Visiting The Filming Of A ‘Casualty’ Stunt

As I alluded to earlier in the week, I had a special little day planned for yesterday. The people at the BBC who make the TV show 'Casualty' invited me to Bristol to have a behind the scenes look at the shooting of one of their episodes.

I've been a bit critical of Casualty in the past, the ambulance and hospital staff often do things that drive me crazy – I'd scream, “Why did you do it that way!” at the telly. It's why my mum wouldn't watch it when I went to visit her.

All that has now changed…

The day started badly when I ripped my favourite jacket, possibly due to having to get up at an unholy hour on my day off. The train journey was uneventful with the exception of a 'trespasser on the line' and I was met at the station by the member of the crew who arranged the visit. She then drove me to the filming base and we walked to where they were actually shooting.

Did I mention that it was raining? Not a problem as I'm used to it, but I wondered how the cameras would work in the wet.

*Everyone* on the set was really nice to me – some of them had even heard of me as the BBC has some copies on my book in their library.

The scene that they were shooting was a young man being hit by a van, and the van then crashing into a skip. The ambulance would arrive and take him to hospital. There are some pictures of the shoot on my Flickr page.

And I've even shot and edited together my own humble video (using my cheapish, oldish camera and iMovie).

The real ambulance crew. I met up with a local ambulance crew who were doing a bit of overtime covering the filming, it took about two minutes before we were swapping stories and moaning about patients and they did a good job of looking after me. They drove me to the catering van and explained some of the things that were going on. They also gave me the rundown on what is happening in their trust…

I also met the show's ambulance consultant and he explained how it is a struggle sometimes to get things done right from an ambulance perspective. He gave a couple of examples – for instance, in the van crash in real life we would take the patient out through the back of the van on a long board rather than swinging him out. Unfortunately there just isn't room for the cameras in the back of the van and as it was the crew were racing against the fading daylight. So because of the pressures of filming certain corners are cut concerning the correct ambulance way of doing things.

So now I'm going to have to take into account money, drama, the size of cameras and the sun going down before I moan about an episode.

To be fair, the crew know that it isn't a hugely accurate programme, but at the load that they work under (two overlapping episodes every ten days) I'm amazed that they do as well as they do.

Various things…

  • The catering is bloody lovely, I wish I could eat half as well at my day job.
  • It takes *ages* to film one shot and moving equipment between shots takes a lot of time. It took all day from 9am to 6pm to film a sequence that will probably last less than a minute in the programme.
  • The crew do care how good a job they are doing.
  • There was a very scary doll in case the stunt didn't go too well – it wasn't needed in the end because the stuntmen did such an excellent job.
  • The producer was roaming around filming things for the Casualty website – I probably made a complete fool of myself.
  • Even close-up the makeup is astoundingly realistic.
  • 'Real' ambulance crews are the same all the country over.
  • There is a real 'Tom Reynolds' in Great Western Ambulance Service.
  • On the set it looks like the assistant first director does most of the work – she definitely did most of the shouting.
  • In order to keep the amount of rain on the van consistent there was a man who kept spraying it with water.

One of these is a real ambulance person.jpg

I've also got to hand it to the actors who play the ambulance crew – after a minutes instruction, a rehearsal and a filmed 'take' they didn't do a bad job at what is a very tricky manoeuvre. (Although I do know why you never see them in the process of struggling with putting their gloves on…) It seems that they only learn how to act out the ambulance skill a couple of minutes before they have to perform. Perhaps I could offer my services to run an 'ambulance boot camp'…

I did have one good idea on the way to the site, born perhaps of not enough caffeine. If they cut the length of the programme by five minutes, they could then use those five minutes to teach 8 million people some basic first aid (and perhaps even when it is inappropriate to call an ambulance). Failing that they could always shorten the National lottery programme by five minutes…

It was a really enjoyable day and I was very impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of everyone involved. I consider myself very lucky to have been given this chance to see filming.

Thank you BBC.

For those that don't know much about the programme there is the superb website that is very professional and surprised the hell out of me when I found out today that it was a fansite. I thought it was an official BBC website.

