When it comes to spies, brainwashing plots and Cold War intrigue, Andover isn’t probably the most likely of locations to find it.

But back in 1981, all those elements and more came together in Codename Icarus, a BAFTA-nominated BBC TV series filmed at the-then Red Rice School (now Farleigh) and using extras from Harrow Way. The series looked at the story of Martin Smith, a child prodigy sent to the mysterious Falconleigh School run by the Icarus Foundation.

As the drama unfolds, it is revealed the school of geniuses is being brainwashed into developing advanced weaponry, as military intelligence agents attempt to stop attacks on the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Starring famous actors such as Bond and Doctor Who star Philip Locke, and Allo Allo’s Gordon Kaye, the series was broadcast in five parts throughout December 1981. Since then, the programme has disappeared into obscurity, with limited releases to the public.

40 years on, here is the story of Codename Icarus, as told by the Andover residents who were involved to the Advertiser.

The story begins in mid-1981, when John Baxter, the then-head of drama at Harrow Way School, was contacted by the BBC. He was summoned to a meeting at The Lights Theatre, which was part of Cricklade College at the time.

“At the time, there was only Harrow Way which had an active drama department,” he said. “There were bits at Winton and John Hanson but we were the only ones doing regular theatre and production work. I presume a location scout found Red Rice and thought that was suitable for the story, and so that’s why they came to us.”

Shooting was set to begin imminently, with a 10-day period in August 1981 set aside for filming to take place at Red Rice, doubling for Falconleigh. All the scenes shot there would contain extras from Harrow Way, and John was tasked with coming up with how to schedule the students in.

“It came down to working out which students to use, so I chose those who I thought would be reliable and had shown any interest at all in drama,” he said. “They wanted a range between 11-16 so I picked and then went through the laborious process of going to parents to get permission.”

One of the students who was selected was Joanna Carr, who was 12 at the time.

“John Baxter was looking for extras and I think I went for an audition,” she said. “I remember getting my part and being told I could be an extra, and there were a few of us including Sian Roberts who got cast.”

Cast selected, the BBC needed to be informed. However, this wasn’t straightforward.

“There were elements of it that, when you think about how things are now done, were really awkward,” he said. “I had to phone up the BBC and read it out to them as it was being done in quite a rush so I had to read each name to them down the phone, and then give them all the telephone numbers. There was none of this sending them an Excel spreadsheet which is incredible now.”

When August rolled around, John Baxter and his colleague, John Sicluna, would drive students to Red Rice, either in their own cars or by school minibus if enough pupils were needed. John Sicluna remembers the set being quite a different world to that of teaching.

“They had a mobile catering unit and on the first day I was there we were queuing for lunch and there were a couple of technicians in front of us,” he said. “One of them asked the other what was for lunch. They replied: ‘It’s duck’, and the other one said: ‘oh, not duck again!’.

“I thought: ‘Duck again! What do they feed these people!?!’ The fact that a rather exotic meal was just ordinary was extraordinary.”

The catering truck was remembered fondly by the participants from Andover, though the big lunches it put on lead to drama all of its own.

“I remember there was a disco scene where everyone was given various costumes to wear,” John Sicluna said, “and one of the girls was given a dress with the most enormous skirt. She sat on the grass with the skirt circling around her and all the other kids used the skirt as a tablecloth!

“They were having their meal off it until a woman from the costume department came hammering over, most distraught at the thought they would get grease on the dress.”

These lunches compensated for the fact that filming days could be quite long for the students, who spent a lot of time sitting around waiting to be called on set.

“There was one day (August 13, 1981) when they just needed two for a breakfast call, so we were there from 8am and the two girls sat in my car while I read the paper and listened to the cricket while they did puzzle books to pass the time.

“We sat there and waited. Every now and then we got up and went for a walk and they finally did their scene at around 3:30pm in the afternoon. The scene was the two protagonists walking down a footpath and the girls walked in the other direction. That was it! We waited the better part of seven hours to do that.”

Jo’s filming, however, was a bit more interesting as she got to interact with the lead, albeit briefly, who was played by Barry Angel.

“I went off to film for the day at Red Rice and my 10 seconds of fame was walking into a breakfast room and sitting down next to the main star,” Jo said. “I nodded at him and that was pretty much the extent of my part. I definitely wasn’t speaking, I was in the crowd.”

John said that the excitement of being on set began to die down over the 10 days, saying: “To begin with the students were fascinated, it was all of great interest. By the time it came to the end they were quite blasé about the whole thing, it was almost routine.”

However, one thing that did excite the staff and students was the payments for being involved in the production.

“The kids were all excited,” John Baxter said. “They got paid £10 a day for doing it which is about £40 today. If you’re 11 and getting £40 to sit around and do a small bit of work it’s great. John and myself were paid a daily rate for being chaperones which was nice, it paid for my camping holiday to the Lake District that year.”

Jo said the payment was “an incredible amount of money” for her at the time.

“I got paid £20 for the filming which was a lot of money for a 12-year-old. My dad took me shopping in Winchester and I think I bought a pink jumpsuit that I think I wore to the school disco.”

These payments have continued years later, with a repeat in 1986 leading to some cheques in the post for repeat fees, while an overseas broadcast also netted the students £2.50 each.

Once the filming was over, those involved waited until December 9 1981, when the first episode was broadcast on the BBC.

“We had a very early VHS recorder in school so naturally we recorded it all,” John Baxter said, “but that tape is probably long gone unfortunately. It was great seeing them all on there and the kids all loved it.

“We were doing The Mikado at Harrow Way that December and I think the first night of Codename Icarus coincidentally was the first night of The Mikado, as I remember recording the show and then staying on to set up. Then once it was over, it was all gone.

“Sadly, there were no cameras or photographs of what went on behind the scenes, I didn’t even own a camera at the time.”

John Sicluna said that he watched a couple of episodes, while Jo had a stronger reaction.

“I remember watching it on TV a few months later and I remember the embarrassment of seeing myself even if it was a blink and you’ll miss it part!” she said.

Since its broadcast, Codename Icarus initially received a lot of attention, with its third episode nominated for Best Drama/Light Entertainment at the 1982 BAFTA Awards. In the end, competing against Grange Hill and Worzel Gummidge, it lost out to The Pied Piper of Hamlin.

It was novelised, and received a VHS release in 1985. Since then, however, it has dropped into obscurity, with leads Barry Angel and Debbie Farrington having low-profile acting careers afterwards. A DVD release was made, but only in the USA, with a British release yet to take place.

While both Johns returned to teaching, Jo continued acting through school, college and university, including another celebrity encounter.

She said: “We did a whole bunch of shows at Cricklade including with Jamie Hince, who used to be married to Kate Moss and is the lead singer of The Kills. I did a bit of producing at the fringe at university after that but not much since then!”

Looking back from 40 years on, the participants of Codename Icarus aren’t sure if a darker, more cerebral show like it would be made today.

“They were fun times, but it does feel like ancient history,” Jo said. “They don’t make them like that anymore!”

“Children’s TV was very different then,” added John Baxter. “I don’t think anyone would produce a five part children’s drama serial now. I may be completely wrong but I don’t think it would be done. It’s more one-off stuff and ongoing series.”

However, they all look back fondly on their time making Codename Icarus. Jo said: “For a 12-year-old who loved drama at Harrow Way, it was a real privilege to be picked and be involved and then fun to do the filming.”