We used this in exploiting the video for “Kim’s Game,” the classic ELT “Can you remember what’s on the tray?” exercise. Anyway, something you never notice at airports is what the scanner operator saw in those days. On the scanner there was a little figure of a man with a green light sticking out of the chest and a red light sticking out of the groin. If the light flashed green, it meant check the upper body, if it flashed red, it meant check the lower body. Anyway, Dennis had stuff in his trouser pockets, it flashed red. We filmed it and inserted it in the video. Then I tried it with students using a copy of the first edit, and everyone fell about laughing. The flashing protruding light was just too strategically placed. Very funny, but too disruptive. No one heard the next part. It was recut with the green light flashing. Fortunately, we’d filmed both.

The Wedding was great fun to do. It was filmed on a very cold, very bright sunny day … in December. Sara Griffiths, as the bride wore “Long John” underwear under her dress and kept hitching up the hem to shock passers by. Not very bridal. Sara was a find, and we intended to use her for later series, but she wasn’t available. Philip Manikon played the father.

The Wedding: Sara Griffiths as the bride. Philip Mackinon as the father.

The Wedding: Uncle Roland’s wedding car breaks down

The Wedding: The wedding photograph

The wedding photograph caused internal discussion. It was essential for the Student Book and Activity Book, but not needed for the video. It was in the script to set it up, but we were running out of time. The video department was reluctant to put everything into overtime rates for the benefit of the course book department (simply a matter of budget allocation within OUP, but that sort of thing matters if you work there), and I just said “We have to have it” and left Tim Falla, the Grapevine Two editor, to win the day on my behalf. Which he did.

Inspector Grant Investigates took place at a country house just south of the airport. It was freezing cold, and every hour, a gardener would open a window to fill the large basket of logs in every room. No central heating. They provided the original 1920s hoover that the cleaning lady uses. It still worked. The topiary in the garden had to be commissioned (and put in place) for the gardener (Dorian Lough from Mystery Tour) to accidentally destroy. This caused some hilarity because I used this episode in demonstrations. In France I asked what the gardener was doing, and a teacher replied politely “He is snipping the cock.” Well, in France, the word ‘coq’ springs to mind before ‘chicken’ or ‘hen.’

Inspector Grant Investigates: Dorian Lough as the suspicious gardener “snipping the cock”

Jim Sweeney as detective, supported by Steve Steen as a seemingly dumb sergeant who solves the case, worked so well here that we used it again in English Channel, and had a similar pair running through My Oxford English. Judy Loe featured as the lady of the house. Judy is the widow of Richard Beckinsale from Porridge, the mother of Kate Beckinsale, and one of the best-known British casting agents, as well as a fine actress in her own right. She brought immediate grace to the scenes. Christine Pollon, Gareth Davies’ wife, played the cleaning lady under suspicion.

Inspector Grant Investigates: Judy loe as Lady Alton

Inspector Grant Investigates: P.C. Dickson and Mrs Vickers (Christine Pollon)

Inspector Grant (Jim Sweeney) and P.C. Dickson (Steve Steen)

My Friend As An Alien was a good idea, but I don’t think it worked as well as we’d hoped. Perhaps it was too ambitious to try and get into a sci-fi genre with limited resources. We envisaged as in the style of Mork and Mindy, and maybe no one else saw that in the script! Perhaps it was also filmed in very grey weather in very grey urban surroundings, with drab costumes while the stuff it was referencing was all California and bright colours. Our feeling that it didn’t make it kept us away from the genre ever after. We had a great idea for one of the ongoing threads in My Oxford English (where we had to get ten situations from a theme, or thread), and it was based on the deck of a Star Ship and the point that you can now easily fake in backgrounds and effects, and that you wouldn’t need to descend to a planet. We looked back at My Friend Is An Alien and shelved the idea.

My Friend Is An Alien: Zardak (Jim Sweeney) enjoying a meal of soap powder.

The first scene in the dark was filmed on Exmoor at the end of the day we did Survivors. It was freezing fog. We had an evening meal at the Survival Centre where we’d been based all day. There were signs everywhere telling you that denim jeans were the worst thing to wear in survival situations, the combination of wet and cold are exacerbated by cotton, apparently. We were all wearing denim jeans. We had hired in a cherry picker (a platform on a truck that goes up for painting houses or whatever). They’re used for film lighting. The cherry picker with the light on went up, with the lighting guy. We tried a few things then went to bring it down to give the operator a hot drink. It had frozen solid … it was sub zero. We couldn’t film with a light on and no ability to bring the crane arm down, for health and safety reasons … you couldn’t get the operator down if there was an electric shock or a burn from the light. The operator protested that he didn’t mind being stuck up there, so let’s do the scene and get it over with because he was freezing too. But regulations are strict, and we all had to wait an hour for them to free it by warming the area by pointing another light at it. Poor Jim Sweeney as the alien was dressed in a thin nylon costume, and had to be wrapped in blankets then revealed very briefly for the take. It took a lot of attempts to get the shot. Like so many shots that are hugely expensive in time, discomfort and equipment, it doesn’t have much impact on screen.

