Action, no action and hanging about

‘We’re making a film in and around Hartland and are looking for an old car to use in the film.’ Who could resist the temptation! Hollywood to follow and fame and fortune in the offing. If only it had been so.

I phoned them up. I spoke to the producer. I sent him a picture of my MK2 1936 Austin Seven.

 ‘We love your lovely car and would like to use it in our film! It involves driving up and down a road and passing another classic car on next Friday then Wednesday and Thursday.’ ‘Great I’ll do it.’ Lots of excitement in the Gale household! Car polished, oiled and ready to go.

‘Turn up on Friday at 2.30pm at the holiday cottages where we are staying. Dress in a dark suit with a dark tie and a long overcoat, black shoes.’

So I did.  

Met Brian who has a 1927 Hillman 14 who had also been persuaded to join. Talked to Brian about cars and stuff until 4.00pm when I was told I wouldn’t be needed. Went home to await Wednesday. Brian went to his car for filming.  

On Monday had a phone call. ‘Can you turn up at Blackpool Mill Cottage at 3.30?

’I could'. Then another call. ‘Could you make that 2.15?

I could. 'You need to know that Blackpool Mill Cottage is very ancient and is situated near the coast at the end of a long muddy winding track through Hartland Abbey. It is often used for films. ‘The Night Manager’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ being the latest. Google it.'

As told I waited at the side of the track which then drops down to the sea and the cottage. It was 2.45.

I hung around. At around 5pm and in the dark I was asked to drive down to the field in front of the cottage. I hung around until 7pm when a headlamp bulb blew.

‘That’ll make it a bit weird,’ they said, ‘great.’ Then a man who said he was the ‘Gaffer’ appeared.

‘Must have two headlights,‘ he said.  Producer took me home to find another bulb in my garage. The fitting of the bulb is another long story which involves a bit of hammer work and much Gaffer tape. We’ll leave it.

Back at the top of the track leading to the cottage.

‘Drive down and stop near the window,’ says the second director who seems to be in charge. I drove down. ‘Go back up and do that again,’ he says. I reversed up in the dark with a 12 foot drop on my side. The wheels spun on the rock and shale. I went back down and tried again. I got to the top.

‘Drive down again following the curve of the track’ he says. I did. ‘Go back to the top,’ he says. I did. I slithered.

 ‘Oh my half shafts,’ I thought.

‘Load up with actors and drive down,’ he says. I did. ‘Too far,’ he says. He gives me a radio. ‘When I say stop on the radio, ‘ he says, ‘Stop.’

I put the car in gear, floor the accelerator and reverse back to the top.  Actors jump in. I put on the hat and coat of the man who is supposed to be driving the car.  I drive down. He shouts, ’Stop.’ I stop.

‘Reverse back up and do it again.’ I reverse back up. ‘Can you take off your glasses as our actor doesn’t wear them.’

‘I can, but I wont be able to see anything much as I’m short-sighted.’

They don't mind. I don’t care. We all jump in. Its 8:30. Dark. Very dark. Cold. Down the track we go. ‘Stop,’ he shouts. I get out. Give coat and hat to actor and stand to one side. Much looking through fingers etc and directing.

Film SetThen he calls for, ‘Rain.’

They have set up an old fire service pump next to the stream. Large fire hose pipes lead to a manifold with many levers. The actors stand near the car. Levers are pulled and rain pours out of sprayers on top of long poles. Car, ground and actors are soaked. This is film rain.

‘Switch off the car lights to save the battery,’ he shouts. I squelch to the car and oblige. They all get back in the car and do it again. ‘Reverse back to the top of the track he commands.’ The car is covered in rain, I can’t see the track. I am wet. What the hell, I think and off I go up the track. One movement. The actors get back in the car. I put on the hat, take off my glasses and drive down the track.

‘Stop,’ he shouts. I get out and then there follows much rain and actors getting in and out of the car until they have perfected their parts. I go back and forth switching headlights on and off. Its 9.30... cold and wet.

‘Thats it,’ he says. ‘Can you find your way back?’ I’m asked. I reverse up the track and slide and slither my way back to the road and home to Hartland. It’s 9.45pm. The car finished up covered in mud with the carpets wet, muddy and full of stones after actors have jumped in and out. My shoes are in need of deep cleaning and the suit trousers will have to go to the dry cleaners.

They have decided that they don’t need me again and have been on Facebook asking for a 1920/30 car for their film. I haven’t volunteered!

On the Friday night they got Brian who is 89 and his Hillman 14 down to the cottage but then one of their Luton vans slipped off the access track and got wedged between the track and the trees. Eventually some local farmers pulled it out but Brian didn’t get back home to Bude until 1.30am!

He has decided not to participate further!  

This article, written by Viv Gale, originally appeared in Seven Focus February 2019 pp11-14.