A life on the ocean waves...

THE HMS Grafton, the warship that recently serving as a floating filmset for a television drama series Making Waves, is drawing the crowds to Ipswich dockside this week.

THE HMS Grafton, the warship that recently serving as a floating filmset for a television drama series Making Waves, is drawing the crowds to Ipswich dockside this week.

Katy Edwards stepped on board at Ipswich's Cliff Quay to interview the backstage stars of latest Carlton Television big budget drama.

SPACE on board HMS Grafton is at a premium at the very best of times. So when the ship's crew was asked to share with a team of actors and bulky camera equipment during nearly four months of filming it was bound to demand some readjustments.

The new Carlton Television drama serial, Making Waves, which should come to our screens next year, aims to recreate life on board a 21st Century warship as faithfully as possible.

Many of the extras and cameo roles in the drama were played by real life crew members and naval liaison officers were on hand at all times to offer advice and interrupt whenever actors steered the wrong side of naval etiquette.

Making Waves promises to be a big budget drama. Carlton has gone full steam ahead with the project, agreeing to stump up the cost of transforming the ship into a filmset, together with any running costs incurred during filming - not inconsiderable considering it involved shooting some scenes at sea.

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The series has been created by Ted Childs, executive producer of the hit series Soldier Soldier.

The cast list includes Alex Ferns (Trevor from Eastenders) playing Commander Martin Brooke with Emily Hamilton as Jenny Howard, his second in command.

Lee Boardman, Jez Quigley in ITV's Coronation Street, plays HMS Suffolk's Leading Chef, Art Francis.

Filming the drama was something of a culture shock for the crew of the HMS Grafton, more used to chasing drug smugglers in the Caribbean, than coping with bright lights and luvvies.

Having returned from a five month drug-busting operation, in December, the Grafton was scheduled for a three months maintenance period at HM Naval base in Portsmouth. The high profile that the ship had earned through several major drugs hauls made it an attractive prospect for programme makers at Carlton.

The fact that Grafton's crew is almost entirely composed of attractive 20-somethings and is headed by one of the youngest commanders in the Navy - dashing, 36-year-old Richard Thomas - must have helped make up their minds.

Although, the commander admitted, some of the crew did have some regrets watching other ships sail for action in the Gulf, for the most part, the filming was an enjoyable, if somewhat bizarre, departure from day to day life on board.

He said: "We had a tremendous time filming. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get involved with something like that and I think it will turn out to be a great series."

The ship's usual staff of 180 was downsized to accommodate 50 film crew and actors, for the scenes shot at sea, near Plymouth. Attention to detail was meticulous, with every name plate changed to HMS Suffolk.

For the actors, the accommodation came as a bit of a shock. Ordinarily, even the most junior members of the film crew would enjoy en suite accommodation on location. On HMS Grafton, however, they found they were to sleep in cramped communal cabins, sharing with 30 others, with just one bathroom facility for more than 100.

The crew and cast socialised together on land after filming and the experience has led to some firm friendships.

The commander, who has captained the Grafton for two years but is to leave the ship for a post at the MOD in September, enjoyed working alongside Alex Ferns.

He said: "We spent quite a bit of time together. He wanted to mirror me and mimic some of my quirks and stock phrases. We would drive the ship in and out of Portsmouth with him sitting in the captain's chair and me hiding around the corner giving orders. He was exceptionally professional and very keen to portray me in a realistic way."

Whilst Ferns was in the driving seat, Cdr Thomas was downgraded to a lowly extra.

The commander said he was surprised how well the two sides - artistic and military - came together.

"We had thought there may be some conflict but everyone was willing to compromise," he said.

An enduring memory will be a scene where Greenpeace protestors were flashing their bottoms at HMS Suffolk in defiance, from another ship.

The Cdr said: "We had to shoot it about 10 times. Imagine what all the other ships in Portsmouth thought when they tuned in to the kind of orders we were giving. After 14 years at sea, I don't want to be remembered for that."

Lieutenant Commander Donald Walker was the only crew member who got to play himself in the drama, although he had only one line.

"We were auctioning off a dead sailor's clothes and I had to shout '£120'," he said.

He also offered firefighting advice during a scene where the Grafton is engulfed by flames and took part in a mess dinner, which took all day to shoot, by which time the food was stone cold.

"We wondered why all the navy boys were tucking in on the first take and the actors were only picking at their food," he said.

Lt Cdr Walker was responsible for supervising the film crew and actors on board.

"When they first put their uniforms on they looked complete scruffs," he said.

"They didn't know how to hold themselves or when or who to salute. Emily Hamilton got into it the most. She started calling it her ship and her boardroom."

Daniel Gauld, 19, one of the Grafton's chefs, from Manchester and leading chef Ali Hathrill, were thrown into close contact with one of the main Making Waves characters Lee Boardman, aka Art Francis.

Ali said: "He was a good laugh, always taking the micky. We were making gingerbread men and had to teach him how to hold a rolling pin. Some of it was a bit tedious as it took so long to film."

Robin Barclay, 24, from Stonehaven in Scotland, who works in electronic warfare maintenance, said: "There were lots of scenes on the upper deck when they filmed us going about our normal business."

Gary Barber, 21, from Melton, near Woodbridge, an operator mechanic, said: "There are usually a lot of people around when we are working as normal and they wanted to recreate that. It was interesting being on the other side of the cameras for a change."

A spokesman for Carlton Television said: "The Grafton was a great location for our fictitious ship. We had to find a name of a ship that is not in use any more, hence HMS Suffolk. We understood they could be called away with 48 hours notice. This was certainly a prime example of co-operation between the military and a television company."

When filming finished on June 27, there was a small readjustment period, but they soon slotted back into its former role. Once the new commander takes over, the Grafton will undergo four months of training before heading to the Gulf in February 2004.

The crew should not get too used to life away from the cameras, there is already talk of filming a second series, this time in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.

Making Waves is currently in post-production and is not expected to be screened until 2004, although the release date has not been finalised. It will be shown as a series of six episodes. Carlton Television said it was not releasing any pictures from the filming as yet.

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