© Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is copyright of ITV Studios, BBC & Franc Roddam.
‘Howay Havana!....’ Auf Wiedersehen, Pet - Behind The Scenes Series 4. Series 4 of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was set on screen in Cuba. Trouble with the authorities meant that the show was not allowed to be filmed in Cuba, and had to be changed to locations in the Dominican Republic. This is the official BBC account of how Series 4 was brought to our screens in early 2004. The following is copyright of the BBC, and you can see the original web page, here. © The images and text are copyright of the BBC and are not to be used or copied without permission.
The Adventure begins in summer 2001. "We were all in Arizona whilst filming the last series," said writer Dick Clement, "and we had an evening in a bar with Alan Yentob (BBC Director of Drama, Entertainment and Children's) who had flown out to see us filming."Euphoria was high as everything seemed to be going well and the vibe for the series was really good so when Yentob jokingly asked 'where's the next one then?', Ian glibly replied 'Cuba' - but with no thought in his head of how we'd make it work!" Executive producer, Franc Roddam, agrees: "Once Arizona was complete we did start kicking ideas around. We considered Australia but felt that it was too like America and we thought about Spain as it's a big working class destination." But I think Cuba really intrigues people as the last socialist society; people admire Fidel and Che Guevara." January 2002 – Off to Cuba Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Jimmy Nail fly out to Cuba with Franc Roddam to see what might be possible for a new series. Dick admits: "It was really interesting but we felt such frauds looking around as we still had absolutely no idea how we would make it work or what the story might be. It was like a fishing trip for the brain."We travelled all over Havana and out into the country just getting a feel for the place. We went to the ballet, salsa clubs, bars, nightclubs and paladares (restaurants in private houses), soaking up the atmosphere of the place. And eventually we struck gold. "On the last day of our trip we went to the British Embassy where we discovered two key things: the existence of the O.E.D. (Overseas Estates Development) and that Havana is the most intelligence-intensive place in the world – everyone from Taiwan to Kazakhstan has an embassy there. "Ian continues: "That's why it's always British workers who are posted to work on sensitive overseas sites like embassies and ambassadors' residences. It reminded us of a visit to Prague in 1990. We went to the embassy which was shrouded in scaffolding with a whole bunch of Geordies on the site! We could have made a whole movie about that alone. "On their return to the UK Franc and Jimmy went to Croydon to visit the O.E.D. offices to cement their ideas. "We went to learn about the operation and the staff were very helpful, and they were thrilled to meet Jimmy! All in all it authenticated our idea for the series and how it might work. "It will be interesting to see if they are inundated with requests to join up once we start transmission!" laughs Franc. Spring 2002 – Creative juices flowing Clement and La Frenais now start writing scripts in earnest. Dick recalls: "Once we'd got a handle on the O.E.D., Ian and I sat down and plotted an outline for the series. Then we wrote the first draft."We really wanted to use the idea of spying and the intelligence services but not in a James Bond way because we obviously wanted to preserve the credibility of the series. But being part of the O.E.D. could be perfect cover for low level intelligence, so Nev is recruited to MI6."We also had a key idea for Oz in mind. It was Jimmy's suggestion that we went to the theatre in Havana and saw the ballet. So Oz develops a passion for dancing. That seemed too good an idea to turn down!" Ian continues: "There's much more romance and emotion in these episodes – I think there will be a few handkerchiefs out. "We've developed the characters again since the Arizona series. You can't just have them all sitting around discussing whether Newcastle won, so Oz falls in love, Dennis finds romance and Nev becomes a spy. But we've not lost the characters that the audience want to see. "And we continued to do other research, reading whatever we could get our hands on. In particular Stephen Smith's The Land of Miracles was very useful. That's where we found out about guinea pig roulette." April 2002 Meanwhile, in the UK, series three starts transmission on BBC ONE reaching 12 million viewers. Although the team were optimistic about their return to screen, Dick and Ian admit that they were overwhelmed by the public response. Dick says: "The characters really touched a nerve. Viewers feel that they're real. They represent ordinary blokes just getting on with making a living. But we're always a bit baffled by the X factor of success and I'm reluctant to try and define it in case it goes away!" Franc Roddam continues: "We were over the moon. I think the series' success is due to a combination of all things - it was a good idea originally focusing on the lives of working class people in a 'fish out of water' scenario written with humour and pathos."Dick and Ian are acute observers of human nature. Auf Wiedersehen caught the mood and humour of the people in this country topped off with fabulous actors who created a wonderful ensemble. "As the series was deemed a runaway success, it was immediately commissioned again. Series four gets underway. Winter 2002 – The team assembles The writing was completed with the final two episodes delivered to the production team and the cast just after Christmas. "But most of the logistics were laid down much earlier so that the production team could start planning. Originally