UPDATE: Link added to the BBC Casualty site as I rather shamefully forgot to put one in. (Probably because I wrote this at silly o'clock in the morning).

23 thoughts on “Visiting The Filming Of A ‘Casualty’ Stunt”

  1. Sounds really cool! I wonder if that five minute tutorial wouldn't be better given online – Torchwood always used to end (on TV) with a pointer to go look at the site, and Casualty could do the same – a lead-in mentioning the first aid tutorial bit, and a few minutes of out-takes/programme background as well, something for the serious fans/anoraks every show attracts.That way the stuff would also be available (and hyper-linkable) all the time.

    Regarding the shortcuts they have to take because of film restrictions (like inconvenient sunsets and camera size) there was an interesting article on the bbc news site about the whole reality in fiction issue –

    The comments at the bottom make for useful food for thought.

  2. Is it true that some ambulance officers use Coke to clean blood off the road after an accident?I heard it somewhere….. lol

  3. Sounds like you had an unforgettable experience Tom!As for the first aid tutorial, it couldn't hurt for them to do something! Although the risk is that somebody tries to help someone using skills they half learnt from the show, it all goes horribly wrong, and they get sued. If they did something like teach First Aid in school / college, I think things would be much better for all!



  4. Hi TomGreat pics of Sarah and Craig from work. Hope you enjoyed your day (sounds like you did!) I did the filming the day before and I know exactly what you mean about the food!

    I expect you found that we have exactly the same problems in GWAS as you do in London? Let us know if you are ever down this way again…perhaps we will see your name on the closing credits of Casualty soon!?


  5. well its north of london. :Dsound like you had a good day of it, shame you could not of been a extra. maybe next time tom 😀

  6. I think its a really good idea, you have to remember that the people you need to reach may not be the best educated or the most likely to interact with technology, so prime time telly is the ideal way to reach a large audience.

  7. I haven't read this in a while Tom, but it sounds like you had a fun day with them :)Congratulations on the book by the way, I just ordered my copy and I'm really looking forward to reading it


  8. Well Anything north of the M4 is in the North!Great Book, just read it. And I am now a regular visitor to the site and I am looking to start a blog. Keep up the good work.

  9. I recall the old series 999 that used to have information on what to do with home first aid and certain procedures.Seeing a lot of people pay more attention to the tv than ever before I suppose it wouldn't be too bad?

  10. I have never been so jealous in my entire life!! I watch Casualty religiously every single week. It's part of the reason (but not a very big part, because I know it's not exactly realistic) I want to be a paramedic. I also used to watch 999 every time it was on – I remember watching an episode where a guy got stung by hundreds of wasps when I was 4, God knows why my parents let me watch it at such a young age, but it fed my interest. Do you know when the episode will be aired?Just one question – who else thinks Jeff (Matt Bardock) is the fittest guy ever? ;D

  11. Jeff's the new guy who started last week. The guy standing next to you who isn't Greg (Kip Gamblin).I went to the local ambo station today because one of the paramedics' dad lives in my village and knows I want to be one. It was so cool!! I looked round the ambo and put the blues and twos on which was fun, and then we sat in the station and watched the rugby and drank tea…until 6.45 when they got called out, which they weren't pleased by, with only 15 minutes of the shift to go!

    Nothing anybody says will put me off now. 😀

  12. What a fab day out! It's superb that the Casualty crew do their bit to make the ambulance stuff as realistic as the restraints allow – I just wish they'd do the same for other areas (X-Ray, Pathology, Physio etc) – in the real world these are highly qualified and specialist staff performing complex and skilled tasks, yet on Casualty all these things seem to be done by nurses. Done badly at that!!However, v envious of your day, glad you enjoyed it.

  13. See that would probably be them needing to pay actors, and so budget constraints mean they can't have extra people to play radiographers and the like.Also I'd guess that it is so the patient keeps seeing the same nurse and so builds up a 'relationship'.

  14. sounds fantastic Tom!! Did you know that a page of your blog is the Ambulance UK magazine – i was sat reading it thinking where have a seen this before…the notice the quote at the bottom!!

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