November 4, 2022

By Chloe Roden

Steven Knight is now a solidified name in British filmmaking, known for the iconic Peaky Blinders, Taboo (2017) and an upcoming Great Expectations adaptation starring Olivia Coleman. His latest historical drama is SAS Rogue Heroes, a brand new six-part drama based on the book of the same title by Ben Macintyre.

Set in North Africa, SAS Rogue Heroes follows the formation and early days of the first SAS soldiers based in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, during the horrors of World War II. The series stars a number of recognisable faces including Jack O’Connell, Alfie Allen, Sofia Boutella and Dominic West.

© Kudos

Although the series is set in North Africa, with only 2 scripted scenes set in England, a lot of SAS Rogue Heroes filmed right here in England. Tasked with doubling Cairo in wartime 1941, the Locations Department were in touch with Creative England’s Filming in England team with a number of intriguing locations briefs, looking for striking doubles for Cairo’s deserts, churches, prisons, military barracks, aerodromes, nightclubs… the list goes on!

We spoke with Location Manager David Kellick, who gave us some invaluable insights into the project’s journey to screen. Under the direction of Tom Shankland and Producer Stephen Smallwood, the Locations Department worked with designer Richard Bullock to transform multiple English locations, such as the former RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, Minley Manor in Hampshire, a former Malta Barracks, and a disused limestone quarry.

Victorian Stately Home Minley Manor in Hampshire

David Kellick expands:

“We are all proud of our work on SAS Rogue Heroes. Everyone involved seemed to have a vested interest in their desire to make it the best that it could possibly be, they certainly have not disappointed.

Having read Ben McIntyres book of the same name and watched the documentary, it was as if all my Christmases had come at once. At this point, I would like to say thank you to Creative England for their help, as initially we could look anywhere in the UK, we were able to cover a large area in a short space of time. I would also like to thank Emma, Karen, Tim and Alison at Kudos, the Producer Stephen Smallwood, and the Line Producer Lorraine Goodman for letting me come and play – as well as putting together a unit that was the perfect storm… in a good way. Working with Richard Bullock-Designer and his team was a pleasure; from our first scout it was to be all smoke and mirrors, illusion at its best with a roll of gaffer tape thrown in. A thank you to my small team also, that made me look plausibly competent.”

© Kudos

The first part of the shoot was to be Morocco, but as the date for principal photography neared, the COVID-19 travel ban to Morocco was still firmly in place. David Kellick expands:

“Marcus Catlin, 1st Assistant Director, looked rather serious one morning which is very unlike him normally. The first four weeks of the UK shoot were to be brought forward to the start and a couple of days later the remaining four also. It meant that the first location would be a large empty stately home in Norfolk. It was to play several locations, was one of the biggest dresses and had over 150 supporting artists. Added to this, we had planned to be there when it was much warmer

White Waltham © David Kellick

As so much of the story involves aircrafts, the Locations Department visited White Waltham Airfield in Berkshire, which would become the hub of operations:

“White Waltham had a runway, old hangars, buildings for prop stores and a brand-new grain store which (after a little negotiation) became our set build space.  It also had a large field with a light-coloured soil that once cut, sprayed, ploughed and then rolled, became an expanse of desert that played German and Italian airfields; a British desert camp; an RAF base; and a parachute training and landing area… along with a few other elements.

From a location point of view, we could stay in one place for a while and not worry about moving to accommodate night and day and go back to what many of the crew think is our primary role: that of parking and toilets.

I remember reading once of the interpretation of a scene from the view of a director and a producer…

Script says: A hundred camels come over the dunes.
Director says: It should be two hundred camels.
Producer says: Where do I find and pay for ten camels.”

© Kudos

SAS Rogue Heroes premiered on Sunday 30th October on BBC One – all episodes are now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

To explore more location doubles, visit the Filming in England website.