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Dorset On Screen: A Report On The Use Of Dorset As A Film-TV Location For The British Film Centenary 1996

This 1996 report was done as a review of developments since 1990, when the first agencies promoting Britain as a film and television location went into operation, and the first tie-in national promotion appeared which utilized film and tv location filming in tourism. The national history of these agencies was detailed in my 1992 brief for the Arts Council's "Towards A National Arts & Media Strategy" public consultation. (To view, or print this 1992 brief, "An Introduction To Screen Commissions," click here.)

British film centenary logoThe British Film Centenary 1896-1996 was for many more an occasion for soul-searching than celebration.

IN 1990, the first national promotion recognizing the role of film and tv location filming in tourism appeared, in the form of the British Tourism Authority's brochure, co-sponsored by Shell, "The Movie Map." This was reissued in updated form in 1996, to commemorate the British Film Centenary 1896-1996, and so provides a framework for reviewing progress to date. Given its long use as a location, Dorset has been poorly represented on the "Movie Map." This usage goes right back to before World War One when Britain's film pioneer Hepworth had exploited it every summer as an all-purpose scenic location, filming for example in 1913 his £10,000 super-production of Hamlet here, using the Lulworth area to represent Denmark and building a lathe-and-plaster Elsinore Castle on the clifftop. After World War One, a Hollywood producer exploring Britain for the best site to establish a British "Hollywood" announced the most suitable spot would be Bournemouth — a lead sadly but typically not followed up. Hollywood had flourished as a filming centre due largely to the diversity of its surrounding landscape. Similarly, due to Dorset's diversity of landscape and architecture, the county can be considered Britain's original "heritage backlot" locations area.

During the pre-television period it saw continuing use by British filmmakers. This includes locally-shot screen adaptations of novels by the area's most famous author, Thomas Hardy, dating back to 1915. The "locations-backlot" use of Dorset continued into the television era. As well as many stories with English settings shot here, from "swashbuckler" costume dramas to Hardy adaptations, through the 1970 and 1980s television had continued to use Dorset, to represent not only English but foreign landscapes (such as a tropical Pacific island in Tenko *) — even otherworld landscapes (Dr Who, Blake's 7). BBC-TV in particular exploited Dorset, but in 1990, several series which used Dorset as a location for exterior scenes ended. One was the drama serial Howard's Way (1986-90) which had often used Hurn to portray various airports, and had become the basis of a Southampton tourism initiative ("Howard's Way" cruises and weekend breaks). The sitcom Don't Wait Up with Nigel Havers et al, which used "upper" Bournemouth as its anonymous suburban setting, ended after 6 years. The popular BBC sitcom Brush Strokes with Karl Howman (since 1989 exterior-filmed largely in Charminster) ended shortly after this, soon followed by its locally-shot short-lived spinoff, Mulberry (which filmed exteriors in Westbourne, etc). *

