Filming Downton….well sort of!

I recently had the opportunity of filming at the fantastic National Trust property, Erddig Hall, for the ITV Wales Coast & Country programme.

National Trust property Erddig Hall
National Trust property, Erddig Hall

This stunning 18th century country manor house near Wrexham is often compared by its visitors to that most loved of TV programmes, Downton Abbey. And it comes down to the remarkable relationship that existed between the upstairs and the downstairs.

And so, of course, that had to be the focus for the piece I was producing. It is to become a six minute item for the programme, presented by Ruth Wignall (@ruthwignall) and filmed by North Wales ITV cameraman, Mark Doleman.

The house holds a stunning collection of treasures – in fact one of the largest ever owned by the National Trust.

The Yorke family, who lived there for 240 years, were hoarders. And it shows! But of course that only makes it a fantastic location for filming – so many delicate treasures and interesting curiosities to focus on. 

National Trust property Erddig Hall
Filming inside Erddig Hall, Wrexham

Most members of the Yorke family were also tee total and vegetarian. It doesn’t sound far fetched in our day and age but this is the Victorian period!

What was really fascinating about the Yorkes though was this relationship they held with their domestic staff – encompassed in the fact that they often had portraits commissioned of their servants and each squire to own Erddig often wrote poems about them. The art works line the walls of the servants hall and passage. The Yorkes couldn’t afford to pay their staff very well, so instead they chose to treat them well – often providing better food and accommodation; and this attitude of gratitude. They would even allow them to enjoy the gardens and watch the sunset on occasions! A sackable offence in most other houses of the time.

But what was really fun during the shoot was linking this to Downton Abbey. And we did it by recreating the opening titles for the start of our programme piece.

As TV producers, we’ve recently had some good news concerning this style of filming. New laws have come into force when it comes to allowing the parody of copyright works. This means we can film something like this without fear – as long as we aren’t damaging the reputation, or defaming the subject. Which in the case of Downton Abbey, of course, you would never do – it would be like criticising a national treasure!

Check it out on Coast & Country – ITV Wales, 8pm, Friday 7 November 2014 

Filming The Dyfi Osprey Project

As a freelance director currently working for the ITV Wales’ Coast & Country team, I do feel pretty smug with the fantastic filming opportunities I am given. Travelling to some of the most inspiring locations around Wales isn’t too much of a chore. But one of the highlights for me, and my film crew has to be the day we paid a visit to Cors Dyfi.

Our production team at the Dyfi Osprey Project
Our production team at the Dyfi Osprey Project

It’s a stunning nature reserve on the Dyfi Estuary near Machynlleth, run by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. But, what’s most fascinating about this reserve, is it’s become the nesting ground to two of the most magnificent birds I’ve ever seen.

Ospreys, Monty and Glesni, have recently flown 3,000 miles back from Western Africa where they spent the winter. It’s their second summer here together and the Dyfi Osprey Project at Cors Dyfi was waiting with baited breath for their return – along with hundreds of people glued to their online live streaming feed and Facebook page.

As a crew we stayed overnight in Machynlleth the night before, visiting a local pub to debate, over steak and chips, what it is that makes these birds so fascinating. The next day the sun was out, despite the rain warnings. It had to be a sign for a good day’s filming, and we weren’t disappointed.

The nature reserve was a dream to film at – everywhere you turned there was a beautiful shot – and that was even before we reached the nest.

For the last few weeks I had been secretly glued to the Dyfi Osprey Project live streaming website – telling myself it was work and the boss wouldn’t mind! But seeing the birds in real life was a dream come true. It’s their eyes that get me – the mesmerising bright yellow hue (or orange in the case of Monty!). Always alert, watching, unaware of the huge number of eyes on them.

A brand new 360 degree observatory has been built this year and it means the nest is just 200 metres away. But even that short distance demanded a change of lens. Our cameraman switched to the “long lens” and the double up function on the camera. This means the camera becomes very sensitive to movement but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the small children to stop jumping around with glee!

We were treated to three different interviewees from the Wildlife Trust, Janine, Alwyn and Kim, whose passion for the ospreys and the reserve was infectious. You could see why they loved their jobs so much. They told us all about the, somewhat dramatic, return of Monty and Glesni this year. It sounded like a soap opera to us, and being ITV we should know!

Our presenter, Andrew Price, was enthralled and kept it coming with the questions. I just wish we had the space to feature them all. Monty and Glesni could fill their own hour long special.

As a programme we wanted to share this amazing journey with our viewers who might not have had a chance to hear about Monty and Glesni yet. We hope you catch the bug too!

You can watch the programme featuring the Dyfi Osprey Project by clicking here.