Column: Behind the scenes at Harewood House

Harewood House was recently used as a major set for ITV's new series Victoria. The crew filmed across Yorkshire for several months during winter 2015/16 and Harewood was fortunate enough to be one of its key locations.

Saturday, 27th August 2016, 10:00 am
Various film-making equipment is shown outside Harewood House during the making of ITVs new series Victoria which starts this Sunday (28 August).

Starring Jenna Coleman, the eight part series, which begins this Sunday (August 28), chronicles the life of Queen Victoria.

The crew used much of the state floor, below stairs and parts of the estate.

Some areas will be more recognisable than others. Some amazing set dressing transformed Harewood into completely different locations including Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace.

In order to prepare for period dramas such as this, a lot of work is required in the house. Picture lights need to be removed from above paintings in the state rooms, book bandages which denote damage need to be disguised, clocks need to be wound down to avoid any unwanted chiming in the background, furniture needs to be moved to make way for set dressing, and light bulbs, carpets, porcelain and paintings all need to be removed.

The house and collections team catalogue the location of every single object which is moved to ensure their safety.

Below stairs, work is also needed. Objects are removed and false walls, also known as flattage, are erected by the production company to conceal modern pipes.

Once the rooms are cleared and ready for use, the design team move in and the magic of television transforms the rooms and corridors. Every modern feature is disguised, from plug sockets to light switches, giving a truer reflection of the period.

Paint colours are matched with our walls to make sure that coverings blend in seamlessly.

Furniture is brought in and the work of the set designers alter the rooms with which we are all so familiar.

Chairs and tables bought at auction imitate fine pieces fit for a queen, rolls of fabric usually suitable for waistcoat lining imitate rich silks, and rented props add the finishing touches. Below stairs, food decorates the kitchens and brings them to life.

Things begin to get really busy once the main production crew arrive.

The car park is used as a unit base with trucks brought in to cover every aspect of the production. The mobile studio includes hair, make-up, costume, and catering to name but a few. Lighting, cameras, and toilets trucks are parked closer to the house so that the crew have easy access to their equipment (and the facilities).

The lighting itself is a huge undertaking, particularly during winter. Often night-time needs to appear as day, and daytime needs to appear as night. Scaffolding rigs are erected to beam large lights into the rooms.

Cherry pickers are also used to get light into awkward and high places in the house.

Inside the house, the crew bring in all sorts of special effects equipment to help create the scenes they are filming. Hazers are used to create a soft, smoky light, and fake fires are lit in our fireplaces.

A professional firefighter is always on site to make sure there are no problems and to oversee the operation.

For a period drama such as Victoria, the costumes are immaculate and historical accuracy is considered at every point. From fake mutton chops to elegant jewellery, the costume department have their work cut out for them ensuring perfection in every scene. Once dressed, images are taken of the actors to ensure consistency in each shot.

Only now do the actors arrive on set and get in position to rehearse. Naturally, there is some downtime. It’s a truly wonderful sight to see a footman dressed in full regalia checking out his iPhone.

And action! Once the cameras start rolling the bustling house falls silent. Everyone is forced to whisper (if talking is absolutely necessary), and to tiptoe quietly across the old, creaky floorboards.

Mobile phones are on silent, radios are turned down and any noise from outside is ceased. The directors and actors now take centre stage to bring the story prepared in the scripts to life.

For all of us at Harewood, the Victoria production has been made even more special because of Harewood’s own connections with Queen Victoria. As great grandmother to Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, we are fortunate enough to care for personal objects which Victoria owned.

Pieces include a wonderful English School miniature of Queen Victoria replicating a Franz Xaver Winterhalter portrait, a writing set she owned, and a watercolour she herself painted.

These objects will be on display in 2017 as part of Victorian Harewood alongside costumes from the show.

We are looking forward to seeing the programme air and we hope that you’ll be able to spot Harewood during the series.