How a ru­ral child­hood in­spired Macken­zie Crook’s BBC se­ries

Ac­tor, writer and di­rec­tor Macken­zie Crook re­veals how his love of na­ture in­spires his BAFTA-win­ning sit­com De­tec­torists, which sees two metal-de­tect­ing friends scour the Suf­folk coun­try­side in search of trea­sure

Countryfile Magazine - - Front Page -

Macken­zie Crook starred in the sit­com The Of­fice, the film se­ries Pi­rates of the Caribbean and the fan­tasy drama Game of Thrones. His sit­com De­tec­torists, which he writes, di­rects and stars in, first aired in 2014 and won a BAFTA for best scripted com­edy. It co-stars Toby Jones, Aimee-Ffion Ed­wards and Rachel Stir­ling For the past two sum­mers I’ve been able to in­dulge that pas­sion by writ­ing and di­rect­ing a com­edy se­ries for BBC4 filmed in the Suf­folk coun­try­side.

De­tec­torists is about a couple of friends, Lance and Andy, who hap­pen to share an ob­ses­sion for metal de­tect­ing. I don’t know if I re­alised it at the start, but as the project de­vel­oped it be­came clear that the land­scape and wildlife were as much char­ac­ters in the story as the hu­man cast.

The hobby of metal de­tect­ing, by ne­ces­sity, usu­ally hap­pens in the au­tumn and win­ter months when there are no crops in the fields. En­thu­si­asts spend cold week­ends trudg­ing up and down muddy fields, head­phones on, star­ing at the ground and swing­ing their de­tec­tors in front of them, hop­ing to find some­thing old and in­ter­est­ing. It’s a strangely lonely, med­i­ta­tive pas­time and when I started to write the first se­ries, I imag­ined it set in this cold, win­try land­scape with grey skies, mud and bit­ing winds.

HOT PROJECT

Ahead of com­mis­sion­ing a full se­ries, the BBC asked us to film a 10-minute taster of the show, which we shot in 2013 on the day Andy Mur­ray won Wim­ble­don, just about the hottest

I

grew up in a Ken­tish vil­lage, more sub­ur­ban than ru­ral but just a stone’s throw from the coun­try­side and it was here that I spent ev­ery spare minute. My dad took me on long bike rides, taught me the names of the birds and wild­flow­ers and in­spired in me a life­long pas­sion for the nat­u­ral world.

“It be­came clear that the land­scape and wildlife were as much char­ac­ters in the story as the hu­man cast,” says Macken­zie Crook of The De­tec­torists, which is filmed

in the Suf­folk coun­try­side

Crook play Toby Jones and Macken­zie CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP

en­thu­si­asts; a po­plar Lance and Andy, a pair of metal-de­tect­ing

adders in se­ries two of De­tec­torists; hawk­moth graces the screen role

stag bee­tle takes a star­ring proved elu­sive on film; but a

day of that year. The re­sult was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent look to that which I’d orig­i­nally imag­ined, lush and green, and I re­alised that I’d be a fool not to shoot in the sum­mer and take full ad­van­tage of the beau­ti­ful English coun­try­side.

It made for much more com­fort­able work­ing days and it meant that I was able to fea­ture wildlife in a way that would have been more dif­fi­cult in the cold months.

As well as the scripted scenes, we made time to cap­ture some ‘gen­eral views’: short snip­pets of some­thing in­ter­est­ing to sprin­kle through­out the episodes.

Early on in the shoot, I asked the crew to keep an eye out for wildlife that we could try and film in its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Sev­eral times a day, some­one would ap­proach me with clasped hands or with some­thing buzzing fu­ri­ously from in­side a pa­per cup, be­fore pre­sent­ing me with a cater­pil­lar or a but­ter­fly or a par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive grasshop­per.

