He is the one with the video camera - actor Jason Salkey who played the Rifleman Harris in the "Sharpe"-TV-series.

In the new German "Scharfschützen"-DVD-Box (released 8. November 2007 in Germany) we see 10-minute-snippets of his famous "Harris Video Diaries", that will go now into the 8th episode - every episode a one hour long fascinating piece of filming history.

The following interview is the second part - rg/12. August 2008


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Renate: You speak of the change of Sharpe from Paul McGann to Sean Bean. It is
difficult now, to understand, what an impact that had, when it happened.
Could you tell us something about that?



Jason: When Paul was first injured we thought he would get better fairly quickly without much impact on the show. In the following days we realised his knee had been damaged far more than first thought.

After Paul had re-injured his knee twice more in an attempt to film action scenes, it was decided he needed to go back to England to see if treatment there could help him recover more quickly. This was when panic began to set in a little with the regular cast. We were in despair that this dream job could be over before it had started, before it could even be seen.

More worrying was the inability of production to protect the show’s star from being re-injured, so from them on we all feared that we could sustain some sort of serious injury in the line of duty and get inadequate treatment.


Renate: Strangely so, in reality, due to the "McGann-accident", Sean Bean came
later to the cast and crew - exactly like Sharpe in the first episode -
Sharpe's Rifles - where he has to find first his way with the unit. Do
you think, that had an impact on how you all played? And was it
difficult, after you and the other actors had already done scenes with
Paul McGann, to get used to another actor in the role?


  Jason: The Chosen Men had formed a fairly tight knit unit by the time Sean arrived and we were happy to see someone fill the role. Our main impulse was to help Sean ease into the role and transfer to him all of our combined experience of dealing with the Crimea.

I don’t believe the change of Sharpe had any impact on the way we played our characters but it made us realise that if the main man can be replaced that easily then any of us could too.


Renate: I read somewhere, that all had go so fast, that there wasn't time to make
a new, fitting uniform for Sean Bean, so that in the first scenes to be
filmed with the new Sharpe, he has to wear the old one. Do you remember,
is that true??


  Jason: Yes, true. Tight budgets dictated that a new jacket wasn’t affordable, so the wardrobe department adjusted the uniform made for Paul, slightly for Sean. The image of his tightly fitting jacket falling open at the front turned out to be a pretty cool one!

Renate: Did you ever see Truffaut's film "La Nuit américaine"? I was convinced,
that this (=filming at day with a special filter, so that it looks dark)
is, how night scenes are done! But from what I saw at the Diaries,
that wasn't quite so with Sharpe? Could you tell us something about "Les
nuits de Sharpe"?


  Jason: There was very little to look forward on a night shoot; everything takes longer to set up, you have to eat at very odd hours and it ruins your life in the daylight hours.

I’ve only ever heard of the special ‘Day for Night’ (English title) filter in Truffaut’s film and was possibly never used in the British film industry?


Renate: It seems, that on film sets there is always a catering - was that with
Sharpe also so? Or had you to cook your own meals? And - since we
continental Europeans do have this picture, that all Englishmen always
drink tea - did you? Or what else?


  Jason: When an actor goes out on location he/she can expect to be fed morning noon and night when filming and given a per diem for evening meals. Of course, Sharpe in the Crimea was a different matter. The first year was the worst where the management expected us to eat the meals prepared in the sanatorium kitchen by local chefs. It barely improved when UK cooks took over the kitchens.

The hiatus between Paul McGann leaving and Sean arriving allowed me to prepare a culinary survival kit. A kit that others who followed used as a model: small cooker, pot & pans, spices, pasta, dries goods and of course tea bags and a kettle.


Renate: This all leads, one could say "naturally" to the question of hygienic
standards? I can't help it - can one manage to have toilets in the wilds
of the Crimea? Or ... I mean, they didn't dig latrines? Or did they?


  Jason: But along with the bad food, there was indeed a hygiene problem which led to many unit members needing to stay close to the funny looking (in Simferopol) Crimean toilet bowls. In our Yalta ‘hotels’ the toilets were better, but unable to flush when the water was cut off, which did occur with annoying frequency.

On set, we had a very noticeable mobile toilet ironically named the ‘honey wagon’. On the first year it was a bucket with a seat on top which you can imagine, in the height of summer, had an odour as far from honey as you can get.

