Le Tour de France all over again

Sarah, John and Ken, along with actor Andrew Turnbull (formerly Le Fantôme Cycliste), filmmaker Christo Wallers and Eleanor as sound technician, set off in early June for 7 days filming in France for the digitised version of the TSF stage show Le Tour de France (soon to be a downloadable interactive learning tool). Here’s John’s view of events:

Day 1 Noyon
Halfway between Calais and Paris, town twinned with Hexham. We arrive in this  sleepy town by the canal with barges stationed along its banks, like the ones used in Jean Vigo's L’Atalante. The cafe where we will film is run by twins and we manage to get a few scenes done outside under an awning before the Saturday lunch clientele turn up. During the day there is a continuing cacophony of cars passing, yapping dogs, Canadian cyclists, men doing deménagements from the house next to the cafe, so much so that we begin to think we are in some Laurel & Hardy scenario where every possible interruption can and will happen. While filming, the man moving house slams his car door on his packed vehicle, breaking the car window. For what seems the next half hour, he unrolls in great screeching sweeps a roll of sticky tape to bandage his window. All sound recording is impossible. Things quieten and we continue the day with Cécile Lehn (actor in L'Enfant Peul) who has trained it up from Paris to be the waitress, originally played by Sarah.

Day 2 Paris
Off to Notre Dame to film us racing past her in search of the final sprint of the Tour de France. Eleanor interviews Gabriel, Cécile's son, on his favourite haunts around the city centre which takes us to the ice cream seller Berthillon on the Île de la Cité. We film there, being told off by some French woman that we shouldn't be filming in the streets of Paris. Full stop. I wonder what Godard did? We continue to the Pyramid at the Louvre, as if following the race and becoming a side show to those queueing for entry, un petit divertissement. It feels strange to be filming surrounded by tourists all watching, but needs must.

Day 3 Un Château
We visit Sophie and Babette's château in Guigneville, south of Paris, to refilm the episode in a creepy old hotel with the Rebecca-like housekeeper of the old château showing us round. We find in the basement an atmospheric stairwell and corridors that make for a good opportunity for our candelabra lit scenes. Sophie's mischievous and malevolent figure provides a great start to our spooky song as we go off to bed.

Day 4 By the River Loire
We have driven down to the Loire to interview an old school friend of Sarah's - Michelle Lorcery - who has cribbed up on Joan of Arc having fought the English 600 years ago in this little town of Jargeau, not far from Orléans. She is full of local info on the floods and activities on the river. We find a suitably tasty patisserie in which Jack can indulge his fantasies for French foodstuffs.... Then we rush off to Orléans to find a spot on the Loire to film biking along its banks. Due to spaghetti bridges and tagliatelli junctions we are directed down the wrong side of the Loire in search of this location which is a bit hard to define on SatNav. Finally we cross the river at Meung, where filming is finally possible.

Day 5 Villejesus
Having arrived at Ken's house in the Charente, we set up to film our spooky song in one of the extremely authentic looking old French bedrooms, in his spacious house, refurbished from an old animal barn. It has a beautiful patio where we eat the most scrumptious risotto and local fish. In the afternoon we head to the forest to do the kidnap of Kent amidst leafy lanes and dappled light. The malicious Fantôme Cycliste has set up a bivouac here – now abandoned - which prompts us to improvise text around his presence in the forest. Too many takes ensue.

Day 6 The Coast
Up and off early to La Rochelle where Andrew will play the ice cream seller in the picturesque city centre. He plays big and wild like an Italian Sacha Baron Cohen. But lashing rain propels us into sandwich and wifi shelter, till the sun comes out again. Then off quickly to the beach, but where will it be? Efforts to find one close by lead us into industrial estates near the Chef de la Baie, then onto a too steep stoney beach on the far side till finally we circumvent the town to what is called Chatelaillon-Plage in the hope of some simple stretch of sand. Here complete with beach huts,  wind surfers and flat out gale we film the Fantôme Cycliste sunbathing and the reclaiming of le maillot rouge et blanc!

Day 7 La Charente
Shots around Villejesus, with much picking up of shots of roadsigns – les panneaux - for our new road sign song, written by Ken. We film the song, conceived as a biking shot filmed out of the back of our TSF van with cameraman Christo holding on for dear life to his steadycam set up made of bungie chords and what not else. Luckily, since Ken is on his unicycle and I am on my scooter we can’t cycle that fast, so all is possible.

Day 8 The drive home
Drive from La Charente to Calais and sleep in an Etapes in the Milton Keynes-like maze that is the Cité Europe outside Calais.

Day 9 Back in the UK
Calais to Newcastle where we hear we missed the worst weather of the non-summer, with storms and torrential rain... Oh and something to do with a Jubilee?