we were only going to do five episodes but eventually we pushed it to six as it felt more complete," said Dick. Producer Chrissy Skinns was brought on board in December. "I did meet Dick and Ian years ago when I worked at Select TV as a script editor but I'd never worked with them. And I was keen to do the project because it's one of those classic, successful series that it's a privilege to be involved with. "My first priority was to find directors who could work really well visually to capitalise on the vibrant background of Havana – that was such a gift. I really wanted to bring out the lushness of the setting, so the design team was crucial as well. Not to mention a foreign production manager. "They were all on board and the project was well underway by the beginning of the 2003. "We recce-ed Cuba in January and at that stage we were hoping to shoot there. So we were getting a sense of the place and of how the embassy works. Then we came back to the UK to start casting for the other key characters. "But some things never go to plan and, like James Bond's The World Is Not Enough before it, the Cuban authorities refused to let filming take place in their country so a new location was sought. "We thought about Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and there was lots of frantic flying around to try and find somewhere suitable," admits Chrissy. "I remember one day in March when we still didn't know if we were going to Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and someone in the office piped up 'what about Buenos Aires?'. "But the World Service was quick to point out that Buenos Aires is much more Italian than Spanish; it's in the southern hemisphere, not in the tropics; and the racial mix is different….. so at the end of the day I was still none the wiser about where to go shooting. "In the end we settled on the Dominican Republic because the people are a mix of Hispanic and African origins which is very Cuban and the buildings have that crumbling, Spanish, colonial feel."Ian admits "We were always prepared that it wouldn't be filmed in Cuba. When we knew that the team had scouted and were happy with the Dominican Republic, we were reassured. You will never believe you're not in Havana."Franc Roddam shrugs off the problem: "We were so committed to the project that you move forward no matter what. Filming has always been flexible. When they made Carry On Up The Khyber it was probably in Croydon, so not being able to film in Cuba wasn't the end of the world." Spring 2003 – Location, location, location Once the final decision was made, the production team swung into action and at the end of March an advance party went out to the Dominican Republic to start preparations for filming. Chrissy said: "The art department and a mini-production team went out early to set up. And we got a very good local fixer involved who'd worked for the BBC before on Bitter Harvest. "The key thing was to find good, local people who could help us, especially with the language as rather a lot of us didn't speak any Spanish. "The art department had their work cut out. The main architecture in Santo Domingo was fine but the devil is in the detail, so they had to add lots of strong images such as painting a mural of Che on a wall or parking an American car in frame – voila! You're in Cuba. "They also did an amazing job building a set in the jungle for the ambassador's residence as there wasn't a big 18th century building available. We also built the boys 'villa' - which is obviously Cuban for 'hut'." Then the cast flew out towards the end of April and we did a six week shoot. There were the inevitable glitches that come with filming abroad, especially in a third world country. There are language barriers and although we took out our key team, most of the rest of the team were recruited locally. "But the biggest problem was the heat. I know filming in the Caribbean sounds marvellous but it was over 30 degrees every single day and it was humid. "Quite frankly at 8 o'clock in the morning you're sticky and you're going to be like that all day. The sun is more dangerous too so inevitably some people got sunburned or got sunstroke; others were bitten by strange insects – there were lots of bugs! "There were a few casualties but nothing too serious – we all came back in one piece – ready for the 11-week English shoot, of course."Most of the time we were shooting in the capital's old town, which is very like Havana but the residence was a little way out of the centre. "And for episode three we were way up in the hills which was quite like camping as we didn't have the normal winnebagos or a catering truck, we were literally in tents in the middle of the jungle. "But the atmosphere was fabulous. On the last day the local crew had a kind of spontaneous street party - and they are fantastic dancers! "Then we came back to the UK and finished filming the English locations and the interiors at Pinewood. Ironically we came back to one of the hottest summers ever – but at least it was a little less steamy!" Dick and Ian made a quick trip out to the Dominican Republic to see how filming was getting on and they were delighted by what they found. Dick admits "We were very impressed. We could see that it wasn't Havana but the art department had done a fantastic job which created the illusion very well. It looks much richer on screen than all the other series. Franc agrees: "The Dominican Republic is the most beautiful place. It's a great undiscovered spot next door to Cuba. When you're all away together you get completely absorbed by the culture of the place and that sustained everyone through the English studio shoot. "When I arrived I went to the hotel to visit the boys and it did make me laugh – they were all in a suite watching the football and eating snacks, just like being in a hut together!"