Hi Everyone, Oli from The Strangers team here. Been following the incredible number of comments that have gone up on here. It’s certainly very flattering to read so many people saying ‘the best team won’ or words to that effect. I’ve only just seen it as I’m on holiday at the moment so decided now to respond.
The strangers team were put together by the production company, we all applied individually and then tried to rope in any modelling friends. The team went through a number of incarnations before the last 5 survivors came together- I hadn’t met Jack (incorrectly named as me) and John before we started filming. Advanced filming was done at Malcolm’s house where some preliminary work was done, but there wasn’t space in the final edit of the episode to include this. Some of us met to plan the ideas we had and we settled on ‘The Longest Day’. Someone asked why there weren’t more WW2 vintage engines on the track- in the end we used our budget to get an E4, Adams Radial and Q1, but we later checked with other teams who had used their own engines, if we had known this we would have had way more appropriate stock. Jack painted the ambulance train on the first day and we all thought it really looked the part. Harry (aka Skrillex) created an amazing soundscape which synchronised to the Spitfire and parachuting pilot, but unfortunately the final editing meant this wasn’t demonstrated as well as it could have been.
We didn’t really know what Missenden we’re doing until towards the end of the second day as we were so frantically busy. I can believe that Missenden asked in advance, and a combination of a team knowing exactly what they meant and a production team with limited understanding of railway modelling meant the answer got lost in translation. It was an education for everyone, but rules are defined by precedents and the judges decided that the rules weren’t being followed so took action. I expect the rules to be clarified in future, and for the production team to improve their handling of queries about them.
On that subject the production crew really were fantastic- the exec producer apparently used to do the same job for Top Gear- and they all were always trying to put the hobby in the best possible light while making great television- something I think they succeeded at. They did film excerpts on different elements of railway modelling (I saw one presenter push to film one when a contestant explained what he was doing) but the time pressures of cutting 3 days of filming down to 45 minutes meant this wasn’t shown for this episode. One day when the ‘extended directors cut’ dvd is released these will be seen. Or maybe when the second season gets a 90 minute running slot....
Speaking of second series, plenty of well established TV series’ ended up looking completely different to their first episode, so don’t be surprised if it has a few issues. The exec producer had lots of ideas for how to improve it going forward so if you like it, watch it repeatedly on catch-up to take viewing figures even higher so channel 5 commission a second series.
The layouts which didn’t win could be taken home on completion, the winning layout was moved to a store room in case any further filming was needed during the filming. ‘Normandy Road’ was saved and there are plans to exhibit it (we had to run a saw through the back scene to get it in a van) but we need to dedicate some time to it first. It’s incredibly heavy so we need to make it a bit more portable and the wiring and electronics will need upgrading. But we have lots of ideas for how to improve it which we want to look at.
I’ve seen a lot of comments about how the hobby has been trivialised or the technical elements rushed through. The only TV show I had seen before about this was ‘The joy of (train) sets’ on BBC 4, where it was never going to attract new and young followers. When the production crew approached me at the Ally Pally show I thought it sounded like a great idea which worst case scenario might attract a few new people while not changing opinions of the hobby for the most people. Everyone I know who saw it but isn’t into modelling really liked it and I’m sure after Christmas this forum will have plenty of new members whose first posts look like ‘I watched every episode and then for Christmas I was given a train set’. New hobbyists are what the hobby needs and this is the best recruitment tool we have at the moment and I’m proud to play a small
part in bringing them in. If you’re sceptical then look at how much more popular baking became after Bake off, same with ceramics after the pottery throw-down. More followers creates more demand and choice, which increases variety and drives down cost, which everyone (including manufacturers and model shops) benefit from.
In summary, I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks they could do better, and to those who think they’re not at competition standard (that included me). It is a test of teamwork and planning as much as experience, techniques which require weeks to deliver the desired effect are useless- our grass mat is the epitome of the phrase ‘perfect is the enemy of good enough’.