by Harry Pope

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

October 2010 marks the 10th anniversary of my starring role in the re-make of the Graham Greene novel; Brighton Rock. Wherever you look, I am popping up as an extra, on the pier in the opening, staring wistfully out to sea, or on the pier as a miserable old git in the background, or walking towards the camera, or just sitting in a deckchair. Someone I know counted my appearances, and it was eight.

It all started with a piece in the local Eastbourne paper for extras. We had to go along to the Devonshire Park tennis centre, leave our details, be nice to the casting people, and wait to hear. I must have been extra pleasant, because a lot of people I know only had one day’s filming, whereas I had six. The first was on the Monday, when we again reported to the tennis centre. Some of the rooms had been converted into costume departments, and I was allocated a dark brown overcoat, trousers, and a hat. I was already wearing an old shirt of mine, with tie and shoes, then it was to makeup. They took one look at me, showed me the door, saying something along the lines that I was already perfect for the role. I took that as a compliment. We waited outside for the bus that was to transport us to the pier, then into the basement of the Claremont Hotel opposite to be called.

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I palled up with a couple of other mature men, one dressed the same as me, the other was more distinguished, and he was the pier’s deckchair attendant. He was resplendent in his very dark blue uniform, lapel piping, proudly clutching his ticket machine. He would work his way round the room, attempting to charge us for using the seating, issuing imaginary tickets in exchange for pretend money. Such simple pleasures aided the passing of time. Lunch was out into the street to the waiting refreshment truck, we were sent out in groups, with staple food such as burgers and sandwiches. My introduction to filming was very straightforward, when Tom, the 4th assistant director, called for six extras. I immediately said ‘I’ll do it,’ he crooked his index finger, and stardom called.

Despite it being called Brighton Rock, the seafront and pier scenes were all going to be filmed in Eastbourne because its setting and façade of buildings was more akin to 1960s than Brighton. Some were also filmed in adjacent Beachy Head, others in hotel rooms nowhere near to the south coast. Filming in the area took three weeks, and some of the local extras had speaking parts, as well as more prominent roles such as fairground stallholder on the pier, and fighting between the mods and rockers.

Extra on the pier

Extra on the pier

My first scene on the pier was with Dame Helen Mirren, a very aloof lady who had no time for us common people who were only on £75 per day plus refreshments. Not once did she deign to look at us, and after about ten days a message came from her via Tom that we were not to even look at her, let alone speak to the great lady. I was given to suggest that she shouldn’t bother to look at us either. However, on the other hand, Phil Davies, who had quite a prominent role, was very approachable, I had a couple of chats with him between takes as we waited on the pier, staring at the horizon. The young female star was Angela Risborough, she was delightful, always had time for us common people.

The second day, after reporting for costume, I then went next door to makeup. ‘Yes?,’ they said. ‘I’ve come for a haircut.’

‘Who told you that you needed a haircut?’

‘My wife.’ I didn’t get one.

Quiet please

Quiet please

Back to the bus, this time to film what was to be the opening shot. I was told to stand at the pier’s railings, as they filmed me from the promenade, and told to just look into the distance. This was to be my starring role, as they used me for at least half a minute while the opening credits scrolled on the screen.

On other occasions, I ate an ice cream, or just was in the background. We were separated from pier visitors, lots of people asked how they could also be in the film, but they were too late. The last day of filming proved to be the most difficult. They wanted me and just a handful of others to film until 3 in the morning. This was in October, very cold, and windy on the pier. Helen Mirren and John Hurt were to have a scene where we were all exposed to the elements, they walked towards me and a lady extra without glancing of course, but for a variety of reasons it required at least half a dozen takes. Of course, I secretly blamed it on the professionals behaving like amateurs, no criticism could possibly have been attached to my stellar performance. We had gathered at 7pm, so it was a very long session, when we got back to the car park I gathered my own clothing and disappeared into a truck to change. At 3.20am in my underpants the door was flung open by the security guard who told me to get out straight away, because I was in the star’s dressing room, Sam Neil hadn’t been in this scene, he didn’t need the changing room, I did, so I told the security man to shove off, I was getting goose bumps on my legs.

We all enjoyed our session in the spotlight, I had a great six days, if there was an Oscar that year for extra of the year, then I was a leading candidate. I have looked up the Google reference, but there is no mention of Harry Pope, extra extraordinary. Doesn’t matter about the recognition, I know how fame called and I wasn’t found wanting.

Rolling camera

Rolling camera