Behind the scenes on the Surrey set of BBC’s Ghosts
- Credit: Archant
Season two of the hit show was filmed at West Horsley Place in Horsley – we took a sneak peek behind the scenes during filming
This year certainly won’t be a vintage for the quantity of TV and film productions, but the quality of those which managed to navigate lockdown is a different matter, as exemplified by the hit BBC comedy series Ghosts which, by the narrowest of margins, managed to complete filming on its much-anticipated second series and a Christmas Special before the nationwide freezeframe. And no more perfect location for this show than West Horsley Place, a property that spans centuries.
“We really couldn’t believe our luck, actually,” says Mathew ‘Thomas Thorne’ Baynton during filming. Alongside him is Jim ‘Pat’ Howick and Laurence ‘Robin’ Rickard, presenting the unlikely trinity of a Romantic poet, a genial scout master and a hairy caveman. “When it came to the reality of trying to find a location we realised that we had to find somewhere that would have stood in Tudor times, for it to have [16th century character] ‘Headless Humphrey’ right up to Edwardian people and this place was just as if it had been tailor made, as if we had conjured it. But aside from that, it is just such a lovely place to come to work every day. We did three series of Yonderland in windowless sound stages, so to actually come to a beautiful location in the middle of the countryside is just lovely.”
Matt was no stranger to the charms of West Horsley Place, having already filmed there for ITV’s Vanity Fair, an experience which inspired one of Ghosts series one storylines, when hapless proprietors of ‘Button House’ Alison and Mike welcome a film crew to their property. There are many coincidental parallels between the real history of West Horsley Place and the Ghosts plotline, not least the surprise inheritance of the property by Bamber Gascoigne six years ago. Also notable is Ghosts’ headless Tudor nobleman Humphrey and the property’s association with Walter Raleigh, whose son Carew once lived there. Humphrey is in a constant search for his head. Walter’s was allegedly kept in a red velvet bag at the house, by Carew’s widowed mother.
“Once you know the geography of the house, that also opens things up,” says Larry, speaking remarkably eloquently for a caveman. “There is a sort of recurrent morning routine that has been introduced in the show, now that Mike and Alison have got used to living with the ghosts, that takes them from their bedroom to the Tudor stairs and that becomes a feature in one of the episodes of what they have to do each morning for each of the ghosts, so they are allowed to go about their own business. The same with the layout of the gardens, which starts to come into play in a couple of episodes in the new series. So, the more that you get to know the house, the more that sort of inspires something you can do in the story.”
Along with Martha Howe-Douglas, Ben Willbond and Simon Farnaby, Larry, Jim and Matt are creators, writers and executive producers for Ghosts, drawing on a twelve-year, award-winning working relationship. The team write the scripts for each series in the summer, for filming early in the following year.
“It’s a bit like going shopping, hungry,” says Jim ruefully, who has more reason than most of his castmates to regret the winter cold, given that he wears shorts in the show. He has already determined that series three, already commissioned by the BBC, will be set entirely inside. Meanwhile, season two promises to be every bit as much as fun as the first, as Alison and Mike resign themselves to life with their phantom residents. It is a show that involves the talents of up to 80 cast and crew. The West Horsley Place set is a constant hive of activity.
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“Almost every room is either being filmed in, is about to be filmed in, has just been filmed in or has costume or lights or something like that stored in it,” says producer Matthew Mulot. “Our art department come in six weeks before we start filming and start aging everything down. Everything is as pre-dressed as possible before we start filming but then towards the end of filming, we start reinstating everything, so by the time we are filming our last scene of the last day, almost everything is back to how it was.”
West Horsley Place is still in the early stages of its ambitious restoration project and much of the interior awaits attention. The scaffolding propping up the delicate Tudor ceiling of the Geraldine room plays nicely into the frail state of Alison and Mike’s home but elsewhere the show’s talented art department have had their work cut out in ensuring that all the script demands can be catered for, on site.
“Every square inch of this building is getting used,” says producer Matthew. “Some of these rooms are a really decent size but as soon as you put eight ‘ghosts’, two living actors, a crew with a track and a dolly, lights and cameras it suddenly feels like a very small space. But it is still a joy.”
Ghosts is back on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday September 21.