Archives for February 2012

The Indian Doctor and its cracking 1960s soundtrack

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Sanjeev Bhaskar Sanjeev Bhaskar | 11:06 UK time, Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Firstly a massive and humble thank you to all those who watched series one of The Indian Doctor. With just under two million viewers and a couple of awards, it far exceeded all our expectations and the reception enabled us to get together to make series two.

I certainly read and appreciated every one of the 427 comments on the post I wrote about the first series - one of the most commented upon programmes on this blog! So thank you again for taking the time and effort to make your views known.

Series two finds us back in the fictional Welsh mining village a year later - in 1964. Dr Prem Sharma and his wife Kamini have settled into Trefelin life.

Dr Prem Sharma (Sanjeev Bhaskar) stands beside a car outside the shops in Trefelin

Sanjeev Bhaskar as Dr Prem Sharma

Gina, the doctor's receptionist, is struggling to hold down her job with a baby in tow. Tom, the father, has gone to London to try his hand at becoming a pop star.

A new addition to the village is Reverend Todd and his rebellious teenage daughter Verity. He's recently returned from ministering in Africa and she's reluctantly visiting from her boarding school in Richmond, Surrey.

Added to the mix and much to Kamini's delight, is the arrival from India of Pushpa, her mother, though "delight" is probably not the word that Prem would use.

Prem readies himself to deal with his daily surgeries and daily admonishments from his mother-in-law, when a case of dreaded smallpox is discovered in the village.

All eyes turn accusingly to the latest arrival, Pushpa. Has she brought death to the valleys?

There was a major outbreak of smallpox in South Wales in the early 1960s and that's what we broadly based our story on - though our dramatic conclusions are fictional.

There's probably a little more drama in this series than the first, though we hope you all enjoy the lighter moments.

One of the many delights in making the series is the soundtrack. I'm a big fan of the music of the time and as an ardent Elvis admirer, it was great to hear Devil In Disguise playing in the background of episode three when Verity (Naomi Battrick) and Dafydd (Rhys Ap William) are enjoying each other's company on the sofa.

Also listen out during the series for the cracking original version of Tainted Love by Gloria Jones and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You. I could bore you further but the music is all listed for you on The Indian Doctor episode pages... I'll be interested to know what your favourite tracks are.

We were fortunate to have most of the old cast and crew back, so it felt very much like a class reunion.

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Prem's mother-in-law Pushpa arrives

The genius that is Ray Orton was back with his camera team as was Venita Gribble, the production designer. It's down to them that the production looks as good as it does on such a modest budget.

Though it did rain an awful lot more in Blaenavon this year than it did last time, and up in the hills was much colder too!

In fact, a tiny bit of trivia: In the above clip of the opening scene of episode one when Prem and Kamini are standing at the train station, Ayesha and I both had hot water bottles standing by, which were rushed in as soon as the director shouted "Cut!".

Ah, the glamour of it all.

I hope you enjoy spending a little more time with all the characters and the village, at least as much, if not more than last time.

Diolch yn fawr. Cariad, Sanjeev

(Thank you very much. Love, Sanjeev)

Sanjeev Bhaskar plays Dr Prem Sharma in The Indian Doctor.

Series two of The Indian Doctor is on daily at 2.15pm on BBC One and BBC One HD from Monday, 27 February to Friday, 2 March.

The whole series will be available to watch and download in iPlayer until Friday, 9 March. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff: Victorian television-making techniques

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Gareth Edwards Gareth Edwards | 07:28 UK time, Monday, 27 February 2012

When Mark Evans, writer of The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff, first suggested we make a Victorian television programme I assumed he meant a programme set in Victorian times.

But as he sat in my office in his frock coat, excitedly jabbing the air and then my arm with his quill pen it became clear that this was just the tip of the Victorian iceberg.

Evans talked of how in our modern digital world we had lost touch with the television-making techniques that had made Victorian television the toast of 12 continents.

One cask of Madeira later, as I watched him stumble into his horse-drawn carriage he had convinced me. We would shoot The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff exactly as it would have been filmed in Dickens' own day.

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Coming up in The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff

Evans lent me his leather-bound first edition of Ephraim Sprout's Televisioning For Gentlemen and this was to be our bible.

Sprout was the producer of the biggest shows on Victorian Television, some of which are the precursors of today's hit shows, including The Empire Has Ability, The New Things Road Show and The Only Way Is No Sex.

