Emmerdale is the first UK soap to resume filming after lockdown put pretty much the entire TV drama industry on pause, and viewers can see part one of six special episodes depicting village life in isolation on Monday 8th June.
With social distancing, strict safety measures and government guidelines all firmly in place, getting the show on air again has thrown up a number of interesting challenges - read on as cast and crew share some backstage secrets of Emmerdale's comeback with RadioTimes.com…
There is a two-metre (sometimes retractable) pole on set at all times
To maintain the required two-metre distance in the workplace, an honorary new member of the crew has been employed: a two-metre pole. "Our pole is now quite famous in the industry!" laughs executive producer Jane Hudson. "We even have a retractable one. We physically bring it out on set and hole it between our actors and crew to ensure the distance. Plus we have two-metre dots on the studio floor, like a game of Twister, and hazard tape separating off areas for cast and crew."
Actors are in charge of their own props - including cleaning
"Each actor has their own prop trolley now," explains Hudson. "They've all been sanitised, cleaned and wiped down. The actors have to collect them, bring them to the set and take them back and put them away safety. You'll notice in Sam and Lydia's episode they're reading the same letter, but we cut around it so it was actually two letters to ensure the actors didn't touch the same prop. Smoke and mirrors!"
Rehearsals were on FaceTime
Danny Miller explains him and co-star Jeff Hordley had one day's rehearsal in the studio for Aaron and Cain's two-hander, airing on 10th June. "That was with the director and the producer so we could through and bring up any queries or issues. Then Jeff and I spent an hour FaceTiming each other to run through the episode a little bit more so we were fully prepared - then we were straight onto the shooting day. That shows how quickly Emmerdale and ITV can turn round a gritty piece of continuing drama. Making it was a different process as health and safety was prioritised among all the usual bits to remember, like lines, our position and cues. Quite rightly."
Soap rivalry has been put aside (for now)
Emmerdale are setting the blueprint for the country's continuing dramas to return to work, but Hudson reveals the team have consulted with their UK rivals and international counterparts for advice. "The soaps work together and the teams are all good friends. It's one of those times where ratings are parked and we can help each other get back on screen and keep doing the job we all love." Producer Kate Brooks adds: "We've been in touch with the other soaps, including ones in other countries like Neighbours and Shortland Street. The initial conversation was, 'How the heck are we going to do this?!' We've swapped information, Our production manager came up with the idea of putting a perspex screen around the camera, and now the rest of the industry are doing it."
Karen Blick cut her own fringe
Social distancing means hair and make-up can only advise from the sidelines, and cast are responsible for making themselves look presentable. Like many of us, Karen Blick gave herself a 'corona cut' before returning as Lydia. "Jess, our head of make-up, called me and talked me through cutting my own fringe. I was more nervous about that than recording the episode! It had to be out of my eyes, as you need to see the eyes when you're acting. I've also covered my greys and tried to look as much like Lydia did eight or nine weeks ago."