MARION SAUVEBOIS looks at how the streets of Corsham have become a favourite location for film crews from far and wide

WHEN Poldark packed up his scythe and hopped on his buggy to flaunt his chiselled abs and rugged charms elsewhere after a fleeting shoot on Corsham's thoroughfare, the town's deserted female denizens were a hair's breadth away from calling a national day of mourning.

But bidding floppy-haired fops like Aidan Turner farewell comes with the territory when you call a prime film location your home.

His summary departure still rankles nearly two years on, but no-one can say the fair ladies of Corsham did not make the most of his all-too-brief stopover.

Conspicuous slow-motion crossing of the High Street on the pretence of running errands coupled with Olympic grade neck-craning to catch a glimpse of the actor's brooding good looks have provided no end of stories to share on a lonely winter’s night.

Not least for the (female) team at Corsham Town Council.

“The set was open so the public could watch from a safe distance,” saidSharon Thomas, head of community services at Corsham Town Council.

“You had a clash of people in costume and people walking their dogs, crossing the street or doing their shopping. It was strange, really, but very exciting.”

Luckily for Sharon and her cohorts, the Town Hall was at heart of the action and for the duration of the shoot the first floor of the historic building doubled-up as a waiting room for extras while the council chamber was commandeered as storage space for props of all descriptions.

All the windows on the ground floor had to be obscured to conceal the hoard of costumes and electrics from the all-seeing lens of the camera on the High Street outside.

Unfortunately for the smitten council staff, Aidan Turner chose the pub next door, The Flemish Weaver as his dressing room and never set foot in the Town Hall.

“We never met him but he gave us a signed picture and we did ogle him from afar,” laughs Sharon. "And we aren’t the only ones.”

This business of being a quaint telegenic town has attracted high profile directors over the years - namely Stanley Kubrick, who filmed interior scenes of his Oscar-winning period drama Barry Lyndon in the town’s manor house Corsham Court in 1975.

The stately home’s library also served as the backdrop for the 1993 Academy Award-nominated classic The Remains of the Day starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Just down the road, Lacock has also been a favourite with location scouts. Scenes from blockbusters Harry Potter and The Other Boylen Girl as well as BBC dramas Pride and Prejudice and Wolf Hall were shot at the abbey while the picturesque village’s cottages have appeared Cranford and last year, Downton Abbey.

Certainly this corner of Wiltshire, and Corsham in particular, present a huge appeal for period pieces. Strolling down the High Street past the lime-washed rubble stone buildings and blend of Victorian, Georgian and Elizabethan architecture visitors are awash with an eerie sense that time has stood still. Only the rows of lampposts, cars, and a phone box betray the tale-tale signs of modernity.

These have left production companies rivalling in ingenuity to hide (in plain sight) any trace of our century and transport viewers back in time.

“That’s the appeal of Corsham,” says Colette O’Sullivan, tourism and events officer at Corsham Town Council.

“You have to cover a few things but if you put a camera at ground level you can do a 360 degree turn and not see anything that screams 21st century.

"It’s a timeless quintessential English town.”

For Poldark, the phone box was covered with a purpose-built wooden shed to maintain the illusion of an 18th century fishing village. Lampposts had to be physically removed though as no amount of CGI or shrewd prop work could have concealed them. The design crew went as far as transforming an empty store into a haberdashery. Of course these airbrushing tricks and mass lamppost removals required permits.

“It’s a complicated process,” says Collette.

“You have to get permission for everything from small road signs to lights. Logistically it’s not easy. They came on a bank holiday weekend and spent four days preparing the set, covering electric wires."

Sharon nods: “You learn enough about production to make your head explode. It’s incredible what they do, it’s like stepping back in time.

"My favourite quote from the whole week was from a prop girl who said, ‘It’s all right I found a pretty cabbage’. There was a market on set and the production team looking after the props have to be so thorough. Everything has to look perfect.”

The period drama, which aired on the BBC last year, follows Captain Ross Poldark, played by Turner, as he returns to his native Cornwall from the American War of Independence to find his father dead, his house wrecked and his sweetheart engaged.

To pass off Corsham as a Cornish fishing village, ships masts were CGId in the final cut.

A week after Poldark wrapped in May 2014, Corsham was in the thick of it again when filming started for the last instalment of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - with Paddy Considine, as the real-life Scotland Yard investigator. This time the Town Hall was repurposed as a courthouse and a fake door was created to the side of the building.

The initially buzz petered out quickly after the first few takes for council staff. Filming is a fastidious and repetitive process and you can only listen to one man deliver the same lines so many times before the novelty wears off.

“We were working at our desks inside when they filmed a ‘Hang him’ mob scene outside,” recalls Sharon faking annoyance. “They did it over and over again and by the end we thought, ‘Just hang him already!’”

Unfortunately there are no immediate plans to film any new period drama or modern day action film in Corsham this year. As for the anticipated return of Aidan Turner, the dark turn Poldark's plot has taken means the hunk won't be strolling down Corsham town centre again anytime soon.

“Initially we thought they would be back but unfortunately he spends the second series in prison,” sighs Colette.

“They got so many stock shots of Corsham when they filmed the first series they won’t need to be back. It would be nice to see Aidan again one day though. But we’ve already done some period dramas and it would be nice to appear in something contemporary and capture the quirky side of Corsham.”