I read with excitement his description of one of Brunel's steam-powered television cameras at full pressure. I read with delight about the rich colours of hand-stitched leather video tape. And I read with growing interest about a Victorian television crew working for sixpence a day plus gruel.

My producer's instincts all told me this could work. Six months down the line I feel exhausted but immensely proud.

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The Crew

The worst moments? Sound was always a challenge - no audio tape in Victorian times of course, and wax cylinder sound-recording was still some years in the future, so we had the misery of weaving all the audio in wool onto a sound loom.

Seventeen thousand feet of intricately woven Harris Tweed, all destroyed by a couple of hungry moths.

And I'm genuinely regretful about having to withhold modern treatments for cholera and typhoid until the end of the shoot.

But on the plus side, I think the programme is certainly richer, even if the crew themselves are not.

And sticking rigorously to Victorian Health and Safety rules - "Where possible - fatalities to be kept in single figures per day" - meant a lot of time saved on risk assessments.

Would I do it again? As I sit in my huge house waiting for my butler to bring me my morning brandy I have to say that speaking as a producer, the past looks very much like it could be the way forward.

Gareth Edwards is the producer of The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff.

The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff continues on Mondays at 8.30pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For all programme times please see the episode guide.

If you use Twitter, you can follow Gareth on @garethmammal.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Pramface: Playing the pregnant teenager

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Scarlett Alice Johnson Scarlett Alice Johnson | 06:55 UK time, Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pramface centres around two unlikely teenagers who are thrown together after a night of post A-level partying.

I play Laura Derbyshire, the very unlucky pregnant 18-year-old by the even unluckier 16-year-old Jamie Prince.

Both them and their families are forced kicking and screaming into bringing their lives together, into one big unplanned and unprepared-for melting pot.

The script written by Chris Reddy was, as an actor, one of those rare gems that I knew I would love every minute of making.

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Exams are over, the drinks are flowing and across the room Jamie sees Laura...

Most days I laughed so hard my face ached, my stomach cramped and my mascara ran.

Sean Michael Verey who plays Jamie, and with whom I had some of my funniest scenes, shares a similar sense of humour to me.

Which was both a blessing and a curse. Most of the time I was giggling just reading the scenes so by the shoot I was normally in bits.

I resorted to trying not to look the other cast in the eye whilst filming because I was constantly stifling a smirk. Not an easy task, and not entirely helpful to the others who were normally trying to control their own fits too.

And of course Angus Deayton and Anna Chancellor who play Laura's not-too-enthusiastic parents were just funny, brilliant people to work with.

Laura's mum (Anna Chancellor) drinks a glass of wine

Anna Chancellor as Laura's mum

Angus has an amazing quick wit in a quiet and really understated manner that he makes you giggle when you least expect it.

And Anna being a tall, beautiful and experienced actress has an amazing presence, which she brilliantly cuts through with her own brand of humour.

So basically when you combine those cast members with Dylan Edwards, Yasmin Paige, Ben Crompton, Bronagh Gallagher and Emer Kenny, along with a wonderfully observed script, I was a wreck.

I even, I am ashamed to say, got sent off set one day because I couldn't control my hysterics. A BIG no-no.

Whilst we did have a great time filming, I hope audiences appreciate Pramface and get what it is about.

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Jamie has the contraception chat with friends Mike and Beth

I think it is fair to say that we didn't want to let it take itself too seriously, or for it to be making in any way passing judgment on teen pregnancy.

I hope we managed to avoid some of the clichés relating to it. It was important to me for instance that Laura wasn't a down-and-out young mum from an inner city estate, but a well educated, well-informed young woman with a bright future.

After all, the point of the pregnancy isn't a comment on the youth of today. It's a catalyst for two unlikely characters to be pulled together, in various bizarre and awkward ways.

That said, no one wants to be flippant about such an emotive subject and I think due regard was paid to the many dilemmas the twosome face.

I think some of the best comedy out there walks a fine line between humour and drama and I'd like to think that audiences might recognise that in Pramface.

It felt to me to be a script full of wit but heart too, which is why I guess I enjoyed making it so much. And if people can laugh even just a hundredth of the amount I did when we made it then I'll be very happy.

Scarlett Alice Johnson plays Laura Derbyshire in Pramface.