There was of course no film liaison officer as in other major municipalities outside London to attract other producers to film in the area, despite the three townships having grown into, to quote The AA/OS Leisure Guide To Wessex, "the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe." Bournemouth, despite its potential and the early suggestion it could be a "British Hollywood" had never really developed as a locations area beyond filmed street and park scenes inserted into BBC-TV programmes otherwise shot on video in a London studio — a split production technique now abandoned. At the outset of this period, i.e. early 1990, Bournemouth Council's ambivalent position on the town's media image was reflected by a controversy over national tv news coverage of the May 1990 post soccer-match rioting here. (This was in effect a version of the same controversy which would manifest at every Tory Party Conference here, when TV news alternates reportage against a scenic Pier background with shots of protestors held back by a massive police cordon.) Some Councillors now took the position in the press that even soccer-riot coverage was welcome as Bournemouth needed any publicity it could get, even that the town had finally received a national media profile shaking off its "boring" image.
The Dorset countryside had long attracted tv producers, mainly from the BBC (a number of whom had retired here), and in 1990, BBC-TV with the American A&E Network did make a successful single drama in rural Dorset, The Green Man, from the Kingsley Amis ghost story. However the fact Dorset was chosen (the story is set in the Cambridge area) was probably because producer-star Albert Finney had filmed Tom Jones in Dorset in 1963, and the actual location, a large country house north of Dorchester, has remained officially unidentified.* However two successful new BBC-TV sitcoms began, Waiting For God* and One Foot In The Grave, both shooting town scenes in Bournemouth / Christchurch over the next few years. The former was actually set here ("God's Waiting Room" being a press nickname for the town), though all location work for the central retirement-home setting was done in Oxfordshire, a fact identified in the end credits of every episode.
In 1990, a scenic Cliff Richard music video, Saviour's Day, was also shot atop Durdle Door, but, done for his 50th birthday, it had only a short distribution life.
In 1991-2, there was only minor success in obtaining television shoots, e.g. with an episode, "Going West" of ITV's The Good Guys series, plus a few shots in The Manageress, Inspector Wexford etc. The Meridian TV production of Mary Wesley's Harnessing Peacocks, made in the wake of the hit The Camomile Lawn, had some scenes shot in Lyme Regis, but with the story's main setting in Cornwall and the production's pastel colour scheme art direction, the town was not really recognizable. There was a similar occurrence with an ITV telefeature version of John LeCarre's A Murder Of Quality with Denholm Elliott and Glenda Jackson. This was filmed in Sherborne where the author went to school, but with a preponderance of night scenes the Dorset setting was likewise barely visible. In cinema, Dorset just missed out on share of location work for the 1991 Kevin Costner Robin Hood—Prince Of Thieves, which had scenes shot right on the Dorset borders in Wiltshire and the New Forest.

In 1992, the popular 'Inspector Wexford' TVS series starring George Baker, which had filmed various scenes in Bournemouth and Dorset, ended. Southampton-based TVS also did not film its Xmas special, Beatrix Potter's The Tale Of Little Pig Robinson, within its license or operating area, but used a fishing port down in Cornwall instead of e.g. West Bay. Another lost production was a then much-talked about D.H. Lawrence adaptation directed by locally-based filmmaker Ken Russell. He had earlier filmed sequences for biopics in Dorset, e.g. The Debussy Film, The Music Lovers (set in Russia), and Valentino (in which Bournemouth represented 1920s Hollywood), and more recently, scenes at Highcliffe Castle for "The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax" for ITV's South Bank show in 1992, as well as filming in 1992 an episode in the Purbecks for Channel Four's Erotic Tales series (shown 1996). He shot the BBC drama serial version of Lady Chatterley on the Isle Of Wight. The extra expense of ferry transport was seemingly undertaken for the Isle's combined assets of stately homes and countryside, a steam railway and industrial-wasteland areas — though Dorset (with its quarried areas and Swanage Railway), also offers all these attractions in close proximity.

A large-budget production, from the Merchant-Ivory team who did A Room With A View etc, was filmed of E.M. Forster's Howard's End (1992), the novel having a famous sequence set in Purbeck. Despite the film using 60 locations around England, the Dorset visit was written out — probably due to the fact the vista Forster praised as the essence of English landscape and heritage now includes visible modern features; but again, other parts of the coast could in fact easily have been substituted.