I had a wish list of quintessen­tially Bri­tish species that I had ev­ery­one on the look­out for, among them an ad­der and a stag bee­tle. Plenty of peo­ple saw sev­eral adders while we were out in the fields but spot­ting a snake and film­ing it are very dif­fer­ent things and we never man­aged to get any footage. (At one point a boom op­er­a­tor had an ad­der slither across his feet mid­way through a take but couldn’t say any­thing for fear of ru­in­ing the shot.)

STAG­GER­ING BEAUTY

The stag bee­tle proved even more elu­sive, with not a sin­gle sight­ing dur­ing that first year.

This sum­mer we shot the sec­ond se­ries and started with some in­te­rior scenes in Rom­ford. It was at the end of the first day, sit­ting out­side a restau­rant on a busy high street, that a stag bee­tle landed, quite lit­er­ally, at my feet. At first I thought some­body had thrown a shoe at me but when the shoe reared up and waved a pair of shiny antlers, I re­alised this was an au­di­tion. I hadn’t seen one of th­ese in­cred­i­ble in­sects for years, prob­a­bly not since I was a kid. He got the part.

I im­pro­vised some overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion for him out of a wash bag and first thing next morn­ing, we set up one of our ‘tainted beauty’ shots, where we pair some­thing beau­ti­ful and nat­u­ral with some­thing ugly and man­made. So watch out for a brief glimpse, in episode three, of a stag bee­tle scur­ry­ing past a crushed Pepsi can.

I wrote a scene where my char­ac­ter, while strim­ming on a grass verge, spots a toad and car­ries it to safety. Pro­duc­tion found an an­i­mal han­dler who said he could sup­ply a toad but

“When the shoe reared up and waved a shiny pair of antlers, I re­alised this was an au­di­tion. The stag bee­tle got the part”

it wouldn’t be a com­mon toad, as he wasn’t al­lowed to keep na­tive Bri­tish species. In­stead he brought a young cane toad from South Amer­ica which looked very sim­i­lar but, to me, was ob­vi­ously not Bufo bufo.

It was small de­tails such as this that I con­cluded it was es­sen­tial to get right, be­cause if I saw a shot of a trop­i­cal toad in the English coun­try­side it would jar me out of the story.

The toad didn’t make it to the screen. We ended up film­ing a frog that one of the crew had found on a dif­fer­ent day. (Note: The cane toad had to have its own, ded­i­cated ve­hi­cle to take it to and from set.)

WASP AU­DI­TIONS

On an­other oc­ca­sion, I needed to get a shot of a wasp crawl­ing around the edge of a cup of cof­fee. Again, eas­ier writ­ten than filmed. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, the crew were less keen to spend their time try­ing to catch and tame a wasp, so even­tu­ally a cash re­ward was of­fered. That proved to be enough in­cen­tive and I soon had a se­lec­tion of keen young in­sects hop­ing for their break into act­ing. The suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cant per­formed the cup-walk beau­ti­fully and flew away to free­dom, and Me­gan the pro­duc­tion run­ner earned fifty quid. No wasps were hurt dur­ing the making of De­tec­torists and, thank­fully, no hu­mans ei­ther.

I’ve heard the wasp is do­ing an episode of Ca­su­alty.

Other beauty shots that I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of are a stun­ning pink marsh orchid with an elec­tric blue wee­vil, and a huge po­plar hawk­moth who danced bril­liantly in the head­lights of Lance’s clas­sic car.

We don’t think of the wildlife in this coun­try as be­ing par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar or ex­cit­ing but really, the di­ver­sity of habi­tats and species we have is stag­ger­ing. I’m con­stantly as­tounded by Bri­tish wildlife.

In the end, De­tec­torists is just a sit­com, but it is also my love song to the English coun­try­side – and per­haps will re­mind view­ers that they love it, too.

“I’m proud of a huge po­plar hawk­moth who danced bril­liantly in the head­lights of Lance’s clas­sic car”

TV gem Sea­son two of

De­tec­torists be­gins at 10pm on 29 Oc­to­ber

The sec­ond se­ries of De­tec­torists be­gins at 10pm on 29 Oc­to­ber on BBC4.

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