After the nightmare of the Honey Wagon interior, you’d step outside to be handed a tiny bar of soap by the honey wagon lady who would then rinse your hands of soap suds with a small bowl of water.

Ah, those where the days!


Renate: What happened, when one of cast or crew became ill? Or weren't you
simply not allowed to become ill?



Jason: Most people did experience digestive tract problems on the first three Sharpe and we had a fair share of people down with flu like illnesses in Turkey. And I heard through Paddy World News (Daragh), that, unsurprisingly many crew members succumbed to ‘Delhi Belly’ while shooting Challenge and Peril in India.

If you could stand, you normally went into work. If an actor fell ill or was injured then the shooting schedule had to be altered. So on Sharpe it was better to be as hard as nails and show up for the transport in the morning even if half dead.


Renate: You told us, that a filming season was app. 3 to 4 months. How was it to
come home after that time?


  Jason: Coming home after being in the Crimea was very strange because you were so cut off from the outside world when doing a long stint of filming. It must have been especially hard for those with wives and children.

Going from a sleepy sea side town in the winter, to the dark wet urban whirl of London was also a shock to the system, but at least you had late night takeaways and an abundance of edible food in all the shops.

Of course coming home from the first Sharpe with a pregnant fiancée, for me was the strangest!


Renate: When did you all realise, that the Sharpe Series was a big success? And
did your life change through that?


  Jason: As soon as I read the first book (Rifles) I knew we were on to a winner. Obviously, Sean’s portrayal is superb but I believe the overall success and longevity of the Sharpe TV franchise is down to the brilliance of Bernard Cornwell’s novels

My life changed because of meeting my wife and having our child during the Sharpe years, as far as my acting career is concerned, it hasn’t helped me find work at all. Je ne regret rien.


Renate: When I watch these days a Sharpe episode, I always have to think now,
that the life of the soldiers and there camaraderie looks so intense and
truthful, because like the soldiers you play, you all had to find ways
to handle it to live under difficult conditions far away from home. That
is also evident in the Harris Diaries. Was this a reason for you to make the Diaries? To show how people really lived?

  Jason: The main impetuous behind taking my video camera ‘on campaign’ was a desire to show everyone back in the ‘West’ what it was like behind the mysterious and formerly forbidden iron curtain.

I had always been in to documenting, both through pictures and words, the progression of an entity. Be it a new stand at Stamford bridge, home of my team Chelsea or the gradual growth of our little Chosen Sharpe baby, I loved to chart evolution.

Aside from shining a spot light on an area of Europe previously dark to us, I also wanted to document the incredible experience of bringing a fantastic creation from book to small screen and how often near impossible it was to get the job done in the newly disintegrated Soviet Union.


Renate: The Sharpe "Campaign" did go on for 5 years - a long time. What was it
like, when it ended?


  Jason: After the life changing roller coaster ride that was Sharpe had ended I was left with a great deal of sadness, bitterness and regret.

Sadness, due to the fact we wouldn’t be getting together as a unit again, probably ever. Bitterness because I was left out of two thirds of the last series, and regret at certain choices made that possibly could have contributed to my limited appearance in the final tour.

At least I can point to the fact that the Hagman/Harris death scene was probably the most memorable scene of the final three episodes, if not the entire series. Something that has only dawned on me when talking to fans of the show these past twelve years since my involvement – on screen that is- in Sharpe ended.


Renate: And also, you yourself needed, I think, another 5 years, before you
could start with the Diaries. What was the reason for this?


  Jason: Six actually! There were several reasons why it took so long to come up with the idea for the video diaries, firstly when I was filming I had no real idea what the end product would be. Secondly, in the post Sharpe world I had a new family to raise, new house to settle into and I had no computer or pro-editing equipment.

As the international cult of Sharpe began to grow I realised what a treasure trove of footage I had in my loft and began to work out a way to present it. The result of this is, of course, the Harris Video diaries which, funnily enough, have taken six years to reach it’s current position containing eight volumes, with a final one or two installments planned to conclude the series.

When you meet now your Sharpe colleagues, how is this?


  Jason: It’s always a pleasure to see any of my Sharpe comrades as the experience we all went thorough created a common bond that I suppose will never be forgotten. I try to keep in regular touch with those who did ‘hard time’ on Sharpe, but seeing anyone from any of the five years always leads to a roller coaster, jam packed reminiscence of events.

Let’s hope we never forget!

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Interview with Rifleman Harris

Part 2