Behind the scenes at The Paradise

Kelly with The Paradise cast Kelly Parkinson (centre) with The Paradise cast members
Kelly on set Kelly gets ready for a scene
Nicola outside The Paradise store Nicola Casey shadowed the drama's line producer

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In August, Kelly Parkinson and Nicola Casey won the chance to spend a day on the set of The Paradise. Below, they reflect on their experiences of the BBC One period drama.

Kelly Parkinson, head of audience research at BBC News, won the chance to be an extra at a Children in Need raffle.

I'm not an actress by any means, but I've always harboured a distant interest to don the costume, so I was really happy when I won the prize. I had never been to a drama set but everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

I played an upper-class customer so this involved browsing scarves in ladies' wear and walking around the great hall, carrying some Turkish delights. It was like spending the day shopping but the boxes were empty, so I didn't actually have to buy anything!

Emun Elliott, Kelly Parkinson and Joanna Vanderham Kelly with actors Emun Elliott and Joanna Vanderham

For my costume, which was a lovely silk dress, I had to wear a proper corset along with a bustle cage sticking out at the back.

The corset felt quite nice for the first couple of hours, as it makes you stand tall and move elegantly. I wore it for 12 hours and it made me sympathise with the ladies of the 1800s - I'm not sure I'd get much done if I had to wear that every day. It can be quite restrictive and it's not easy to sit down. So I didn't have much lunch!

Nicola Casey, production co-ordinator at Religion & Ethics, won a BBC North super-shadowing opportunity to visit the set, and reflects on how 19th-century shopping is recreated for TV.

I've always been a fan of period drama and really enjoyed The Paradise when it aired last year - more than ITV's Mr Selfridge. I just thought the BBC show had stronger storylines, better characters and looked much more authentic.

Therefore a day on set ticked all the boxes for me because I'm also interested in production management.

The drama is filmed at the Lambton Estate, just outside Durham, which was once home to a safari park.

It includes the stunning Lambton Castle, now converted into the set of The Paradise store and its surrounding high street.

Tollgate street of shops and wheelbarrows The high street was recreated at Lambton Castle

I found the estate a beautiful place but it's a world away from a bustling 19th-century high street, which made me wonder why it was chosen as a filming location.

After meeting Howard Ella, the line producer, it quickly became clear. As well as the castle's beautiful features, there are grounds to keep horses and carts, and the production offices are housed in barns near the estate entrance.

In the park, there's also a stately home, known as Biddick Hall, which is used as the residence of the privileged and somewhat domineering Katherine Glendenning.

Set tour

Approaching Lambton Castle, I could see crew trucks and trailers of dressing rooms, where cast members had their hair and make-up done.

As I walked around the corner into Tollagate Street, the home of the eponymous store, I was transported to the 1870s. Walking on the cobbles, the shop fronts and pubs looked incredibly authentic and The Paradise itself was as inviting as it appears on screen.

Inside the store, I wandered through each room, including a few new sets for this series. I could see that every inch of space had been thought through, with sumptuous fabrics and trinkets dotted around.

Biddick Hall Biddick Hall is used as the home of the Glendenning family

Storage was a squeeze but, having seen how the castle has been restored and used so well, it seemed a small sacrifice for such a great location.

Once I'd had a full tour, I saw a few scenes being set up, including one in the office of Mr Moray, the shop owner.

Later on, I watched a scene with Joanna Vanderham, who plays enterprising shop attendant Denise. I could tell you what happened but that would probably be a spoiler.


After the set tour, I made my way back to the production office, where the business side of things happened, including everything from accountancy to logistical plans.

As they were filming the last block of this series, the atmosphere was quiet compared to earlier in the shooting process, when there were more production details to sort out. Staff in the office work very hard to keep the programme going, and are continually communicating with the unit on set about the day's progress.

The Paradise

Joanna Vanderham and Peter Wight
  • Based on Émile Zola's French novel Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight)
  • Relocated to a north-east England setting in 1875
  • The first series drew around 5.8m and was made in-house by BBC Drama
  • Ben Daniels and Adrian Scarborough have joined the cast for the new series
  • Adapted by Bill Gallagher, who worked on Lark Rise To Candleford
  • Produced by Simon Lewis and executive produced by Susan Hogg

As lunchtime approached, I was confronted with the scale of such a programme, just by seeing how many cast and crew members queued up at the catering trailer.

They had already worked for four months, but there was no sign of any dip in energy. Managing such a large production must be daunting, but I was impressed at how Howard deals with it - I can imagine much of his time as a line producer is spent trouble-shooting and making important decisions about budgets and schedules.

After lunch the call sheet for the following day was finalised and checked thoroughly - it's essential to get this documentation right as it sets plans for everyone involved in the production.

As the series was approaching the final recording weeks, post-production and tweaks to final scenes were discussed. Howard also talked me through the budget management - useful if you're a production co-ordinator - and explained that last-minute changes were something that was dealt with on a daily basis.

Design and costumes

Before I left, we visited the set again to talk with crew about requirements for new shots. When the final scene for the day was being filmed, it appeared that everything was running to schedule. Then last-minute script changes for future shoots were sent through, and the tasks of scheduling and keeping within budget starts all over again.

Ruby Bentall Design is a key part of The Paradise

It was a great insight to be on set and, working on Songs of Praise, I noticed there were some similarities but also differences between the shows. For instance, budgeting, scheduling and crew management, along with editorial expectations, are part of my everyday duties, but the shoots are often a few days as opposed to months on set.

I've previously worked on dramas including Judge John Deed and Cold Feet, so I was aware of the scale of such productions but I found the set-up for period drama different because of the significance of design and costumes.

At times, it must be testing for the cast and crew to make a programme like The Paradise, with its demanding design and costume changes. But they've clearly developed an excellent working system where problems can be overcome. The allure of the new series of The Paradise looks set to be bigger and better.

  • The Paradise opens up for a second series on BBC One in October. The trailer can be seen here

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