French Film Crew Visits Leigh in July 2014

A French TV Documentary about Leigh

People may have wondered about a French camera crew wandering around the middle of the village at the end of July – guided by a very bad French speaking Chris Rowley. Let me explain.

Ten days earlier I had received a rather generalized email to the Historical Society saying that this (large) French TV firm was making a series of 70 documentaries all over Europe and the Mediterranean about history and landscape – how man had changed geography.  They wondered whether Leigh might be suitable to be a typical Wealden village.  I assumed they meant the Jutish oak forests becoming the mechanized fields of the Bastables; but they did mention Devey and architecture – who had been mentioned to them by a professor at Sussex University.

The producer/writer duly arrived to inspect the village – and, I suspect, me – and said “yes: they would come and film”.  What they did not say was they were coming for two days, one of which was a Saturday in three days time plus the following Tuesday.

I prepared a list of things which I thought they might well want to shoot and rang up or took notes to thirty people to ask for their agreement if the French DID want to film them.

I then found that on the Saturday they were going to bring their own ‘drone’.  Who was it going to target, I wondered – but in reality I was keen to see what it looked like and what it could do).  At this stage, I realized there was both a wedding and a cricket match available for the drone to film – as well as wide-angled shots of the village.

When the film crew arrived, the drone turned out to be amazing.  It fitted into a smallish suitcase and then opened out into a 3½ foot spider with small propellers on its eight legs.  The remotely controlled camera was operated by the main director/cameraman who had a pilot beside him to guide the drone round the sky.  It can go from ground level to 1500 feet (a speck in the sky) in a few seconds.

The wedding – having been warned by Mike Doggett – took to being dive bombed and hovered over bravely and enthusiastically (thank you Emma and Lee); and the cricket club, having been warned by Martin Parfitt, their Secretary, were amazing in putting up with the giant spider repeatedly zooming round and following the ball down the pitch.  (My apologies to the batsman who was out but Martin said it didn’t matter – it was only his son: perhaps he will get into Wisden under ‘the most unusual dismissal of the year’ category).  The drone then moved to Barbara Skinner’s to show an oast house; and we then went on to a meadow which has not been ploughed for at least 700 years.

The Tuesday – when I expected the crew to go to Hall Place and the Gardens (looking, as ever, wonderful under Tim Bance’s guardianship), to the beautiful farm houses in the village, and so on – was largely spent on and around the Green, getting information and interviews about the architecture around the Green and in the High Street – when were the houses built and why? did the houses have gardens? why and when did Hall Place sell the houses? and so on – with about six to ten takes for each question as I got it wrong or a lorry went past.  Joyce and Roger Field’s garden featured largely as a rather noisy background.

They finished up asking about cricket and ‘as a joke’ I was asked to teach their absolutely charming reporter, Raphael Hitier, how to play.  (As my knees were sore and I had not bowled for over sixty years I shudder to think what it will look like).

They then departed to start on their next two programmes – one about Great Dixter and one about allotments ‘for poor people’ in Dartford.  (Sorry Arthur Lewis and Colin S-B: our allotments were thought ‘too posh’ – the producer even knew what Posh stood for!)

If we do get a programme in the series, it will not go out until next February/March/April but we will be told well in advance.  There will be a French and a German version (not an English one) and it will be transmitted on ARTE which is, apparently, a channel on SKY.  But I will be given a DVD and told the transmission date nearer the time.

Please forgive me in advance for all the things that I got somewhat wrong.  And my apologies to all the people who kindly stood by, only to see no French film crew.

Chris Rowley – September 2014