In the shadowy gloom of what looks like a construction site, surrounded by cables and wires, a team of six or seven people stare intently at a row of computer monitors. On the flickering screens, I can see a woman holding a big, fluffy cat, while several other people mill around.
I’m passed a pair of headphones, and when I put them on I can hear different voices chattering earnestly. The man in front of me picks up a walkie-talkie: ‘It’s looking great,’ he says. ‘Are all the dogs in place?’
An alarm rings out, and everyone falls silent. A man with a clapperboard appears, clacking it shut, and the actress with the cat begins to move through her scene, repeating her lines. In the background, three poodles respond to their trainer’s commands, taking it in turns to run in and out of the shot.
‘Cut!’ director Jack Jameson shouts, and everyone begins chatting excitedly. ‘It’s looking great,’ he continues, ‘we’re nearly there!’
Next, he and the script supervisor watch the scene back. ‘What’s that?’ she points. In the background, just visible between the rails of the staircase is something that shouldn’t be there.
‘It’s the dog trainer’s head,’ he laughs, jumping back on his walkie-talkie to the first AD (assistant director). ‘The trainer’s in shot; get her to move up a step,’ he instructs.
The process is repeated three more times, until, finally, everything is exactly right. ‘That’s it, we’ve got it, great job everybody,’ Jack announces.
I’m backstage at the famous Shepperton Studios in Surrey, where – since opening in 1932 – has created some of the UK’s most famous films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In fact, as I stand there, Mary Poppins Returns – the follow-up to the 1964 classic – is filming in one of the backlots.
This is what makes it so magical here – the incredible history, the priceless contribution to world cinema, and the fact you could literally bump into Meryl Streep in the carpark (I didn’t, unfortunately, though not for lack of looking).
Today I was here for a filming of a different kind; I was getting a sneak peek at one of CBeebies newest and most delightful new children’s programmes – Waffle the Wonder Dog. I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes – literally – at Shepperton Studios to watch the hugely talented cast and crew create this heart-warming new series, which will be hitting our screens from February 26.
The series is aimed at children aged four to seven, and focuses on the blended Brooklyn-Bells family – Mum and daughter Evie, and Dad and son Doug – who move into together, only to find they’ve somehow acquired an extra housemate – a miniature poodle named Waffle.
But this is no ordinary dog, as Waffle has a surprising twist in his tail. No spoilers here though – you’ll have to watch to find out what it is!
No one really knows where Waffle came from, but somehow he manages to wag his way into their hearts and their home with his mischievous adventures. Everyone loves the curly-furred scallywag… OK, nearly everyone, as much of the hilarious hijinx comes from Waffle’s encounters with their cat-obsessed neighbour, Mrs Hobbs, and her belligerent kitty George.
But while Waffle might find himself in lots of sticky situations, he always means well and his crazy capers actually help the family learn some valuable life lessons, and bring them closer together.
Not only was I able to watch a scene being filmed, I even got to meet the star of the show himself. Well, one of them… Waffle the Wonder Dog is actually played by three different miniature poodles, and I was thrilled to be able to meet one of them as he relaxed between scenes. Isn’t he gorgeous?!
After the scene had wrapped I was invited to check out the houses of the warring neighbours. The Brooklyn-Bell’s set was a perfect replica of a down-to-earth family kitchen – complete with family photos, children’s artwork and an assortment of cheerful clutter.
Next door we took a peek at the purple magnificence of Mrs Hobbs’ house, a kooky collection of all things kitty – from cat curtains, cushions, wallpaper and figurines, to a huge double bed just for grumpy George (Mrs Hobbs sleeps in a single bed in another room).
These sets have been meticulously created, and I was blown away the attention to detail of the designers (right down to finger marks on the walls to make them look ‘lived in’), who must have had an absolute blast finding furnishings and curios to complete these rooms.
The exterior sets are quite surreal – huge printed photo screens lit so cleverly that you have to keep reminding yourself it’s just an illusion and you’re not really in someone’s suburban back garden.
Waffle the Wonder Dog is aimed at the preschool market, but I could easily see my seven-year-old lapping (no pun intended) this up. It’s so sweet and charming, with cleverly-woven humour that makes it one of those programmes you could actually sit down and watch too (you know, those ones when you suddenly realise your child isn’t even in the room anymore, but you’re still avidly watching).
And, at just 11 minutes per episode, it’s the perfect treat-sized length for small attention spans or kids who beg for ‘just one more!’ before naptime.
Waffle the Wonder Dog will be wagging his way into your home, and your heart, on CBeebies from today, at 5.20pm.
I was a guest of Shepperton Studios and cast and crew of the Waffle the Wonder Dog
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