Wednesday, 19 June 2019


As was the case with its predecessor, Close To The Enemy, the latest Stephen Poliakoff TV drama, Summer Of Rockets, has come up trumps once again with its visual beauty and period touches.  Set in the Cold War period, in 1958, at a time when fears of a nuclear conflict were growing among the populace – hence the title – the focal point of the story is Russian émigré Samuel Petrukhin (Toby Stephens) who invents a clever tracking device and who is reluctantly sucked into the world of espionage, necessitating repeated visits to the beautiful home of a politician and his wife, Richard and Kathleen Shaw (Linus Roache and Keeley Hawes).  Another facet of the story is the desperate search by Kathleen for her son who has disappeared.

The Shaws hold many posh get-togethers at their home, and this is where much of the action takes place in the series.  The real-life property where these scenes were filmed is the curiously named Benington Lordship, a few kilometres east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire, a private family home which opens up its gardens to the public at certain times of the year, for instance in February for the snowdrops.  The gardens were created above an ancient fortified site dating from Saxon times.  The gatehouse seen in many of the scenes is a neo-norman folly completed in 1838.  The house itself was a manor house, originally started around 1700.  The west wing was added in 1905 by the present owners’ ancestors.

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The Gatehouse.  Photo by Ozzy Delaney, via Wikimedia Commons
The property has been used in a number of other productions, such as the BBC Just William production and series 1 and 2 of the Channel 4 drama Humans.  

Another location frequently seen in Summer Of Rockets is the airfield where the tracking device is put to the test.  This was filmed at the former RAF base Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, an appropriate choice, having been used as a base for US forces based in Britain during the Cold War.

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The house and lawn. Photo by Rictor Norton and David Allen, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 6 June 2019


The 1997 British comedy film The Full Monty is a product of two vastly different phenomena that arose during the latter part of the 20th century.  The first was the decline of the steel industry, which hit the Yorkshire city of Sheffield particularly hard.  Many blame Margaret Thatcher for this, but there were multiple factors, including competition from other countries and low productivity.  Increased automation was another development, all of which put a lot of steel workers out of a job. 

The other phenomenon that appeared during this time was that of groups of male strippers, the most famous of which are The Chippendales, still going strong today.  Their performances gave hordes of leering women the chance to get their own backs for the objectification of the female body, flocking to large venues to whoop and cheer at the sight of muscly oiled male bodies, no doubt helped along by large quantities of alcohol.

The Full Monty manages to unite these two themes, telling the tale of a group of unemployed steel workers who decide to turn their fortunes around by forming a male stripper group.  Almost all of the filming took place in and around Sheffield, using glamorous locations such as an Asda supermarket, factories and a working men’s club, as well as many of the city’s streets.

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Sheffield, where most of the scenes were filmed. Photo by Paul Store, via Wikimedia Commons

The steelworks which put the men to be out on the streets in the film are represented by the building formerly occupied by Sanderson Special Steels in Newhall Road, Attercliffe.  The Shirebrook Colliery in the film was filmed at a Rolling Mill in the city.  The factory where Gaz’s ex-wife Mandy works is actually the now closed Eversure Textiles, which used to have premises at the Northpoint Industrial Estate.

Various locations around the city were used for scenes involving the characters’ homes: Gerald’s house in Whirlow Park Road; Gaz’s house in Oxford Street; Dave’s house in Meadowbank Road.  Manor Oaks Road is seen in the keep fit sequence, while the most poignant scene in the film, featuring Lomper’s suicide attempt, was filmed in Pickering Road.  Orgreave Way is where the ASDA supermarket was filmed, and the burger bar scene was filmed in Cambridge Street at Pepes, which is now at a different address.

The Job Centre where the lads are seen signing on was filmed at an actual Job Centre, or rather Job Centre Plus at the corner of Bailey Lane and West Street.  The school building in the scene where Gaz drops off his son is actually the Sheffield Boxing Centre in Burton Street.  The Millthorpe Working Men’s Club in the film, where the group finally get to strut their stuff, is represented by the Shiregreen Working Men’s Club at 136 Shiregreen Lane.

Out and about in the fresh air, the park where Gerald spends his days on a park bench, having kept quiet to his wife about his unemployed status, and where the lads invite Gerald to be their choreographer, is Ruskin Park in Walkley.  The park was created relatively recently on the site of a number of streets which were cleared in the early 1980s.  The city’s Crookes Cemetery is where Lomper’s mother is laid to rest.  The cemetery includes 70 graves of service personnel who served in the First and Second World Wars.  Finally, the scene in which Gaz and Dave are stranded on a sinking car was filmed by Bacon Lane Bridge in Attercliffe, on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, which forms the upper four miles of the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation.  The canal was opened in 1819 to serve as a link between the River Don and a basin in the centre of the city.

