WE were plastered in make-up to look pasty, pale and sickly… those haircuts were so severe it was like being sheep sheared… we were told to scream ‘die, I hate you, death’… sitting in the front we could feel the sheer force of the hatred… my hair was gelled into a fierce quiff… no laughing, no swearing, just jump up and shout… we were told to show as much hatred as possible… on no account should we laugh… And on one occasion, when they hadn’t quite shaken off their initial inhibitions to hit full-on hate mode, an assistant director glared at the assembled crew and sneered: “Is that the best you can do – no wonder Swindon are in the Fourth Division.”
For many Swindonians memories of that scorching June weekend 30 years ago were triggered by our recent article, Were You A Hater?
Up to 1,000 people were ferried over two days from the town’s Territorial Army Centre by a fleet of double-decker buses to a ‘secret location’ which turned out to be RAF Hullavington near Chippenham.
The reason? To appear as extras alongside two of Britain’s most revered post-war thespians, Richard Burton and John Hurt in a ‘definitive’ film version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
First, however, the chaps were required to sign a piece of paper promising to get their hair cut. No, they couldn’t choose the style. Instead they were subjected to a severe savaging by an unforgiving posse of demon barbers.
Once inside an old World War Two RAF hangar a few days later the men and women of Swindon, with additional pasty make-up and gooey hair gel, partook – over and over again – in a raw-throated, pit-bull snarling, rabble-rousing re-enactment of the book’s infamous Two Minutes Hate.
This involved screeching, hollering and yelling blue murder at an image of “enemy of the state” Emmanuel Goldstein that was projected onto a huge screen in front of them.
It became the film’s unforgettable opening sequence… and three decades later there are Swindon people who look at it and think, not without pride: “That’s me shrieking and howling like a demented hyena.”
Graham Dickinson, a 57-year-old foster carer of Covingham, recalled trotting to the TA Centre with his pals from the Lamb & Flag darts team to sign up for the escapade.
“The haircut was really bad. It was like sheep shearing in there.”
When they took part in a darts match that night the opposition couldn’t disguise their amusement at such alarming new barnets.
During the filming Graham was placed a couple of seats away from John Hurt.
“We were told ‘no smiling, no laughing and no swearing… and also ‘jump up and shout,” he said.
Sadly some Swindon extras let themselves down and lapsed into a stream of obscenities.
“It was hard not to laugh when the air turned blue,” said Graham, who added: “I was lucky enough to be seen a few times in the opening shots.
“Even now, 30 years on, whenever I see the opening scene I have to stand up and shout.”
Liden property manager Mike Spring was 26 when he was positioned a few places behind Burton for the shoot.
“On arrival at the air base we were all plastered in make up to make us look pasty and pale. The director Michael Radford told us what was required – which was to show as much hate as possible towards the images on screen.
“When Burton and Hurt arrived on set there was a great round of applause as we all felt we were in the presence of acting greats.
“The scene was shot many times. It showed how much effort can be spent to produce so little screen time.”
After the filming a limo arrived back in the hangar out of which stepped Burton and Hurt thanking them all for their contribution.
“Richard Burton did most of the talking; it was great to hear him speak… he had the incredible voice that we had all heard in such films as Cleopatra and Where Eagles Dare.”
Kay Margiotta, 24, was thrilled when she chosen as a hater after a short interview at the TA Centre.
“At Hullavington everyone was buzzing with excitement. The whole experience was wonderful. Seeing Richard Burton was great. He was only a couple feet from me. I had my hair gelled back just before the filming – very glam.”
Selected as a member of Oceania’s inner party – as opposed to the plebs from the outer party – Swindon railway worker Richard New found himself in the front row during the Two Minute Hate.
“As inner party members we did not howl and rant at the screen like the others but sat there stern faced.”
The way the production team worked the crowd into a frenzy left a lasting impression.
“Sitting at the front we were getting the full force of the hatred directed at the screen.”
Prospect Hospice media manager Andrew Thompson was an impoverished Leeds University student when, back home in Swindon, he became a hater.
He recalled: “As a 20-year old 80s-indie fan, having a severe crop was no kind of hardship at all.
“I remember the director, or one of his assistants, chiding the assembled haters for their initial lack of effort: ‘Is that the best you can do’,” he said. “No wonder Swindon are in the Fourth Division.
“I was thrilled to return to Leeds with some beer money and to tell my student mates of my part in the film of a book we were all familiar with. On occasions, when asked to reveal something about myself that people wouldn’t know, I’ve admitted that I was in Richard Burton’s last film, albeit in a minor way.”
Wayne Smith, an 18-year-old electrical shop worker, and his dad Jack, were both dramatically cropped at the TA Centre before being whisked to Hullavington where make-up and hair gel was applied.
“I had my hair gelled into a fierce quiff and thick yellow make-up was applied to make me look white and pallid.”
Wayne sat near Hurt and Gregor Fisher (Rab C Nesbitt) while his dad was one seat away from Burton.
Director Michael Radford instructed them, at a given point, to “scream and go wild” when Goldstein’s image was flashed onto the screen. They had to “jump up from our seats… shouting and screaming one of a list of words ‘no, die, I hate you, death.’ “And when they finally achieved full throttle hatred, raving and snarling as one “the noise was absolutely deafening as over 1000, went wild,” remembered Wayne.