Lucy Kirkwood’s gritty firefighting drama, The Smoke, gets off to a blistering start, writes Ellen E Jones
London’s Burning, Rescue Me and – er – Fireman Sam? When you consider the range of TV shows set in police stations or A&E wards, it seems their emergency service cousins have been unfairly overlooked by drama.
Is there less variety of human experience on show at your typical fire station? Not according to enjoyable new ensemble piece, The Smoke, which premiered last week and airs on M-Net, Thursdays at 9.30pm.
Jamie Bamber stars as Kev Allison, the gaffer of London’s Mile End station, who established his hunky hero credentials early on by fearlessly rescuing a baby from a tower block inferno.
This opening scene was one of the most harrowing 10 minutes of my TV-watching career, so can everyone please make sure to test the fire-alarm battery at home as soon as possible? Promise?
Great, let’s move on.
The script by fêted young playwright Lucy Kirkwood, was also full of warm moments of the non-third-degree-burn-causing kind, like a raucous sing-along to Adele’s Someone Like You in the back of the fire engine. You’ve got to do something to take your mind off the threat of death, the equipment shortages and the long shifts. Al (the brilliant Gerard Kearns) hadn’t slept in three days or seen his son for a month. If the fire brigade union was hoping to drum up public support, it could try a screening of The Smoke.
Kev blames management cuts for the burns he suffered, but there’s also another culprit, a mystery thug who’s identifiable only by a dragon tattoo on his bum. And that’s not even the most trashy thing about The Smoke. The first episode concluded with a moment of trouser-dropping melodrama that gave new meaning to the phrase “fireman’s pole”.
Jamie Bamber has opened up about that shocking trouser-dropping moment, in which his character, Kev, evealed his genitals disfigured in a fire.
Speaking at the show’s launch, the actor admitted that the scene “sealed the deal” for him when he read the script.
“I was in bed with my wife in LA and reading this story – which was lovely and beautifully written – but that moment I’ve never read before for a male lead in a TV show,” he said. “And I just couldn’t believe it – I had to go back and read it again.
“Anybody that can come up with that and intend to make serialised television – I wanted to know more.”
Bamber, who joked that he was a “method” actor and “had surgery” to understand Kev, added: “As actors, we relish opportunities to play characters going through something that we have never been through and most people never go through – that’s the whole point.
“There’s so much in this show. But my involvement is to be true and honest to this guy and what he’s been through, and he has that injury.
“He doesn’t spend more than a minute in life without being brutally aware that he’s no longer a man doing the most manly job in the world. Everyone wants a calendar of firemen but he can’t even look in the mirror – he doesn’t like himself any more.
“He won’t even commit to his relationship because he feels like he’s going to somehow bring Trish down and drown her with this ball and chain that he’s sort of shackled to. This event constantly haunts every other episode that we shoot.”
Bamber also opened up about the prosthetics involved in shooting the scene.
“We had several false starts… But fundamentally, it was lose all modesty, me and (make-up artist) Niamh (Morrison) in a closed room, and tuck and shave and stick on, and it took hours and there was no dignity,” he said.
“It’s like sort of a latex thong and I tuck myself into it and they tuck it round, underneath and back and they stick it all down, and they insert bits all over and it takes forever and I stand there like this, naked, for ages and they stick me together, and then we’re all done and painted and then I go off and put my trousers on, whip them down and shock the extras.” – Independent/ Digital Spy
This article first appeared in the 10 August 2014 issue of the Sunday Tribune SMtv