Pramface begins on Thursday, 23 February at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

You can follow Jamie's best friend Mike on Twitter and also visit the Pramface Facebook page. Read a BBC Three blog post by actor Dylan Edwards who plays Mike here.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Upstairs Downstairs: I design the sets

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Arwel Wyn Jones Arwel Wyn Jones | 14:28 UK time, Friday, 17 February 2012

I was standing on a rooftop in central London on the last day of filming a crucial scene for Sherlock when I got a call offering me the role of production designer on the new series of Upstairs Downstairs BUT - I had to start the following day!

This was my introduction to the rollercoaster ride that was to take over my life for the next five months.

We pick up the story of 165 Eaton Place in September 1938 which is a great era for design - the height of art deco.

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Returning to 165 Eaton Place

As the production designer, I was very keen to utilise this in our distinction between 'Upstairs' and 'Downstairs' - the opulence and crisp elegant lines of art deco as opposed to the rougher, more textured world of the working classes.

The interior of the house is all a set and is spread between three studios at BBC Wales' new facility down in Cardiff Bay (next door to Casualty and Pobol y Cwm).

We've added a couple of extra rooms to the interior set this year and one of those is a dining room.

I enjoyed designing it as we were able to introduce some very contemporary shapes and patterns into the set. Look out for the pair of doors leading into the dining room and the floor inside.

We designed and made these ourselves - without seeming too Changing Rooms, they're all paint effect and MDF!!

The main hall is in a larger studio than the rest to allow for it to be two storeys, which helps sell the idea of it being a real house. You can follow the actors from the dining room across the hall and up the stairs to the landing and drawing room.

The decorating of these sets correctly is very important.

We must make sure that the patterns and colours look good on camera, so we co-ordinate with the costume department to make sure that the actors' outfits are complementary to the scenery and don't blend into the background.

The cost of redecorating a room could be the difference between coming in on or over budget.

Therefore I have to discuss options and themes beforehand - with the producer, director, director of photography and costume. I have to admit that I tend to get my own way most of the time!

Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) stands in front of one of the vintage cars sourced for Upstairs Downstairs

Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) and one of the vintage cars

Interior design is only one aspect of the job however, and as much as I like my wallpapers, we also have cars, planes, trains and buses to source as well as all the props.

I have a very good team helping me with all these as it would be an impossible task on your own - the organising of the vehicles alone is a monumental task.

The cars, for example, are mostly privately owned and are brought to set by the owners or drivers on their behalf. Due to their age some are trailered if they need to travel very far.

The aeroplane we sourced from Duxford Air Museum, who were, as always, very helpful.

It's also a big task sourcing the dressing props (what we use to make the sets look real) and action props, which are used by the actors and often described in the script which means we have to source or reproduce. We hire some, trawl round antiques markets for others, and eBay is also a good resource.

We even have some made especially - look for the special gasproof pram! It was based on a real one but there were only a few very sketchy photos that survive of it, which were sourced from the internet and some old newsreel.

Anne Reid as Mrs Thackeray

Downstairs: Anne Reid as Mrs Thackeray

There is also all the food and flowers. The end products of Mrs Thackeray's work in the kitchen need to both look good enough to serve at a royal dinner party and be authentic for the period.

Because of this a specialist TV and film food economist was hired in.

She would pre-prepare some of the food and then it would be finished in a specially-made food preparation area just outside the studio so that we could serve it piping hot straight to set!

To support her expert work, we also depended on the culinary skills of our very own Hannah Nicholson (my set decorator) who also did most of the flower arranging as well as a myriad of other things!

It was a very challenging project but with a great team behind me I think we managed to achieve something beautiful - I hope you agree.

Arwel Wyn Jones is the production designer on Upstairs Downstairs.

Upstairs Downstairs returns to BBC One and BBC One HD on Sunday, 19 February at 9.30pm. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Lucian Freud: filming with the artist

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Randall Wright Randall Wright | 10:12 UK time, Thursday, 16 February 2012

At a meeting just before Christmas 2010 Lucian Freud, a small ancient figure at 88, sitting surrounded by fresh piles of newspapers, with their lurid headlines, suddenly stared, with characteristic bulging eyes, out of the window of Clarke's restaurant in Notting Hill, London.

He had noticed a pair of mounted police, heads down, battling through a sudden heavy snow storm.

The street scene erased in the white-out left just the foreground of chestnut horses and fluorescent riders, like a children's book illustration. Lucian was thrilled with the sight.

Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud

I don't want to pretend to have known Lucian Freud. I only met him three times for breakfast, with his wise and practical assistant David Dawson.

