Wednesday, 10 January 2018

BOND'S BRITAIN: SPECTRE


Predictably, the latest Christmas and New Year break was punctuated by a number of James Bond films on the telly, and on New Year’s Day it was the turn of Spectre, the 2015 production and the fourth to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond.  As always with the Bond films, the locations are an exotic mix, ranging from Mexico to Rome to Austria, to Morocco, but in between there are glimpses of some of London’s best known landmarks.



The riverside headquarters of MI6 makes an early appearance, looking rather sorry for itself following a terrorist attack in the previous Bond film, Skyfall.  The building finally disappears in a cloud of smoke in an explosion later in the film.  The new Centre for National Security which has been built opposite the ruins of the former MI6 building is portrayed by Riverwalk House on Millbank, which has been transformed into swanky apartments.  As for the interior scene featuring a distinctive spiral staircase, this was filmed in the City Hall building, also known as the headquarters of the Mayor of London.  Early in the film, Bond and M are in a car in the environs of a rather imposing crescent-shaped building.  This is Admiralty Arch, commissioned by the British Government in the reign of Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria.  The environs of Trafalgar Square also feature in this sequence, which was filmed in May 2015.  Another famous London landmark seen in an aerial shot is the London Eye big wheel.

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Admiralty Arch. Photo by Richard Croft, via Wikimedia Commons


The River Thames features heavily in some parts of the film, with one scene involving Bond and the MI6 Chief of Staff roaring along the river in a speedboat, a scene filmed in December 2014.  They also spend some time on the Regent’s Canal near Camden Lock, home to the famous market.  During a scene involving a helicopter and car chase, Westminster and the Houses of Parliament feature, with the helicopter crashing on Westminster Bridge.  During the filming, smoke was seen billowing from the area, which would no doubt have caused alarm if it were filmed nowadays following the terror attack which took place there last year.  Lambeth Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge also get a look-in during the boat and helicopter chase scene.

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Big Ben and Westminster Bridge. Photo by ktanaka, via Wikimedia Commons



The oldest restaurant in London is Rules in Covent Garden, established in 1798 by Thomas Rule.  In Spectre M, Q and Miss Moneypenny are seen meeting in a dining room, a scene which was filmed in Rules.  Also in Covent Garden, the Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street provides the interior shots for the corridors of the British Intelligence Headquarters.


In February 2015 the filming moved to Blenheim Palace, a huge stately pile and estate in Woodstock to the north of Oxford, best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, which has been used countless times in film and TV productions.  The palace provides a suitably grand backdrop for Bond’s Aston Martin, which is involved in yet another high speed chase starting from the building, which is meant to be the fictional Palazzo Cadenza in Rome. 

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Blenheim Palace. Photo by Simon Q, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Central London.



Friday, 22 December 2017

FOOLS' GOLD: THE ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES CHRISTMAS SPECIALS


During the ten years (1981 to 1991) that the popular comedy series Only Fools and Horses dominated our TV screens, the show’s Christmas specials were invariably a highlight of the festive period.  For this Christmas special I have picked out three of them, for which a variety of locations around the country were used in the filming.



Our first Christmas special, ‘To Hull and Back’, was first shown in 1985, and quite a few scenes were actually filmed in Hull.  In the story, Del, who is supposed to be acting as courier for a consignment of diamonds from Amsterdam, unwittingly ends up in Hull after hiding in Denzel’s van in order to evade Chief Inspector Slater.  From there, he and Rodney hire a boat and put their trust in Uncle Albert’s naval background to guide them to Amsterdam.  Two of Hull’s docks feature in the episode: St Andrew’s Dock, where Del crosses the road in front of Denzil, and Albert Dock, where the motley crew set off for Holland.  Denzil is seen catching some fresh air on the Spurn Nature Reserve, on the end of Spurn Head at the mouth of the River Humber.  The Humber Bridge also puts in an appearance, with Rodney attempting to use the toll without the correct change.  Two of the city’s streets are seen: Charles Street where the market scene was filmed, and John Street, where Del and Rodney park outside a cafe.

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Albert Dock.  Photo by David Wright, via Wikimedia Commons



In 1989 the Christmas special saw Del, Rod and their friends from the Nag’s Head travelling down to Margate in The Jolly Boys’ Outing, not for Christmas but on an August Bank Holiday weekend.  Margate has long been a favourite with daytrippers from London, the most notorious visitors being the Mods and Rockers who used to gather there in the early 1960s, causing mayhem wherever they went.  One of the main attractions, especially with families, is the Dreamland amusement park, which was closed for a while but has since been redeveloped.  The park, which featured in the Christmas special, held an “Only Fools and Horses” exhibition last year, which was well received by the folks on Tripadvisor. 

