sun and cigars: Diary of a Cuban adventure
2001 – The idea takes shape
were all in Arizona whilst filming the last series," said writer
Dick Clement, "and we had an evening in a bar with Alan Yentob
(BBC Director of Drama, Entertainment and Children's) who had flown
out to see us filming.
was high as everything seemed to be going well and the vibe for
the series was really good so when Yentob jokingly asked 'where's
the next one then?', Ian glibly replied 'Cuba' - but with no thought
in his head of how we'd make it work!"
producer, Franc Roddam, agrees: "Once Arizona was complete
we did start kicking ideas around. We considered Australia but felt
that it was too like America and we thought about Spain as it's
a big working class destination.
I think Cuba really intrigues people as the last socialist society;
people admire Fidel and Che Guevara."
2002 – Off to Cuba
Clement, Ian La Frenais and Jimmy Nail fly out to Cuba with Franc
Roddam to see what might be possible for a new series.
admits: "It was really interesting but we felt such frauds
looking around as we still had absolutely no idea how we would make
it work or what the story might be. It was like a fishing trip for
travelled all over Havana and out into the country just getting
a feel for the place. We went to the ballet, salsa clubs, bars,
nightclubs and paladares (restaurants in private houses), soaking
up the atmosphere of the place. And eventually we struck gold.
the last day of our trip we went to the British Embassy where we
discovered two key things: the existence of the O.E.D. (Overseas
Estates Development) and that Havana is the most intelligence-intensive
place in the world – everyone from Taiwan to Kazakhstan has
an embassy there."
continues: "That's why it's always British workers who are
posted to work on sensitive overseas sites like embassies and ambassadors'
residences. It reminded us of a visit to Prague in 1990. We went
to the embassy which was shrouded in scaffolding with a whole bunch
of Geordies on the site! We could have made a whole movie about
their return to the UK Franc and Jimmy went to Croydon to visit
the O.E.D. offices to cement their ideas.
went to learn about the operation and the staff were very helpful,
and they were thrilled to meet Jimmy! All in all it authenticated
our idea for the series and how it might work.
will be interesting to see if they are inundated with requests to
join up once we start transmission!" laughs Franc.
2002 – Creative juices flowing
and La Frenais now start writing scripts in earnest.
recalls: "Once we'd got a handle on the O.E.D., Ian and I sat
down and plotted an outline for the series. Then we wrote the first
really wanted to use the idea of spying and the intelligence services
but not in a James Bond way because we obviously wanted to preserve
the credibility of the series. But being part of the O.E.D. could
be perfect cover for low level intelligence, so Nev is recruited
also had a key idea for Oz in mind. It was Jimmy's suggestion that
we went to the theatre in Havana and saw the ballet. So Oz develops
a passion for dancing. That seemed too good an idea to turn down!"
continues: "There's much more romance and emotion in these
episodes – I think there will be a few handkerchiefs out.
developed the characters again since the Arizona series. You can't
just have them all sitting around discussing whether Newcastle won,
so Oz falls in love, Dennis finds romance and Nev becomes a spy.
But we've not lost the characters that the audience want to see.
we continued to do other research, reading whatever we could get
our hands on. In particular Stephen Smith's The Land of Miracles
was very useful. That's where we found out about guinea pig roulette."
in the UK, series three starts transmission on BBC ONE reaching
12 million viewers.
the team were optimistic about their return to screen, Dick and
Ian admit that they were overwhelmed by the public response.
says: "The characters really touched a nerve. Viewers feel
that they're real. They represent ordinary blokes just getting on
with making a living. But we're always a bit baffled by the X factor
of success and I'm reluctant to try and define it in case it goes
Roddam continues: "We were over the moon. I think the series'
success is due to a combination of all things - it was a good idea
originally focusing on the lives of working class people in a 'fish
out of water' scenario written with humour and pathos.
and Ian are acute observers of human nature. Auf Wiedersehen caught
the mood and humour of the people in this country topped off with
fabulous actors who created a wonderful ensemble."
the series was deemed a runaway success, it was immediately commissioned
again. Series four gets underway.
