Esio Trot from page to screen

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Roald Dahl HQ
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3:30pm, 1st January
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Esio Trot
Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench filming Roald Dahl's Eiso Trot, on location. Screened on BBC One, New Year's Day 2015, at 6.30pm.

Producer Hilary Bevan Jones and director Dearbhla Walsh on translating Esio Trot from page to screen for BBC One

Roald Dahl's Esio Trot is the story of two neighbours: Mr Hoppy, who lives in the flat above Mrs Silver (with whom he is secretly in love).

In the story, Roald Dahl describes the location of the flats like this:

The balcony immediately below Mr Hoppy's jutted out a good bit further from the building than his own, so Mr Hoppy always had a fine view of what was going on down there.

So specific is this description that Quentin Blake's illustrations show Mrs Silver standing at the edge of her balcony to look up at Mr Hoppy's.

But for the creative team adapting the story for BBC One, it was this set that proved one of the most problematic

"In the book you imagine the flats as one above the other but for the actors that wouldn’t work as they have to talk to each other," producer Hilary Bevan Jones explains. 

"It was a technical challenge," adds Dearbhla Walsh. "We realised that having Mr Hoppy’s balcony above Mrs Silver wouldn’t work; Judi [Dench] and Dustin [Hoffman] would have constantly been craning their necks up and down. So we needed to have balconies where they could see one another clearly; finding that real location proved complicated."

"So instead - although the apartment set was built in Pinewood - we had to look for balconies that were stacked as opposed to directly above and below each other for the location shots," Hilary says. 

"We divided London and the outer regions into six areas and had location scouts looking for the right apartment block with offset balconies on quiet roads that could fit a camera crane. Eventually we found one around the corner from where I live in Hackney, so that was great!" Dearbhla continues.

"After all that scouting there were only two blocks in the whole of London that were suitable - it was the most difficult part of the entire shoot," Hilary adds.

But the team found it in the end - and this Hackney apartment block became the temporary home of Dustin Hoffman as Mr Hoppy and Judi Dench as Mrs Silver during the thirty-day shoot.

In this picture, taken during filming, Dustin has a first attempt at his make-Alfie-bigger plan - slightly more problematic on a stacked balcony... 

Dustin Hoffman filming Roald Dahl's Eiso Trot, on location. Screened on BBC One, New Year's Day 2015, at 6.30pm.

It didn't quite solve all the problems, though.

"It was quite a challenge on your neck," says Judi Dench of the balcony filming.

Find out more about Roald Dahl's early drafts of Esio Trot in the archive. From January, you can also view the archive material for yourself along with props and costumes from the BBC One film at the Roald Dahl Museum.

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