Wednesday, 13 September 2017


J. M. Barrie’s creation Peter Pan is one of the most enduring fictional characters in British literature, best known for his eternal youth.  Neverland, the fictional land occupied by Peter and his pals, is the other creation of Barrie’s which has caught the public imagination, with its landmarks including Neverwood, Neverpeak Mountain, the Maze of Regrets and Pixie Hollow.

So what is the origin of this fabled land?  J. M. Barrie was born in 1860 in Kirriemuir, in Angus, just under 20 miles north of Dundee, and spent his early years sharing the family home, a typical weaver's house, with his large family.  The countryside around Kirriemuir is enhanced by views of the snow-capped Cairngorm Mountains, which may have contributed to Barrie’s imaginings of Neverland. However, it is a property on the other side of Scotland at Dumfries that is credited as being the birthplace of Peter Pan.

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J. M. Barrie's birthplace.  Photo by Richard Slessor, via Wikimedia Commons

Barrie moved to Dumfries from Kirriemuir in 1873, where he stayed with his older brother and attended the Dumfries Academy.  While at the Academy he began to hone his writing skills, writing for the school magazine.  From the ages of 13 to 18 Barrie frequented the Georgian house known as Moat Brae, built in the 1820s, where he played pirate games with his friends in the grounds surrounding the property, described by him as the ‘enchanted land’.  It was these exploits that were to provide the inspiration for the Peter Pan story.

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Moat Brae house. Photo by Darrin Antrobus, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust, with Joanna Lumley as its patron, is trying to raise money to create a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, complete with an adventure garden to give the kids a chance to recreate Barrie’s childhood activities.   Meanwhile, back in Kirriemuir, the NationalTrust for Scotland has taken ownership of  Barrie’s birthplace, located at 4 Brechin Road.  The house is stuffed full of exhibits and memorabilia pertaining to the author.  Fans of Barrie who want to visit the grave where he was buried upon his death in 1937 will find it in Kirriemuir Cemetery.

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Barrie's grave.  Photo by Darrin Antrobus, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Kirriemuir

Map of Dumfries

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Detectorists is a gentle comedy with an unusual theme: metal detecting.  The series follows the exploits of a small group of metal-detecting enthusiasts, including Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones).  Much of their time is spent scouring the gentle green fields around their neighbourhood, dreaming of the discovery of the next “Staffordshire Hoard”, but more often than not their finds are confined to metal ring-pulls or cheap badges.

The green fields in question are located in Suffolk, chiefly in the area in and around Framlingham – meant to be the fictional town of Daneby in Essex.  The Scout Hall where the detectorists meet up is in Framlingham, better known as St Michaels Rooms.  The most important landmark in the town is the castle, and near the entrance to the castle is the Castle Inn – this appears in the series as the Two Brewers pub, although the interior pub scenes were filmed in The Crown in Great Glemham, a few miles away.   Other pub scenes were filmed in the coastal village of Orford, at the Kings Head.  

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Framlingham street scene. Photo by nick macneill, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in Framlingham, the distinctive red brick facade of Framlingham College features in series two, doubling as a university.  During series two a round-tower church, one of 38 in Suffolk, becomes integral to the storyline.  The church is Aldham St Mary, in the village of Aldham, eight miles west of Ipswich.  Apparently, the landowner there allowed Mackenzie Crook to do some detecting in his spare time while filming was taking place, and he found some interesting items including some musket balls.

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Aldham St Mary. Photo by Keith Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

Framlingham is about 12 miles to the north-east of Ipswich, and its main attraction, the castle, is at the north-east edge of town.  Music fans may be interested to know that Ed Sheeran grew up in Framlingham, and his song “Castle on the Hill” was inspired by Framlingham Castle.  Orford is on the coast to the south of Aldeburgh, and it also has a castle, as well as the rather eerie Orford Ness with its wartime relics, such as a model atomic bombing range.  


Tuesday, 1 August 2017


During the spread of the Roman Empire large swathes of Europe came under the rule of these powerful conquerors.  Traditionally associated with Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, it is easy to forget that the Empire also spread to more northern regions, from our own Britannia in the west to Eastern Europe and the shores of the Baltic.  Germania was the name given to the part of the Empire mostly inhabited by Germanic peoples, and it extended from the Danube to the Baltic and from the Rhine to the Vistula. 

Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott,  is one of my favourite films, mainly for the superb acting by Russell Crowe as Maximus and by Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus (he was robbed at the Oscars in my opinion), not to mention the late, lamented hellraisers Richard Harris and Oliver Reed, who actually died during filming.  Some amazing computer and filming wizardry brought Reed back to life for the scenes involving him which were yet to be filmed. 

