Meet Teesdale's most unlikely film stars
Farmers Marcus and Mandy Bainbridge’s shared passion for animals has led to the launch of Animal Crew, a business which supplies livestock and pets to appear on the silver screen. Reporter Wendy Short met them
THERE is a warm welcome upon entry into the Bainbridges’ living room, with a large number of friendly dogs of various shapes and sizes enjoying the warmth, along with a pet lamb which seems remarkably well house-trained.
An African grey parrot, Beaky, is sitting on Mandy Bainbridge’s shoulder and joins in the conversation occasionally by uttering the word “turning” (of which more later). Outside, a couple of cobs and a flock of about 100 ewes graze the hill farm in the company of assorted geese and chickens.
Farmers have been encouraged to diversify their businesses and Mr and Mrs Bainbridge have embraced the concept with enthusiasm. Animal Crew is their most recent venture and the couple have built a solid reputation for providing four-legged and winged “actors” with the correct temperament for film work, says Mrs Bainbridge.
“Our livestock knowledge has been invaluable in the supply of animals for filming because the people responsible for procurement have their own areas of expertise and that does not always include a detailed understanding of farming,” she says.
“We often supply animals for period dramas and this means we have to choose our breeds carefully. A modern hybrid hen, for example, would not be appropriate on a set for a historical production, and a modern dairy cow would also look out of place.”
Mrs Bainbridge adds: “We were recently asked to bring along a group of cattle and we chose the Shorthorn, which is one of our oldest native breeds.
“Film producers will bring in stunt horses for more complex performances, but our cobs have been used as dressing horses, where they are required to graze a field, or stand and look out over a stable door. We also have some very tame hens, which have appeared on film and TV on several occasions.
“There is a limit to the number of animals that we keep on the farm and we will often need to borrow pecific breeds for film work.
“The same applies to dogs. We were recently asked to provide a rottweiler and cockerpoo for filming and we managed to find pets belonging to local people.”
Dogs that are suitable for filming must be extremely well trained and possess a sociable nature, stresses Mrs Bainbridge. She is always looking out for new candidates to add to her ‘books.’
“This year I plan to offer weekly, indoor trick training classes for dogs, partly in the hope that I will find some pets that we can add to our list of available animals.
“One behaviour that is often required is for the dog to lie down and put its chin on the ground, as this makes it look sad. It is a trick that is relatively simple to teach. The classes will be overseen by Nicci Hindson, who competes at the top level in Heelwork to Music and has represented Team GB.
“Some of the films we work on have a multi-million pound budget and there may be as many as 200 people waiting for the dog to play its part correctly. That means if it is told to stay, it must not move at all, because every extra minute increases the cost of the production. It is essential for our business that we are perceived as reliable and that our animals will perform as expected, so our standards on training have to be very high.”
African grey parrots are notoriously long-lived and Beaky was not acquired by the Bainbridges until she was a mature bird. Therefore, she has picked up phrases which are not frequently heard in a farming household; most notably: “I want a MacDonald’s.”
She is also part of Animal Crew and picked up a new stock phrase on set. Mrs Bainbridge, who competed in top level dog agility before suffering an unrelated injury in 2015, explains: “Beaky played the part of Queen Victoria’s parrot in the ITV drama, Victoria, which is now in its third season.
“The standard procedure before the cameras roll is to get into first position, after which one of the team will shout ‘turning’.
“Beaky quickly picked up on that and she is given to saying it at random, sometimes inappropriate, moments. The same applies to her request for a MacDonald’s whilst on a period drama, although she is usually very well behaved.
“The animals are subject to strict welfare regulations and they are treated just as well as the actors on set; we all spend our down time in the same area,” she comments.
“There is a lot of waiting around in filming, and many of the crew and cast enjoy interacting with the animals between takes.”
The couple’s son Joshua is now taking a course in airport management, having previously taken part in several TV shows including Are You Smarter than a 10-year-old with Noel Edmonds.
Their youngest, Reuben, has chalked up several acting credits, despite being only 13.
His appearances include a star part in The Forsaken, a film set in Norway, and he also took on the role of the young Heathcliff in the BBC radio dramatisation of Wuthering Heights.
THE two holiday cottages on the farm are available only to dog owners and this arm of the business is a past winner of the Kennel Club’s Best Place to Holiday with your Dog competition.
“We apply this criterion because we think that visitors who do not like dogs will not fully enjoy their stay,” says Mrs Bainbridge.
“We do not set a limit on the number of dogs that our guests can bring and the first four can stay free of charge.
“The cottages have been designed for dogs and have slate floors, enclosed gardens and even a dog shower.
“There is also a dog exercise area and guests who compete in dog agility are welcome to use the course in our indoor arena.”
MR Bainbridge is a second generation farmer. His late father, Arthur, kept laying hens and pigs.
The original vision when the couple moved to the farm in 1998 was to have a large herd of suckler cows, but things have turned out very differently, he says.
Nevertheless, he still enjoys looking after his mixed flock of Swaledale, Texel and Teeswater ewes, whose lambs are sold both finished and as stores.
“Our serious association with animals for film and TV started when Beowulf was being filmed in Stanhope and we were asked to take along a goat, several hens and some fleeces,” says Mr Bainbridge.
“Sadly, it ended after just a dozen episodes, but we received several requests for animals from people we met on the set and it took off from there.
“We decided to develop the idea further and that meant we had to obtain expensive insurance, and obtain a Performing Animal Licence and a Performing Animals Movement Licence, although we still have to comply with animal movement restrictions from farm to farm.
“I still consider myself, first and foremost, a farmer,” he says.
“But my initial ambition to have a large suckler herd was thwarted, first by BSE, then foot-and-mouth disease and a long spell of poor prices.
“My dad used to reminisce about the time when he could set up any farming enterprise with the confidence that there would be a market for his produce and that it would be profitable.
“Sadly, that is no longer the case and the business has taken a very different turn. But I have no regrets and there is never a dull day here on the farm, our main challenge is to find enough time to get everything done.”
LOOK out for cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs and birds supplied by the Bainbridges when the forthcoming BBC TV series, Gentleman Jack is aired later this month.
It is based on the life of landowner and industrialist, Anne Lister, of Halifax, who is played by the actor, Suranne Jones.
Animal Crew animals are also featured in episodes of Vera and The Dumping Ground, as well as in feature films including Dark River, The Unfamiliar and Dark Encounter.