The same happened with the next Merchant-Ivory film, again starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Kazuo Ishiguro's prize-winning novel The Remains Of The Day involves a drive through Dorset to the West Country and a final scene set in Weymouth. The stately-home main setting could of course also have been catered to in Dorset, especially as the film simply used rooms from different stately homes to convey the pre-war magnificence of "Darlington Hall." (The work is also reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited, written after Evelyn Waugh's pre-war and wartime stays in Dorset.) Instead, none of it was filmed in Dorset, the finale being actually shot at Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon, where the script dialogue relocated the sequence. Other locations used were also mostly in Avon, and this was probably a reflection of the fact Bath Council were then organizing a film liaison office with a locations database to attract producers to the vicinity. The new Bath Film Office in turn would become a cornerstone of the formative South-West Film Commission. For some exterior shots, the film also used Powdersham Castle manor (near Exeter), which was able to produce a tourism brochure exploiting its international screen fame.
Dorset was evidently also regarded as deficient in major stately homes by the producers of a farce written by an ex-member of the Monty Python team*, which was the surprising choice of film to represent Britain at the Cannes Film Festival 1993. The plot of Splitting Heirs involves the succession of the "Dukes of Bournemouth," but the family seat was represented by Longleat in Wiltshire.
In 1993, the Bournemouth International Festival's showing of the County's best big-screen all-round screen exploitation to date, the 1967 production of Far From The Madding Crowd, far from being a successful locations showcase, demonstrated the fact the film is badly in need of restoration, a fact I discussed with co-star Alan Bates when he appeared in 1994 at the Wareham Rex's retrospective of his works. Both the beginning and end of the film are much spliced and need replacing, and the penultimate scene is entirely missing.*
In 1994, the formation was announced of the South-West Film Commission, with offices in Bath and Saltash, to promote the southwest of England as a locations area. The siting of the two offices was based on the fact of the existing Bath Film Office on one hand and the fact the District Councils for the area around Saltash bid the highest to have the other office sited there. The SWFC was announced as covering Dorset, though I had to point out to the organizers this was misleading, since it did not cover Bournemouth, Poole or Christchurch, and the exclusion of the County's main conurbation and population centre was already a sore point with urban arts organizations. In fact, the jurisdiction of the SWFC organizing agency, Exeter-based South West Arts (Regional Arts Board) does not include the three-town conurbation, which comes under Winchester-based Southern Arts — which was interested in organizing a screen commission but had not as yet done so.

In London in 1992, when the British Film Commission was launched as the national co-ordinating agency or clearing house for producers' queries, I had heard the Commissioner (Sir Sydney Samuelson) speak of large "black holes" of representation, but most of these gaps had disappeared by 1994-5. A year after the SWFC launched (i.e. mid-1995), the Dorset situation was that East Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland and West Dorset District Councils had signed up with the SWFC, but not (as the SWFC complained to me) Bournemouth, Poole or Christchurch. (The cost for a Council like East Dorset was typically around £700 for a one-year trial term.) A film-liaison office or agency based in the conurbation was evidently still not considered a necessary third point (with Bath and Saltash) to cover the south-western "triangle" network, despite the practical necessity for knowledge of local topography in location referrals.

In the optimistic local press coverage announcing the formation of the SWFC in September 1994 ("Bid To Push County As Top Film Location"), Britain's most commercially popular film, Four Weddings And A Funeral, was cited as having used Dorset locations, but this was the sort of claim that can be damaging to credibility. The only sight of Dorset is a brief travelling shot of a Sherborne-Yeovil motorway sign showing the "B359" which of course does not exist; the real A359 runs outside Dorset. The country house seen next, supposedly in Somerset, was actually Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, and the country inn seen after that is in Buckinghamshire. The locations not being given in the film's credits, they became sought-after tourism destinations, the hotel bedroom seen in the film already booked by couples for several years in advance.

The same day it ran its SWFC picture story, the Bournemouth Echo had published an editorial, "Screening Dorset," addressing the old controversy of the town's media image. It said that the town did not want the wrong sort of film made here, i.e. one that would project a negative image, such as a crime drama about drug dealers or a sci-fi horror drama of the "Aliens" type. This implication of official script censorship, which would have caused filmmakers to steer clear of the area, prompted me to write a long letter to the Echo, which they published as their letter-of-the-week.*

I pointed out that the type of film story made no difference, most locations being disguised as somewhere else anyway — that, for instance, a SF-horror drama about nude space-alien vampires had already had "London" scenes shot in Christchurch by the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The real problem, I argued was attracting any producers at all, and in particular the ongoing loss of productions that should be filmed here, concluding the letter with the remark that "If the next large-screen Thomas Hardy film is shot in Scotland or Wales or Ireland or anywhere else, there will be a lot of embarrassed explaining to do."

