Soaps just got serious. Last night’s multiple pile-up in Emmerdale was one of the most shocking soap stunts I have ever seen. And as for the whole Ashley story. That was a stunning script and John Middleton gave a most brilliant, subtle yet searingly honest portrayal of a man in the grip of dementia. I think we can safely say it was a triumph.
As promised, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what went on behind the scenes as I was lucky enough to be at Longcross Studios in Surrey when they filmed the crash scenes.
The ‘road’ was a track and the Emmerdale team painted on markings, they added some signage and that footbridge that scary Emma pushed James off, was constructed by the design department who will literally turn their hand to anything.
I dread to think of the dent in the budget as I spoke to the owner of the company who supplied all the cars and he had shipped in dozens. You don’t just buy a car, film it and crash it – it’s more complicated than that.
There is a ’hero’ car, which is driven by the actors for close up shots. Then ‘ringers’ are used for the crash scenes. The petrol tanks are removed as the only fires they want on set, are controlled ones that they’ve started themselves. The battery is also taken out for safety reasons.
The collisions were done by a stunt driver called Lloyd Bass who works on the James Bond movies.
I saw several crashes, but the most spectacular was Paddy’s vehicle, which flipped onto its roof. Dominic Brunt and Zoe Hentry who play the couple, where nowhere near it at the time. They were watching the drama unfold with me, huddled in amongst the trees on a raised bank.
Stunt driver Lloyd, was dressed as Paddy, only in real-life he looks nothing like him. Beside him in the passenger seat was a dummy dressed in Rhona’s clothes. Zoe Henry was not amused when she first laid eyes on her double as it was a ‘child’ model and with her clothes on, it looked like some sort of scary pygmy doll.
As we sat amongst the trees, my stomach did somersaults as director Duncan Foster called for the smoke and fog machines. Once the right amount of fog had been wafted into place, there was no time to spare as it dissipates quickly.
Duncan shouted ‘Action!’ and we could hear the car speeding towards us, but there was a problem with the fog machine so they started again.
Second time around, Lloyd came hurtling round the corner and stopped just short of a pipe ramp – a small ramp used to flip the car.
When it came to the actual take, the tension was palpable. Lloyd revved up the car, it came tearing round the bend, onto the ramp and then it flipped and flew through the air upside down before landing with a sickening thud on its roof.
The noise of breaking glass and twisting metal was ghastly. My heart was doing ten to the dozen, my throat was dry and I honestly thought I might be sick. Then, there was all pervading silence. Why wasn’t anyone moving? Was the stunt driver dead? Could anyone survive that?
An age seemed to pass before Lloyd clambered out of the car and walked away, as causally as you would if you’d just stepped off a bus.
I caught up with him afterwards as he grabbed a tea break.
‘Were you scared?’ I asked, to which he replied that if he was, he’d be in the wrong job. He explained that there is always an adrenaline rush and that the most ‘relaxing’ part of the stunt, is the moment when the car flips and everything goes very quiet.
He wore a five-point seat belt and was housed in a safety cage – unlike the cast members who had to strap themselves into a huge gyroscope in the studio to be spun around as if they were in a washing machine.
Zoe Henry explains: ‘The worst thing about it was, I had watched John do it twice and he was screaming his head off which made me feel really emotional. When they strapped me in I was really nervous.’
Dominic Brunt who plays Paddy adds: ‘And then they get a bucket load of glass and debris, chuck it at you and say ‘Right, don’t breathe in the glass!’ so the screaming was real.’
From the reaction on Twitter last night, all the effort was worth it as viewers were well and truly wowed. Tonight comes the aftermath when we find out whose funeral we’ve seen glimpses of. Tune in because this one just gets better.
I predict more awards are in the offing!
NB No chickens were harmed in the making of last night’s episode. When the chicken truck crashed, the birds inside were made of rubber.