Story Of The Scene: 'A Private Function', Malcolm Mowbray, 1984

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The Independent Culture

Never work with children and animals – at least if you value your dignity. Many members of the cast and crew of A Private Function vowed never to eat bacon again after they had finished filming Alan Bennett's waspish tale of snobbery and food rationing in post-war Britain.

There were, in fact, three pigs used in the film, and all were called Betty. According to the producer Mark Shivas, he approached a company known as Intellectual Animals UK and was immediately told that the pig could only be six months old and female. Anything else would be too large and aggressive.

But Shivas soon discovered that the three Bettys had a very low boredom threshold. They were shiftless and greedy. They were unpredictable and often quite dangerous. Maggie Smith found herself obliged to vault over the back of one porker when she was hemmed in during one kitchen scene, and everyone on set was traumatised by their earthy nature.

It's probably safe to say that everyone on set was both dreading and looking forward to the climactic scene, when the pig, which in the film has been illegally hidden in a private house to be fattened for a feast, has to be lured down a hill and into a car. Inevitably, the pig would not co-operate.

Finally she got to the car and seemed to be about to jump into the back seat as intended. But Betty had other ideas. She decided that the front of the car was a better bet and leapt in on a horrified Michael Palin. Suddenly Palin was obliged to cope with several hundred pounds of live pig perching on his lap. Palin, ever the trooper, simply grinned – and the shot was perfect.