9 October 2003
What started off as a reenactment has become a recreation - in both senses of the word. Families have volunteered to take part, those involved in the first place and a legion of daytrippers and holidayers looking for something to bring photos back from to show the relatives. As if this blasted, shitty bit of Northumberland will look somehow better when dotted with TV cameras.
It probably counts as something of a redemption as well, or perhaps an exorcism. The families of the victims are divided, half declining to participate, refusing interviews, leaving spaces to be filled by eager drama students in 70s clothes. Others have thrown themselves into the event, sometimes playing their own extended family, sometimes themselves, depending on the ravages of time, the age that withered them at least, giving houseroom to young men and women cast for their uncanny resemblance to their own dead sons and daughters. They're a mixed bag of mixed abilities, actors and families alike, and some of the RADA-trained stabs at the local accent are pretty murderous. If you'll forgive the choice of words.
I'm not even sure how it all got started. Maybe it was the Police, or a newspaper. Probably the dead hand of Channel 5 was involved somewhere. Certainly the decorous black and white ads in the back of the broadsheets were soon replaced by portentous voiceovers and steadicam shots. First thirty seconds, then one minute, then three. The documentary on the history and preparations. The public expressions of interest by minor soap characters and the general supposition that the no-nonsense arresting officer would end up in Ross Kemp's lap. Not literally, obviously. That would be disconcerting.
There's almost certainly something in the press pack about it, but I haven't bothered to read it. I'm not really in this for the starry business, or even for the chance to be handcuffed by Ross Kemp. My background is historical. Recreation in the sense of recreating something, not in the sense of having fun. Civil War campaigns, pikestaffs, quaffing with the boys and girl (always one, always in an anorak) in the local real ale pub - it's a serious business, and serious business. Did you know that there are seven real ale pubs within arbalest distance of Bosworth Field? There's a reason for that.
And, in the end, this is just a big historical re-enactment, although the milieu is a bit more contemporary than I'm used to - same sort of bladed weapons, but a very different approach to chain mail. The resemblance had been noted before- thankfully, when he was in the papers I didn't look like him, and when I looked like him he wasn't in the papers, if you see what I mean. After three decades of growing into the face, I reckoned I had more of a claim to it than he did. After all, it wasn't like he was Che fucking Guevara or anything.
So, coincidences. The coincidence of my face, the coincidence of some friends I'd last seen on the end of a Roundhead pike seeing the adverts and phoning up to recommend me ("no, really. He looks just like a sex offender" - thanks for that, guys. That and 50p gets me an afternoon with your wives). Less coincidental maybe was the rejection of a kind offer by the man to play himself - wracked with remorse, open prison, no threat to society, but nonetheless. The years, after all, had not been kind, and being dunked face-first in a tea tureen for 25 seconds wasn't exactly a kiss on the cheek either. The original aim was to find some more of the bodies, but that seems a long time ago, before it all went reality TV on us. Besides, if he couldn't remember after this long, the producer argued, a bit of fresh air and a nature ramble was unlikely to be much help. In all likelihood, Laura Beadle, 23, Tom Sampson, 17, poor tragic Jane Minton and all were to be left undisturbed until the suburbs spread to the scrubland, when they will be found in the foundation-digging for a new Simsbury's. This isn't a great region to be relying on yuppie expansionism to uncover the unquiet grave.
With a practised press of fingers along cheeks, I add the stick-on sideburns, turning to Mike the cameraman and giving him a thumbs-up. For a second I feel like Anneka Rice, if Anneka Rice wore adhesive sidies and murdered people. And who knows, really? I'm meant to be picking up my first hitchhiker in half an hour. The director told me that, the limitations of live TV being what they are, I can use any level of force necessary to create a realistic impression, and that nobody ever reads the release forms anyway.
I've got butterflies in my stomach as big as the fist I make then study, as if I'm waiting for it to tell me just how much push to put behind it. When they film the making of or the reunion special, I'll tell them that I was wondering if this was how he felt, the first time he stopped to give Jilly Grey, 16, a ride into town. But I'll be lying. I'm not thinking anything like that. I'm nothing like him at all.