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The making of Wreckers 6: Cornwall and computers

Updated Friday 23rd March 2007

The Timewatch team visit the Isles of Scilly on the trail of the Cornish wreckers.

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Tuesday 20 March

It was our first day of filming yesterday and it wasn’t exactly plan sailing – our flight to the Isles of Scilly got cancelled due to high winds and we were forced to re-jig our schedule and film our first sequence with Bella at Jamaica Inn, the setting for Daphne Du Maurier’s dark book about Cornish wrecking.

We finally made it over to the Isles of Scilly this morning but the weather has again proved tricky with outbursts of sleet upsetting our filming. We’ve been at a beach cove near where the MV Cita wrecked in 1997 – with a cargo of everything from M&S shirts to tractor tyres – to interview our youngest self confessed “wrecker”. He’s not at all what you’d expect of a wrecker with his rather smart accent and a degree in English Literature from Oxford University.

Jamaica Inn [Image: stressless54 under CC-BY-NC-SA licence] Creative commons image Icon Stressless54 under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license
Jamaica Inn

Wednesday 21 March

This morning is great - the wind has died down completely and we get out to the Western Rocks. Bella finds this place eerie – as do we all, as our boat guide regales us with stories of how many hundreds of people have lost their lives in wrecks on these rocks (more than 1,600 men in one night of 1707 in the greatest maritime disaster England has known). After five hours on board, our camera man is a bit green round the gills from looking down a lens on a constantly rocking boat. We end up clambering onto one of the tiny rocky islands for some still shots.

We are all amazed to hear that this exposed rocky outcrop miles from land was home for several months to the people who built the Bishop Lighthouse in the 19th century – they used to row out to the Bishop Rock every day to do their job.

It certainly puts my daily commute to White City into perspective. While we’re here, I also remember the story from my research about how medieval criminals were rowed out here and left on the rock to die (with just a loaf of bread and a Bible) – not a pleasant thought. We are all relieved when we get back on dry land at St Mary’s to interview the local photographer whose family, the Gibsons, have made a name for themselves photographing shipwrecks for the past century.

Thursday 22 March

One of the biggest problems about making a history programme is the health of our often rather elderly interviewees. I receive a call from our contributor in Penzance to say he isn’t going to be able to do the interview because his asthma is so bad, and he has been admitted to hospital. We are all sorry to hear the news and disappointed as he would have been a great interviewee with lots of amusing anecdotes about wrecking.

Fortunately our other Cornish contributor more than makes up for it. A passionate Cornishman, he is also a natural on camera – he and Bella have a lively debate in the pub about wrecking, he is adamant that false lights is a load of cod’s wallop and blames the English and other outsiders for making up these stories about the Cornish, but he is more than willing to concede that his ancestors were up for a riotous party and a spot of plunder if a wreck came into shore.

Friday 23 March

Our ‘CGI’ boys have arrived in Cornwall to help us put together some graphics sequences for the film. It has also been something of a mission travelling from London (they may be good at creating maps but are clearly less good at reading them).

They are here to help us create a false lights sequence on the cliffs. Fortunately it’s a beautiful clear evening – a perfect night for wrecking, we all remark. One of the boys and I go up on the cliff top with burning oil lanterns while the camera crew direct us from below on walkie talkies.

They film us standing in different spots on the cliff top and walking backwards and forwards. Back in the office, the CGI boys will be able to overlay these images and make two of us look like a crowd of 20, 30 or even a hundred wreckers standing on the cliff to lure a ship onto the rocks.

Find out more

More on the Timewatch Wreckers programme

Study history with The Open University





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