The Harbour Arm in Margate is where Del and Rodney are seen discussing an “Eels on Wheels” business.  Cliftonville, to the east of Margate, was used for a couple of the scenes, with the hotel the lads were staying in being filmed at Dalby Square.  The Coachway at Prince’s Walk was the scene of high drama when the coach exploded.  The exterior of Cassandra’s flat was shot in Richard Court, Lower Northdown Avenue.  Further afield, on the way to Margate the daytrippers make a pitstop at a pub.  The pub in question is the Roman Galley, at the turnoff to Reculver on the A299, sadly, like so many other pubs, now closed and turned into ‘luxury apartments’.  The Wyevale Garden Centre at Ramsgate, formerly a greyhound stadium, was used for the market scene, and the police station which featured in the episode was at Broadstairs, but has since closed.

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Dreamland. Photo by Ruth Johnston, via Wikimedia Commons



Finally, my personal favourite Christmas special was ‘A Royal Flush’, which had Rodney hooking up with a member of the aristocracy and Del muscling in on the act, with predictably embarrassing results.  The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, is where Del brings his tarty girlfriend along to a performance of Carmen, where she proceeds to show everyone up by throwing up over the person in front after overindulging in sweets, and where Del announces “I know this one!” and sings along loudly to one of the production’s best known songs.  Later in the episode, the action moves to the stately home where Rodney’s new girlfriend lives, and where Del joins them for a spot of clay pigeon shooting and pretty much destroys Rodney’s chances with her father by getting obnoxiously drunk.  The scene of all this mayhem was Clarendon Park near Salisbury, Wiltshire, a grade I listed building and estate.  The house was completed in 1737 and is privately owned.  In the episode, Del visits a gentlemen’s outfitters to get kitted up for the occasion, and this was filmed in Salisbury at a premises in New Canal.

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Theatre Royal. Photo by Andy Roberts, via Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

ELIZABETHAN INTRIGUE FROM SIR WALTER SCOTT: KENILWORTH



Kenilworth Castle, on the outskirts of the Warwickshire town of the same name, dates from the 12th century, but the period most closely associated with it is the Elizabethan period.  Queen Elizabeth I granted the castle to her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1563.  Dudley set about transforming it into an extravagant palace, and Queen Elizabeth was among the visitors.  One visit in particular stands out, lasting 19 days from the 9th to the 27th July 1575.  Dudley was after the queen’s hand in marriage, and for the 1575 visit he pulled out all the stops, making improvements to the state apartments, transforming the Gatehouse into a suitably grand entrance and making the surrounding landscape into “pleasure grounds” where a lavish fireworks display was laid on – these were just some of the lengths he went to to impress his queen.  However, some years earlier in 1560 Dudley’s wife Amy Dudley, nee Robsart, died in suspicious circumstances and the scandal surrounding this put paid to any chance of marriage between the two.

The Castle Keep

It is against this backdrop that the novel Kenilworth was written by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1821.  In the novel Amy secretly marries the Earl of Leicester, ditching her Cornish fiancĂ© Edmund Tressilian. Leicester keeps the marriage secret from Queen Elizabeth, being her favourite, fearing the loss of his court position.  Meanwhile, Amy is holed up in Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire, where she is a virtual prisoner.  The novel is based around the resulting intrigues involving Dudley, Tressilian and Dudley’s Master of the Horse, Varney, with an awkward scene in which Amy makes her way to Kenilworth, where she comes face to face with the Queen.  The novel was given a good write-up in The Edinburgh Review for its portrayal of Queen Elizabeth’s character “with the most brilliant and seducing effect”.

Kenilworth Castle is managed by English Heritage, and today is a ruin, though still with much of interest to visitors.  Reminders of Dudley’s devotion to his Queen are still on view, such as the aforementioned Gatehouse, known as Leicester’s Gatehouse, built by him in 1571.  The top floor of the Gatehouse houses an exhibition telling the story of Dudley’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth.  There is also an Elizabethan Bedroom complete with a 16th century ‘tester’ bed.  The fireplace in the Oak Room has the Dudley family motto ‘Droit en Loyal’ and the ragged staff and Leicester cinquefoil.  The Elizabethan Garden provided for the Queen’s entertainment has been lovingly recreated.  The mighty form of the Castle Keep is still on view – this was modified for entertaining by Dudley in 1570.