We met to discuss Lucian Freud: Painted Life - the BBC Two documentary I was to make.

My impression was of someone extremely alert, animal-like, relying for information to a great extent on what he saw.

The bliss of looking, to struggle to capture in paint something precious, the presence of a human being, were his activities 24/7, but as the newspapers and conversations indicated, he was interested in anything.

At the meeting he asked me a few questions about the nature of documentary films, which were sharp, tough, and funny.

"Is a documentary" (residue of German accent) "like a sign that says 'Toilet'? Is it not merely educational?"

He tolerated my fumbling answers, but he expected absolute honesty. Apparently, I was told later by a close friend of his, this was a mild reflection of the much more contrary and confrontational younger Freud.

His questions put a finger on essential issues.

The problem of 'documentary' is that it claims some sort of automatic or special truth, through photography's claim to truth, an idea that dominated Lucian during his lifetime.

Where does the truth about something or someone lie? How do you deal with it in a film? Stop pretending your medium has any built-in objectivity?

Why bother, Freud would say. For him, painting was the only medium adequate to the task of searching for truth.

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David Hockney on Lucian Freud's painting technique

Making a painting was the most important thing anyone could try to do, if they were to get close to the essence of things, to approach an absolute truth.

At another meeting, the sun was streaming in. By then Lucian knew I liked his regular food supplement: nougat. He cut me a slice without me asking.

At the end of the film, the art critic Sebastian Smee said that in the company of Lucian he did not feel the need to say anything clever, just to be with someone so intense and so alive was enough. I think that is so insightful.

I hardly said a thing - not that it would have been clever if I had.

Lucian started wiggling his fingers around to make interesting shadow patterns. The shadows were green by some accident of light reflecting from the leaves of flowers on the table.

He enjoyed the sight, and so did I.

We started production in the spring of 2011. Lucian said he would still be around for his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which started this month.

Reflection (self portrait) 1985

Reflection (self portrait) 1985

But of course he was wrong, in July he died. After his death the whole project changed.

Many of his friends and family now felt free to take a bigger part in the film, and, in their grief, to articulate the feelings and insights that are so much in the foreground of the mind when someone you love dies.

The aim of the film is to look more closely, with an open mind, at the work. The editor, Paul Binns, and I tried to deploy the amazingly candid interviews from old friends and family to reveal themes in the painting.

At the moment I write this the composer and musician John Harle is performing a saxophone part for his intensely moving score.

I am sitting in a square room with red curtains on all sides, and a mass of sound mixing technology.

Thinking about Freud makes me look more closely and with greater fascination at the most ordinary of things - to realise what a strange place the world is, and how barely we understand it.

Randall Wright is the director of Lucian Freud: Painted Life.

Lucian Freud: Painted Life is on BBC Two and BBC HD on Saturday, 18 Feburary at 9pm.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Inside Men: Armed robbery and the modern man

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Tony Basgallop | 10:23 UK time, Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I could rob a bank. I could rob two banks, if I wanted. But I don't because the risk outweighs the reward. Prison seems grim and I'm not all that bothered about being rich.

I can separate all the men I know into two categories: alphas and betas. Leaders and followers, if you will.

Inside Men's warehouse manager John Coniston (played brilliantly by Steven Mackintosh) is a beta, but in order to orchestrate a heist he has to become an alpha.

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Trailer for Inside Men

That's basically where this story began for me. How do I fundamentally change a man's personality? How do I use his weakness as his strength?

How do I get him to do something that just plain isn't in him?

There was some skepticism when I first pitched the idea. Heists had gone out of fashion, both in reality and in drama.

Growing up and watching TV in the late 1970s, every other week some hairy geezer was pulling a pair of nylon tights over his face and walking into a bank with a sawn-off shotgun.

If you wanted to become a millionaire overnight, armed robbery was pretty much your only option. By the time the early 1990s rolled around, credit cards and the national lottery had given criminals an easier option.

It took a couple of meetings to convince everyone that this wasn't going to be about the money. Inside Men isn't just a story about a robbery, it's about what it means to be a modern man.

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Chris (Ashley Walters), Marcus (Warren Brown) and John (Steven Mackintosh) make plans

Whilst researching this drama I found out that there's something like £45 billion worth of cash in the UK. Sitting in vaults, down the backs of sofas, and chinking around in our pockets.

We may think of ourselves as a cashless society, but it's still out there. And it's not worth any less.

