The day they filled Elland Road with dummies

THEIR attire may seem a little old-fashioned and at first glance the motionless figures in a stand at Elland Road appear unimpressed by play during a football match.

These spectators in blazers and trilby hats aren't watching Leeds United, however – they're blow-up dummies, playing an important role in one of Britain's most eagerly awaited films.

The inflatable dolls appear in a key scene of The King's Speech, a movie starring Colin Firth which is today due to open at cinemas across the country.

Watch the film's trailer

They were provided by the Inflatable Crowd Company UK, a Yorkshire firm that specialises in helping film-makers shoot large 3D crowd scenes on a budget.

Coming complete with wigs, face masks and period costumes, the dolls look so authentic that producers can use thousands of them in a shot, saving money by hiring fewer extras.

The models are positioned next to real people, who move and cheer to create an optical illusion that the whole crowd is responding to the action in front of them.

Company director Danny Burraway said: "We create the mass, while the real extras, placed in front of the inflatables and intermingled throughout, provide the life by moving or cheering.

"Texture and attention to detail is crucial to making this illusion as seamless as possible, so we provide a full clothing and accessory package, including items such as realistic faces, wigs, hats and other accessories to match the period and look of the real extras.

"We have the facilities to create any crowd for any type of scene, from a formal theatre to supporters at a large sporting event."

The film, which includes scenes shot in Leeds and Bradford, depicts the battle by the Queen's father, King George VI, to overcome a stammer which affects his speaking at mass public events.

Firth is tipped to collect several awards for his portrayal of the King, who formed a remarkable friendship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush.

The inflatable dolls feature when the King addresses a crowd at the British Empire exhibition at Wembley in 1924. Only 300 of the 1,500-strong crowd are played by real people.

Demand for the models' services has been high in recent years, and they have appeared in films including Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a biography of the musician Ian Dury, and The Damned United, the movie adaptation of David Peace's novel based on Brian Clough's miserable 44 days in charge of Leeds United.

The company also provided a crowd for Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Hereafter.

"Business is good," Mr Burraway said, "but the film industry in the UK seems to be a bit nervous about large crowd scenes because of the costs.

"Feature films can have big crowd scenes but, once you start to consider the operating rates of extras' overtime and hiring costumes, you are looking at between 80 and 150 a day for a real person.

"Our aim is to save filmmakers 60 to 90 per cent of those costs, making the scenes possible and affordable.

"It takes about 30 seconds to inflate a doll and it takes as long to dress one as it would take to dress yourself.

"It is the detail which takes the time – getting the mask right, putting on the clothes – but it usually takes only one or two minutes to get each individual doll ready."

The Bingley-registered company, which has a storage area in Skipton, grew out of a successful US business started by Joe Biggins in 2002.

Mr Biggins provided an inflatable crowd for the film Seabiscuit, which starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges and was nominated for seven Oscars.

His firm has since worked on more than 80 movies, as well as TV shows and commercials.

"Joe's company started doing some productions over here, like Wimbledon, Phantom of the Opera and others," Mr Burraway said.

"I was production manager for the film Bronson and I needed a crowd for a crowd scene. We didn't have a lot of money, but someone put me in touch with Joe and I worked with him. From that point onward we set up the Inflatable Crowd Company UK.

"We have 30,000 dolls in total, between ourselves and the US company, and we are currently in talks and quoting for a couple of feature films later this year."


The King's Speech leads the nominations for the Golden Globe Awards later this month, featuring on the shortlist in seven categories.

Colin Firth, who plays King George VI, is in the running for the best actor award and Helena Bonham Carter has a best supporting actress nomination for her performance as Queen Elizabeth, who would later become the Queen Mother.

The film was made by Emmy award-winning director Tom Hooper, who also directed The Damned United.

Screen Yorkshire, which supports the region's film industry, provided crew and locations support and hundreds of Yorkshire residents were employed as extras.