Just before Arlo was born a friend of a friend on Facebook shared a post – something along the lines of “new born baby required for bbc drama production end of June – get in touch if you’re pregnant and expecting around this time.”
Little did I know that responding to all of this would propel us into one of our first big adventures. I was sitting in a Waterstones cafe on our local high street, introducing Arlo to my parents as they had journeyed down to visit Arlo for the first time. He was tiny, still a newborn and barely a week old when someone from the BBC called me.
Arlo had arrived a little bit earlier than expected and this was a shock to the casting director, he asked me to email over pictures right away and then also said they needed his paperwork, but we hadn’t even registered Arlo’s birth at this point in time.
So we booked that in, and then once we had his certificate he was granted a performance licence. In those first few crazy newborn weeks I read through the documents slightly bemused with all the regulations and wondering what on earth the project could be.
We were sent instructions to arrive on set on the 10th July. Arlo was not even four weeks old at this point in time. We drove a short journey to a beautiful Georgian Manor House near Faversham which was the location for the latest series in the production.
I’ll never forget driving through the grounds to the house the first time, the landscape was stunning, the view of the house was perfect and I already felt like I was in a story book. Arlo being the dream of a newborn was fast asleep as we arrived and were ushered to the left – where the cast and crew’s facilities were set for the summer.
A little Collection of trailers were arranged carefully in a square – one for each actor to utilise as a dressing room and private space between their filming, and I was bemused to discover that Arlo has his very own assigned trailer with his characters name on the door.
I’d never known anything like this, as he snoozed in his car seat the cast and crew all came to meet their newest co-star, and I was also introduced to chaperones. I wasn’t aware at the time, but the majority of the cast were children and so they had chaperones looking after them on set the whole time.
Every second in front of the camera, on set and all of the breaks need to be recorded for young performers. According to Arlo’s licence he was allowed to “work” for a grand total of two hours a day, but could be on set for five hours in total, most of which was spent waiting for the actors in each scene to rehearse their lines and for the crew to co-ordinate all of the little details to make Arlo’s job run as smoothly as possible.
He was dressed in the most beautiful Victorian styled baby costume, which was miles too big for him, plus a little crochet bonnet and he also had a blanket too. I remember keeping him out of his costume as long as possible as I was super worried I would spill some milk but he was amazing throughout.
Our call to set finally arrived, and our first scene was outdoors, his “mother” had to hold him whisky sitting on a bench and talking to the protagonist of the show “Hetty Feather” – I remember that Arlo surprised everyone with how relaxed he was, the team were extremely well rehearsed so all I had to do was hand over a snoozy baby and let them film.
Of course, nothing runs smoothly and I remember during filming a plane flew overhead (of course these didn’t exist in Victorian times) and so the scene needed to be shot again.
There were so many members of the crew for this small scene, and with such a tiny new born around everyone was extra calm and quiet but also excited too. As a new mum I was delighted that everyone wanted to make a fuss of my baby and didn’t mind at all that he was being held by someone else.
I found it fascinating to chat to adults for the first time about something which wasn’t baby related. I’d been off work on Maternity leave at this stage for six weeks and hadn’t quite realised how much I missed conversation, and learning how a tv set works was such a fabulous experience. Not at all as glamorous as you would expect.
In fact it was quite tiresome watching the exact same scene being filmed repeatedly as cameras were adjusted to capture different characters and angles. They did extremely well to capture as much footage as possible without needing Arlo, capturing close ups from shoulder height and backs turned meant that they could use a doll to substitute for a real life baby outside of Arlo’s working hours.
After our first two days of filming I think everyone was relieved to have found a relaxed baby and mum, I think they had also got one or two other babies lined up but for one reason or another they didn’t quite settle so well during their scenes and so we were invited back for more days.
In fact throughout the summer we filmed almost weekly and Arlo appears in almost every episode of season 4. Our last day was during the last week on location and it was with a heavy heart we had to say goodbye to everyone we had met during our summer.
It’s easy to see how close friendships develop between people in environments such as these and I can honestly say that we had a wonderful experience, our last scene invited a silent round of applause as Arlo was fast asleep during filming (again). And he was given little parting gifts as mementoes of our summer.
It wasn’t until May that the show was ready to be aired and by this time Arlo was almost one. I remember sitting to watch the episodes every week and I couldn’t quite believe that looking back Arlo was so tiny. My favourite scene was filmed in the drawing room as his “brother” fixed a music box and his parents danced whilst holding him, and as I watched this air on TV I remember feeling overcome with emotion.
I hadn’t realised the storyline was quite so complex, and it was actually a fun tv show to watch, like Downton Abbey for kids – and based on books by one of my favourite childhood Authors Jacqueline Wilson. It was so lovely to see his name in the credits too.
Moving on to September 2018, we were contacted again because season five filming was about to commence, I wasn’t quite sure how Arlo, almost 18 months at this stage would cope being on a film set, but I agreed none the less and we packed up ready for the first day of filming, and as we arrived on set it was like nothing had changed, except all of the children had grown.
Of course Arlo could walk at this stage and he wasn’t such a sleepy character anymore. He filmed several different scenes and although he was happy and comfortable enough in himself it was almost impossible for the team to capture any sort of continuity with the footage – we had to keep checking his bonnet position because he pulled at it constantly. We still had fun though. Our scenes featured a horse drawn carriage – the horses had impressive CV’s and featured in all sorts of movies – I think they’d been with Angelina Jolie the week before.
In between being on set it was impossible to keep Arlo amused in his trailer and so we spent lots of time exploring the stunning grounds of the house, climbing trees and chatting with cast and crew members and keeping food away from the beautiful costume. It will be of surprise to learn that in season five the footage of Arlo is very “blink and you’ll miss it”
We were extremely surprised to be invited back for the final season of Hetty Feather. The cast had changed considerably. I won’t share too much as this season hasn’t aired yet but I was surprised myself that after Arlo’s whirlwind antics that he would even be considered, but also excited to learn about the progression of the storyline.
Our first scene was an outdoor picnic, filmed in a dell. As the cast completed final rehearsals I say close by with Arlo in an head to toe white costume and all he wanted to do was roll down a grass bank. He was to be positioned near to a huge bowl of strawberries for the picnic which was a nightmare waiting to happen but for some reason as soon as the camera started rolling he seemed to stand on just the right spot for just the right amount of time.
I hadn’t seen the final footage until it aired and I wasn’t sure if Arlo would make the cut because we also met another mini Arlo – another boy the same height with the same blonde curls who was filming the same scenes in the afternoon after our licenced time to shoot was up, but we had fun on set and that’s the main thing.
I’ll treasure these memories because this is what prompted me to find an agent and set up an Instagram to share our story in the first place. Arlo has had castings for modelling work and some great opportunities because of this experience and we will forever be grateful for the team at Hetty Feather for giving us such a warm welcome and making us feel so at home.