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BBC Countryfile

BBC Countryfile have been interested in featuring the work of ‘The Idle Women’ for some time now. They contacted Canal & River Trust a while back and the Trust put the researcher in touch with us. The first discussions came to nothing, but when they contacted us again with an idea for their Remembrance Sunday edition, it all looked more promising. They said they wanted to film on the Grand Union Canal somewhere in the West Midlands. After a little thought, our response was that the best place for this would actually be Stoke Bruerne, home of The Canal Museum. We also pointed the researcher in the direction of Kathryn Dodington whose aunt, Daphne March, played a very important role in the whole story of women working on the canals during World War 2. And so the filming took place, thanks to a great deal of hard work by Trust staff and volunteers preparing Sculptor to transport us through the locks, steered by Kathryn. The show aired on BBC1 last night and is available on iPlayer for the next 29 days. Click here to watch it.

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The filming coincided with our week of shows in and around Oxford so we travelled over from Enslow for an early start. We assembled in the Museum cafe at 8.45am on a cold but dry day, and it was decided that the first job was to film Heather performing two of her poems – Idle Women and Judies and Heather Bell. The second of these was chosen because it’s all about Daphne March, and Kathryn would be filmed later in the day talking about her aunt. Kathryn and other Trust volunteers had already got the fire going on Sculptor, ready for our trip down (and up, and down, and up) the locks once Heather’s poems had been filmed.

Filming Idle Women and Judies

Here you can see Ian with the microphone, Steve behind the camera, plus researcher, Debs and producer, Simon looking down at the shot as it is being filmed.

Filming Heather Bell

We waited in vain for an intermittent and rather loud noise coming from the other side of the towpath and eventually had to abandon filming in this location. The poem was recorded later in the day on board Sculptor with Kathryn nicely positioned in the background as she steered. Sadly, neither of the poems made the final cut because there simply wasn’t enough time to pack everything in.

Having shown presenter Ellie Harrison how to work a lock (she was completely new to this) we chatted to her on board Sculptor as Kathryn steered through the other locks with a crew of Canal & River Trust volunteers. (In case you’re wondering, the blue barrel in the hold is ballast. This is where the heavy cargo would have been.) Kathryn was a stalwart, winding the boat (ie turning it round) then steering it up the locks again.

While one of the volunteers took Sculptor off and winded it again we stopped for a delicious lunch (and to warm up) in the cafe, food and drinks generously provided by the Museum. After lunch we set off down the locks again, leaving the boat once we had finished recording so that we could get to Enslow for our evening show and the crew could focus on filming Kathryn.

Kathryn and Ellie

All in all we had a really good time. Thanks to lovely researcher Debs for sending us some of these photos. (The one opposite is reproduced thanks to The Canal Museum.) And thanks to Canal & River Trust, Kathryn Dodington and the hardworking volunteers for making the day possible.

There are more photos on the NB Sculptor blog.

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