Local Councillors had generally supported in principle the announced SWFC, obviously unaware of the inherent practical difficulty of such a remote set-up. (Of Britain's 15 regional screen commissions, the SWFC with a staff of 3 had in fact taken on the largest operating area.) Disillusion began within weeks, with the news that a new £2-million 13-part ITV "nostalgia period" (vaguely 1950s-set) version of Enid Blyton's Famous Five * was to be filmed in the north of England, resulting in the Echo editorial and article [21/10/94] "Five Snub Dorset". Enid Blyton, a longtime summer resident and property owner, had indeed used the Purbeck landscape as inspiration, and this had led to its location use in previous adaptations. For example, the story chosen by ITV for its 2-part pilot episode, "Five On A Treasure Island," had been filmed by the Children's Film Foundation using Brownsea and Corfe Castle in 1957. But despite a fuss in the press, with a complaint from Dorset Tourism, the producers refused to come south of Yorkshire, and the area lost an opportunity to show Dorset in its "holiday playground" role.
A similar thing had happened with the last Famous Five tv programme. This was the 2-hour feature Five Go Mad In Dorset, a cult film which launched Channel Four on its opening night in 1982 as well as its makers, the Comic Strip group (Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French et al); it was filmed in the New Forest.* In early 1995 there was a another "snub" incident in the local press (cf Echo 11/4/95, "Film Crew Snubs New Forest Set"). This was over the BBC's Screen Two futuristic blood-sports drama Giving Tongue (broadcast Dec. 96) set largely in the New Forest, the £1 million-plus production being filmed instead in the Republic Of Eire due to the tax incentives available there.

There was a modest success in 1994 with a remake of the Terence Rattigan play The Browning Version *, which was mainly filmed at Milton Abbey school (rather than Sherborne School, as reported in the trade press and on BBC-TV, critic Barry Norman having to deliver an on-air apology after a rebuke from the Bursar at Milton Abbey). The choice of Dorset here was likely due to the fact that not only had the film's star Albert Finney worked in Dorset twice before, the director had also filmed here (having used Hurn to portray Newcastle Airport in Stormy Monday), and in fact has a home near Blandford.
The start of 1995 saw the establishment, with the help of Meridian TV, of a rival to the SWFC, the Southern Regional Screen Commission, covering the Meridian broadcast area running east to Kent, and based slightly closer to Bournemouth in southern Hampshire. (Hampshire County Council invested £10,000 to help get it going). The SRSC seems to have had an early success with a sequence filmed in Hampshire for Hollywood's Arthurian epic First Knight, with Sean Connery and Richard Gere, which was otherwise shot in North Wales. The SWFC for its part organized a promotional event in February with the head of the British Film Commission and the actress Prunella Scales, an event the Echo wrote up as "Film Plea For Dorset," but which, typically, was held in Cornwall.

Summer 1995 saw a new magazine, Dorset, with a feature on the locations of Far From The Madding Crowd, billed here as the most famous film ever made in Dorset. (The film's own credits had said misleadingly it was "Filmed in Wiltshire and Dorset," despite there being only two Wiltshire locations compared to about twenty in Dorset.)
There was also a "top-ten" list of films made in Dorset, with some surprising selections — studio-made films not shot here at all; the fact more substantial productions (such as Bill Douglas's admired big-screen recreation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs story, Comrades) had been shot here was still evidently unknown. Even the Madding Crowd locations list was still inaccurate after all these years, as readers' letters soon pointed out. At the same time, there was a round of readers' letters in the Echo about the Dorset locations of earlier productions, including three not on the above top-ten list, The African Queen*, Rough Shoot and The Heroes Of Telemark *, indicating a new public interest in this matter, a trend recognized by the recent appearance of various national-press articles and books on film and tv locations. The first book on British feature-film locations was published in 1995, On Location by Brian Pendreigh, and Dorset did get half a dozen mentions. A publicity disappointment here was the publication of The Television Location Guide, which completely ignored Dorset's long use as a tv "backlot."
Commercials have been scenically filmed in Dorset since at least the famous 1973 Ridley Scott "Bike Boy" Hovis ad shot on Shaftesbury's Gold Hill, which was remade, with less impact in 1990. A Palmolive Soap ad with a woman "flashing" at seagulls on the distinctive Lyme Regis Cobb after using the soap, was shown in summer 1994. In most however the location (such as Bournemouth beach in a Guinness ad) is seen too fleetingly and its identity remains unclear, voiding any tourism impact, though locals may take offence in any case, and this may get in the newspapers, as happened with the 1995 NatWest "country yokels" ad which included a replica of the Cerne Giant and which, it emerged, was actually shot in Devon.

