THE Kenton Theatre was transported back in time for an episode of ITV drama series Endeavour.
A cast and crew of about 30 people, including stars Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, filmed at the historic Henley venue on Tuesday.
The show, a prequel to Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series, is set in the Sixties so the theatre had to be redecorated.
It doubled as the fictitious Empire Theatre in Oxford, where Endeavour is set, so most of the signs outside were changed.
Posters advertising a variety show headlined by a ventriloquist act called Benny and Clyde were plastered on the notice boards.
The fluorescent lights above the boards were replaced by rings of traditional light bulbs.
Two vintage vehicles were parked outside the theatre in New Street, a light grey Austin A35 and a dark grey Humber Hawk. As the crew filmed a scene with two extras, they held up black sheets so passing traffic was not reflected in the cars’ bodywork.
Three large lorries and several vans filled with cameras, microphones and sound equipment were parked nearby.
Passers-by stopped to take pictures of the scene on their mobile phones.
Inside the Kenton, which is Britain’s fourth oldest working theatre, the orchestra pit was opened up and the stage was decorated with brass shell footlights.
The stage was set up for a variety show with musical instruments, jumping hoops, a ventriloquist’s dummy and a knife-thrower’s spinning wheel.
Several seats were removed so that a track for a camera dolly could be laid down.
The action was filmed in secret and no one except the cast and crew were allowed in the auditorium once shooting began.
Evans, who plays Morse, then a young detective sergeant, and Allam, who plays his boss Det Insp Fred Thursday, recorded their scenes in the evening.
Mammoth Screen, which makes the show for ITV, asked permission to film at the Kenton in November.
Location manager Alex Cox, who lives near Dorchester, knew the theatre as his son Gabriel performed there in 2003 with Henley Children’s Theatre Group.
It is the first time that Endeavour has been filmed in the town, although scenes for the first series were filmed in Wargrave in 2011.
Mr Cox said: “I know the Kenton Theatre well and thought it was the perfect location for us.
“We looked at three venues in London but I pushed the producers for this one because it was such a no-brainer. It is a beautiful, historic venue and the atmosphere is pure theatre. It was very apt for the script.”
The film crew arrived at 6am on Monday and began setting up with help from the theatre’s volunteers.
They covered up all the modern signs and replaced them with their Sixties equivalents and the helpers cleaned and repainted the stage and main auditorium, which the crew paid for.
They also lowered the chandelier in the main auditorium and polished it, which took all day.
The workers finished at 9pm but were back at 6am the following morning in readiness for the shoot.
A short scene was filmed at Henley Golf Club in Harpsden before the crew arrived at the Kenton at about 11am.
A unit of caterers, make-up artists and the costume department set up camp in the car park at Henley Rugby Club. Filming finished at about 7pm and the team then worked until midnight to return the theatre to normal.
Wendy Bowsher, managing director of the Kenton, said: “It was a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase our building in its best light to an audience of millions.
“When the footlights were installed on the stage we all stood in a row saying, ‘wow, that is what theatre should be like’.
“It was lovely to see the theatre being transformed back into a period venue. It was stunning and really drew out all its beauty.
“The Kenton is a vital part of the community so it’s great that people walking past could see what it would have looked like in the Sixties.
“Everybody here is a volunteer so they have shown real commitment in giving up their time. They really want to see the theatre succeed.”
Programming manager Colin McIntosh said: “One person saw the posters for the variety show and asked where he could book tickets. I had to explain to him that he had missed it by several decades as it had happened in 1967. He also thought we’d changed our name at first. I thought that was great — it was the ultimate compliment.
“Everybody who was walking past stopped to have a look. It’s great to see the theatre looking so alive and to have generated so much interest.
“It is a huge honour to have been asked to appear but it doesn’t surprise us as we know what a great venue we are. We’re very happy to have been part of such an iconic series.”
The second series of Endeavour will consist of four two-hour episodes and will be shown on ITV in late spring.
* Trustees of the Kenton are due to meet town councillors to discuss their plans to erect an illuminated sign outside the venue. The theatre’s planning application for the burgundy aluminium sign was turned down after objections by the council and residents. The Grade II listed theatre is in a conservation area.