Don’t let anyone tell you TV work is glamorous, bemoans H&H’s hunting columnist
At home in Yorkshire, there is a jump that my father looks upon with a face of woe. The site of a nasty fall? For years the reason for his grief-stricken face eluded me – until the other day, when I mentioned we were doing some filming for a BBC period drama.
“You’ll earn every penny,” he said, recounting a tale of endless takes over the aforementioned fence with horses and hounds for Emmerdale.
For the past few weeks, Badminton has been strewn with a cast and crew working night and day to produce an adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.
Our own input, I’m sure, will amount to about 30 seconds of the viewers’ enjoyment, but be assured that in order to achieve it, two days of frustrating hours were endured. Naturally the current restrictions mean that the process of even getting into make-up is lengthy. Temperatures are checked, noses and throats swabbed and faces covered before anything takes place.
Fortunately, the costume department were delighted with what Rhys (our new second whipper-in) and I turned out in.
Hunting clothes have changed very little over the past century but, considering we were filming at the back end of the most recent heatwave, I left my great-grandfather’s buckskin breeches in the cupboard.
“Location” for our particular scenes, needing both horses and hounds, was Swangrove Wood. A large covert in Badminton Park, it is the host of much trail-hunting throughout the autumn and winter. Day one was eagerly spent in anticipation of being given any instructions, but the boredom soon set in. After six hours, we were eventually called on to set for 30 seconds of filming before being sent home.
Mercifully, day two brought more action and amusement. We had evidently been lulled into a false sense of security, as my phone rang incessantly while we loaded the lorry. Flying by the seat of our pants, we arrived on set.
“Great, you’re here. Now, would you mind cantering around that corner there and you’ll find a jump we’ve made. Just pop over that and then pull up. That’s the first shot.”
Just what one wants to do on a cold horse with a dozen cameras in tow and 50 pairs of beady eyes. We were accompanied by The Devil’s Horsemen, a professional outfit all in top hats and bowlers, posing as members of the field.
“Cameras rolling, three-two-one, action!” Cue carnage. Loose horses, a squashed bowler and a bleeding skull belonging to a concussed supporting actor were the results of the first take of many. I tried to persuade the assistant director that chaos and folk talking nonsense was very realistic, but he wasn’t having any of it. In pursuit of perfection, we spent the entire day trying to attain the artistic vision of the director.
This kind of thing is far from glamorous. You might have the chance of five minutes’ chat with a fine actor, or even witness a minor meltdown, but the days are long and repetitive. I have great respect for anyone working in this industry, particularly during these times as the red tape of Covid-19 doubles the workload.
Two hunting Ladies from our supporters’ club are very familiar with the restrictions of the virus, having recently laid on a successful hunt horse show. A time-consuming task before, it was truly Everest for them this year. Thanks to an army of willing volunteers and a compliant public, it went off to the letter of the law. Let’s hope we can make a start to the autumn hunting with similar judgement and consideration.
This has been a summer of discontent, but will be made a glorious autumn by the sound of hounds.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 August 2020