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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 18 - December 1973
11 Harrow House
11 Harrow House - Starring James Mason and Featuring Quainton - Anthea Turner
Quite unexpectedly the water tower has paid for itself! Twentieth Century Fox asked if they could do some filming at Quainton and turned up at noon on Wednesday 19th September with a supporting crew of electricians, stage hands, make-up experts and every category of assistant.
The down yard was crammed with trailers, lorries, vans and cars. The up yard had a mobile kitchen parked in the station forecourt, a double decker bus (used as a dining room) in the cattle dock and yet more cars. People were everywhere!
An astonished BR lorry arrived in the up yard during the afternoon and departed hastily. The scene to be shot was about two thieves (a man and a girl) who had stolen some industrial diamonds and were mixing them with cement in the back of a lorry- hence the use of the water tower. You will naturally be asking "Why are they mixing them with cement?" and I'm afraid that for the answer you will have to see the film called "11 Harrow House". All I could gather was that it will be a thriller and that somehow the thieves have the last laugh on the chap from whom they stole the diamonds.
Anyhow, to return to the great day, after three men had packed the gaps between the tracks with sleepers, other odd bits of timber and some cinders, a large yellow lorry covered with a tarpaulin supported on a wooden frame, was backed into position under the arm of the water tower.
The camera man and several other people examined the lorry and water tower from all angles. "Can we move this engine a bit?" someone asked, pointing to the Pannier. I explained that sixteen hours notice was a bit on the short side and I had, most unfortunately, not had time to get the keys for the cabs of any of the engines, and their hand brakes were hard on. "Not to worry" I was assured, "We'll think of something!" and they stood in a group by Del's Peckett and talked about the problems they had had at other locations.
The Director arrived and prowled round the lorry. He was an American and reminded me of a solemn Groucho Marx, with bushy hair. He also smoked a large cigar. "You mean NONE of these engines will move?" I heard him ask an assistant. The situation was explained to him. "Ah," he said looking around him with a sad 'God forsaken place' expression on his face.
The problem of where to site the camera occupied everyone, and someone suggested the roof of the Depot Box van just as Dick and I said together, "What about an aerial view from the top of the water tower?" The Box Van was chosen and I was given a tired look by the Director. Someone produced a ladder from one of the lorries and the Director and camera man, followed by five assistants, went up onto the van roof. "This is it", said the Director, firmly and with noticeable relief and he sat down at the front end with his legs dangling over the edge. I nudged the man standing next to me, I think he was the assistant producer (or something) "Do you really have to have seven people on that roof? It would be terrible if it caved in and they all broke their legs". After a short discussion four assistants climbed down.
Meanwhile Dick, who by pure chance happened to be camping at Quainton in order to do some work on the Beattie, was explaining to an assistant the art of pulling the chain to get the tower to disgorge its contents. Finally he decided that, in order not to lose too much water each time, it would be as well to wedge some wood under the arm at the top. The chain then could not be pulled very far. It worked but there was more of a delay than usual before the water flowed.
The Director watched in an unenthusiastic way; of course he could not be expected to understand the finer points of a Metropolitan water tower. Finally, he stood up and said to the camera man "I want you to pan round from here to there." and he swept his arm through at least a third of a circle. I looked up, Holy smoke!, three engine chimneys could be in that shot and they were all covered. "Dick" I squeaked "The chimneys." That alerted several people and a man came running along with a pair of steps and a hammer. He leant the steps carefully against No. 3 and climbed up to remove the metal plate. He did the same to the pannier while someone else unwrapped the polythene from Coventry's chimney!
I looked carefully at No. 3. She was right beside the water tower and would, I hoped, show clearly in the film. Plastic cups covered the lubricators for the axle boxes and a bucket hung from the footframing! Quickly the cups were swapped for two covers from the Beattie and the bucket was hidden behind the engine. There is more to filming than one would imagine and I took another look round. Some sacks and rags were stuffed out of sight and the cover removed from Del's engine. Dick and I agreed that it seemed alright now.
A run through was done, which seemed satisfactory and the "diamonds" (large pieces of glass) were scattered over the concrete in the back of the lorry. The "concrete" was Fuller's earth and sawdust, or the drain for the water tower would have been permanently blocked. A generator started up and a huge lamp on wheels (called a brute!) was pushed, heaved and finally carried into position and switched on. Reflectors were positioned by Coventry No. 1 and the water tower was given a quick test. Everything was ready.
The sun, which had been hidden up till now, made a sudden rather watery appearance and I thought, in my ignorance, that now we would see some action. I was quite wrong. This was supposed to be in the dead of night, there were filters on the camera and we would have to wait for the sun to go in. We waited and chatted and were regaled with very funny stories of awful continuity mistakes - in other people's films! Suddenly I was asked "Why do you preserve these engines?" Luckily at that moment the sun went in and everyone was spared a lengthy monologue!
The "thieves" arrived and the young man (Chuck Conners) climbed up onto the back of the lorry. The Director explained what expression he should wear. This caused a short discussion between three people and the Director shrugged his shoulders and sat down again.
"Quiet please, absolute quiet, shooting" said the loudhailer. "Action!" .. the camera rolled, the clapper board clapped, the chain was pulled and the water was even slower in gushing. "CUT! .. . if it is so difficult to get water from one of these things" said the Director in a tired patient voice, waving a scornful hand in the direction of the tower, "why have they chosen THIS place?" "It wouldn't be difficult really" I said, leaping to the defence of our beautiful water tower, "but we've had to fix it so that you don't get too much water each time the chain is pulled, or we'd run out of water before you finished filming. We can only fill it with a hose pipe at present." He sighed and said "OK. Let's do it again" and several more shots were taken.
The "thief" had now hit on the desired expression and allowed a look of triumph mingled with pleasure to flit across his face. "CUT!" The Director climbed down from the Box Van roof and the camera was moved to the front of the lorry.
This time Chuck Conners grinned and shook his fist at the cab where his girlfriend would be standing. The water was still gushing happily from the tower but by now it must be nearly empty. I hoped it wouldn't run out.
After a few discussions the lorry was moved forward to the foot of the platform so that the camera could be placed at the tail board. The girl (Candice Bergman) could now be filmed pretending she was watching the water gushing over the cement. With a slightly amused look on her face she looked down at the cement then up at the camera several times. "O.K. - Cut-" and that was it. It was all over. "Does this happen often?" asked a bemused member of the public, who had wandered in to see what was going on.
The yellow lorry tipped itself a bit and water poured out. The generator was stopped and the lamp humped back to its lorry. Everyone was dashing about tidying up the site. The covers went back on the chimneys and the plastic cups onto the lubricators. John Mortham arrived to collect some things from his engine and thought he had come to the wrong place! Several people said they would come on a steaming Sunday to see what we got up to. Slowly the yard emptied and only Dick and I remained. It was 6 o'clock.
"Of course they are all quite mad" said Dick, "I thought I'd die laughing!" "I know", I said, "they've been here for 6 hours for about one minute of action in the film!" Then I thought of the woman in charge of continuity who couldn't understand anyone wanting to come up every weekend to such a dirty place! And the man who wanted to know why we were preserving steam engines.
I looked at Dick, we were both surprisingly dirty, "You know" I said "I'm sure they thought us equally mad!"
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 21 October 2017