On Tuesday 24th June, the RTE soap Fair City will begin a storyline about a boy chess player. Rathmines chess club, through Tony Scannell’s sister-in-law Lynda, who is a costume designer on Fair City, were contacted to offer some chess expertise. I, Tony, was unavailable – something to do with having to work. I asked John Maher if he would be available to take my place and he graciously accepted. Here is his insider story. For once, on a TV show, we’ll not see a black square on the bottom-right hand side or two kings standing beside each other.
As Tony Scannell was unavailable, I became advisor for the scenes in which chess was to be played. Here is the account of my three days as advisor on set.
At 8am on 4th June I arrived at the Montrose studios. I was brought to the open air lot containing Fair City’s outdoor sets. Assuming chess scenes would be indoors, I had worn summer clothes, but it was nippy with no sun. The first scene to be shot was in the beer garden of McCoy’s Pub. The script had Charley urging his grandson T.J. to finish off Bela with a Queen mate in a game being played for money. Fair City fans will recognise the characters. I set up a simple mate with a Queen and Bishop on g7. Other things were going on in the scene but I cannot divulge the entire plot which I was privileged to see. The set was crowded with three cameras, a sound boom, and actors, extras and crew moving in and out. In all of the scenes I saw, there were two or three rehearsals followed by two or three shootings. The director watches these on a monitor and communicates to the actors and crew through a floor manger with earphones.
Each time a rehearsal or shoot had to be re-started it was up to me to ensure that the chess position was as before. Most times, Bela had already done this, as he can play. When the director is satisfied with the final shoot, anyone interested goes to see the re-run on a monitor. I was impressed by how professionally the actors could repeat the same lines five or six times, rarely fluffing them.
I was not involved in the second scene shot which involved T.J. finding a chess board in his Grandad’s antique store. The next scene was on the street with the characters discussing a re-match. Again, there was no need for my services but I was given the chance to be an extra, which I accepted. I was very nervous approaching the camera and passing by the actors for the two rehearsals and the two shootings. The floor manager didn’t mention me so I must have done all right. (The guys in the club have nicknamed John “Marlon Brando”. It is the leather jacket he has started wearing, with the cigars and the sunglasses! 🙂 Tony)
At 10am we went to the canteen for breakfast. I found myself nodding to many familiar faces before realising they didn’t actually know me, but everyone was friendly. At 10.30am I was free to go. With light rain starting to fall, I felt sorry for everyone else having to go out to work. TV is not all glamour!
The next morning I arrived at 10am. Thankfully the rest of my scenes were indoors. After breakfast I was shown the script of a scene requiring Charley to mate Bela with a Knight on the advice of T.J. I was asked to show T.J. what was involved so I showed him a smothered mate. He knows a little about chess. Along with his real-life mother, we then had to wait for the call to the studio. This did not come until 12.30. They told me that waiting around is one of the down-sides to filming.
At the studio, the first scene involved T.J. arriving on a visit to his Grandparents. This is probably the start of the chess storyline, so it was obvious that Fair City is not shot in sequence. We broke for lunch in the canteen, as shooting must stop at 1pm. Whereas breakfast was free, there was no such thing as a free lunch for me at RTE. But the food was good.
For the first scene after lunch, I had to set up an obvious winning position for T.J., as he and Charley clear away the pieces. Then came the smothered mate scene with Charley and Bela. Charley does not play chess, so he had to be coached to keep repeating two moves: Queen g8 check and Knight f7 mate. This is a very good scene as Bela leaves the room for a cup of tea after winning Charley’s Queen, and then returns to be mated.
I was not required for the rest of the day but I asked to watch the next scene inside McCoy’s Pub. I was given another opportunity to be an extra. While Bela, Charley and Christy sat in the foreground discussing Floyd’s cancer, I was in the background reading a newspaper. I finished at 4.30pm after a tough day.
On 12th June (Referendum Day) I returned to Montrose and went to the Bistro set. I had been told there was one chess position required with T.J. failing to checkmate a girl opponent and then being mated by her. I set up a possible mate with his Queen and Knight and also gave him a checking move with a Rook. She could block the Rook check with a Bishop move, discovering a mate with her Queen. When I had the position set up and had rehearsed the actors for their two moves each, it transpired that the position was being used for another scene that I had not been told about. This mainly involved an attempt to clear the board so I said nothing. I added a few pieces onto the board for the mating scene and I think only experts will notice the similarity of the positions.
Breakfast followed at 10.30am, and then my adventure was over. I really had a very good time. Thanks to all involved.