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Bacon Lane Bridge. Photo by Warofdreams, via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors to Sheffield who want to find out more about the city’s industrial heritage will find what they are looking for at the Kelham Island Museum.  Metal features heavily in the works on display at the Millennium Gallery, which also contains the Ruskin Collection of works of art.  The art critic John Ruskin put the collection together with the help of his Guild for the benefit of the city’s metalworkers.

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Photo by Mick Knapton, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the area.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019


I have written before about the fun of trying to guess the inspiration for the properties and estates which feature in the novels of Jane Austen.  Northanger Abbey is a tricky one, but given the novel of the same name is Gothic in style, and the fact that the Austen family made multiple visits to the spooky ruins of Netley Abbey near Southampton when Jane was a girl, it does not take too much of a leap of imagination to suppose that Netley Abbey, while far from a complete and occupied property unlike the fictional Northanger Abbey, may have contributed to Jane’s interest in the Gothic, and therefore may have influenced her creation of Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen grew up in Hampshire, and she and her sister Cassandra went to school in Southampton in 1783.  It was probably during that time, and 10 years later when she stayed with her second cousin in Southampton, that she got to know the abbey.  On one particular visit in 1807, it was not Jane but her niece Fanny who waxed lyrical about the site, describing it as a “compound of everything that is striking, ancient and majestic”, and how it “stands on an eminence, in the most romantic situation you can imagine, overgrown with ivy and concealed from your view by a high wood, down to the water’s edge” – the water in question being Southampton Water.  Work on Jane’s novel Northanger Abbey began in 1798, and it is not known to what extent she had Netley Abbey in mind when inventing the Abbey of the novel, but given the above it seems highly likely that Netley was the inspiration for Northanger.

Photo by Coradia1000, via Wikimedia Commons

The abbey is now managed by English Heritage, who on their website inform us that it is the most complete surviving abbey built by the Cistercian monks in Southern England.  The abbey is open year round, with slightly reduced hours during the winter months.  There are many spooky stories surrounding the abbey, which would have circulated around the time of Jane’s visits, including the story of an apparition dressed as a monk who appeared before a local undertaker who wanted to dismantle the church ruins.  The monk warned him not to, but he disregarded the warning and was rewarded with a stone falling on his head and killing him.

Map of the area.

Sunday, 28 April 2019


Being set in a seaside location and starting with the disappearance of two teenagers, inevitably there will be comparisons between The Bay and Broadchurch.  Personally, I think The Bay is the better of the two.  It starts on a very interesting premise, every policewoman’s nightmare.  I won’t say any more in case anyone has not got around to viewing it yet. 

The seaside location in question is Morecambe of Morecambe Bay, with its famously treacherous sands, and there are plenty of shots of the beach.  Much of the filming took place around the Stone Jetty.  Apparently Morecambe was chosen because as well as being a beautiful part of the British coast, it is also a town with an edge to it.  At the beginning, there is an aerial shot of the town with the magnificent art-deco Midland Hotel taking centre stage. The hotel was renovated and reopened in 2008, but in its heyday was frequented by the likes of Coco Chanel and Noel Coward. 

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Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

Episode 1 has the lead policewoman in the drama heading to town on a night out, culminating in a karaoke session.  This takes place in the Royal Bar at the Royal Hotel, which was actually used in the scene.  Away from Morecambe, there is a scene involving an outdoor lido.  This was filmed at nearbay Grange Lido at Grange-Over-Sands, on the north shore of Morecambe Bay.

Map of the area.

Monday, 15 April 2019


The film Atonement, based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, begins in the stately abode of the Tallis family, whose daughter Cecilia is smitten by Robbie, the son of one of the servants whose university education the family has paid for.  Robbie is wrongly accused of rape by Cecilia’s younger sister Briony, who has already misinterpreted an encounter between the two by the fountain in the garden as malicious behaviour on Robbie’s part.  This combination of misunderstanding and malice has a lasting effect on the lives of Cecilia and Robbie.

During the summer of 2006 the film’s production team headed for Stokesay Court, a privately-owned country house and estate near Onibury in Shropshire.  The team had discovered the property in an issue of Country Life magazine and decided it was a perfect candidate for the role of the Tallis house.  The crucial fountain scene did not use the actual fountain to be found in the grounds; a sculptor produced a more elaborate one specially for the filming.  As well as the grounds of the estate, the film made use of the interiors of the house and a cottage, occupied by the Robbie character.  The library which featured in Atonement is actually a billiards room in real life.

