On the Set of Brit Action-Drama, Renegades
By Roger Crow
Fifty years ago, in an age when three TV channels on a black and white set meant good escapism was limited, The Six Million Dollar Man was like cat nip to millions of kids. And its leading man was the most iconic bloke on the box.
Of course for a generation before me, Lee Majors was Heath Barkley, star of The Big Valley, the Western saga which ran between 1965 and 1969.
By 1973 there was a new style of hero in TV land, and for that generation of kids, Steve Austin would combine the best elements of Westerns, spy capers and cool sci-fi adventures.
Armed with a bionic eye (which presumably he activated when needs be), bionic legs helping him run at speeds of up to 60mph, and a cybernetic arm, which no doubt came in handy for shopping, Steve was all kinds of cool.
A pilot film proved so successful it inspired a couple more. (That style of breaking in a series was also the norm for Man From Atlantis a few years later).
July 2021, and at the crack of dawn I jump on a train from Yorkshire and head down to the smoke.
It’s the day after England lost on penalties in the Euros 2021, and the sky is the colour of charcoal. By lunchtime I’m at a London hotel, which is a hive of activity. Crew work fast and efficiently to get set up for the next scene. Windows are blocked to give the feeling of darkness outside. Given the state of the weather, they probably don’t have to try too hard.
Producer Jonathan Sothcott introduces me to Lee Majors, who is politeness personified. He’s in his eighties now, and has been in his hotel room for five days, waiting for the first of a few days shooting.
Renegades is a British drama about a bunch of old army mates seeking revenge for the death of one of their own. During the course of the day I chat to many of the key cast members, including Nick Moran, who was excellent in Lock Stock, and more recently the thriller Nemesis. It’s surreal chatting to him about his passion project Telstar, while Lee is filming shots on the high street outside. Who knows where to look?
Later I meet co-star Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott, who is terrific company as we chat about her role and the movie.
A producer wears many hats, so it’s fascinating to see how she and husband Jonathan keep such a cool head while a small army of technicians attempt to get their latest project on screen.
When I’m asked if I want to play an extra, I don’t need asking twice. This isn’t my first time as a supporting artist. I had a nanosecond cameo in Coronation Street back in 2003, but this is my first movie. And the responsibility could not be more perfect. Sit in a hotel chair with a glass of something, and don’t look at the camera. I’m glad I grab my phone from my bag as I need something to do while Lee Majors shoots his scene next to me.
Obviously I catch glimpses of the drama in my peripheral vision, but I’m busy checking photos of what I shot that morning while the scene is filmed over and over from different angles. Crew members fill the room with smoke every so often, so I’m not surprised Lee has lost his voice a little. If anything, his ultimatum to Savo (James Chalke), a shady character at a piano, is all the more menacing.
Lee is no stranger to London. His love of tennis brought him over one summer a few decades ago.
When I finally get a few minutes with the man himself, it’s like all my Christmases have come at once. We chat about his amazing career, and he drops a few names, like his friend ‘Tony’ Hopkins and a tennis legend.
“I was great friends with Bjorn Borg,” explains Lee. “I was with him in France when he won the French Open, and he wanted me to come to Wimbledon for that tournament also. He lost, but he’d won it six times or something. I think McEnroe and Connors met in the final.
“I had the thing round my neck (lanyard), and nobody goes in that locker room, but they let me in. But you know, I was a big deal back then,” he laughs. “Those guys were great. But every time since then I’ve come to London to work, it’s usually raining or cold”.
He’s not wrong as the street outside is a rain-lashed sight to behold.
Anyway, the scene is shot, and that’s that. Naturally my bit winds up on the cutting room floor, but it scarcely matters. Spending a day on set with a childhood icon is far more rewarding, not to mention meeting icons like Ian Ogilvy, Billy Murray, Nick Moran and Paul (Only Fools and Horses) Barber. In 1980, Paul had a bit part in The Long Good Friday, so it feels like things have come full circle. Another largely London-based crime thriller it may be, but Renegades is also a hugely commercial offering that can play anywhere in the world. And in the movie business, reaching as big an audience as possible is everything.
So if you do see Bar Patron 1 in the Renegades credits, but wonder what happened to him, take my word for it. He was the guy just off camera who went back to Yorkshire that evening with a huge grin. Sometimes dreams do come true.
‘Renegades’ is released on digital 30 January and on DVD from 13 February 2023