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When Miss Marple came to Polesden Lacey ~ filming at the National Trust

PUBLISHED: 10:22 21 September 2012 | UPDATED: 06:08 15 December 2014

Polesden Lacey by John Miller

Polesden Lacey by John Miller

A visit to Polesden Lacey, near Dorking, last winter may have resulted in a glimpse of actresses Geraldine McEwan and Martine McCutcheon stomping through the mud in period costume. Janet Harmer reports on the filming of one of ITV's premier dramas for this autumn

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2007 

***

Anyone who braved the wind and the rain that seemed to permanently engulf Polesden Lacey in the weeks leading up to Christmas last year would have stumbled upon a hive of activity.

A team of 70 film crew and 18 actors and actresses descended upon the Regency house over a four week period from mid-November to mid-December, to film an Agatha Christie tale of intrigue and murder - one of four new ITV productions in the Miss Marple series.

Polesden Lacey was transformed into an opulent 1950s London hotel for the filming of At Bertram's Hotel, which is due to be screened on ITV1 in mid September - creating great excitement for the house's permanent staff and team of 20 volunteers per day who were called in to help out.

"We have facilitated a lot of filming in the past, but this was by far the largest project that has been undertaken during my time here," says house manager Paul Dearn, who arrived at Polesden Lacey as house steward in 1994, before being promoted to his present position six years ago. "Though the outside of the house wasn't used, many of the rooms inside were completely transformed."

Most of the public areas on the ground floor were used during the shoot, with much of the action taking place in the main hall, which doubled as the foyer of the luxurious Bertram's Hotel. A hand-made bespoke lobby desk, made in the same wood and with the same detailing as the panelling on the walls, was fitted between the two main pillars of the hall, which was further enhanced with ornate gilt lamps and period paintings.

Elsewhere, the dining room was transformed into a morning room with comfortable sofas and side tables replacing the dining table; the gold room was used as a ballroom; and the study and library were used for filming minor scenes as well as doubling up as the green room. The billiard room was also used for the police investigation scenes.

With the original lift in the house proving to be too small for filming, an exact replica - large enough to accommodate actors, film crew and lights - was built in an out-building on the 1,400 acre estate.

"We were very aware of the fantastic opportunity the film was for Polesden Lacey, but we had to balance that with the conservation and security of the house," says Paul, who had to ensure that the appalling weather at the time of the filming did not damage the interior.

"The excessive rain, combined with a large number of people working in tight spaces, was a major concern. We had to ensure everybody wiped their feet and all equipment was dried before coming inside, otherwise dirt and water could easily have been transferred to precious furniture, fabrics and wall coverings. Luckily, the only damage was limited to the odd knick in the woodwork."

With the safety of the house always paramount, a 'Hot Works Permit' had to be applied for from the National Trust's regional director to allow for the smoking of a herbal cigarette inside the property during filming and the use of high wattage film lights. "I also had to stay around for one hour after the lights were turned off each night to allow them to cool down and ensure there was no risk to the property," adds Paul.

Although a number of central London hotels were considered for the film, together with several other country houses, Polesden Lacey was eventually chosen because it had the correct configuration of rooms, was large enough to accommodate an extensive film crew and provided the right look.

Location manager Tim Maw explains that Bertram's Hotel was depicted by the writer, Agatha Christie, as a sumptuous and lavish venue and this was something that could be achieved at Polesden Lacey.

"We dressed the location with furniture that we brought in, but the basis of what we wanted was already in place," says Tim. "It proved to be quite a challenging shoot because of having to comply with the National Trust's stringent conservation regulations and the horrific weather.

"We had particular difficulties with a huge screen, measuring 30 feet by 15 feet, which was positioned outside the main entrance, onto which a digitally enhanced scene of London was screened. High winds whipping across the valley gave us one or two stressful nights when we wondered whether it would still be there the next day."

While the majority of the interior scenes were shot at Polesden, exterior scenes were filmed in Stratford Place in London's West End, where the Oriental Club doubled as the exterior of Bertram's Hotel. The palm court scene was filmed at Osterley Park in Isleworth, Lacey was eventually chosen because it had the correct configuration of rooms, was large enough to accommodate an extensive film crew and provided the right look.

Location manager Tim Maw explains that Bertram's Hotel was depicted by the writer, Agatha Christie, as a sumptuous and lavish venue and this was something that could be achieved at Polesden Lacey.

"We dressed the location with furniture that we brought in, but the basis of what we wanted was already in place," says Tim. "It proved to be quite a challenging shoot though because of having to comply with the National Trust's stringent conservation regulations and the horrific weather.

"We had particular difficulties with a huge screen, measuring 30 feet by 15 feet, which was positioned outside the main entrance, onto which a digitally enhanced scene of London was screened. High winds whipping across the valley gave us one or two stressful nights when we wondered whether it would still be there the next day."

While the majority of the interior scenes were shot at Polesden Lacey, exterior scenes were filmed in Stratford Place in London's West End, where the Oriental Club doubled as the exterior of Bertram's Hotel. The palm court scene was filmed at Osterley Park in Isleworth, Middlesex, and a rooftop sequence was shot at Claremont Fan Court School in Esher.

"It was very full on, hard work - from 7am to 8.30pm - every day that the film crew were here," says Paul. "We had to maintain vigilance at all times.

"But it was something we thoroughly enjoyed and would happily do again - we just hope the weather will be better next time."

The National Trust is always pleased to facilitate filming at their properties - so long as it doesn't interfere with visitors' enjoyment, hence the timing of the shoot of At Bertram's Hotel during the off-peak season when the house was closed and only the grounds were open to the public. As well as providing a welcome boost to the National Trust's income, filming can also swell visitor numbers. "Generally, the bigger the show, the bigger the increase in the number of visitors," says Lauren Taylor of the National Trust Film Unit.

Since the filming of At Bertram's Hotel was completed, viewings from other location managers have already taken place at Polesden Lacey - one of the most visited National Trust properties in the UK last year. Watch this space for which actor or actress you are most likely to bump into next...

  • Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, near Dorking, Surrey RH5 6BD: 01372 458203

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