The Dunkirk Story

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go according to your plans? I had just such a day in September 2003.

My ‘plan’ for the day was to open up our church in the morning so that the BBC could film a very short scene for their forthcoming docu-drama about the wartime evacuation of Dunkirk. Nothing too complicated about that and the Playgroup and Toddlers kindly adjusted their plans when the BBC decided to come earlier than they’d originally planned!

At about 11 o’clock, the BBC arrived – about twenty of them! I’d already met the location manager, and I obviously expected a director and a cameraman. I hadn’t really expected producer, sound technicians, carpenters, electricians, wardrobe, lighting, makeup, script writers, continuity, transport, hairdresser, traffic control, clapper-board operater, etc, etc - I now know who ‘Dolly Grip’ is and I’ve met the ‘Best Boy’! And these were just “on-site” – there were loads more, including a vast catering organisation back at the Harbour where they had established their base!

The carpenter’s first job was to take down our notice board (it was supposed to be Leigh-on-Sea Methodist Church, in Essex!) and then they set up their camera, and lights, and sound stuff. There were eight or ten ‘extras’ who waited in the church until they were needed and so began the process of film-making, which I settled back to watch with a number of other interested onlookers.

After the second or third take, the director decided that our building which, after all, has only been a church for more than 150 years, didn’t look enough like a church (!?) and he thought the scene would look better with “a minister” standing outside. At that point in time our minister, Paul, was nowhere to be seen, although Anne was there with others and we were asked, “What would a Methodist Minister have looked like in the 1940s?” Unfortunately, no one seemed to know - although we thought that he would probably be wearing an old dark suit and a dog collar!

The next thing I knew, I was being whisked off to ‘Wardrobe’, to return about fifteen minutes later wearing an old dark suit and a dog collar (and glasses) and looking (supposedly) like a 1940s Methodist Minister! By which time my wife Beryl had arrived on the scene - and so had our minister, Paul. This audience thought it was highly amusing although the director obviously thought it was perfect or, at least, acceptable! Before you criticise his judgement, you must remember that there was very little alternative and that, in the film making business, time is money!

I’m not sure what happened next - it was all a bit of a blur (probably because of the glasses) but, by now, many of you will have seen the film - and probably missed my big moment!

Did you spot me? This clip lasted less than three minutes and you might not have spotted me. However, if you would like to see the whole three-hour film, please contact me as I have a legal copy of the DVD.

Registered Charity Number: X20357 © Tony Harris 04/06/2021