Edinburgh actor Scott Hoatson was preparing to go into rehearsal for panto when the call came to audition for Bluestone 42. That was on a Thursday.
The following day he found himself in London reading the script for the show’s director and producer. Three days later he got the news he’d landed the role of Rocket in the new BBC 3 series.
Less than two weeks after that, he was touching down in South Africa, for a ten-week shoot, all thoughts of panto struck from his mind.
From Dad’s Army to It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Gary Tank Commander, military exploits have long provided TV with some of its best loved comedies.
Silliness and square bashing go together it seems, and Bluestone 24 is the new recruit on the parade ground of mirth.
The programme charts the adventures of a British bomb disposal detachment on tour in Afghanistan. Filmed in South Africa, the eight-part series features Hoatson as Pilton-born Private Euan ‘Rocket’ Armstrong.
Not the sharpest bayonet in the armoury, Rocket is proud to admit that his main incentives for joining the Army were the free food and the guns.
“Rocket likes the simple things; he likes food, and he likes women, and he likes fitba - he’s a Hibby,” laughs the 29-year-old, who attended Duddingston Primary and Portobello High.
“Put ‘youthful’ before that 29,” he quips, before admitting to being taken aback when he realised just how big an undertaking the programme turned out to be.
“I knew we were going to South Africa, which in itself was exciting, but they’d said it was low-budget. When we arrived and toured the set... they had built us a real army base! It was incredible.
“When I saw the level of detail, the size of the crew, and the lengths design and wardrobe had gone to, making everything as authentic as possible, I thought, ‘Wow! This is going to be brilliant.”
Described as ‘a show for anybody who has ever fallen in love, experienced status battles at work or had a fear of failure’, Bluestone 42 focuses on the unit’s lively workmate banter and relationship minefields - things most people will recognise, even if they don’t face danger on a daily basis.
And, like the troops in the series, being thousands of miles from home meant the actors quickly bonded. “It’s a bit of a cliché to say that everyone got on, but we really did. Because everyone was so far from friends and family we socialised together. So the banter flowed, whether in a restaurant, the bars, in the car or on set.”
Not that the set was always a comfortable place to be.
“It was hot, really hot. That was the only time we got moany,” he laughs. “Most of the time it was okay because when we filmed the scenes on the base we were in casual uniform – T-shirts and the like.
“However, when we filmed scenes in which we were on the road diffusing bombs, the temperature had reached its peak and we were in full body armour, helmet and gloves.
“That was quite unpleasant. We were sweating buckets and wringing wet the whole time. But every time we got moany, somebody would pitch up and say, ‘Well, there’s actually guys doing this for real and they don’t get to sit down between takes and have a drink of water. And, it’s a hell of a lot hotter in Afghanistan than it is here.”
Sensitive to the fact viewers may have served in Afghanistan themselves, or have family serving there, Hoatson reveals the production team took great care to ensure that the depiction of the soldiers is a faithful one.
“They’ve taken great pains to not make the comedy about the job, but about the relationships,” he says.
“An enormous amount of energy has been put into making it authentic so that people in the army, their family and friends, can watch it and go, ‘Oh! That actually happened.’
“We had military advisors on site and they were invaluable in keeping us right. In the down-time too, we would ask them about the real job. Do real soldiers get this sweaty? Do they get a break when diffusing a bomb for four hours? It gave me a real appreciation for what they do.
“That and the fact that all the while they have the threat of somebody shooting at them.”
While the cast didn’t have to worry about snipers, they did find themselves in the firing line of the special effect squad, especially when an explosion was required.
“One of the biggest explosions took most of an afternoon to shoot and it was brilliant fun,” recalls Hoatson.
“As it was one of the last things that we shot, there was a massive build-up. Weeks and weeks of knowing it was coming but now quite knowing how big it would be. When we were pushed back 200 metres we knew it was going to be huge.
“Only the poor cameraman and director were allowed in close proximity to it. Even from a distance it was amazing.”
That scene also saw Hoatson finally get to use the automatic weapon he’d been carrying around throughout filming.
“On the tail end of that day, the brigade came under attack and we had to return fire with working blank guns.
“We’d got to practise firing pellet guns at MOD base before we flew out, but that wasn’t really similar to firing an automatic.
“I was expecting and braced for a big kick in the shoulder, but when we fired the automatic there was none.
“Anyway, we’d been carrying these guns for weeks, checking the sights for anybody hiding in the bushes, but had never got to fire them, so when we actually hit the deck and fired off some rounds it was quite exhilarating. The noise was phenomenal.”
Hoatson, who trained at Queen Margaret University, has come a long way since he first discovered his love of acting, playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver! and Bill Snibson in Me And My Girl with Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association, although, as a child, there were clues that a life as a professional beckoned
“As a kid with the Edinburgh Acting School in the 90s, I was in Evita at the Playhouse with Marti Webb,” he reveals. “I also appeared in Cavalcade with Gabrielle Drake at the Festival Theatre and Great Expectations with Darren Day at the King’s.”
His CV also shows what he calls his ‘token Taggart’ and the BBC crime drama Case Histories, but Rocket is Hoatson’s first regular role.
So, if the series takes off, will he mind the cries of ‘Rocket’ that are sure to greet him whenever he walks down the street.
“I wouldn’t mind too much,” he laughs, but ask me again in a couple of years, my opinion might have changed.”
Right now, however, he’s living the dream. “You know, during filming we were picked up early every morning for the 25-minute drive to the set.
“The journey took us through this mountain range just as the sun was coming up. I had to pinch myself to think that I was getting paid to be there. It was amazing.”
Bluestone 42, BBC 3,