09:28AM, Friday 19 August 2016
Cowboy boots on the bedroom floor. David Beckham bodywash in the bathroom. A photo of a beloved black Labrador on the living room wall and a Big Mouth Billy Bass in the spare room.
Today (Friday), fans of The Office will get their long-awaited first look inside the home of everyone’s favourite chilled-out entertainer when David Brent: Life on the Road hits cinema screens.
It is everything you would imagine from the man who once described himself as a friend first, boss second ... and probably an entertainer third.
Brent’s big-screen debut catches up with the socially-awkward mockumentary character, played by Ricky Gervais, 12 years on from Wernham Hogg – in real-time, 15 years since the show first hit TV screens.
It finds him working as a travelling salesman for Lavichem, a cleaning and ladies’ personal hygiene products company, while preparing to take one last shot at rock stardom by hitting the road with his band Foregone Conclusion.
But while the Brentmeister General still dreams of living fast and dying old, he hasn’t quite made it outside of Slough. Not even as far as Taplow.
Scenes at his home were not shot in a studio but in a semi in a cul-de-sac in Cippenham, not far from Asda, over two days in December last year.
A day of filming typically ran from 7.30am until about 6pm, with the Slough shoot being the last before the film wrapped.
I met up with unit publicist Kathryn Donovan and location manager Simon Scott for day two of filming, where I was given a behind-the-cameras look at Life on the Road.
The task of finding Brent’s house fell to Simon, who worked alongside Gervais to choose the right place for the set – a process which began around August last year.
“He sent a reference picture through (from Zoopla) of what he thought David Brent would live in and then it was up to me to find it,” Simon explained.
A Google Streetview search led to Cippenham and the appropriately-named Gervaise Close.
“When he (Gervais) saw the street name he was like ‘oh we’ve got to go there’,” Simon added.
Security was tight in the street while filming took place. When I arrived, about 30 crew members were gathered outside the house, preparing for a couple of scenes between Brent and rapper Dom, played by Doc Brown – otherwise known as actor Ben Bailey Smith, whose recent work has included ITV Ann Summers drama Brief Encounters.
Screens under a black gazebo on the driveway and down the side of the house allowed producer Charlie Hanson – who worked on Extras and Derek – Gervais and a continuity supervisor to see how the scenes will play out on screen.
We watched as a clapperboard snapped and a driving double for Brent – there were at least two Sergio Georgini-clad doubles wandering about on set – pulled up outside the house with Dom in a Vauxhall Insignia, before hopping out to allow the real Brent to step into the driving seat.
The eagle eyes of continuity ensured both were wearing seatbelts when the scene resumed.
During a tea break in the garage, as the crew prepared to take the filming inside, I got the chance to say a brief hello to Gervais and Hanson.
“Coming to see the house is quite an exciting prospect because we’ve never seen it before,” Hanson said.
Gervais added: “It’s the first time anyone has ever seen Brent’s house.”
As there was not enough room for us all to be in the house – continuity had already pointed out a crew member’s shadow which could be seen on the wall as the camera rolled – we watched the next scene on the playback screens on the drive.
There was awkward laughter when, back at his cringeworthy best, Brent showed Dom a photo of Nelson the dog, pointing out the similarities between the pet he liberated from Battersea and the South African leader he named him after.
Once the scene was done and the crew left the house, I had the chance to have a look around.
A copy of the Slough Express (the real thing – we donated a few to the set dressers) lay on the coffee table, while Lavichem documents in the kitchen gave an insight into Brent’s new working life.
Upstairs, his touring gear was hanging in the bedroom. A Brent album will accompany the film, about which Gervais has said: “Even though the songs are funny in context, they’re not comedy songs as such. David Brent doesn’t think they’re funny. He thinks they’re important. And actually, they’re not terrible songs. And they’re insanely catchy. But the tragedy comes from the fact a 55-year-old tampon rep is singing rock songs about travelling across America picking up senoritas or trying to end racism in reggae songs while singing with a Jamaican accent.”
Rooms in the house were re-painted and wallpapered to reflect Brent’s taste. The property itself was chosen following a letter-drop by the production company.
About 10 replies were received and it was Mona Sahans and her twin daughters Maya and Anaya Kaur, then aged three-and-a-half, whose home was chosen.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see behind the scenes and how they set it all up,” the airline worker told me when we met there the following week.
The house was visited by Gervais and the team before the film crew arrived on Monday, December 14.
Mona’s furniture was removed and placed in storage and her home was redecorated before filming began three days later. The family moved out temporarily but Mona visited the set to watch Brent in action. She was a bit nervous but not star-struck by Gervais’ visit, as this wasn’t her first brush with celebrity.
“My parents owned a shop in St Andrews Way and we had Craig David film a video in there once,” she said.
Mona and her daughters were able to move back into their home by Saturday, December 19. It was agreed the production company would have the house returned to its original decoration as much as Mona wanted. As location manager Simon Scott pointed out during my tour of the house: “It is in David Brent’s taste...”
Neighbouring homes in the street were also involved in the filming, to find space for the crew and so cars could be moved out of shot. A garage in nearby Manor Court was also used as a set.
Simon, who has been in the job more than 10 years and whose other projects include The Inbetweeners 2, The Kennedys and Friday Night Dinner, told me between 20 and 30 locations are used in the film.
The most used in one day was six, in London. Well-known venues in the capital, including Camden Dingwalls, Barfly and Electric Ballroom, also play a part.
“The more you move, the more time you lose on camera so it’s good to stay in the same location as much as possible,” he said. “It’s quite poetic to finish the shoot in Slough, on Gervaise Close.”
There’s been quite a hype surrounding Life on the Road since the project was announced in 2015 – Brent has even got his own emoji on Twitter – but it's hard to imagine his return could disappoint.
After all, some people are intimidated when entertaining large numbers of people.
Not David Brent.
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