People Of The Valley

Around twenty years ago I was living in Mid Wales. A young man in a small town by the sea dreaming of bright lights and excitement (how times change). Perhaps this is the reason I signed up to a TV extras agency.

As this was a long time ago, the detail of the application is long gone from my memory. The only detail I can pin down is the requirement for people who would ‘not be distracting on camera’ presumably ruling out unicyclists or pantomime horse performers.

Within a few days of registering, my phone rang with an offer. Could I be in Cardiff for 7am on Monday? Of course, I said yes.

One problem was that Cardiff was hours away and I don’t drive. There were no busses at that time of day, so I went down the night before and stayed in a hotel. The cost of the return bus and hotel was more than my fee but, never mind, I was going to be on TV.

Disappointingly, they didn’t use this…

The production the agency had chosen for me to be ‘not distracting’ in was a large outside broadcast of Pobol Y Cwm, a Welsh language soap opera with a small (yet passionate) audience which has been broadcast several times a week since 1974.

Upon our arrival at the TV studio, myself and the other extras were immediately put onto a bus. ‘Cast & permanent crew at the front, everyone else to the back’ shouted a man with a clip board. So, to the back I went. Some of the other extras treat this as a full-time job. They could do three or four jobs a week, choosing the best paid options. I learned that these included productions that had no costumes so extras had to find their own clothes, night shoots, things in rural areas so milage allowances could be claimed and most excitingly, anything where the extra gets to speak. One of my fellow extras once fell off a ladder in an episode of Casualty.

One thing that interested me was that although Pobol Y Cwm is broadcast in Welsh, there was very little Welsh spoken on the bus (or anywhere off set). In fact, I overheard a conversation with a dialect coach who was teaching a cast member how to correctly pronounce the words in the script. I wondered if that person had any idea what they were saying on TV each night.

The bus dropped us all off at the airport, I was given a trolley with some empty suitcases which I was instructed to push slowly (so it looked like they were not empty). Between me and the camera was a couple sitting at a table, what they were saying I have no idea. We had to film that scene three times each with me slowly pushing that trolley in the background.

Don’t look at the camera…

Later on, we were asked to form a queue at a check in desk which a cast member in tears would rush by. Having never watched the program, I had no idea who any of them were or why they were at the airport.

Several weeks later, a colleague told me he had seen me on TV. I didn’t realise that my episode had been shown. ‘Don’t worry’ he reassured me ‘there is a repeat on Sunday’. I decided that I would set the VHS to capture my performance pushing the trolley to wow my friends and family.

Except I forgot and never saw my episode.

Perhaps I will try re-joining an extras agency. A quick online search shows me that ‘background artists’ can earn £300-£450 per day. Assuming they are not ‘too distracting’…

One thought on “People Of The Valley

  1. Really interesting. With the resurgence of the Welsh language (so I hear), I wonder if today there is more Welsh being spoken on the set of Pobol y Cwm. I had no idea that was a soap opera.

    Liked by 1 person

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