The Elizabethan Garden


Kenilworth is about 3 miles south-west of Coventry and a few miles from the M40.  For a map of the area follow this link


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

HELL'S WELLS: HOT FUZZ



The cathedral city of Wells in Somerset has more of the feel of a market town than a city, but a city it is due to the presence of the aforementioned cathedral.  Its size has led to it being commonly described as England’s smallest city.  Traditionally, visitors have flocked to the city to admire the cathedral and the adjacent Bishop’s Palace with its famous swan-filled moat.  However, in more recent years film and TV buffs have started coming here, what with Wells’ starring role in a number of film and TV productions.  One film in particular is linked to the city, and that is Hot Fuzz, an action comedy about a police officer who is moved from the crime-ridden streets of London to the sleepy village of  Sandford (aka Wells) expecting to be bored stiff, only to find that the village is a hotbed of violent crime.

When filming took place in 2006, much was made of the city’s picturesque centre, in particular the main street and the Market Place, with its Bishops Eye Gate and the Penniless Porch, two arched entrances leading to the walled precinct known as the Liberty of St Andrew, within which are the Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace and the Vicars’ Close.  The Penniless Porch, built around 1450, was named after the beggars who used to hang around there in those days.  The moat surrounding the Bishop’s Palace is where PC Angel is seen jogging in an early scene.  The Palace is also where Angel is seen meeting with the Neighbourhood Watch, and a night-time meeting described as taking place at the "castle" was also filmed outside the Palace (Wells does not have a castle).

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Market Square with the cathedral in the background. Photo by Barry Lewis, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Bishop's Palace and moat.  Photo by Derek Harper, via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the city’s pubs feature heavily in the film.  When PC Angel first arrives from London he is put up in the Swan Hotel.  The local watering hotel where the cops meet up for a drink is the Crown, whose exterior features in many shots, although the interior scenes were filmed in The Royal Standard of England in Forty Green, Beaconsfield.  The city’s pint-sized entertainment venue, appropriately named The Little Theatre, also makes an appearance.  

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The Swan Hotel. Photo by Sharon Loxton, via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps the most unlikely star location of the film is the Somerfield supermarket (no longer a supermarket since the demise of the Somerfield chain).  The supermarket’s charming but sinister manager, played by Timothy Dalton, is at the centre of the series of grisly murders taking place in the village, and the supermarket is one of the scenes of a prolonged gunfight towards the end of the film.  Apparently, the director of the film used to work at the store.  Another scene featured in the violent climax is a model village, but visitors in search of Hot Fuzz locations need not bother looking for it as Wells does not actually have a model village in real life.

Other film and TV productions which have featured Wells include Wolf Hall, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Libertine, The Hollow Crown and Poldark in which the Town Hall doubled ast the Warleggan Bank.

Wells is to the south of Bristol, just under an hour by car from there, or reachable from junction 23 of the M5 motorway.  There is also a regular bus service from Bristol, but no rail service.

Friday, 27 October 2017

BAKE!!! WELFORD PARK, BERKSHIRE



After much tutting and fretting about the change of presenters and the intrusion of commercial breaks to the show, the Great British Bake Off successfully made its transition from BBC1 to Channel 4 for this year’s series, which reaches its climax next Tuesday.  At first I was adamant that I wouldn’t watch it anymore, but I soon found myself sucked into the new format.  Yes, the commercials are annoying, but the bakes are as magnificent as ever, the dramas and tears just as poignant, and the surroundings just as lovely.  One aspect of the show which was not changed for the move to Channel 4 was the filming location, Welford Park, a privately owned mansion in Berkshire which had already been used twice for the BBC version.  As is so often the case, the collaboration between Welford Park and Bake Off came about as a result of a conversation at a party involving the Park’s agent, and filming began there just three weeks later.

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Welford Park House. Photo by Des Blenkinsopp, via Wikimedia Commons
Anyone wanting to visit the scene of all this baking will have to wait until the New Year, as the estate only opens to visitors between January and March, when the main draw is the magnificent display of snowdrops in the grounds of the estate.  The snowdrop season ends just in time for the marquee to be erected in April for the filming of the upcoming series.  The same cafeteria used to cater for snowdrop watchers is used to feed the show’s production team.  The interviews with the contestants take place in the estate’s gardens, which are much loved by the team for the changes which take place from spring through to summer.

