Story of the Scene: 'Chariots of Fire', Hugh Hudson (1981)

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The Independent Culture

When location manager Iain Smith turned up on the beach at St Andrews at 5am in the morning, he assumed the shoot would go smoothly this time round. The opening shot for Chariots of Fire showed the athletes in training, running through the sea. Since the film is set in 1924, all signs of modernity had been meticulously removed. Then Smith glanced up at the horizon and saw a British Navy frigate anchored offshore, dominating the bay. He had to get rid of it.

Smith recalls, "I ran to the nearest red telephone box wondering – who do I phone?" He remembered that the RAF base in Leuchars had helped the production by providing camouflage netting.

Smith called the duty officer at the base, who sounded him out in plummy tones .What was his concern? A big Navy boat? They were RAF. Not really their area, old chap. Was he sure he could see a naval vessel?

As Smith looked out, he noticed the frigate was raising its anchor. It began to sail away, and had soon steamed off. "No, there's no boat there," admitted Smith. "That's what I thought," said the officer.

Smith never did discover the identity of his benefactor. Though prefaced with a funeral sequence set in 1978, the film goes straight into this famous sequence, with Ian Charleson and Ben Cross, the music of Vangelis throbbing behind them, running through the tidal draw on the flat sands.

Roger Clarke