“YOU have to work yourself into a lather… a screaming demented rage… you have got to look brutal… you must seethe with hatred… stomp your feet… shake your fists… grind your teeth… groan with passionate, frustrated loathing… you must become A REAL NAZI FACIST…”
Several hundred men and women from Swindon are sitting in a former World War Two hangar on a sunny afternoon in June receiving instruction in the fine art of appearing and behaving very, very angry indeed.
They must think of everything and everyone who has ever annoyed, inflamed and enraged them – those people who have made their blood boil – and then, in two minutes of screeching, unbridled fury, let it all out.
On no account should they simply look peeved or irked. They must pour their hearts and souls into it. There is no room for pussy cats. So off they go… snarling, raving, bellowing. It is quite a scene… But why is this unbecoming, ungentleman-like behaviour taking place in the heart of the languid Wiltshire countryside?
Because a definitive version of George Orwell’s 1984 – the ultimate dystopian novel – is being filmed and hundreds of extras, mostly from Swindon, have been recruited to recreate as noisily and fervently as possible the infamous Two Minutes Hate sequence.
This, in Orwell’s book, is a daily ritual whereby the people of Oceania are impelled to unleash “uncontrollable exclamations of rage” upon the appearance on a screen of the ‘Enemy of the People’ Emmanuel Goldstein (Penguin Modern Classics, page 13).
It is powerful stuff and on the set everyone is keen to impress, not to let the side down and to earn their 20 quid ‘extras’ money – not to be scoffed at back then.
They have, in all likelihood, been further inspired to give nothing less than their all at the sudden appearance of the charismatic, craggily handsome devil sitting near the front… Richard Burton.
It is 30 years ago this month since Hollywood – or the British version of it – memorably decamped in Wiltshire. That’s right, 1984.
A few weeks earlier a brief message in this newspaper called for anyone interested in a spot of film work on a major production to present themselves at the Territorial Army Centre in Church Place at 8am on Friday, May 25. They would be appearing alongside no less a luminary than Richard Burton, one of the greatest actors of his generation, and John Hurt, commanding almost as much esteem.
Unsurprisingly, there was no lack of takers. Around 50 starry-eyed Swindonians had even camped outside the TA Centre all night. Hundreds of 18 to 30 year-olds answered the call, said assistant director Crispin Reece. But some older Oceanians were required.
“Everyone should bring along their grandparents,” he urged, as the drive for extras continued over the next couple of days. There was a catch, though. All the chaps would need a haircut.
A week later the TA Centre was transformed into an old-fashioned barber’s shop with a platoon of grim faced hairdressers – clippers at the ready – assembled from local salons. The style required for the film would be, ahem, somewhat severe.
Ever see those shots of Elvis having his quiff irreverently cropped upon his conscription into the US Army? It was just like that. Images of Big Brother had been pinned to the walls to add to the air of trepidation, austerity and anxiety.
Methodically going about his brutal business, Old Town-based Talk of the Town stylist Tony Holmes admitted: “This is a blow to my artistic side.
“People come in, sit down and we give them a quick short back and sides. We have to get through about 600 people and must be cutting one head of hair every ten minutes.” Appalled at such sheep-shearing savagery, Kevin Crook took one look and decided he didn’t want to appear in a big movie after all. Shaking a bountiful head of golden brown locks, he exclaimed: “Just look at what they’re doing. They’re butchers.”
Bill McLaren, 61, of Park South had no such qualms with his spartan new barnet. “I was due a haircut, anyway,” he shrugged. Hairdresser George Garrard from Tingles of Calne had little sympathy for victims of his lightning handiwork. “They knew what they were letting themselves in for.
“Each hairdresser is working flat out to cut 40 heads of hair and we just haven’t got time to fuss over the cuts.”
Sadly Big Brother wasn’t smiling upon 200 Swindon women who, having been hired as extras, were told on the day of filming: “Sorry, we got the proportions of men to women wrong. You’re out.”
Those still in were ushered into 19 double decker buses and ferried to “a secret location” which turned out to be RAF Hullavington.
Disappointingly nursing a can of diet coke, one-time infamous hard drinker-cum-hell raiser Burton, 58, told us: “In the old days I used to get rolling drunk but I can’t take that anymore.”
He had come out of semi-retirement to appear in the film.
“I was turning scripts down but when I heard John was in this, I read it. It was brilliant, so four weeks ago I decided to take part.”
Inside the grass-covered hangar Swindon’s assortment of clerks, secretaries, electricians, postmen, railway workers and check out girls were screaming merry hell.
“That’s perfect” said director Michael Radford, before asking them to do it all over again, and then again...
It took around ten takes to get it right – once because Burton missed his cue.
Later Radford admiringly added: “It’s the best crowd some of us have ever seen.”
Producer Simon Perry hailed the raw-throated horde. “You did amazingly well. The scene we have done here is tremendously important. One thing everyone remembers from the book is the Two Minutes Hate.”
That and Room 101, the Thought Police, the Anti Sex League and the “Big Brother is Watching You” slogan. After a sound going over in the make-up tent, Adver employee-turned-downtrodden Oceania resident Edna Holman couldn’t have given a hoot about Big Brother.
Describing her less than glamorous appearance, she exclaimed: “My hair was a glutinous mess and the make-up was ghastly. I looked hideous.”
Were you an extra in 1984? We’d love to hear your recollections of the experience. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Burton relaxes on the set of 1984 at RAF Hullavington
- JUST seven weeks after filming in Wiltshire Richard Burton was dead, his long term, alcohol related health problems having finally caught up with him.
The film 1984 – his last - was dedicated to his memory. Simon and Sheran Hornby, of Pusey near Faringdon, were “great friends” of the star and his ex-wife Elizabeth Taylor.
Upon Burton’s passing Mr Hornby told us: “He used to come down here regularly. He liked Pusey and regarded it (our house) as one of his English homes.”
The chairman of Swindon- based WH Smith at the time, Mr Hornby last saw Burton in June during the filming of 1984.
“He looked very well and was in very good form.”
- PUBLISHED in 1949 – a year before his death – Orwell’s novel is acknowledged as one of the great works of the 20th Century.
It is set in a dictatorial world of perpetual war, public manipulation and constant surveillance.
Winston Smith – played in the film by John Hurt – secretly rebels against the government of Oceania and its symbolic head, Big Brother.
But he is betrayed by the treacherous O’Brien (Burton) who is responsible for his imprisonment, torture and re-education.
Director Michael Radford said the film aimed to “make a romantic melodrama of Orwell’s idea of the future.”
The Adver’s political reporter Justin Davenport pictured in his blue 1984 overalls signifying that he was a member of Oceania’s outer party as opposed to the inner party elite who wore black
- HAVING attended countless Swindon council meetings the Adver’s civic reporter Justin Davenport was no stranger to political rants and outbursts.
But he was taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the yelling and shrieking he and hundreds of other Swindon extras were obliged to emit during the Two Minutes Hate.
He described it as thus: “Previously decent members of society were transformed into inmates from some tyrannical concentration camp.”
Of his appearance after being given a short back and sides, slapped with dollops of hair gel and smeared with white make-up he commented “a more ugly beast I never did see.”
Justin, who now works for the London Evening Standard, gets a couple of quality close-up seconds in the film, heartily screaming abuse.
His demented effusions – along with those of many other Swindonians – can be enjoyed on YouTube.
Two Minutes Hate clip from the film 1984 (be warned, this video contains material some may find offensive)...