When Spielberg and Tom Hanks came to Hatfield for filming
- Credit: ©2001 Home Box Office, Inc. All
Anyone currently watching Band of Brothers on Sky will be amazed at the sheer scale of the award-winning World War Two miniseries.
Released 20 years ago, it cost more than $120million to make, and used more pyrotechnics in its opening three episodes than Second World War movie Saving Private Ryan.
As Sky Atlantic audiences enjoy another run of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO miniseries on Friday nights, did you know the Band of Brothers production was largely based in Hatfield?
While the epic war drama sees Easy Company, a crack US paratrooper battalion, journeying across Europe, most of the filming of the 10 hour-long episodes took place in one location – on the old Hatfield aerodrome.
After creating the fictional ruined French town of Ramelle on the former British Aerospace factory site for Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg and Oscar-winning Hollywood star Tom Hanks returned to Hatfield a few years later to make Band of Brothers on the same set.
But this show was even more ambitious than Saving Private Ryan.
Having Spielberg and Hanks on board as executive producers meant the massive production's budget was eye-watering, even by today's standards, with each episode costing more than $12million to make.
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And, instead of just one continental village being built on the former HQ of the world famous de Havilland Aircraft Company, this time filmmakers created 11 different European locations for the series on the Hatfield backlot.
Over the lengthy shoot, a 12-acre village set was continually modified on the airfield site where the University of Hertfordshire's de Havilland Campus, Hertfordshire Sports Village, Ellenbrook Fields, David Lloyd Hatfield gym and Hatfield Business Park stand today.
In The Making of Band of Brothers documentary, executive producer Tom Hanks says of the Hatfield set-up: "It's about five times bigger than what we had on Saving Private Ryan.
"We're in Auburn, and Upottery in England, we're in France, Normandy; we're in Holland, we're in Bastogne... we're all over the place here."
Hatfield was the production's headquarters. The former aircraft factory's hangars were used to store props, costumes, weapons and tanks, as well as some of the sets.
The costume department provided 2,000 German and American uniforms for the shoot, as well as 1,200 civilian costumes. More than 10,000 extras worked on the 10-part series.
Battle scenes sometimes required 14,000 rounds of ammunition a day. Props from Saving Private Ryan were also recycled for Band of Brothers.
North American P-51 Mustangs were seen flying over the site.
The Hatfield hangars were used for filming some scenes, as the real-life exploits of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, were brought to the screen.
Shooting also took place in the surrounding Hertfordshire countryside, with the telltale BOB signs popping up around the county two decades ago to indicate where filming was happening.
Producers used sections of the Ayot Greenway, running between Ayot St Peter and Wheathampstead, as one location.
Set designers recreated a railway track on the disused line, and tanks rolled through the nearby countryside. Hunter's Bridge on the footpath also features in the war serial.
The production crew also filmed scenes in woodland on the Hatfield House estate.
Based on historian Stephen E. Ambrose's best-selling non-fiction book, Band of Brothers follows a single company of elite American troops as they navigate their way through World War Two in Europe.
Tom Hanks explains: "It follows one group of guys from literally them signing up for training to the end of the European war.
"They jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and fought in Holland at Market Garden, and then the Battle of the Bulge. It's very well chronicled all the way through."
Among those playing the paratroopers are Damian Lewis, who stars as Richard 'Dick' Winters, and Donnie Wahlberg as Carwood Lipton.
Lewis says: "The men in Easy Company were unquestionably heroes because of their strength in adversity."
Friends star David Schwimmer also appears in the series as Captain Herbert Sobel, the strict drill instructor who whips Easy Company into shape at boot camp in the opening episode, entitled Currahee.
The huge ensemble cast also includes the likes of James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Michael Fassbender, Dominic Cooper, Jimmy Fallon, Dexter Fletcher, and Andrew Scott - now all well known stars.
As well as executive producing the series, Hanks directed episode five, Crossroads.
"Now we're dealing with a lot of combat veterans for whom all they want to do is survive and get home," he says on the midpoint of the series in the behind-the-scenes documentary.
Crossroads leads to Easy Company being called to the Belgian town of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.
The snowy pine forest was actually constructed inside one of the aircraft hangars, with real trees and artificial ones created by the special effects department.
The snow, however, was artificial and made from paper.
Episodes of Band of Brothers can be seen on Sky Atlantic on Friday nights from 9pm.