On Sunday 16th November 2014 something very odd happened as I walked my normal route towards Victoria Square. Walking up Great Charles Street everything looked, and seemed, normal but as I turned first left towards Victoria Square I began to understand how Goodnight Sweetheart’s Gary Sparrow must have felt as Margaret Street had became Birmingham’s equivalent of Duckett’s Passage and I found myself staring at a street scene from the mid-fifties.
The street had no road markings, the double yellow lines and disabled bays that were there on Friday had now gone. Two gentlemen, both dressed in long drab overcoats and sporting trilby hats stood passing the time of day next to a black Wolseley Four Forty-Four Police Car and a Birmingham Corporation, Daimler number 6 bus was noisily transporting a couple of flat cap wearing passengers to the Town Hall, well at least that is what the sign said. Had I actually stumbled on time vortex right here in Birmingham or was it all a strange dream? CUT! echoed the voice from across the street. I then spotted the small group of people gathered around a camera on the other side of the road all nodding with approval at the scene they had just captured. Yes, WPC 56 was back and this was Brinford police station exteriors filming day.
Previously on WPC 56…
We were first introduced to WPC 56, in the shape of the lovely Jennie Jacques, back in March 2013. The new show told the story of WPC Gina Dawson, the first female officer at Brinford station and was set in 1956. For a daytime drama the content was daring and edgy and featured racial prejudice, sexism, murder and corrupt officers. Series Two continued the daring themes with prostitution, more murder, more police corruption, con-men, blackmail and homophobia some of the topics covered.
Series Three reportedly involves both a murder and a beauty pageant, although it is not yet clear if the two are linked and with WPC Dawson moving on to The Met, the station sees the arrival of WPC Annie Taylor, played by the equally lovely Claudia Jessie, as a her replacement.
WPC 56 could easily fit into the Sunday evening, Call The Midwife slot, however daytime budgets and programming are currently limiting this great series to an afternoon outing on BBC1, but it’s one well worth setting your Sky+ box for as it’s cracking TV.
Meanwhile back on Location…
Margaret Street had been transported back to 1956 and the Birmingham & Midland Institute building had become the same Brinford Police Station exterior that we were familiar with from Series One and Two of the show, with one noticeable addition, a bright red Victorian postbox.
Police Station signs and noticeboards had been added to the building foyer and a period bicycle was casually leaning against the black railings, it was an amazingly simple, but very effective transformation taking a modern street nearly 60 years back in time.
Modern street signs were turned or removed to hide them from the cameras and parking restriction markings, that were not introduced until 1960 in the UK, had to be covered too. The recently installed, and very modern looking, parking tickets machines were obscured behind what seemed to be a custom made blue police box, which when viewed from the correct angle made the modern world simply disappear.
UPDATED: The attention to detail was perfect, so I was quite surprised when I originally thought that they were using a car that was ahead of its time. I thought the Wolseley 1500 had not been manufactured until 1961, however, the supplier of the police cars used for the scenes (APL Film Cars), has now confirmed that the car used was made in 1957. With the third series moving us on a year from the original series the placement of the car is accurate, which is maintains the level of the detail you would expect from this quality drama.
I had arrived on ‘set’ just in time to see some opening shots, involving period cars, vans and buses; as well as a few suitably attired pedestrians; being filmed as they drove past the station. In fact, Sunday’s filming was to capture all the exterior shots required for the new five episode series that is due on our BBC1 screens in early 2015, so there were quite a few takes to get through which also involved a great deal of careful manoeuvring of these large vehicles. There was a slight delay as a couple of modern cars, that had ignored the suspended parking signs, were towed away.
That may seem a little harsh, but this was a single day shoot and they could not afford any delays, so the cars just had to go.
Enter WPC Annie Taylor
Once the back and forth of vintage vehicles had concluded we finally got to see the new Brinford WPC on set. Claudia Jessie might be the new girl but she arrived with the confidence of a series regular and took direction from crew to ensure they got through the opening scenes very quickly. Claudia was well prepared for the cold November morning, arriving in a virtually full length red quilted jacket and warm looking boots, however, it wasn’t long before she changed into her regulation black police shoes and a smart red coat. With a number of supporting artists adding to the street scene we were treated to the new WPC’s first arrival at Brinford Station, which she seemed to take with a noticeable spring in her step.
After a number of different versions had been captured, presumably for different episodes or scenes, Claudia’s work was done (for now anyway) and she tried, sadly in vain, to get the rest of the crew to join in her own one woman Mexican wave celebration of the wrapped scene. This was just one of the many moments of ‘friendly and fun banter’ that I witnessed during the day and it certainly gave the impression that the cast and crew are thoroughly enjoying filming this series which I hope will translate well onto the screen when the series airs.
With Claudia’s opening scenes completed, next up on the Brinford streets it was WPC 56 series regular Charlie De’ath’s turn to reprise his role of Sgt Sidney Fenton. In another carefully choreographed scene involving cars and supporting cast Sgt Fenton is seen crossing the road towards the station before being startled by what sounds like gunfire (see picture right).
