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On set in Hayfield with the new series of BBC's The Village

PUBLISHED: 11:32 09 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:50 24 December 2014

John, Grace, Mary and Bert Middleton stroll down Kinder Road past the transformed 'Hankins' Photos: BBC/Company Pictures/Stuart Wood

John, Grace, Mary and Bert Middleton stroll down Kinder Road past the transformed 'Hankins' Photos: BBC/Company Pictures/Stuart Wood

BBC/Company Pictures/Stuart Wood

As BBC's The Village returns to our screens Andrew Griffiths, who visited Hayfield during filming, takes a look at what's in store

Friends celebrate Bert's success: Gilbert Hankin (Andrew Gower), Gerrard Eyre (Matt Stokoe) and Bert Middleton (Tom Varey)  Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence CendrowiczFriends celebrate Bert's success: Gilbert Hankin (Andrew Gower), Gerrard Eyre (Matt Stokoe) and Bert Middleton (Tom Varey) Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz

The BBC TV series ‘The Village’ returned to our screens on 10th August. Filmed on location in Derbyshire, The Village is an ambitious tale that attempts to tell the story of key events in 20th century history as they affect one small Derbyshire village.

It is told through the eyes of the main character Bert Middleton as he grows up – a young man who never leaves his tiny Derbyshire village but is rather bemused to see the world changing around him.

The main star is Maxine Peake, who is rapidly becoming a national treasure at a far younger age than she has any right to expect. Maxine plays Grace, Bert’s Mum. Alongside her, John Simm plays Bert’s haunted Dad who struggles to keep the farm going.

‘Struggle’ is the key word here. While the first series set during the Great War was generally received well by the critics for its dark depiction of early 20th century working class rural life, rumblings from viewers picked up on social media thought it – well – a little bit depressing. Sensitive to this, the production team has brought in lots of new cast members for the second series which is set in the 1920s. There is going to be a whole lot of lovin’ and losin’ and fightin’ going on, which should liven things up a bit. With luck they can all make the most of this youthful exuberance and have a jolly good time doing the Charleston before the Great Depression kicks in and really gives them something to moan about.

Grace Middleton (Maxine Peake), Bert Middleton (Tom Varey) and John Middleton (John Sim)  Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence CendrowiczGrace Middleton (Maxine Peake), Bert Middleton (Tom Varey) and John Middleton (John Sim) Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz

The Village is filmed in and around Hayfield, Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith and for the second series, Lyme Park has been added to the list of locations. The first series was filmed during one of the wettest Peak District autumns on record, and some thought this contributed to the overall downbeat mood. Well a wet weekend in the Peaks can be like that.

The second series though sought out the spring sun and was filmed between April and July this year. Hopefully this will have put a smile on their faces, a bounce in their step, and a little bit of fun into the storyline. As one old Hayfield local said to me: ‘Life was hard back then, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.’ Quite. To heck with poverty, toss another pea in the soup and let’s party!

‘The farm’s taken a bit of a turn upwards and things have picked up,’ says Maxine Peake, talking about her character Grace. ‘Electricity has come in and there are a few little gadgets. We get a milking machine so new technology is affecting people’s lives and the farm seems to pick up.’

It is how the broad brush strokes of social change affect the minutiae of village life that gives this series its heart. And Grace has political ambitions which are now beginning to stir.

Bert Middleton tries his luck in the boxing ring  Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence CendrowiczBert Middleton tries his luck in the boxing ring Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz

‘Grace finds her voice in this series, and it was a joy to play someone working through a political awakening,’ says Maxine. ‘I feel it is important to play characters with something to say about life or politics.’

In this series, son Bert is now a young man, and played by newcomer Tom Varey, who is fresh out of drama school and has the kind of boyish good looks which are no doubt set to send the nation’s young female hearts a-flutter.

‘What an extraordinary actor and an exceptional young man,’ says Maxine of new boy Tom. ‘He has a wonderful openness coupled with a rare honesty that made working with him an absolute joy. I think people will warm to him and fall in love with Bert and his zest for life.’

Twenty-one-year-old Bert’s ‘zest for life’ can sometimes make him seem a little bit hot-headed.

Anthony Flanagan plays Arnold Hankin Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Stuart WoodAnthony Flanagan plays Arnold Hankin Photo: BBC/Company Pictures/Stuart Wood

‘Bert goes on a real journey and certainly gets into a few scraps along the way,’ says Tom, reflecting on his first, big professional role. ‘He is uncertain of who to trust, who to love and what to believe in.’

