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Brideshead Revisited Filming
By Mike Humphreys

Yorkshire MVT provided several vehicles in July last year to be part of the backdrop to scenes at a British Army encampment outside Castle Howard. The stately home was again used as the home of the Flyte family, as in the 1981 Granada TV production, and fortunately the 3 days we were involved were hot in an otherwise awful summer. Mike Peacock and Chris Symth did a lot of work behind the scenes to get vehicles and period equipment which were to be used as the backdrop to the military camp scenes.

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Vehicles provided were:

Brian Fox’s Matchless, Dave Livesey’s Bedford QLT, Denis Matthewman’s Standard Tilly, Mike Peacock’s Morris Quad, limber and 25 pounder, Tim Shelcock’s Austin K2 Ambulance, and Chris Symth’s Morris Quad, limber and 25 pounder and his Willy’s Jeep. A jeep was also brought up from London. My Bedford MW, which featured in the Granada Production, was undergoing a full nut and bolt rebuild at the time so missed the opportunity sadly.

The week prior to filming we were asked to go to the set to be kitted out with a uniform. We reported to a large marquee in the grounds, staffed by what appeared to be virtual school children! Given our age, we were helped to get dressed by two nice young ladies who seemed quite unfazed by old men in underwear. They routed tirelessly in boxes of very tatty kit to find items to fit some of us with, shall we say, less than a ‘racing snake’ profile! Once the ladies were happy the kit was bagged up to await our arrival the following week.

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I, for one, was not expecting the next requirement which was to report to ‘Hair and Make Up’ for short, back and sides. Oh dear, this immediately brought back memories of being held down in the barber’s chair in the 1950’s while he did his worst. Anyway, the barber in this instance was another nice, but very efficient, lady and the retro look was soon acquired much to my wife’s subsequent horror. Mrs H. was not amused.

The Director wanted some vehicles and tents to arrange on set on Sunday 8th July which, because of a clash of commitments, meant Mike Peacock had a very busy day after the long drive from Leeds putting up 2 bell tents and unloading some 100 ammunition boxes by himself. Chris and myself were elsewhere supporting The Lord Lieutenant’s Garden Party for Veterans at Bowcliffe Hall and drove across early evening to join him. The Bedford and K2 were also there, but otherwise the set was deserted. A lone Assistant organised a taxi to take us to a hotel York for an overnight stay and then disappeared to leave us in splendid isolation in front of the House.

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Next day we left the Hotel at 6.30am with other film crew to return to the set. Castle Howard was a hive of activity with extras and crew. First priority was breakfast - a bacon sandwich- the crew were treated to full English! This we ate in the less than salubrious surroundings of another marquee before being told we were not required to be in uniform until later in the day.  The younger extras got changed immediately and the sight of a line up of ATS girls with rollers in their hair was one of those photo opportunities I failed to take at the time. Unlike photos taken during the War, when everyone looks much older than their years, these girls did look 18 or 19. The troops turned out to be from a local TA unit so could march in step when asked.

We waited about by the vehicles in the morning sun whilst filming took place inside. The only diversions being tourists to the House who were allowed to wander freely across the set, and the appearance of the actress Haley Atwell who strutted her stuff for our appreciation!, Again another photo missed – I was about to ask her for a team photo with the ‘boys’ when she was called inside never to appear again. She plays Julia Flyte in the film. Whilst on the subject of leading ladies we had hoped to see the other two – Emma Thompson and Greta Satchi and perhaps join them for a spot of lunch. If only.

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Late morning we were asked to change, only to find our kit had been rifled earlier, and we were left scrounging about to get a full uniform. Things were no better at lunch as we were slow off the mark and had to make do with what was left.

Eventually, late afternoon we were asked to take part in filming outdoors. Mike Peacock was to give tuition on Bren guns; whilst Denis and Tim stood by their vehicles. Dave Livesey, Chris, Brian and myself were driving vehicles across camera to the instruction “Action truck”, “Action Quad”, etc on portable radios. I lost count of the number of ‘takes’. Resetting to our original positions was easy for me in the Jeep, but the gun set had to be split, manhandled back across the set and joined up. Previously we had had instructions not to drive on the grass so turning around was not an option. Fortunately for us the young squaddies did the hard work.

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Filming finished too late in the day for some of us to pack up and drive home so another night was booked in York. Next morning the bell tents were taken down and the mountain of ammunition boxes stowed away. As we travelled home on the A64 I could see the both Quad gun sets in the Jeep’s rear view mirror and an impressive sight they looked. They certainly attracted the attention of the modern Army going in the opposite direction.

For those of you who have been on film sets before there is perhaps nothing new here, but as film set virgins we found this both an enjoyable and an educational experience. So if you spot some seriously old fighting men in the film you will know who they are!

The film has been released in the USA but does not reach cinemas here until later this year.