Vera returns: Brenda Blethyn on what to expect from the first episode of series 11
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Brenda, who plays DCI Vera Stanhope, filmed the first two episodes of the new series in autumn 2020 and has been back in the North East this summer filming four more episodes for broadcast in 2022.
Giving a taste of what’s ahead in the first new film, Witness, by Paul Logue, she reveals: “The opening of our first episode includes a lovely view of the Holy Island causeway. I love it when they are able to include that as part of the story.
"We also have a very impressive location - the Collingwood Monument at Tynemouth. A body is found on the steps of the memorial. A builder who appears to be an upstanding member of the community and who was due to be giving evidence in a trial that very morning.
"We also see him earlier on board the Shields Ferry. Sadly, Vera doesn’t get to go on the ferry but I have been on it myself as a passenger.”
Brenda also reveals some of the difficulties of filming in the middle of a pandemic – and her delight at the reaction of fans that six new episodes were being made.
“It was hugely gratifying to hear that the people in the North East were excited to know that Vera was returning to film more episodes,” said Brenda. “Something to look forward to in a dismal time.
“I was glad to be starting work again for lots of reasons. But at the same time I was nervous of it. We were in the middle of a global pandemic and nobody was safe really. But when it was explained to me about all the precautions to be set in place - and my word they were very very thorough, I became a little less nervous.
“Covid did make it more difficult to film. It lengthened the filming time of each episode by about a week. To start with the Covid protocol made it a little bit inhibiting but we soon got used to it. It became a sort of dance. If somebody approached you, you naturally stepped backwards. And if anyone did forget, the Covid marshals were over to you with a long stick. Not to hit you with but to make sure you were the appropriate distance apart.
“On the first day back filming I think everyone felt a huge sense of pride. That we had all come together, we were all putting our best foot forward to try and get this done. We all knew it would be difficult with all the restrictions.
“The other thing of course is that it was difficult to recognise anyone with all the masks and visors on. Covid also forced technicians to be a little bit more creative in how a scene was shot, so that it didn’t look like we were all separating and keeping our distance. We all tried our best in very difficult circumstances.
“There were plenty of people sitting at home who would have given their eye teeth to go to work and they couldn’t. So, nobody in the cast or crew were moaning, even though we were nervous and didn’t want to catch Covid. We knew we were in a fortunate position in being able to work."
The Land Rover bubble
She also reveals that she was in a bubble with Kenny Doughty, who plays DS Aiden Healy, because they have a lot of scenes together, especially in the Land Rover.
"Very nice for me - not so for him,” she quipped.
“We weren’t allowed visitors. Even my husband wasn’t allowed to visit unless he’d been Covid tested or quarantined beforehand.
“Even Vera’s hat and coat couldn’t be handed to me. They are put in a special bag. So when I turn up on set Vera’s clothes will have been delivered to my trailer having been sprayed or whatever it is they put inside a hanging bag. The trailer will then also have been fogged again after somebody else had been inside it, so that I will be safe to go back in.
And as I arrive on set as with the rest of the cast and crew, we had our temperature checked. And Kenny and I were also Covid tested several times a week.
“When we shot the first scene in the Land Rover, I was horrified to notice that all the rubbish that Vera has accumulated had been removed and the whole vehicle sanitised. Valeted. ‘I want all Vera's rubbish back please!’ I cried. So they sanitised all the rubbish and put it back in. Haaa! All the empty crisp bags and apple cores. They all came back.”
Vera fans will also be delighted to hear that Brenda has no plans to hang up the detective’s hat.
She reveals: “At the end of filming every season I think, ‘Oh, thank the Lord I’m going home. Never again.’ But it’s like having a lovely slap-up meal. You’ve eaten too much. You couldn’t eat another morsel. And you’re shown the menu again. ‘Take it away, take it away!' But then a week later you get hungry again. So by the time I go back to Newcastle again I’m always very much looking forward to it. It rather depends on the Covid situation and putting my priorities in order.”
Produced by Silverprint Pictures, part of ITV Studios, for ITV, the new series starts on Sunday, August 29 at 8pm.