With the success first of BBC's Clarissa and then of Middlemarch * (which turned its main location of Stamford, Lincs. into a major tourism destination), period dramas now began to make a strong return. (Both these BBC productions are said to have used Dorset locations, but details have not been forthcoming.) The US-financed big-budget period drama-feature Restoration, from the Rose Tremain novel set in 1660s Suffolk and London, did include two country houses in West Dorset in its impressive locations line-up.

The main trend here was a cycle of Jane Austen costume dramas following on the international success of BBC's Pride And Prejudice (whose locations in Wiltshire, Derbyshire etc. were quickly sought out as tourism destinations). A feature-length BBC-TV version of Austen's Persuasion, with its famous sequence set in Lyme Regis, showed the harbour to good advantage, and was shown in art-house cinemas in America. And a US-financed feature version of Austen's Emma used the village of Evershot as Austen's "Highbury." Unfortunately, although the BBC's 1986 version had been partly shot here, Dorset did not figure in the locations line-up for the much-acclaimed new Emma Thompson version of Austen's Sense And Sensibility, produced by Columbia Pictures and largely shot on the Dorset borders, in Somerset and Wiltshire. Dorset also lost out on the 1996 ITV version of Emma, which was shot mainly in Wiltshire. (Trafalgar Park by Downtown in the Avon Valley was used in both Sense And Sensibility and ITV's Emma.)

ITV's popular US co-production of Moll Flanders by Defoe (who had Dorset connections) was also shot mainly in Wiltshire. Also, sadly omitted from the acclaimed The Madness Of King George was what would have been a very filmic scene, the historically famous episode where George III, in an attempt to cure his ills, stepped from a bathing machine into the sea at Weymouth, establishing it as the first English seaside resort.

Several contemporary novels with Dorset sequences lost them in their 1995 ITV adaptations. Joanne Trollope's A Village Affair had Purbeck scenes, dropped no doubt just for reasons of length. More annoying was the case of the latest Inspector Morse drama, The Way Through The Woods. The novel was considered so well-written it led to a reviving of Morse tv adaptations with this single drama. The book opens with a major sequence in which Morse is on holiday on his own in Lyme, meets a provocative woman, and there begins to solve a major murder inquiry in which she figures — all dropped from the tv version.* There was also no sign of any local filming for an announced £2-million 3-part ITV production of The Skull Beneath The Skin, the "Cordelia Grey" thriller * by P.D. James, who has family connections in the Purbeck area, and based her story's island setting on Brownsea Island with its castle and outdoors theatre.
The BBC in 1996 did continue to shoot scenes for drama productions here. The Coronation finale of BBC-1's children's-serial The Prince And The Pauper was shot inside Christchurch Priory on the basis it more resembled Westminster Abbey in at the time of the Coronation of Edward VI than the Abbey itself now did. BBC Scotland's upcoming comedy feature The Missing Postman, an adaptation of the first novel by travel writer Mark Wallington (of 500 Mile Walkies fame), and starring James Bolam, had scenes shot in Poole, the author having grown up in the area and based his 1992 novel's home-town setting on Poole and Swanage.

However, the hit BBC-TV sitcoms, Waiting For God and One Foot In The Grave, which had been using Bournemouth or Christchurch exterior scenes for five years, were also both announced as ending production after the current series.

In 1995-6 the main development was the production of several Thomas Hardy adaptations. Initially it was hoped that at long last had come the opportunity to repair the knock to local confidence and reputation suffered unnecessarily since 1979, when Roman Polanski filmed Tess entirely in France. ("Hardy Poised To Join The Hollywood Set" was the Echo's headline of 10/6/96). In 1993, Kenneth Branagh had publicly expressed interest (e.g. on Radio 4) in filming The Return Of The Native with Emma Thompson, but (as I complained in the Echo in Sep.'94) nothing had apparently been done by way of follow-up to encourage this, despite Branagh's established local contacts with drama groups.
Now, a two-hour version of The Return Of The Native, with Catherine Zeta Jones (of Darling Buds Of May fame) was co-produced by BBC-TV and Hallmark, the US greeting-card company who had been a sponsor-producer since the 1950s of tv drama specials including "chocolate-box" style Dickens adaptations. Despite BBC involvement and the fact the novel's scene-setting on Egdon Heath is one of the most famous in all English literature, the result was another of Hallmark's prettified dramas, and the famous Heath was portrayed (as the credits put it) by "Exmoor, England" — i.e. the steep hills of "Lorna Doone Country."