I often use dual timelines when structuring a story. I did something similar on Worried About The Boy, flicking between 1981 and 1986. Maybe I just like to keep the audience on their toes.

With Inside Men, opening with the heist allowed me to get straight into two stories that impacted on one another. How did they plan it? And will they get away with it?

The scenes in the vault were filmed in a decommissioned Bank of England building in Bristol.

The vault door weighed four tonnes and you just can't recreate stuff like that.

I went on set one day and held one of the shotguns, pulled on a mask, and stared at the cages of bank notes. Suddenly it didn't seem so easy. 

Tony Basgallop is the writer of Inside Men.

Inside Men continues on BBC One and BBC One HD on Thursdays at 9pm. For all programme times, please see the episode guide.

Read a BBC TV blog interview with Boy George, on Worried About The Boy - also written by Tony Basgallop.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Children Of The Revolution: Filming in Tahrir Square

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May Abdalla May Abdalla | 17:04 UK time, Friday, 3 February 2012

Tonight, as Egypt - Children Of The Revolution airs - filmed over a year through Egypt's revolution and tumultuous aftermath - two of the three young people we followed, Gigi and Ahmed, are back on the streets still fighting for the regime to "really" fall.

The third, Tahir, an Islamist tortured in Mubarak's prisons is enjoying his party's first term in an uncertain parliament.

What does it feel like to live through a revolution? That's what this film wanted to answer, by taking us away from the streets and protests and into the real lives of three young people who each wanted the revolution - but for very different reasons.

Gigi joins the protest

Gigi joins the protest in Tahrir Square, 2011

The crew that worked on the programme across the year included a journalist, Inigo Gilmore, a Cairene ad-man turned revolutionary, Ayman Shabrawy and me, an Egyptian from Brum.

Inigo started to film with Gigi and Ahmed when he met them on the encampment on Tahrir Square's roundabout during those first electric 18 days in 2011 which ended with the dramatic resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

He had filmed with a view to following the story wherever it might lead - and we all knew that 18 days wasn't going to be the end of it.

As for me, I wasn't in Egypt when the revolution started. Born to Egyptian parents in Birmingham, my family and I were glued to the coverage of our people ousting the very regime my parents had fled.

When I stepped down off the plane in Cairo, in the ecstatic haze of the revolution's morning after, it was to follow up with Gigi and Ahmed on Inigo's request to look for a third character amongst the Islamists.

This would be a challenge as the Islamists had been quiet on the revolution itself but we knew that they were going to become major players in whatever happened next.

At the time it was incredible to be part of such optimism. The country was revolution crazy - one leading pizza store was even advertising 'democratic pizza' - where you could choose your own toppings. However, it didn't last.

Filming in Egypt was extremely difficult. Egyptian state television stoked up fears of foreign forces at work to destroy the country.

With Libya at war and Syria brutalised, there was a real anxiety that Egypt could end up with the fate of either.

Distinguished by my British-sounding Arabic and wielding a camera and tripod, the team was mobbed several times by people convinced that we were, at worse Israeli spies filming state secrets, and at best, foreigners up to no good.

So it wasn't altogether a pleasant ride. But who said revolutions are easy?

Most of the time we had no idea what would happen next. Initially, what looked like a lull was the calm before the storm.

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Ahmed struggles to find work

At Tahrir Square, the revolutionaries constantly told me that the army would invade at any moment. Sometimes weeks would pass like that.

We spent the year waiting, wanting to be there when it happened but also wanting to be away from the protests, inside living rooms, listening to the real conversations on the other side of town.

At times, living through a revolution seems very ordinary - like Ahmed going to his barber the day after the fall of Mubarak.

For me this year has been extraordinarily difficult - trying to film in a country where many people were scared of finding fault with the military, the last bastion of national pride and security.

Where we were perceived to have an anti-military agenda we faced even more harassment, accused of being conspirators.

The Maspero massacre that features prominently in the film, where army tanks ran over protestors in October 2011, was a very dangerous moment in Egypt. The nation was splitting and our film was trying to straddle the divide.

Despite the negative events there is something overwhelmingly powerful about what I saw in Egypt this year - after 30 years of silence there is no way to turn to clock back - the price will be more deaths, but the prize is freedom.

May Abdalla is the director of Egypt - Children Of The Revolution.

Egypt - Children Of The Revolution is on BBC Two and BBC HD at 7pm on Friday, 3 February. For further programme times please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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