This feature originally appeared in Radio Times magazine.

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It’s been five years since the third series of Detectorists was broadcast – at the time I thought that would probably be the last of it. I had left the characters in a good place with bright futures ahead of them and decided to only disturb them again if a really good story occurred to me.

In that time, it seems the initial fondness for Detectorists has only grown, as more people have found the show. Fans have been so generous to me in their praise and often express a wish that the episodes were longer. Then, about year ago, a really good story occurred to me. It was a story that I thought would suit a single, feature-length episode rather than a series.

I told Toby Jones the idea over lunch. I’d rehearsed the telling of the story so as to not reveal an important plot twist too early. When it came to that part, Toby literally gasped and I knew I had him on board – and there could be no Andy and Lance without Lance. So we got the band back together one last time and, at the end of August, headed out to the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

Detectorists season 3
Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook as Lance and Andy in Detectorists. BBC/Chris Harris Channel X/Chris Harris/BBC

When shooting Detectorists, I’m always looking for opportunities to film bits of wildlife to sprinkle through the episode. This is easier said than done as wildlife photography takes hours of patient waiting, but we were lucky one morning when we went to capture sunrise over Lance and Andy’s field.

One of the crew spotted a pure white fallow deer and, as we filmed, it turned and started heading up the field towards us. That has become the second shot in the episode – it was only in the editing process that I spotted a bonus hare running through the frame.

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When filming in the fields I grabbed the opportunity, at lunchtimes, to turn on the metal detector (I learnt early to switch it off during filming – too distracting). But the farmland we use was once a military base and the ground is littered with spent bullets and shotgun cartridges, all of which give a similar signal to a coin, so it was pretty frustrating.

The only treasure found on the shoot was “eyes only” – spotted without the use of a metal detector. One day the first assistant director, Matt Bell, wandered up to me. “Do you think that’s anything?” he asked, opening his hand to reveal a thin flake of flint. Now, I did a flint-knapping course a few years back where we learnt to make stone tools and implements (stop laughing, you’d be surprised how often it comes in useful) and I could tell that this piece had been shaped by human hands.

Matt was sceptical and said I could keep it. Later, when we were filming at the Suffolk Archaeology Service office I showed the stone to Anna Booth, the finds liaison officer for the county. She immediately (and nonchalantly) confirmed, “It’s a flint blade of probable Neolithic to early Bronze Age date. Congratulations.” She recorded it officially on the Government database and handed it back to Matt with a certificate. He decided he was keeping it after all.

Since we last made Detectorists, a lot has changed. The picturesque, thatched cottage that Andy and Becky bought at the end of the last series sadly burnt down a couple of years ago and the village hall, where the DMDC hold their weekly meetings, has been demolished and replaced with a new building.

The familiarity and safety of the Danebury Scout Hall is an important part of the show, so we found a very similar hall in a nearby village and dressed it to look like the original. I’m pretty sure only the most eagle-eyed of viewers will notice any differences.

The cast of Detectorists. BBC/Chris Harris

Saddest of all was the loss of Diana Rigg in 2020. Diana played Rachael Stirling’s mum Veronica, and was of course her mum in real life. She was a joy to work with on the second and third series, a brilliant actor and utterly hilarious between takes. We all missed her, but I know it was particularly poignant and sad for Rachael to be back where we had such a laugh only a few years ago.

Ultimately, though, it was a happy shoot and good to see old friends in the cast and crew. I hope that feeling comes across in the film and that the loyal Detectorists fans enjoy it this Christmas.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse Radio Times cover
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