Tom, who had to be given a day off filming so he could go back and complete his graduation from RADA, was on a seriously steep learning curve during the making of the series. On top of everything else, he had to learn to box for the fairground boxing scene in the first episode, and was taught the ropes by New Mills’ very own fight choreographer, Jon Santry of New Mills Martial Arts.

Jon was impressed by how hard Tom trained for the boxing scenes, and Tom loved the filming on the cricket pitch at Hayfield: ‘We had over 100 supporting cast all roaring and involved in the scene which gave it all such an adrenaline rush – and made me feel like Rocky!’ says Tom. And New Mills’ Jon Santry was on screen in his first professional acting role, playing the fairground boxing referee.

Writer Peter Moffat considers it to be a ‘great privilege’ to work on The Village. To write the series, he had to research subjects as diverse as the arrival of the motor car, fairground boxing, the bill to ban lesbianism, 1920s jazz and the arrival of the first vacuum cleaners. Why not have some fun trying to come up with a fantasy soap opera storyline from that list, and see how it matches up to Peter’s own?

Shop owners Maureen and JohnShop owners Maureen and John

But the writer’s lot is not always a lonely one – Moffat had the assistance of the former agricultural advisor from Radio 4’s long-running rural soap The Archers to make sure the farming detail rang true.

‘I now know more about milking cows than I know about almost anything else in life!’ says Peter.

The writer reveals that one of the major themes of the second series is the land and what it means to the people who live and work on it. ‘Sitting in Rosie’s Tea Shop in Hayfield listening to the ramblers, cyclists, fell runners and local people, one gets such a strong sense of how the great beauty, power and strength of this landscape shapes the character of the people and the way they think,’ he says.

‘The heartbreakingly beautiful countryside is the 29th character in The Village and arguably it’s the biggest role.

‘The more time I spend up in Edale and around Hayfield and Glossop the more I love this rugged, beautiful, honest part of England and the more I understand how passionately people felt about it then and how much they care about it now.’

Hankin’s Shop

I arrived in Hayfield and asked a couple of passers-by if they knew the whereabouts of Derbyshire’s the Greengrocers. ‘It’s up there,’ said one, pointing to what turned out to be Kinder Road. ‘It’s the one with the dead animals hanging outside.’

I thought this an odd point of reference for a greengrocers, but dismissed it until following their directions I came across a shop with fruit and vegetables outside – and game hanging beside the door. And the sign above the shop said ‘Hankins’, not ‘Derbyshire’.

If fact can be stranger than fiction, then fiction can take hold of it, play with it, then give it back, having made it stranger still. Anybody familiar with The Village will recognise this small greengrocers in Hayfield as Hankins general stores, used in the latest promotional material for the series. The dead rabbits, pheasants and hares are fake by the way – a product of the BBC props department.

In what remains of real life, the shop is owned by brother and sister John Derbyshire and Maureen Barlow. Their family business has been used in The Village for the last two years, and they are signed up for another six.

‘They have moved on now from 1914 to the 1920s, so they have altered it a bit,’ Maureen tells me. ‘Now Mr Hankin has made a bit of money, selling his shoes I think. He sold a lot of shoes to the army, didn’t he?’

‘Aye,’ nods her brother, ‘a shoe factory.’

‘So I think he’s done well. He’s got an office now!’

Maureen points next door, to the rooms where their father used to live when he first opened the shop in 1956. This is where the production team built their fictional shop for filming, next to the real shop. And Mr Hankin’s new office.

‘They came last year and I said well you’ve got an open book,’ says Maureen, ‘Do whatever you want because we are going to do it up eventually.’

Did you get to meet many of the actors, I ask? ‘Oh did I!’ says Maureen, then reaches for a wallet of photographs and scatters them over the counter.

‘Maxine Peake? Oh, she was lovely. Not one of the actors said no to having a photo taken.’

As we look at the snaps of the beaming Maureen beside the various actresses in the show, John tells me that when they were filming outside, the production team would ask them to turn out the lights in their shop.

‘And that is when the actors would come in, and they had to fix their microphones, and that’s when I nabbed them!’ Maureen says gleefully, and I pictured her brandishing her camera with the satisfaction of the hunter.

‘I’ve got the autographs of all the stars, and we’re going to raffle it off,’ continues Maureen. ‘Half the money is going to Air Ambulance and half to Kinder Rescue.’

For all those interested, the raffle will take place at Hayfield Sheepdog Trials on 21st September.

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