Gazette man tries his hand at being a sitcom extra

FILMING BREAK ... Gazette reporter Paul Clifford, left, with Hebburn star Jason Cook.
FILMING BREAK ... Gazette reporter Paul Clifford, left, with Hebburn star Jason Cook.

A SOUTH Tyneside town will be hitting the small screen later this year when new sitcom Hebburn airs on BBC2.

The six-part series was being filmed in the town last week where its writer, comedian Jason Cook, grew up.

EXTRA ... Gazette crime reporter Paul Clifford talks with Hebburn star Jason Cook. Paul is going to be an extra in new sitcom.

EXTRA ... Gazette crime reporter Paul Clifford talks with Hebburn star Jason Cook. Paul is going to be an extra in new sitcom.

And Cook invited Gazette reporter PAUL CLIFFORD along for the day to be an extra in the show and to find out what life is like behind the scenes.

MODERN television is full of people desperate for a shot at fame.

The channels are awash with wannabes on talent contests, game shows and reality shows, whose ambition is to be on television and to be famous.

While it might be easy for me to snipe at those that unashamedly admit fame is their only goal – I can’t say I wouldn’t take the chance.

This week I thought my luck was in.

A BBC2 sitcom is filming in the borough and its writer is Hebburn stand-up comedian Jason Cook.

Inspired by his experiences growing up in the town before he moved to Manchester, where he now lives, it is being produced by respected company Baby Cow, the team behind The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey.

Cook invited the Gazette to Friday’s shoot, the final day in the borough before the project is finished in Manchester and after a few requests, said I could be an extra.

But anyone who thinks that television is all glitz and glamour is wrong. The first thing to note is the days are long.

I got to the show’s base at Hebburn’s High Lane Social Club at 8am and was the last to arrive. And the crew were talking about finishing for the day at 9pm, making all those hours I spend at the Gazette pale in comparison.

Brilliant

“You’ll be standing around all day,” said everyone that I was introduced to.

The second thing that struck me was that until the director shouts “action”, there really isn’t very much of it.

A crew of 40 people were on location – in Toner Avenue, Mountbatten Avenue and Kelly Road around the Hebburn Legion Club and even while rehearsals are taking place and scenes are being filmed, at least half don’t seem to be doing much.

That’s not to say they aren’t necessary of course. The crew is made up of valuable people like prop, make-up and wardrobe folk as well as the technical crew, which includes electricians, engineers and sound men.

But before heading out to the streets, I spoke to the programme’s producer, Gill Isles, about how they were finding South Tyneside.

She said: “The reaction of everyone has been brilliant. We’ve not had any trouble whatsoever, even when we’ve closed off people’s streets or the shopping centre.

“Most people are interested in what we’re doing and are excited something is being filmed in their town.”

I was certainly excited, especially as Gill said I was primed to be in two scenes – one driving a car behind the show’s stars as they drive into Hebburn and then walking past a conversation between a few of the characters.

Heavyweight roles indeed. While the shots were being set up and the stars rehearsed, I spoke to Cook about the project.

As well as writing it, he is starring alongside his friends and fellow stand-up comedians, South Shields’s Chris Ramsey and Newcastle’s Steffan Peddie, in the six-part series.

And while that trio might not have a background in acting or be familiar faces to television audiences, the show will also star Vic Reeves, Kimberley Nixon of Channel 4’s Fresh Meat and North East actress Gina McKee, which Cook thinks will give the show some gravitas.

He said: “So far it has gone even better than I thought it would and it’s great to see it all coming together.

“The cast is brilliant. As a comedian it is a dream to have Vic Reeves on board, and while he’s been brilliant all week, I don’t think I was the only one worried about what he thought.

“But then he Tweeted that he thought it was really good and I think everyone was at ease.

“And to have an actress like Gina McKee on board is fantastic, she’s a real heavyweight.”

The Tweet Cook is referring to came on Thursday night, after funnyman Reeves finished recording his final scenes for the week.

He took to the social network site to write: “Finished first week of Hebburn. Top drawer drama. Really well written. Knockout actors. A gas to play. Smashing. Super.”

After my chat with Cook was over, I realised I’d been on set for nearly three hours and my acting skills had not been tested.

More importantly, the driving scene was over and my car hadn’t left the car park.

One shot at fame was gone, but there was still the “walking scene” to go. And after another, very cold, hour, it was time – this was a scene with Cook in himself, I was set to walk by while he spoke to a couple on a car.

The cast’s rehearsals were done and filming was about to start when I got a call from the Gazette newsdesk saying I was needed back at work. Fame and fortune and my dramatic debut would have to wait.

Twitter: @shieldsgazette