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 2004.

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 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 take, the director decided that our building, which after all has only been a church for more than 100 years, didn’t look enough like a church (!?) and 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 - except 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 Beryl had arrived on the scene - and so had 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!

Click below to watch again - but don’t blink!!

Our part in the Dunkirk Story, 2004

Registered Charity Number: X20357 © Tony Harris 22/09/2016