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Stokesay Court. Photo by PJMarriott, via Wikimedia Commons

Stokesay Court was originally built for a wealthy Victorian businessman whose father went into partnership with a Worcester glove maker, with construction starting in 1889.  During World War I it was used as a convalescent home for soldiers, and during World War II the property was requisitioned by the Army for training purposes. The property remains in private hands with tours available for individuals or groups on certain set dates, to be booked in advance.  The estate acquired by the original owner included the nearby Stokesay Castle, run by English Heritage, which is a fine example of a fortified medieval manor house built in the 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow.  

Map of the area.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019


In the latter part of the 19th century a little girl called Alice Liddell used to visit the Welsh resort of Llandudno, staying at the family holiday home Penmorfa on the town’s West Shore.  Like any young girl, Alice had her share of adventures while on holiday in the town.  The writer Lewis Carroll was a close friend of the Liddell family, and although he reputedly never met Alice there, he got wind of Alice’s holiday exploits and used them as the basis for a story which he recounted to Alice and her sisters on a rowing trip.  And so the famous children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came into being, followed by the sequel Through  The Looking Glass.

Llandudno has not forgotten its association with Lewis Carroll and Alice, and commemorates it in a number of ways, even embracing new technology in the form of the White Rabbit app incorporating a town trail.  There is a statue of the White Rabbit character on the West Shore, and also just off the West Shore there are two big rocks which are said to represent the Walrus and the Carpenter from Through The Looking Glass.  Unfortunately, fans visiting the town will not be able to see Penmorfa.  After a few years as a hotel, in 2008 the building was demolished as it was deemed to be  unsafe.

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West Shore, with the White Rabbit Statue and Penmorfa before it was demolished. Photo by Steve F, via Wikimedia Commons
Llandudno is a typical seaside resort, with its long promenade and pier and its array of restaurants and shops, but what makes it stand out from other similar resorts is its position at the foot of the mighty Great Orme, a mountain which can be reached by tramway or cable car or, for the energetic, on foot.  There is a bar and restaurant at the top and the views out to sea are stupendous, only marred by the ‘forest’ of wind turbines on the horizon.  The sheep to be found on the mountain have been joined by 122 wild Kashmiri goats, who made the news recently when they headed down to the town during bad weather, stopping the traffic, nibbling plants in people’s gardens and generally causing chaos.

The Great Orme, from the Promenade.
Map of the area.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019


Running from 1973 to 2010, with 31 series and a whopping 295 episodes, Last of the Summer Wine is not only the longest-running comedy programme in Britain, but is the longest-running sitcom in the world.  Although all three of the original actors playing the oldies are now dead (one had to be replaced after two series due to ill health, and a completely new trio was introduced towards the end), their memory lives on with reruns of the show still gracing our screens today on the Gold, Yesterday and Drama channels.  The basic premise of the series is the childlike antics of three pensioners and their interactions with an eccentric cast of local characters, with most of the action filmed in and around the picturesque Yorkshire town of Holmfirth.

One focal point in the series is Sid’s Cafe, which is an actual cafe in Towngate, complete with the famous red and white cafe sign and gingham curtains.  The cottage occupied by Nora Batty, where she was frequently to be seen loitering on the outside steps donning her wrinkly stockings, pinny and curlers, is at 28 Huddersfield Road and is now available as a holiday let.  The town’s current landscape includes a tearoom dedicated to Nora’s memory called TheWrinkled Stocking.  Clegg’s home in the series is to be found in Hill Street at Jackson Bridge, to the west of Holmfirth, and the White Horse pub is nearby bearing the same name as the one in the series.

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Sid's Café. Photo by Nigel Homer, via Wikimedia Commons

Much of Holmfirth’s charm lies in its geographical position in the lovely Holme Valley, which is made much of in the series.  The valley lies in West Yorkshire, just to the north of the Peak District.  The town arose from the existence of a corn mill in the 13th century, and the economy developed around the cloth trade and nearby quarries.  Unfortunately, the town’s riverside location makes it vulnerable to flooding, and the worst flood in its history took place in February 1852, when the nearby Bilberry reservoir burst its banks and the resulting torrent of water took out mills, cottages, animals and people, including dead ones in the graveyard.  81 people died in this flooding event.

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Holmfirth. Photo by Tim Green, via Wikimedia Commons

For fans of the series who want to make sure they do not miss any of the key locations, there is a Summer Wine Tour Bus which covers a 10-mile route. 

For a guide to Holmfirth follow this link.