A little corner of Paradise, created in the grounds of the Lambton estate in County Durham, has been home for the past few months to the cast and crew of the biggest BBC drama ever made in the North East.
With the re-commission of The Paradise, following the success of its debut series last autumn, the elaborate set which had been wrapped in industrial plastic during the wait, has been back in action since April with the cast, and a largely new crew, filming the next instalments of the costume drama which hooked viewers with its glamorous department store-set tale of romance and intrigue inspired by a French classic by Emile Zola.
Left hanging by the unresolved fledgling romance between ambitious young shopgirl Denise, played by Joanna Vanderham, and store owner Moray (Game of Thrones actor Emun Elliott) who at the end of the series jilted his fiancee Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy), fans won’t have to wait much longer for the next stage in the 1800s saga.
Storylines, written by Lark Rise to Candleford creator Bill Gallagher, are secret for now but there’ll be a handful of new characters in series two, the main one being Tom Weston who, many will be surprised to hear, is a new husband for jilted Katherine. What’s more he has a secret. He’s being played by Cutting It and Law & Order UK actor Ben Daniels.
I was invited back to the set, which I visited during the making of the first series on a similarly sunny day, and producer Simon Lewis gave a tour of the specially-built Victorian style street – where the ornate facade of The Paradise store (TV shows it with an extra level thanks to CGI trickery) stands out from the other mostly run-down shops - and Lambton Castle itself which doubles as the store interior.
But whereas that sunny day last time was a rarity – last year’s filming took in some of the wettest summer weather on record with the unit base flooding and delays caused by structural damage to the castle’s great hall which they’d already renovated – there have been soaring temperatures this time.
Even so, it hasn’t been all plain-sailing.
“We flooded again!” Simon tells me. “So we’ve still had a bit of trouble but we’re used to it now.”
Another problem was that even wrapping everything up in heavy-grade protective plastic - “so that is looks like a Christo exhibition” says Simon - proved no answer to the extreme cold in the castle which is why, says Simon, the Lambton family never lived there for long, moving instead to Biddick Hall on the estate which is used in the series as the Glendenning family home.
“There was a lot of damp coming through so we had to re-plaster,” says Simon, showing the way from Moray’s office through the shop floor into the ladieswear department (presided over by the imperious Miss Audrey played by Sarah Lancashire). It’s this area he says that Lord Lambton used to store his classic car collection of Ferraris and Aston Martins.
Simon says of the set: “It’s completely self-contained, like we’ve got our own studio here.”
While main actors filmed a scene in the street, local extras milled around in their period costumes.
Claire Dowens, from Newcastle, was corseted-up as a middle-class shopper, typical clientele of The Paradise, but also gets to wear a black dress to play a shop assistant in other scenes.
“I prefer the shop staff one - it’s cooler!” says the 22-year-old who also worked as an extra on the first series.
“It’s been so hot. I remember last year, especially night shoots around September, it was freezing.”
The 22-year-old, whose extra work has taken in locally-made film A Song For Marion starring Gemma Arterton, has hopes for drama school in London next year and is finding all this experience useful.
“It’s great to see the whole process, the different camera techniques, and talk to the actors,” she says.
There are six weeks left of filming and the series, whose cast also includes Matthew McNulty and Sonya Cassidy, who is currently also filming for Vera, is due to air in the autumn.
And, if fans stick by it, then fingers crossed for a third series.