To help celebrate what is nearly an incredible 40 years since the premiere of Octopussy, Roger Moore’s sixth smash-hit adventure as Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent James Bond, the JBIFC have in the last few weeks made available six edited extracts from an on-set report we first published in the club’s 007 magazine back in 1983.
At the time of publication, the article was the first detailed on-set report to appear from the new movie, and proved to be very popular with 007 aficionados across the UK and elsewhere.
Here is a seventh set of extracts, with some additional comments restored from the unedited original article.
‘On Location in Peterborough’, from: 007, vol.1, no.12, January, 1983.
The Second Unit Filming from September 13th to October 27th.
The main Octopussy filming at the NVR near Peterborough was from September 6th to September 12th, 1982, and then the Main Unit and principal actors flew off to India for their next round of location filming. During the following weeks at the NVR the stunt men took over, and action scenes and background shots were taken. Filming ran over schedule and lasted longer than planned due to some bad weather which descended on the area in October.
I managed to get down to Wansford station quite a few times during these weeks, although as time ticked by there was progressively less to see and witness. During the week starting September 13th, everyone involved in the local filming seemed to think filming would only take another 2-3 weeks.
While in Peterborough town centre on the 13th, I was surprised to see the job-centre was advertising for extras to be Russian soldiers. How ironic this seemed after all the job applications the local EON location manager had received a few weeks earlier. Many extras had obviously dropped out after the first week’s filming. In fact, some had left after the Thursday 9th September filming at Ferry Meadows, because on the very next day, Friday, EON had sent people around to some local Peterborough pubs appealing for extras to act as soldiers! A friend of mine on holiday from college had been sitting in a pub with two others on a Friday night. He volunteered and was taken on for a day’s work on the Saturday. I also knew at least two other former schoolfriends who took on work as extras, playing Russian soldiers.
When I went down to Wansford during the second week of filming many of the familiar faces I had got to know amongst the extras had gone and a new group of fresh faces were involved in the scenes.
More footage was taken on the railway level-crossing at Wansford, with a camera mounted on Orlov’s Volga command car. The car would drive on to the crossing and the camera filmed Russian soldiers running from their guard duty at the station and on to the track. They then open fire at Bond’s Mercedes car as it escapes up the track towards the bridge over the river. Steven Berkoff as Orlov also returned to do some more scenes, and I also spied his stand-in being used, too.
Filming also moved on to the car park next to Wansford Station. Luckily, the weather that particular week was excellent, although some of the extras dressed up as Russian soldiers did swelter at times in their uniforms. The car park scenes were very enjoyable. A stunt-team consisting mainly of French stunt artists arrived to assist in the filming, and french Roger Moore stand-in (strangely he even had the habit of raising one eyebrow!) carried out stunt driving sequences in the Mercedes used by Bond. The car would speed past Octopussy Circus workers (with the distinctive red Octopussy logo on the back of their jackets), who were loading circus equipment, and hit a ramp, making it turn over on to one side and on to one pair of wheels (similar to the famous stunt in Diamonds Are Forever) and run along at speed, narrowly missing other workers and soldiers. The French stunt-Bond had to practice this many times. In the film, of course, it will look hair-raising, but there is a nice trick: the Mercedes had a special small wheel attached to its side to help it run along on two wheels only.
There were some tense moments at times when it seems the Mercedes was running off course, but the French stunt driver was very confident and natural all the time and acted as if he did the stunt every day along the highways of France! He seemed oblivious to danger, but then I reminded myself that he was a professional stunt man and it was his job to take risks (although, as Bob Simmons had told me in our conversation during the first week of filming at the NVR, all stunts were carefully assessed for risks well before they were actually undertaken).
As the weeks went by, I worked out the sequence of the car stunts. Bond gets into a Mercedes to escape from his situation and also, in pursuit of the Octopussy train, drives at speed through the car park, knocking barrels over and soldiers out of the way. The Mercedes hits a wooden circus ramp and turns over on to its side and carries on, narrowly missing some of the circus workers (the usual looks of amazement and open mouths) and then falls upright on to its belly again. An army truck full of soldiers drives on to the car park and soldiers jump out firing their guns.
Bond turns away from the car park exit because of the soldiers and, instead, smashes through another, the tyres shredded by some spikes on the ground as it does so. It gets on to the road and then on to the railway line and speeds off towards the railway bridge, leaving a trail of spectacular sparks. On the bridge Bond sees a train coming towards him, but obviously escapes. He climbs out of the car as it runs along the rails in parallel with the Octopussy train and leaps on to the train he is pursuing, a split-second before the Mercedes is hit by another train coming in the opposite direction. The wrecked Mercedes is tossed off the bridge into the river down below, and it falls onto a small boat which tow fishermen had been sitting in just seconds before.
This ties in with the scenes the First Unit shot on Tuesday, 7th September, with Walter Gottell on the riverbank – the car was fished out by a crane and put on to the river bank for inspection by soldiers.