However, the film is also notable for its camerawork, making use of an array of stunning locations.  The stirring opening scene of Gladiator, depicting a battle in the forests of Germania set to the warlike music of Hanz Zimmer, was actually filmed in Surrey, in an area south of Farnham known as Bourne Wood, an area of mainly coniferous woodland.  The woods here have been purposely designated as a filming area, the Forestry Commission allowing them to be used for this purpose for up to 8 months a year, subject to certain restrictions such as the use of helicopters.  Other films making use of the woods include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and War Horse.  On the small screen the woods featured in the miniseries Band of Brothers, and they were used as jungle for It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.  They also appear in a number of adverts and in the video for Coldplay’s The Scientist.

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Photo by Ben Gamble, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 24 July 2017


Summer’s here and it’s time to head for the beach, but in between leaping into the waves and sunning yourself, why not stop to consider all the wonderful film and TV scenes produced over the years featuring the nation’s stunning beaches.  Here is a baker’s dozen of British beaches which have featured on the big and small screen.

Holywell Beach, Cornwall

In the latest series of Poldark Geoffrey Charles, stepson of George Warleggan, is seen visiting a beautiful beach and declaring it the best beach in Cornwall.  In another episode the same beach forms the backdrop for the romantic reunion of Geoffrey Charles’ governess Morwenna and Demelza’s brother Drake.  The beach in question is the one at Holywell Bay, easily recognisable from the two pointy islets just offshore known as Gull Rocks.  This is not the first time the beach has been seen on screen: it appears on the big screen in Summer In February, the 2013 film about an Edwardian artists’ colony in Cornwall, in which Gilbert Evans and Alfred Munnings are seen riding together on horseback and discussing the love interest, the fragrant Florence Carter-Wood.  The bay’s name derives from St Cubert’s Holy Well, which is to be found in Holywell Cave, accessible at low tide.  The cave features in one of the above-mentioned Poldark episodes, when Drake leads Geoffrey Charles and Morwenna to it.

On a much grimmer note, in 2002 the beach was transformed into a North Korean battlefield for the opening scenes of the  James Bond film Die Another Day, although apart from a brief glimpse of Gull Rocks you would never recognise it.  The lifeguard hut was turned into a pill box and barbed wire was arranged all over in order to achieve the desired effect.

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Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

West Bay, Dorset

The distinctive orange-hued cliffs backing the beach at West Bay will be forever remembered by Broadchurch fans as the place where the Latimers’ son Danny was found dead on the beach, a tragic event which formed the central focus of the first series and continued to weave its way through the two subsequent series.  The beach is repeatedly seen thereafter, often with dramatic waves crashing onto the shore.  The rocks forming the cliffs date from the Early Jurassic age and consist of Bridport Sand Formation and Inferior Oolite.  There are also frequent glimpses of the harbour adjacent to the beach in the series.

Brighton, East Sussex

Brighton Beach has featured in many productions over the years.  Among the most memorable scenes is the one in Quadrophenia in which the central character Jimmy is sitting on the shingle after an eventful night out gazing pensively out to sea, accompanied by the strains of  The Who’s ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’.  Then there is the scene from Mona Lisa, in which Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson are seen larking about in comedy sunglasses on the Palace Pier.  The beach and seafront also appeared in The Boat That Rocked about a 1960s pirate radio station, and of course both the 1947 and 2010 version of  Brighton Rock, based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, featured the seafront, in particular the pier.  This is just a small selection of appearances by the film makers’ favourite resort.

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Photo by Jean Housen, via Wikimedia Commons

Camber  Sands, East Sussex

Camber Sands near Rye is a riot of dunes, a rarity in the south-east.  The makers of the Carry On film Follow That Camel evidently thought the beach resembled the Sahara Desert, only without the attendant heat and lack of infrastructure.  The sands were also seen in a beach scene in The Theory of Everything, about the life of Stephen Hawking.  But most of the appearances by the sands have been in war films.  The 1958 version of Dunkirk used the beach as the backdrop for a recreation of Operation Dynamo, and in the 1962 film The Longest Day it was used to depict the Normandy beaches, a role repeated in the more recent film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, about an attempt to save art treasures from the Nazis. 

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

This sweeping mass of sand manages to upstage Gwyneth Paltrow in the final scene in Shakespeare in Love.  The actress is seen striding along the beach, meant to be Shakespeare’s Illyria, in a flowing gown while Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare sings her praises in a voiceover.  More recently, the beach became “Area X” in a sci-fi film called Annihilation starring Natalie Portman.  Visitors to the beach will no doubt want to look in on the nearby Palladian masterpiece Holkham Hall, which has also been used a fair bit in filming.