Also announced in 1995 was another US-BBC co-production, here a BBC-1 telefeature production to be shown first in cinemas, of Hardy's last, most controversial novel, Jude The Obscure. The £4.5 million US-financed feature generated press coverage in December 1995 when its producer Andrew Eaton decided to film not in Wessex but in Yorkshire, Durham, Edinburgh, and New Zealand. (Cf Echo 8/12/95, "Edinburgh's Not Wessex Fume Fans" and the companionate editorial "Andrew The Obscure"). After being criticized for this in the press, the producer replied publicly that he wanted a "big story feel" with big locations and "You can't get that kind of landscape in Dorset any more because of the powerlines, motorway and television aerials." Probably not unrelated was the fact the northern areas which had captured the production had organized the first film commissions in Britain, and were experienced at competitive tendering for such shoots. The company had been offered the use of various local village areas including Buckland Newton, Bradford Abbas, Piddletrenthide and Tyneham (which had been successfully used in 1986 with a fibreglass facade over its ruined cottages in the authentic wide-screen Tolpuddle Martyrs drama Comrades).

After it became clear that none of four Thomas Hardy adaptations in production were being shot in Dorset, Dorset magazine ran an appeal from the South West Film Commission for public input. The spokesperson for the South-West Film Commission also responded to the press criticism with the statement that another Hardy production "had just been shot in Dorset so at least we've one film set in the right area." This referred to a film version of The Woodlanders for Channel Four. (Since 1982, Channel 4 has produced distinctive feature films meant to be shown in cinemas before their tv airing, e.g. A Room With A View).

This production had already received national publicity when its budget was bolstered by £1 million awarded by the Arts Council from Lottery proceeds. This was the first time any film had been given Lottery funds, and it reflected the fact this was a project whose artistic credentials were to be taken seriously. (The director had made award-winning documentary films.) However the production did not film in the Cerne-Evershot-Sherborne area where the novel is set, on the basis there were not enough trees left there. Although Dorset has many other vintage woodlands — including some of the oldest in England — the shoot went over the boundary to Hampshire, with a half-dozen cottage sets being built near Breamore in the New Forest, this fact being well publicized with photo-coverage in the press. And for the story's town scenes, rather than use Sherborne the crew filmed in Salisbury and Winchester.

Later in the year, a Hardy adaptation actually shot in Dorset did appear in the production listings. This was The Scarlet Tunic *, a version of Hardy's fact-based tragic short story of the Napoleonic Wars era, "The Melancholy Hussar Of The German Legion," (which had been filmed as a 75-minute BBC-TV telefeature for their Wessex Tales series in 1973). It proved to be an independent low-budget film: details first appeared in the Echo in June 1996 offering anyone investing £1,000 a chance to appear as an extra and anyone investing £25,000 an Associate Producer credit.
The Echo report noted the film was being made by a company formed in 1994 by the makers of A Fistful of Fingers (a little-seen cod-Western shot in Britain), with the director a man who worked as a 2nd-Unit director on Batman etc. However the Echo reported this version was to be shot in five weeks in the autumn of 1996 at Sturminster Newton in north Dorset, with an original cast of Martin Kemp [the ex-Spandau Ballet co-star of The Krays], Bob Peck, Anna Massey, and Amanda Ryan, current co-star of Jude The Obscure, as the (added) love interest who here causes the two Hussars to be caught as deserters. In the event, production was based around Bridport, with a different cast — Jean-Marc Barr, Emma Fielding, Simon Callow, BBC-sitcom star Lynda Bellingham, comic-impersonator John Sessions and Jack Shepherd (ITV's Cornish detective "Wycliffe").