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The snowdrops. Photo by D Gore, via Wikimedia Commons

Welford Park was built in 1652 for the son of the then Lord Mayor of London.  In keeping with the baking theme, additions made in subsequent centuries included the addition of a kitchen block and a very large dining room.  Before the creation of the estate, the site was occupied by a monastery and village.  Baking was a serious business in those days:  the Berkshire Record Office unearthed a document dating from 1337 from the Welford Estate archives described as an ‘assize of bread’.  The document gives strict instructions for baking a white bread known as a wastell loaf as well as a simnel cake.  This was used as the basis for making sure that bakers were not diddling their customers by falling short of the set standards.  If found guilty they were fined or, if persistent offenders, sent off to the stocks for a day.  Makes one of those ‘looks’ from Paul Hollywood seem like child’s play in comparison!

Welford Park is just off the M4, to the north west of Newbury.

Monday, 23 October 2017

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL/LYNMOUTH, DEVON



When the Caleighs, the family at the centre of The Secret of Crickley Hall - Gabe, Eve and their children Loren and Cally - arrive in the sleepy seaside village of Hollow Bay for a temporary stay at the riverside property Crickley Hall in a bid to heal the pain of their son’s disappearance, they look forward to walks along the “beautiful deep-sided and tree-lined gorge” marked as Devils Cleave on the map – down to the sea or up to the moors.  They anticipate weekends exploring the “craggy coastline”, and they are met with the sight of the “swift-moving, boulder-strewn Bay River”.  Early on in their stay they pay a visit to the local whitewashed and thatched inn, the Barnaby Inn with its low-ceilinged, beamed interiors.

Anyone who has visited Lynmouth on the North Devon coast will recognise this description, and indeed Hollow Bay was based on this beautiful little harbour village.  The reference to lime kilns is further proof, these being a feature of the village and surrounding area, formerly used for burning imported lime.  That, plus the fact that Hollow Bay is on the shores of the Bristol Channel, as is Lynmouth.  The craggy coastline referred to brings to mind the Valley of the Rocks to the west of Lynton, just above Lynmouth, while the Barnaby Inn may well be based on the charming harbourside inn The Rising Sun.  The only part of the scene described which doesn’t ring true to me is the reference to the “stranger-shy” locals.

Harbourside, with the Rising Sun


Devil’s Cleave must surely be the fictional equivalent of East Lyn Valley whose river tumbles down to the sea from Exmoor, although in an interview with the author of The Secret of Crickley Hall, James Herbert, he reveals that what he had in mind was a valley near his Sussex home called Devil’s Dyke.  As for Crickley Hall itself, which turns out to be a hotbed of supernatural phenomena, there is no particular building in Lynmouth that inspired it, but one can easily imagine such a pile lying alongside the river, where there are a number of impressive properties from the Victorian era lording it over the valley.

The 'boulder-strewn' river and the start of the East Lyn Valley


As well as the village and its surrounding landscape, The Secret of Crickley Hall manages to weave through the story two features of Lynmouth’s history.  During the war, Lynmouth played host to wartime evacuees from the big cities.  In the novel Crickley Hall is used to house some of the evacuees.  Several years later, in 1952, Lynmouth experienced a devastating flood which killed 34 people.  In the novel this event is moved back in time to 1943, with many of the evacuated children among the dead.  The horrors the Caleighs are met with at Crickley Hall are born of this event, with the spirits of the children haunting the property, along with the ghost of the sadistic Augustus Cribben, who subjected them to beatings and starvation.

In 2012 the Secret of Crickley Hall was dramatised for TV, but Devon was nowhere to be seen in the TV version.  Crickley Hall itself was represented by Bowden Hall in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire.

The real-life Hollow Bay, Lynmouth, is a reassuringly charming and quiet seaside village.  Attractions on offer to visitors include the Victorian cliff railway linking it to the clifftop town of Lynton.  The walk up the valley to Watersmeet is popular with walkers, who are rewarded for their efforts with a pleasant National Trust tearoom with a garden overlooking the rushing river.  Another gorge accessible to visitors (for a fee) is the Glen Lyn Gorge, where among other points of interest is an indication of the 1952 flood level mark.  See my other blog Postcards From The Edge for a write-up on Lynmouth.