Priscilla John describes casting for the docu-drama Three Days in Szczecin on the Polish shipyard workers’ strike in 1971

I did the extras on Three Days in Szczecin. We needed a load of Polish dock workers, so I went around all the Polish clubs in Whalley Range, and everywhere, gathering up the Polish… who could sing the Polish national anthem, or whatever it was. It was one of those historic moments where, one by one, they all became really nervous, all 80 of them, very nervous of taking part because they said they were being watched. And I said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Anyway, I think about 30 turned up at the gate that morning. And I was counting them in, because I was the key person who brought them in, so they trusted me. I remember being in tears, and one by one they just all came and said, “I’m so sorry, I have to leave.” And sure enough, there were there were a couple of KGB-looking type people. Literally, they was so noticeable, hanging around, practically in costume. You know, in macintoshes. And I went up to the guys on the gate and said, “These people, I don’t know. I don’t know why they’re hanging around.” So they came out and said, “Hey, you lot – bugger off!” Anyway, it was a complete disaster that day. We had to reschedule it and get a load of… you know, and I always felt it was my fault somehow. It wasn’t – it was politics. There was nothing I could do. They feared for their families back home. That’s what the problem was. It wasn’t for them, it was their families back home. That’s how bad it was. And that’s how we got involved. To have that chance of seeing that part of the whole process was fascinating. Anyway, so we ended up getting a lot of wonderful-looking northern extras, men who looked the part, and they were all in this hall, and they were going to have to dub them singing. I can’t remember who it was, he was a wonderful guy, and he said, “Right, you lot. We want you to talk and sing as if you’re Russian.” I mean, there was so much laughter. And then they all came up with, “Rhubarb-ski, rhubarb-ski…” all the way through. I have never laughed so much in my life. It was hilarious. Even Leslie thought that was quite funny. And nobody ever knew, the audience never knew.

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