General Gogol (Gottell) and his assistant then lands in his helicopter (an ear-splitting moment for me!); it comes down on a grassy area located on the riverside embankment, and goes on to inspect the car and retrieve the contents of the car-boot. Gogol is clearly not happy at what he finds.
When I was at the car park watching filming of the car stunts during the second week I realised how close cooperation has to be on a set during location filming. There had to be a great deal of patience between the French speaking stuntmen and what the English film unit members wanted. I managed to get some excellent views of the stunts because of some raised ground next to the car park where the cameras were also set up, and where most of the extras and film unit sat while new ‘takes’ were set up. There were hardly any of the public around; the attraction of watching events as they unfolded had probably worn off for most people because the main filming had been completed and there were no longer any ‘stars’ around to fill up the autograph books.
For dedicated aficionados like me, however, patiently waiting between takes and watching the stunts as they progressed was pure joy. Sometimes the Mercedes veered right off course and seemed to head straight for the main camera. At other times the car became stuck on its side and had to be pushed over on to its four wheels again. The local Peterborough Evening Telegraph newspaper kept an eye on the stunts. On September 18th it published a small piece entitled ‘Hair raising stunts down the line’, briefly describing the car stunts and showing a series of photos of the Mercedes narrowly avoiding a circus worker.
The main stunt man at Wansford during much of this Second Unit filming was Martin Grace, who has doubled for Roger Moore before.
It was Grace who drove the Mercedes along the track in parallel with the Octopussy train and lept on to the train, seconds before the car was smashed into the air by an fast train coming in the opposite direction. Grace’s leap was probably the toughest stunt of the lot. The Mercedes and the oncoming train did not exactly crash head on, however. It was done in three stages.
A large catapault was set up behind some bushes on the embankment below the railway and it tossed the Mercedes over the bows of the train. Another car was used for the shot where it drops into the river. (The supply of Mercedes was no problem – all in all there were about nine identical Mercedes around the site at Wansford for the film, some of which were stored in the railway car park, which gave me some nice photos).
It was often a long time waiting for the stunts to be set up but well worth the wait when they finally went ahead. The local Peterborough Evening Telegraph on September 24th announced ‘It’s that old black Mercedes magic…’ and published two photos of the car flying across the train’s bows and also some images of the car park stunt sequence. The next series of scenes primarily involved Martin Grace, who was dressed in the circus knife-thrower outfit and given a Roger Moore wig. The cameras were mounted on a tulip crane on the train and Martin was filmed as Bond carrying ou the dangerous roof-top stunts on the Octopussy train carriages. As the train moves along at speed Bond has to climb from the side of the train and get on to the roof, then run along in the usual Bond cat-like way, leaping between carriages.
Unfortunately, an accident occurred during filming for this sequence (you may have seen the report in the national press), where Grace was clinging on to the side of the carriage. Grace did the stunt once while it was filmed from a helicopter, but then, on another occasion, as he swung down the side as planned, and as the train went over the bridge, he hit a concrete post at the side of the track. His feet came out of the special stirrups but he managed to hold on with his hands until the train ground to a halt. I really felt for Martin, as he was clearly a consummate stunt man, professional in every way and devoted to his job. I had spoken to him a couple of times while he had stood on top of the train carriage, waiting for new takes to be set up. He was friendly and patient. Martin was taken to Peterborough hospital and was later transferred to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Middlesex. (Somebody tipped off the national press about the incident).
By October 9th all the border-post set at Ferry Meadows station had been removed and I had grown so used to seeing it there that the place seemed bare afterwards. Parts of the set were transported to Wansford Station for temporary storage. The Gutenfurst signs used at Ferry Meadows lay around at Wansford for a while, and gradually the various Karl-Marx-Stadt signs at Wansford were also taken down, too. (The German telephone kiosk by the car park became something of a joke – quite a few people tried to use it, thinking it was real, especially during the first week of Main Unit filming!).
In mid-October there were rumours that Roger Moore would be returning for some more filming but then this was ruled out.
The Second Unit concentrated on getting a series of shots for back-projection purposes i.e. the area all around was photographed, then Roger Moore will be filmed with this in the background during further (interiors) filming for the train sequences at Pinewood Studios. Such is the magic of the movies!
Bad weather, including some typical English grey clouds and rain, then put the Second Unit filming behind schedule; they had to stay much longer than originally planned. Some further stunt work was conducted on the tops of the train carriages (see photo). By October 26th, the last scenes were shot by Vistavision cameras of a train coming out of Wansford tunnel. Two red box-cars were then despatched to Pinewood Studios and film will be turned while Bond fights on the wagon roof areas.
Filming at the NVR’s Wansford Station finally finished on October 27th, 1982. It is not yet certain how much of the material shot will be used. Peterborough’s encounter with the world of James Bond had ended, and I had enjoyed every moment and every single day. I will treasure these memories for years to come.