2002 – The team assembles
writing was completed with the final two episodes delivered to the
production team and the cast just after Christmas.
most of the logistics were laid down much earlier so that the production
team could start planning. Originally we were only going to do five
episodes but eventually we pushed it to six as it felt more complete,"
Chrissy Skinns was brought on board in December.
did meet Dick and Ian years ago when I worked at Select TV as a
script editor but I'd never worked with them. And I was keen to
do the project because it's one of those classic, successful series
that it's a privilege to be involved with.
first priority was to find directors who could work really well
visually to capitalise on the vibrant background of Havana –
that was such a gift. I really wanted to bring out the lushness
of the setting, so the design team was crucial as well. Not to mention
a foreign production manager."
were all on board and the project was well underway by the beginning
of the 2003.
recce-ed Cuba in January and at that stage we were hoping to shoot
there. So we were getting a sense of the place and of how the embassy
works. Then we came back to the UK to start casting for the other
some things never go to plan and, like James Bond's The World Is
Not Enough before it, the Cuban authorities refused to let filming
take place in their country so a new location was sought.
thought about Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and
there was lots of frantic flying around to try and find somewhere
suitable," admits Chrissy.
remember one day in March when we still didn't know if we were going
to Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and someone
in the office piped up 'what about Buenos Aires?'.
the World Service was quick to point out that Buenos Aires is much
more Italian than Spanish; it's in the southern hemisphere, not
in the tropics; and the racial mix is different….. so at the
end of the day I was still none the wiser about where to go shooting.
the end we settled on the Dominican Republic because the people
are a mix of Hispanic and African origins which is very Cuban and
the buildings have that crumbling, Spanish, colonial feel."
admits "We were always prepared that it wouldn't be filmed
in Cuba. When we knew that the team had scouted and were happy with
the Dominican Republic, we were reassured. You will never believe
you're not in Havana."
Roddam shrugs off the problem: "We were so committed to the
project that you move forward no matter what. Filming has always
been flexible. When they made Carry On Up The Khyber it was probably
in Croydon, so not being able to film in Cuba wasn't the end of
2003 – Location, location, location
the final decision was made, the production team swung into action
and at the end of March an advance party went out to the Dominican
Republic to start preparations for filming.
said: "The art department and a mini-production team went out
early to set up. And we got a very good local fixer involved who'd
worked for the BBC before on Bitter Harvest.
key thing was to find good, local people who could help us, especially
with the language as rather a lot of us didn't speak any Spanish.
art department had their work cut out. The main architecture in
Santo Domingo was fine but the devil is in the detail, so they had
to add lots of strong images such as painting a mural of Che on
a wall or parking an American car in frame – voila! You're
also did an amazing job building a set in the jungle for the ambassador's
residence as there wasn't a big 18th century building available.
We also built the boys 'villa' - which is obviously Cuban for 'hut'.
the cast flew out towards the end of April and we did a six week
shoot. There were the inevitable glitches that come with filming
abroad, especially in a third world country. There are language
barriers and although we took out our key team, most of the rest
of the team were recruited locally.
the biggest problem was the heat. I know filming in the Caribbean
sounds marvellous but it was over 30 degrees every single day and
it was humid.
frankly at 8 o'clock in the morning you're sticky and you're going
to be like that all day. The sun is more dangerous too so inevitably
some people got sunburned or got sunstroke; others were bitten by
strange insects – there were lots of bugs!
were a few casualties but nothing too serious – we all came
back in one piece – ready for the 11-week English shoot, of
of the time we were shooting in the capital's old town, which is
very like Havana but the residence was a little way out of the centre.
for episode three we were way up in the hills which was quite like
camping as we didn't have the normal winnebagos or a catering truck,
we were literally in tents in the middle of the jungle!
the atmosphere was fabulous. On the last day the local crew had
a kind of spontaneous street party - and they are fantastic dancers!
we came back to the UK and finished filming the English locations
and the interiors at Pinewood. Ironically we came back to one of
the hottest summers ever – but at least it was a little less
and Ian made a quick trip out to the Dominican Republic to see how
filming was getting on and they were delighted by what they found.
admits "We were very impressed. We could see that it wasn't
Havana but the art department had done a fantastic job which created
the illusion very well. It looks much richer on screen than all
the other series.
agrees: "The Dominican Republic is the most beautiful place.
It's a great undiscovered spot next door to Cuba. When you're all
away together you get completely absorbed by the culture of the
place and that sustained everyone through the English studio shoot.
I arrived I went to the hotel to visit the boys and it did make
me laugh – they were all in a suite watching the football
and eating snacks, just like being in a hut together!"
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