Having completed his scenes for the morning, Charlie (now dressed in his civvies) headed off into Birmingham, only to return a few hours later armed with shopping bags, he’d clearly found time to visit the Bullring between his scenes.
I then missed about an hour of filming as I ventured off to get myself a warm drink, to try and warm up my nearly numb fingers, but the German Christmas Market crowds (yes, I know it’s only the middle of November!) made getting around the Birmingham streets quickly a huge challenge. Having finally battled my way to a coffee shop, on my return I called into a supermarket and picked up a large tub of chocolates. On my return to Margaret Street I handed the chocolates to a very surprised crew member, and called it my ‘Random act of kindness’ for the day. They were obviously well received as they were soon being passed around and enjoyed by everyone on set.
New Inspector Clues…
The next scenes filmed, once again, involved WPC Taylor and what I gathered was the new Chief Inspector at Brinford (Oliver Rix). The Brinford Inspector certainly looked the part, wearing a long dark coat and a trilby hat and driving the aforementioned, slightly futuristic, Wolseley car with WPC Taylor assuming the role of his supporting officer in the two scenes filmed during the morning session.
In the first scene they had to run the gauntlet of a waiting press pack outside the station entrance.
The 1950s look of the waiting press contingent was completed with a couple of ‘period’ cameras and the supporting artists used them to great effect as they hounded the couple to their car.
In their second scene together the duo arrived back at the station, where a lone reporter was looking for information on a suspect they had in custody and was demanding details of any charges that may have been made.
As the Inspector and reporter parted company WPC Taylor was joined by Susie Nightingale (Rachel Leskovac), carrying a large parcel. They had a quick conversation before Susie left, presumably for a trip to the Post Office.
Wearing a floral blouse and navy pencil skirt with a pink headscarf and a long overcoat, Station Secretary Susie looked as glamorous as ever, which was a big transformation from just 30 minutes earlier when Rachel arrived on set in a long navy dressing gown and warm boots (see picture). In fact the make up department worked their magic throughout the day, often rushing in and out of the Birmingham & Midland Institute Building armed with cosmetics and styling tools, to fix or transform that perfect 1950s look.
They also snapped a number of ‘continuity’ photos of both the main cast and supporting artists to help them recreate the same look for other scenes in the future.
With another couple of scenes completed, it was time to break for lunch and everyone left the Margaret Street location to head back to the production base for a visit to the catering team, so I took the opportunity to have a closer look at the finer details of the set design (see photo slideshow at the end of the post). I too then headed off to my base (or home) for a warm and a drink before heading back out to Margaret Street as dusk approached.
Finally, As Darkness Descended…
Back in Margaret Street a Black Morris Police Van had joined the parade of vehicles on display and was lined up with the two Wolseley’s outside the station. A camera on a long swinging, crane like, arm had been set up opposite the station and was running through a few practice sessions of the planned shot, which would start low and slowly rise into the air as the cars were pulling away from the station.
A number of different camera angles were used to record the Inspector and the police officers running from the station to the vehicles before they raced off down the road. After each take the cars were reset and the action repeated until the scene had been captured from every possible direction. There was, however, a heart-stopping moment for one of the car owners when during a reset of the scene the two-tone Wolseley lurched forward, nudging the back of the black police car at the front of the line. A worried looking Oliver Rix, the driver of the car, checked with the crew that there was no damage to either vehicle before the scene continued. It could have been a lot worse and I think he got away with it, just.
This final scene of the day involved a lot of the main cast with Sgt Fenton (Charlie De’ath) and PC Perkins (Liam Jeavons) jumping into the black Police car, the Inspector (Oliver Rix) and WPC Taylor (Claudia Jessie) getting into the Wolseley and Sgt Swift (James Barriscale) riding shotgun in the Morris van.
As the production crew called it a day there were cheers all round and everyone congratulated each other on a job well done. Before they all headed back to base I managed to briefly chat with Liam Jeavons and James Barriscale who both happily posed for a photo.
It had been a long, but very interesting day, and the small crowds that gathered throughout the day seemed excited to see a TV show being made on the streets of Birmingham.
It was merely a taster of what series three has to offer, and I was already looking forward to the series anyway, but now I’ve had a glimpse of what is to come, I can’t wait to see how it is transformed on the screen. If it’s as good as series one and two then it’s sure to be another cracking series.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything that is filmed in Birmingham as I enjoy seeing how the city has been used on screen and what locations have been utilised to make the show work, however, the show still needs to grab my attention and entertain me as well and I can safely say that WPC 56 delivers in this department. With huge doses of 1950s nostalgia, great characterisation and gritty and entertaining story lines the show truly earns its Worldwide success with the earlier two series currently airing in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Hopefully the BBC will repeat series one and two before the new series airs so that those in the UK who were slow to pick up on the show can catch up on the previous episdoes. Series Three is due on our screens early 2015.
Finally here is a slideshow of some more pictures from the filming that took place on Sunday in Margaret Street.