I’m down on Romney Marsh, pie ’n’ mash country. Having picked up a couple of OS maps from a charity shop, and some brochures from the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, I’m ready to explore the area: isolated medieval churches, the Military Canal, Dungeness, a flat landscape that’s been won from the sea. I love out-of-the-way places: the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond. The sky is still an unrelieved grey, but I’m hoping to see some sunlight soon.
Another find in the charity shop was a DVD of Fanny and Elvis, a piss-poor film shot in and around Hebden Bridge, which represents the high point of my acting career. When the call went out for extras, I joined a line of hopefuls queuing up the stairs at the Trades Club. I had my photo taken, left my phone number and thought no more about it. A few days later I had a phone call: “Could I play a man who props up the bar in a pub”. I said that with a little tuition, I probably could.
My scene was being shot in the Mount Skip Inn, high on the bluff overlooking the Caderdale valley. Big lights were shining through the windows, to give a daylight feel even when night fell, and there were more morris dancers than you’d expect to find in a Hebden Bridge pub. I didn’t do much standing at the bar; the main protagonists meet in the pub, words are said, beer is spilled and blows are exchanged. It was my job (by the time of shooting I think I’d morphed into the pub landlord) to break up the fight between Ray Winstone and Ben Daniels by grabbing one of them by his jacket collar and dragging him out the door. Cut!
We replayed the scene half a dozen times. I’ve seen fights in pubs, but they don’t usually repeat on a loop. Actors and extras were wiped down; glasses were topped up again, with fake beer; morris dancers were swapped for other morris dancers. The spare morris dancers were stored in the attic, along with the extras when they weren’t wanted. The roof beams creaked, so when shooting started we were told to stop whatever we were doing and stand as still as statues.
The argument played out again, and again, and again. This one scene took about 18 hours to film, which made the £30 paid to extras seem like small beer. But, hey, we were hobnobbing with the stars (maybe some of that celebrity stardust would rub off on us), and it was fun. A lot of Hebden Bridge folk appeared as extras; for a few weeks we basked in the faint acclaim. There was a special showing at the Hebden Bridge cinema when the film came out, giving locals the opportunity to point at the screen excitedly and say “Look… that’s me!”
I may watch the film this evening. Most of my little part was cut, I think; blink and you’d miss it. Fanny and Elvis may not have been the start of a glittering film career, but it’s a warm memory of a happy time...