Hatfield prepares for invasion of Spielberg brigade

Hatfield, famous for - not very much, really. Not, at least, until it became the setting for Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's blockbuster about the Second World War. Hatfield aerodrome in Hertfordshire provided the backdrop for that film and is now preparing for Spielberg and the actor Tom Hanks' to return to film another war drama.

Hatfield, famous for - not very much, really. Not, at least, until it became the setting for Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's blockbuster about the Second World War. Hatfield aerodrome in Hertfordshire provided the backdrop for that film and is now preparing for Spielberg and the actor Tom Hanks' to return to film another war drama.

Work began this week on the set which will be the location for Band of Brothers, an 11-hour, £63m television series based on the best-selling book of the same name that tells the story of Easy Company, the 506th Regiment of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division.

The flat, open grassland will be transformed into 12 different towns, one after the other, including Bastogne, in Belgium, Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, and Carentan, in France, as the series follows a group of élite paratroopers through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge to the surrender of Germany. Nearly a mile of river will also be created on the 16-acre site.

Ivan Schwarz, the US production liaison officer, said the fact that the story was "real" made the need for historical accuracy all the more acute. "This is not a sequel to Saving Private Ryan," he insisted. " Saving Private Ryan wasn't a true story. That village was a generic village. Our towns have actual names."

This week's announcement followed extensive negotiations between the American cable channel HBO, which is backing the production, 10 Downing Street, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, the Ministry of Defence, British Aerospace, Arlington Property Development, and the British Film Commission.

Spielberg said he was pleased to be returning to film in Britain, which would be "a combined operation, a true jumping-off point just as it was in 1944 for the 101st and the thousands of Allied forces". Hanks said England was "a wonderful place" to make films. "I am very glad that HBO and the British government have found the ways for us to capitalise on the UK's tremendous film-making talent and resources so that Band of Brothers can recreate the world as it was more than 50 years ago."

The Government fought hard to win the production, offering tax incentives to beat off competition from Canada, Eastern Europe and Ireland.

The contract is worth tens of millions of pounds.

Saving Private Ryan spent £8m on contracts with local suppliers alone, according to Roger Harrop, manager of Herts Film Link, the Hertfordshire branch of the Film Commission.

"This is a bigger production which is being filmed for longer," he said. "They will need everything from earth-moving equipment and building materials to taxis, tyre repairs, petrol and groceries."

About 500 Britons are being employed for the project, which will be filming between April and December next year, not to mention the 25,000 extras who will be required.

At the Royal British Legion in Hatfield, John Mitchell, 84, and Raymond Ellis, 78, welcomed the filming of Band of Brothers in the town. "I think it's a good thing because we've got a whole generation growing up who know nothing whatsoever about the war, but are keen to learn," said Mr Mitchell, who served in the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy. He said he would be interested to watch the filming, but less so in the finished product. "The last film I watched was Ben Hur," he said.

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