March 26 & March 27, 1980
October 4 to October 7, 1983
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From Club Sandwich N°32, 1984:
Hello. My name is Hugh Symonds and I have been working with Keef as a producer for over six years and six hundred productions. We have completed many unusual projects but I
realised from the outset that ‘Pipes of Peace’ was to be a special film. Conceived by Keef during the weeks before Christmas, we received final approval of the shooting schedule only two days before the start. With the large numbers of crew and extras involved, perfect planning and organisation was essential.
The story, as you will already know, involved a re-creation of the famous Christmas Day truce between English and German troops in France, 1914. Paul was to play the parts of both an English and a German soldier who meet on ‘No Man’s Land’ and exchange photographs of their respective new born children. As the war starts again, Paul as the English soldier, reaches for his photo from home and realises that during the rush to get back to their trenches, they forgot to swap back their photographs and he is holding the photo of the German wife and baby. He smiles as he realises the mistake, understanding that he is just like the German soldier, alone and separated from his family, fighting a futile war.
The basic story is quite a simple one; the shooting of the story, however, was not. It was decided from the start that everything must be authentic. To be certain that everything was, five people were commissioned immediately to thorough research projects, for costume and campaign details, right down to the actual rank that Paul would play for each character. Even the family names and styles of handwriting on the letters Paul received were genuine.
Probably the most essential ingredient to be certain of from the start was a good location, with the right kind of landscape for a World War One setting.
This is where the experience of the Production Company came in. A quick search through the many files, suggested Chobham Common, to the West of London. We had filmed there before, with excellent results, and the Chief Warden was pleased to help us. This time our demands were slightly greater because we needed to construct the English and German trenches to original plans and they were to be at least twelve feet deep. Knowing how keen Paul and Linda are on conservation and wildlife, full permission was secured from the County Council for all work carried out at the common. Indeed this shoot was so successful that we have already been invited back to work at the common whenever the need should arise!
Because of Paul’s very busy recording schedules we had only two days in which to shoot the film and in December the daylight hours are much shorter. In order to start at first available light Paul had a very early call. By eight o’clock each morning he had already spent two hours with special make up and costume and as the sun crept over the horizon we were starting to rehearse.
The weather in England is unpredictable at the best of times and the month of December is no exception. We had been worried about having enough mud to make the trenches authentic. We used three full tanks of water from a fire engine during the first day’s shoot as the weather was very cold and dry with a heavy white frost and bright sunshine. Day two, however, dawned grey, overcast and with heavy rain. Here was the film makers’ most dreaded problem; how to match the film pictures from each day together in the final edit with such different weather and lighting conditions.
Over one hundred film extras were used in the main sequences, where the English and German troops meet to exchange greetings and play football. To prepare this many people, six make up artists worked flat out in special location vehicles equipped with many lights and mirrors. As everyone knows, ‘An army marches on its stomach’, and to feed all the extras and massive seventy-five member crew on site, a full location catering service worked continuously, serving hot food and drinks. To cover all the action, there were three full thirty-five millimetre film crews with cameras, working continuously both days. When it came to the large crowd scenes, with controlled explosions created by the special effects crew, the number of cameras used grew to five. Over eight feet of film was used during every second of these shots.
After two exhausting days it was time to call a halt. It had been very cold, very wet, very hard, but also very successful. With well over two hundred people involved throughout, we had achieved a feature film story in just two very short days!
Last updated on August 12, 2020
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