Salisbury Plain Memories

I received a fantastic e-mail from William Mackain-Bremner who was an extra in some of the Word War 1 scenes

“Thirty years ago, I was an extra on the film of W. Somerset Maugham’s book “The Razor’s Edge”. At that time I was living in Wiltshire, near Salisbury plain, which is where they were shooting the WW1 scenes. The production crew had appropriated some soldiers from the local infantry battalion in Warminster, and I managed to get invited along via some or other army connection.

Bill Murray and James Keach on location in Salisbury Plain, England

We had to be – at various stages of filming – French, German or British troops, either standing guard, walking wounded, or dead, draped over the edge of a crater, etc. I recall one scene where we were wounded soldiers in the back of an ambulance, and there were two lead actors up front.

As the script required we would all bounce vigorously along muddy tracks and over the grassy rises until the Director shouted “Cut!”, and then if he was not satisfied we might have to do it all over again. It was summertime, but a cold windy day up on top of the Plain, and during a break in the filming the two actors up front took pity on us extras, popped open a flask of whiskey, and offered it round the ambulance.”

Only after a year had gone by did I found out that they were Bill Murray and his half-brother Brian Doyle-Murray. This was before Ghost Busters and Groundhog Day, and I had never seen Saturday Night Live, so at the time I had no idea who they were! Later on in the filming, we had to inhabit some “trenches”, sit in dugouts in front of braziers, drink tea, etc, while the actors walked by and the cameras panned along with them. We had to pretend that it was winter time, and the crew was blowing fake snow around to help us get “in the mood”. As I was lifting a mug of tea to my lips some of the fake flakes landed in my tin cup … and instead of melting floated on top of the tea and made it taste salty!

Anyway, the years went by, and this became a long forgotten memory, but I was recently reminded of it when I was researching the famous “Over The Top” painting by John Nash. I then stumbled on this website dedicated to the movie, including the gallery with some stills and production shots: Pictures #15-20 are the ones related to the WW1 scenes. Image #20 is – I think – taken around the time of the whiskey incident! Thanks so much for creating this website.

Great memories! I can’t believe that 30 years has gone by already!”

William Mackain-Bremner


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