Man who transformed Wigan for set of BBC epic 'World on Fire' talks about life behind the scenes
The man who transformed Wigan into a 1940s backdrop for the latest BBC drama “World on Fire” has spoken about life behind the scenes.
Liam O’Hara, who runs O’Hara TV and Film Construction, spent around seven months changing the face of The Old Courts and Kendal Street, as well as buildings across the North West, for the Second World War epic.
The seven-part drama features an impressive cast headed by Sean Bean, Lesley Manville and Helen Hunt, and is written by Bafta-winner Peter Bowker who has the likes of The A Word on his CV.
Liam, from Newton-le-Willows, worked round the clock to take the borough streets back 80 years for scenes set in London and Germany.
The 35-year-old, whose resume includes work on 51st State with Samuel L Jackson and By the Sea with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, said that the work was “hard but worth it”.
The team, complete with Liam as construction manager, a head carpenter, six extra carpenters and three scene painters, transformed four rooms at The Old Courts, the exterior and interior of buildings on Kendal Street, Gidlow, the exterior of Manchester Central Library and Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor as well as the whole of Lymm Hall and numerous locations at other North West destinations.
“It was really hard work,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we do usually is in a studio so we go in a workshop, build it, put it up and make sure it fits the specifications given by the designer.
“But this was about 90 per cent location so everything that we built was on the streets like in Wigan.
“On Kendal Street quite a few of the houses had PVC windows so it was difficult, we had to make window plugs and fit something onto the building to cover the fact that it’s a modern building - to make it look old fashioned.
“There were some front doors that had to be changed and because of all the yellows lines and markings on the road, there was tons of gravel dropped down to cover all that.
“The bottom of the street looking towards the main road, there are big billboards so we had to build a 20ft fence around the pub to hide it all.”
For the “swanky nightclub” scenes, the group set about overhauling the stage at The Old Courts.
“We had to get rid of anything that looked remotely modern,” he said. “Where the stage floor was originally black we put down an oak veneer. “We double layered it so that it wouldn’t damage the original flooring. We also put a new frontage on the stage which they were so impressed with they have kept.
“A lot of the time what we use ends up bin fodder. Obviously we recycle as much as we can but it’s really nice when people request things to keep.”
As well as the main stage the group worked to add layers to the downstairs stage to take it back in time to the Second World War era.
“The painters did a marble effect to make it look like a really swanky nightclub,” he added.
The team also converted one of the rooms to make it look like a German courtroom.
“It does ruin it a bit for you when you’ve worked on it,” he said. “But it’s nice seeing what we have made on the screen.
“I find that I end up watching things for the wrong reasons.”
Liam is in the process of taking the company over from his dad, who began to build it up 25 years ago following the untimely death of his close friend and business partner.
He has been working with his dad since he was 16 years old, spending his later teenage years meeting Hollywood stars while he was working on sets.
“When I was younger I worked on the set of No Angels and Shameless, which was pretty cool for a teenager,” he said.
“I was studying media in school so that was good being able to actually write about what I had been involved in.”
Since then the company has grown from strength to strength, with sets featuring in acclaimed TV dramas such as Hatton Garden Heist - which involved making a huge vault - to the new Adidas advert.
More recently, Liam and his team have been working on a new Netflix six-parter, The English Game.
The period programme, starring Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, will dramatise the origins of football and explore the birth of The FA Cup.
“We have been doing this one since World of Fire ended. It’s based across the North West but none of it is in Wigan.
“I’m a big football fan. A lot of it involves building football stands from the 1800s so it’s been really nice.”
Despite travelling the world Liam, who has two young daughters, said that he loves Wigan and enjoyed his time working so close to home.
Clockwise from above: The Old Courts become a Paris nightclub; old cars in Kendal Street; a room in the old courts is used as a hospital ward; Sean Bean and Leslie Manville; the Old Courts becomes a public hall