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Screw: How Peterhead Prison was used to film new Channel 4 series

The aftermath of the riot at Peterhead Prison in 1987.

It was famously branded the “Hate Factory” and was the scene of a notorious riot in 1987 that was only defused when the SAS intervened to tackle inmates who had taken a prison officer hostage.

Peterhead Prison finally closed in 2013 after more than 100 years and was replaced with a new facility in the north-east port.

But the museum that commemorates the former building and opened in 2016 has successfully made the transition from a place brimming with horror stories and simmering violence to a suitable venue for TV and big screen productions.

During its chequered history, stretching back to Victorian times, the austere Blue Toon facility incarcerated such notorious criminals as murderer William Beggs, Glasgow gangster Arthur Thompson and serial killer Peter Tobin.

Guards walking in a corridor at Peterhead Prison
Peterhead Prison housed many of Scotland’s most violent offenders.

Yet it was also linked with charismatic safe cracker Johnny Ramensky, who escaped on a number of occasions and became a folk hero for his courage during the Second World War and his Houdini-style acts in the public gaze.

The site has now been transformed into a popular visitor attraction, with officials staging a series of exhibitions and providing myriad vivid reminders of what life used to be like for those who spent decades behind bars.

And it will feature prominently in new six-part TV drama Screw, several scenes of which were shot at Peterhead Prison in the early months of 2021.

Filming for Screw was partially shot at Peterhead Prison Museum.

The series, created by Bafta-nominated writer Rob Williams, who wrote Killing Eve and The Victim, has been in production since 2020 and focuses on the travails of its central character, Leigh, played by Nina Sosanya.

She’s a female prison officer who works in an otherwise all-male prison and has to deal with the testosterone-laced environment she encounters.

The cast features a string of familiar faces from such shows as Derry Girls, Line Of Duty and I May Destroy You, who will provide a mixture of grit, grime, humour and pathos as the various plot strands unfold.

Screw will air on Channel 4 and will follow prison guards and inmates at fictional Long Marsh Prison.

A trailer for the Covid-affected drama claims: “This is prison as never seen before – the uncensored, shocking and often darkly funny reality of life as a prison officer in an all-male prison in 21st Century Britain.

“Inspired by the creator’s own experience of working and volunteering in prisons, this series brings us a view of incarceration unlike any other.

“Through a vibrant and multi-layered cast of characters, Screw tackles a variety of contemporary stories head on – but it always does so while being cut through with comedy, irreverence and heart.”

Members of the cast and crew arrived in the Blue Toon at the beginning of 2021 and their presence offered a significant boost to the museum, which has once again found its doors closed because of the Omicron variant.

Operations director Alex Geddes was among those who were fascinated by the meticulous fashion in which the Screw crew worked amid restrictions and how they painstakingly brought different parts of the action to fruition.

It’s not the first time the site has been utilised by film companies – and Mr Geddes is hoping it will not be the last – but Screw has obviously made its mark on him and other officials at the museum.

An aerial shot of Peterhead prison.
Peterhead Prison housed thousands of criminals during its long existence.

He told the Press & Journal: “It was filmed in part on location here early last year and the large cast and crew certainly got visitors’ tongues wagging, especially when some of the high-action scenes were shot within the surrounding grounds.

“It was a delight to host the crew and actors here and seeing the action from the other side of the camera was very exciting, not only for the team but for our visitors who, unknown to them, got some additional benefits to their visit.

“We can’t wait to see the drama unfold, and I hope that our supporters will enjoy seeing many of their ‘familiar areas’ on their TV screens at home.

“It’s amazing how much work goes into these ventures, but we were all impressed by the dedication and the professionalism of everybody involved.”

Peterhead Prison housed many of Scotland’s worst criminals.

Speaking about Screw, Mr Williams explained that he wasn’t interested in simply churning out another stereotypical depiction of life behind bars.

He said: “There is so much more to prison and those who live and work there than misery and violence – and I’m incredibly proud to be working with STV and Channel 4 to show this in Screw, alongside the authenticity which has been inspired by my experiences as a civilian worker in various prisons.

Filming takes place for new TV drama series Screw.

“Prisons, and how they work, matter to all of us.

“We need to see what officers are actually doing with those committed to their care in this mostly hidden world. Then we can decide whether we think it is enough.”

The trailer suggests his drama will be less the melodramatic hysteria of Cell Block H or the epic, sweeping, but improbable Hollywood blockbuster such as The Shawshank Redemption or Escape From Alcatraz.

Rather, this promises to doff its cap to Porridge with a soupcon of Bad Girls and some intriguing elements of mystery thrown into the mix.

Mr Geddes added: “It is always amazing when a film crew turns up and, for a while, the museum becomes a part of people’s escapism but, for us, the prospect of seeing the complex on the big screen is a very exciting moment.

“We really hope that Screw is a major success so that we may be able to welcome the great team back within these walls in the future, and with the possibility of more films being set to use the site as a location, who knows who visitors will see when they visit?”

The first episode of Screw airs on Channel 4 on January 6 at 9pm.

The site of the former Peterhead Prison was transformed into the location for a 15-minute film about the plight of asylum seekers, which subsequently made its way to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2016.

A crew, comprising more than 40 people, including a number of local actors and technicians, spent the week before Christmas shooting scenes at the site.

The work, which was appropriately titled Locked In, was a collaborative effort between Sylph Productions and Seventh Crow Productions.

The acclaimed short movie, which was based on a true story, saw Peterhead standing in for Uzbekistan, while telling the story of the problems faced by two asylum seekers who ended up in detention.

An exterior shot of Peterhead Prison
Peterhead Prison closed in 2013, but a popular museum has been created at the site.

The north-east prison also appeared in the gruesome horror movie Red Con 1, which was filmed in different parts of Scotland in 2018.

The work, which was described as The Raid meets 28 Days Later, revolved around a zombie apocalypse breakout from a London prison which brought the world to its knees.

Director Chee Keong Cheung chose a number of Scottish locations for the graphic film, including Peterhead prison and a dilapidated ICI plant in Stevenston, Ayrshire, and used the Clyde as a replacement for the Thames.

Guards in Peterhead Prison in 1984.
Peterhead Prison in 1984.

Mr Geddes recalled: “It was not only shot on location here, but it included many local people from the area as extras at key points in the film.

“There is always a remarkable amount of interest in these projects.”

Visit for further information about all the museum’s activities.

New large-scale railway model shows how Peterhead Prison line linked with lost village of Burnhaven