Drake's progress

Bridgnorth | News | Published:

Shropshire playwright David Tristram has taken his creation, Inspector Drake, from the stage to the screen in a big screen adventure. And all for around £1,000.

Shropshire playwright David Tristram has taken his creation, Inspector Drake, from the stage to the screen in a big screen adventure. And all for around £1,000.

Is it possible to make a hit movie for around £1,000? Shropshire playwright David Tristram is about to find out.

Armed with a couple of cameras, a gang of willing volunteers, and a character with a quarter of a century's history on the stage, he has committed madcap crimefighter Inspector Drake to celluloid.

And tomorrow, at Bridgnorth's Theatre on the Steps, the movie gets its public premiere.

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It is the culmination of a marathon effort for 52-year-old David, from Highley, who has produced, directed and edited the full-length feature film himself. Not to mention writing the screenplay.

He says: "It's a strange thing, because when you perform a play, you can see the audience reaction straight away. With a film, you have no idea how it will be received until all the work is done, by which time it's too late.

"But within the constraints we had to work within, I think what we have achieved is a minor miracle!"


The seed of the movie idea was sown at the start of last year, when David and his colleagues at The Flying Ducks theatre company were seeking ways of marking the 25th anniversary of Inspector Drake's stage debut with something "a little more permanent".

David, originally from Quarry Bank in the Black Country, has previously written four plays for the clowning sleuth - the first of which made its debut at the Citizen's Theatre in Merry Hill in 1985.

He describes his creation as a cross between larger than life characters of old fashioned Ealing comedies, Leslie Nielsen-style buffoons in Airplane! or The Naked Gun, and a dose of Inspector Clouseau thrown in for good measure.

And he has turned to the man who first played the detective all those years ago, Alan Birch, to take on the starring role in the film.


"No-one knows the character better than Alan," David says.

"I have written four Inspector Drake stage productions, and he has played the character at some point in all four of them."

Alan, like the rest of the cast and crew, are amateurs with other day jobs, and filming was done during weekends, evenings, or whenever the team could snatch a few hours and the weather was set fair.

Interior locations were begged for and borrowed, and some shoots went late into the night as the director patiently awaited spectacular Shropshire sunsets. Highley, Bridgnorth and the Wyre Forest feature prominently in the film.

"All in all, it took us six months, which is a lot better than I had expected when we first set out," adds David, who then faced the mammoth task of editing all the footage into a finished product, and adding the credits and soundtrack.

"How many hours have I spent in the editing room? Hundreds. I couldn't possibly hazard a guess. Let's just say it's been a long, long time."

David's original hope was to try to make the film for just £1,000. He's not quite managed that, but it's still been done on the tightest of shoestrings.

"If you just take into account the props, music, and the fact that all the people involved were giving up their time free, it's not far off that £1,000 target.

"I did need to buy a second camera - which I'd argue I needed anyway for the corporate video business which is my main job - so the total is still a ridiculously small amount, considering the sort of sums which are spent on Hollywood productions. Just a few thousand pounds."

Why such a tight budget? Well David did try what he describes as the "local quasi Government quango arts funding-type bodies", set up especially to help indie film makers, without success.

"It seemed promising until I started trying to fill out the application form. They needed diversity policies, method statements, risk assessments, they demanded I used union crews, and wanted a committee to vet my script.

"It soon became clear that I could either spend the next six months making a film, or filling out a form. So I chose the former, using my own money.

"I didn't carry out a proper risk assessment, so I had to be careful not to drop the camera on my toe, and my diversity policy amounted to using people to help me who I liked, however politically incorrect that may be!

"I also didn't join a union, in case I had to tell myself I couldn't do both the shooting and the editing, and one of me had to go on strike. And within six months, it was done."

Alan Birch, a 50-year-old graphic artist by trade, says playing the lead role on film has been an amazing experience.

"I first played him at the age of 25 when I was a member of the Citizen's Theatre Company, which used to be in Brierley Hill.

"It was based at the Robin Hood Theatre, on the outskirts of what is now the Merry Hill shopping centre. It was demolished some time ago.

"I think David had originally written the first Inspector Drake play for a competition.

"I don't know how well it did, but he asked our group if we would like to perform it. During the read-through it made me laugh out loud which is something which happens very rarely, and I wanted to play the role."

So, is this the start of a whole new chapter for David and his am-dram volunteers?

"Let's take one step at a time," the director says.

"For now, I'd just be happy to see that people like the film, and that as word spreads, lots of independent cinemas come forward to say they would like to show it.

"In a perfect world, someone with more clout in the movie industry will also recognise our abilities and say 'Here's a big pot of money - have another go at something bigger.' That would be nice."

  • Inspector Drake: The Movie, premieres at Bridgnorth's Theatre on the Steps tomorrow, followed by a Saturday evening show, and two screenings on Sunday. For details, call the box office on 01746 763257.

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