My Friend Is An Alien: The Exmoor scenes we froze for

One Careful Owner was hard to do because it was filmed on a busy road with traffic noise, which meant multiple retakes even though the actors had done their parts perfectly.  The script was an old idea dating back to our first attempts to do video at Anglo-Continental in the late 70s. It was vastly refined, but the basic concept was similar. It continued the little SAAB subplot. Both Simon Murison-Bowie (executive producer) and I were SAAB enthusiasts. Simon’s SAAB 900 appears in the snow scene in A Weekend Away. My SAAB 900 was the estate agent’s car in House For Sale in A Week By The Sea. My SAAB 9000 is on the forecourt as a second hand car in this one (well, it was about four years old). The SAAB 9000  Carlsson I had next appeared in Grapevine 3, in the detective story. Anyway, SAAB were then bought by General Motors and enthusiasm waned. We decorated the shoddy office at the car sales place with glossy Ferrari adverts, as a contrast to the old cars actually for sale. The garage owner was amazed when we started taking them down at the end of the day and asked us to leave them, which we did.

This one had both Griffiths in it. Jaye was the secretary at the car sales place, and Sara was the assistant to Tyrone Schlumberger, the American film producer who arrives and buys the crap car Terence Fox has unloaded on Mr Pratt. He needs just such a worn-out rusting car for a movie.

One Careful Owner: Terence Fox (Jim Sweeney) sells a car to Mr Pratt (Steve Steen)

One Careful Owner: Jaye Griffiths is Terence Fox’s secretary

One Careful Owner: Sara Griffiths buys the car from Mr Pratt.

Survivors was filmed on Exmoor at a real outdoor survival centre, and Jaye Griffiths was the instructor. We’d asked for her to look cool, so they borrowed an expensive Swiss ski suit for her. It was state of the art thermal stuff, and in the near freezing mist, we were all complaining that we were incredibly cold. Jaye had a lot of fun laughing and telling us that the ski suit was actually too warm and comfortable.

Survivors: Jim and Steve as Charles and Tony … on Exmoor

Survivors: Jaye ‘Cold weather? What cold weather?’ + Jim & Steve at the end

At The Doctors was done at a real surgery in Bristol. The doctor had the day off and watched some filming, giving us a few useful tips (as well as telling me some fascinating stories about how little doctors actually got paid for doing those expensive private medicals). The name Dr Hacking was taken from my childhood doctor. You’d always end up saying I’ve got this hacking cough, er, Dr Hacking. The episode was an example of the way Steve and Jim worked together. They had no problem with being “serious” one feeding the lines to the “funny” one, then switching the next time around.

It was several years before a user pointed out that Jim played Terence Fox, the car salesman in One Careful Owner, then two episodes later, Jim played Mr Fox, the heating engineer who gets mistaken for a patient in At The Doctor’s. We never noticed doing the video or the book, and nor did anyone else.

At The Doctors: Steve Steen as Dr. Hacking.

At The Doctors: Jim Sweeney as Mr Fox

Judy Loe played the part of  the radio producer in Radio Plays, Karen’s favourite piece in the whole of Grapevine, and I agree that it’s one of our most interesting videos in terms of contextualization and being designed specifically for sound-only initial presentation of the “play within a play”, Next Door Neighbours. One of the key features of Grapevine was that we had planned in the exploitation as we wrote the script. We discussed it … we have to admit it’s based on years of doing audio tapes with actors from BBC radio series like The Archers!  Dorian Lough and Sara Griffiths made the squabbling stars real, while Jim Sweeney and Phyllida Nash played the established middle-aged actors working with them, and Steve was the sound effects man.  We were delighted with the results. OUP, maybe less so, as we cracked a leg on the studio grand piano while moving it out of shot, resulting in a substantial bill from the BBC … it was filmed in an actual BBC radio studio.

Radio Plays: Judy Loe as Victoria, the producer

The theme is recording a popular radio soap-opera. The two older stars resent the two young stars, and have been relegated to lesser roles and lower billings. The tensions aren’t far below the surface.

Radio Plays: Dorian Lough and Sara Griffiths as the new young stars. Jim Sweeney as the resentful older actor.

Radio Plays: Jim Sweeney & Phyllida Nash: The two older actors look on

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