Redcar, North Yorkshire

Like Camber Sands, Redcar’s beach has been used to depict the beach at Dunkirk, this time in the film version of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.  The harrowing wartime scenes filmed at Redcar included local people who were brought in as extras to play the soldiers.  One of the excited inhabitants of the town commented that they wished they could put a price on what the film was worth to the town, quite justifiably, since visitor numbers jumped by some 70% during the filming.

Bamburgh, Northumberland

As well as being a stunning beach, Bamburgh has the added attraction of being overlooked by one of the country’s most impressive castles.  This has inevitably made it irresistible to film makers.  The castle and beach were used for the filming of the 1971 version of Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, and during the production of the 2015 version the cast and 200 extras were seen at the castle.  The castle also made an appearance in the 1998 film Elizabeth.  On the small screen, the castle served to depict Belleme Castle in Robin of Sherwood.  Another appearance on the small screen was in an episode of Most Haunted, a ghost hunting series best known for Yvette Fielding screaming her head off  and Derek Acorah speaking in tongues.  The ghosts in the castle reportedly include a stunningly beautiful “pink lady”.

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Photo by mattbuck, via Wikimedia Commons

St Andrews, Fife

The opening scene of the film Chariots of Fire, which tells the story of two athletes who, after years of training, are accepted to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics, features a race along a beautiful sandy beach with the athletes dressed in their white period racing gear, their feet splashing in the shallows, with the stirring theme tune by Vangelis ringing out.   Towards the end of the scene the skyline of the university and cathedral city of St Andrews comes into the camera shot, revealing that the scene of the race is the city’s West Sands beach, backed by St Andrews Links, this being “the home of golf”.

Camusdarach Beach, Arisaig, Highland

In the heartwarming film Local Hero, which tells the story of a rich American oil company’s efforts to buy a small Scottish coastal village for oil prospecting purposes, much of the action takes place on the east coast, in the village of Pennan.  However, one of the most beautiful locations used in the film was actually on the other side of Scotland at Camusdarach Beach, between Morar and Arisaig.  The beach is the setting of the amusing scene in which the local populace gather in the little church overlooking the beach to hold a meeting about the oil company's bid to exploit the area, while the oil men stand on the beach, oblivious to the line of people filing into the church.

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Photo by David Crocker, via Wikimedia Commons

Blackpool, Lancashire

Blackpool has made repeated appearances in the long-running soap opera Coronation Street.  From the early days in 1961, when Ena, Minnie and Martha took a trip up the Blackpool Tower, to 1985 when Bet Lynch declared that "Everybody's letting their hair down. You can cut smell of shrimps and best bitter with a knife."  Fast forward to 1989 when one of Coronation Street's worst villains, Alan Bradley, met his end at the hands of a Blackpool tram while stalking Rita Fairclough, who had moved to the town to escape from him.  Then there was the recent heart-rending scene involving Roy and Hayley Cropper who went to Blackpool to try to blot out Hayley's terminal cancer.  On the big screen, the resort is the focal point of the British comedy film Bhaji On The Beach about a group of women from the Indian subcontinent enjoying a day trip to see the famous Blackpool Illuminations. 

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire

The year 2009 was a big one for filming on the spectacular beach at Freshwater West.  In May of that year the beach was taken over by the Harry Potter team, when filming took place for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The most striking prop was Dobby's Shell Cottage, which is seen in the film with the dunes as a backdrop.  Then, the following month the production crew of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood arrived and put on a dazzling display for any casual onlookers as they filmed the scene depicting a battle against French invaders with Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) leading his men into the fray.  The scene was so massive that it involved 800 actors and 130 horses as well as dozens of the boats that were built for the filming.   

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Photo by Jeremy Owen, via Wikimedia Commons

Southerndown, Vale of Glamorgan

Many Doctor Who fans will have been touched by the relationship between the David Tennant version of the Doctor and his sidekick Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).  So the tearjerking scene in which the Doctor is about to declare his feelings for Rose when he suddenly dematerialises must have had them reaching for the tissues.  The scene of all this heartache was the beach at Southerndown in South Wales, meant to be Bad Wolf Bay in Norway in the series.  The production team evidently thought highly of the beach in question as a filming location: it was used in several other episodes including Journey's End, which saw Rose being joined by her successor Donna (Catherine Tate). 

Portstewart Strand, County Londonderry

One of the most magnificent beaches in Northern Ireland, and just one of a host of scenic coastal locations seen in Game of Thrones, which has just begun its seventh series, Portstewart Strand was where Jaime Lannister and Bronn were seen duelling with the Dornish guards in series 5.  The filming took place in August 2014, which was unfortunate, this being one of Northern Ireland’s most popular summer holiday spots, because the beach was completely closed for the filming.  The locals didn’t mind, though, considering the closure a small price to pay for the exposure given to Portstewart by its role in Game of Thrones.

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Photo by Des Colhoun, via Wikimedia Commons