Three-and-a-half years ago, in July 2013, our bit of Morpeth was descended upon by a film crew.
I don’t know why we were chosen, but I suppose Morpeth is a quintessentially English provincial town and the Thorp Estate, with its mixture of terraced streets and detached and semi-detached houses, a quintessentially English suburb.
The crew began filming in the area soon after 1pm, though I believe they had filmed a little earlier in Fenwick Grove as well.
One of the most striking things about it was the way the film crew simply took over the street.
I don’t remember if they asked permission, but in no time at all there were high-pressure hoses looped over the fences and across the front gardens on our side of the footpath.
The only other time I saw filming close-up was many years ago at Beamish, when Valerie Singleton — I think with just one cameraman — was filming a ‘where to go for a great day out’ type of programme.
They simply told people what they wanted them to do, and people did it.
An assured manner and boundless confidence are obviously pre-requisite, and my impression was that Ms Singleton had both.
The hoses that crossed our garden led to two rain stands, which the technicians were busy priming — one in the garden below ours, and one two doors above. We have trees, so I suppose it would have been too difficult to erect the stands in our patch.
Where the water came from, and what provided the power, I’ve no idea. I’d have expected it to be a very powerful and noisy electric pump, but I don’t remember hearing anything of the sort. Perhaps it was just mains pressure. We’re very lucky in Morpeth in that respect.
There were two actors — or perhaps one was only there in a supporting role — but they were both real postmen.
They happened to be standing beside my neighbour’s gate during a pause in the proceedings so I was able to find out by asking them.
The only obvious difference from your average postman or postwoman was that Postie Steve was wearing a brand new uniform, straight off the shelf in the uniform store.
Meanwhile, a railway had been laid up the middle of the footpath.
The rails were heavy stainless steel tubes with a flange underneath, mounted rigidly on sleepers. These, in turn, were held up with wooden plates and chocks to give an absolutely firm base for the dolly, which I presume had a camera mounted on it.
Whatever it was, it didn’t look like a camera, and there was a photographer standing behind it for some of the time, shooting with a hand-held camera.
The dolly had to be moved backwards at the same speed as Postie Steve walked up the hill pushing his GPO wheelbarrow. Since our hill has a gradient of about 1:8, pushing the dolly up it, even on those smoothly polished rails, would be a daunting task.
Next was a dry run. Literally. No water.
Then the real thing. The crew on the dolly put their anoraks on. At 2.10pm the water was switched on and a goodly shower enveloped the ascending postman.
And that was it. The rain machines were dismantled, the hoses rolled up in coils, the dolly lifted off the rails and parked at the side, and it was lunch time.
Lunch was not the least impressive part of the proceedings. A caterer’s van stood in the back lane between Olympia Hill and Upper Fenwick Grove, and a handsome buffet was set out on the pavement in Morrison Road. Healthy, too: A stew, a curry, rice, mashed and chipped potatoes, peas, carrots and sweet corn, and bottled water to drink.
In the distance, discreetly parked at the end of the road, was a blue trailer proclaiming ‘Premium Luxury Toilet Hire’. Opposite stood a Royal Mail van, presumably waiting to take Postie Steve and his wheelbarrow back to their depot.
There only seemed to be three chairs, no doubt for the director and his immediate assistants, so people stood to eat, or sat on the kerb or perched on the tailgate of a lorry. It was past 3pm. I should imagine they were too hungry to mind.
Maybe I don’t watch the right channel, but I’ve never seen anything about Postie Steve from that day to this. I wonder what happened to him?
I offer two final thoughts.
First, my abiding impression, then and now, is that I would never have believed that making such a short bit of film would take such huge resources.
The other is that our postmen don’t push their wheelbarrows up the hill. They tie them to the lamppost at the bottom and take the letters up in a bag.
The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, at 48 pages and illustrated, is a study of the Anglo-Saxon church in Northumberland. It costs £6 post free. It is available at Morpeth Tourist Information Centre, Newgate News and T&G Allan. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org