The general trend to costume dramas continues, e.g. with another Pride And Prejudice being produced by Warners, another Tom Jones planned by the BBC etc., and a number of planned Hardy films and tv dramas.* For 1997, when The Woodlanders is expected to debut, the BBC is also developing, scripted by novelist David Lodge (whose play The Writing Game when televised by Channel 4 in 1995, was set near Wareham but shot in the New Forest), a tv version of Hardy's A Pair Of Blue Eyes, set in Cornwall rather than Dorset. Though no details are yet available, other planned Hardy projects include new productions of The Return Of The Native, Wessex Tales, The Mayor Of Casterbridge (from the same producer-director team that made "Jude") and an ITV version of Far From The Madding Crowd.
For the British Film Centenary 1996, BTA's The Movie Map was revised and reissued (sponsored now by Vauxhall), unfortunately with little benefit to Dorset. The County's population centre now gets one entry, for One Foot In The Grave, listed as shot in "Bournemouth, Hants." * As the Echo has previously publicized, the series' house-street exteriors are actually at Walkford in Christchurch right on the edge of the New Forest, and the listing of a street of private houses is hardly suitable as a tourism destination or attraction in any case. A more suitable choice for Bournemouth would have been Waiting For God, which is specifically set here, and as local press stories indicate, was often exterior-shot in local public places (e.g. Boscombe Pier, Bournemouth Square). However this series is listed as having been shot in Oxford and Oxfordshire, Eastbourne and East Sussex!

For representation of the Dorset countryside, the major showcase to date is listed but in a way that slights it, having only one of its twenty or so Dorset locations listed. Far From The Madding Crowd was listed in the 1990 edition as shot in Devizes and Weymouth. The market-fair, the Corn Exchange, and a church scene were shot in Devizes (which has a large market square), and a few scenes were indeed shot in the adjacent countryside, but virtually all of the film was shot in Dorset, a fact documented by published accounts, e.g. by the Hardy Society. The range of Dorset locations used stretches from Horton Tower in the east to Abbotsbury and Eggardon in the west, and from Shaftesbury in the north to Lulworth in the south. The new edition of The Movie Map, as Jeremy Miles complained recently in the Echo, lists it however as shot "on location in Devizes, Wiltshire, in the vale of Pewsey on the edge of Salisbury Plain and in Weymouth, Dorset."

Only two other films are listed as filmed in Dorset. One is of course The French Lieutenant's Woman, which now also has an obscure listing for Weymouth added (?), but the film's central "star" location-locale of Lyme Regis is only mentioned in passing in a list of locations. ("Filmed on location in historic Lyme Regis and Weymouth, Dorset and at Kingswear in Devon just across the Dart estuary from Dartmouth with its famous naval background." This naval background being irrelevant to the story, this entry seems devised for Dartmouth tourism.) The only other local-interest film listed is Restoration, which among other locations used Mapperton and Forde Abbey, but the Movie Map legend, unusually, does not identify in which County these two historic houses may be found.

Sleuth, whose sole location was the tourism attraction of Athelhampton House, and was listed in the 1990 Movie Map, has been dropped. There is still no listing for major local-interest shoots such as Tom Jones (largely shot at Cerne Abbas and Cranborne, but still listed as shot entirely in North Somerset); the 1969 Goodbye Mr Chips filmed at Sherborne, only the studio-shot 1939 version being listed; the recent public-school drama The Browning Version (Milton Abbey and Sherborne); BBC's Persuasion (a successful cinema release in the US) or the US production of Jane Austen's Emma (Evershot as Austen's Highbury); or the unprecedented US television hit Gulliver's Travels, which in America drew 57 million viewers in 1995 and was shown on Channel 4 at Easter 1996 (scenes on Dorset coast).

The original Movie Map's inaccuracies had prompted me to write a 6pp Advisory in 1990 to the British Film Commission, who then disowned the Map's mistakes, but almost all of which reappear in the new edition along with new ones. However, the Bournemouth Echo for the colour centrefold of its July 1st weekend edition of its special Film-Centenary supplement produced, with my help, a retrospective article, "Rich History Of Dorset On Film," keyed to a Dorset "Movie Map" which corrected some of these deficiencies, though it was limited to cinema rather than tv productions, and ironically tied in with a Movie Map giveaway offer. However I declined to be photographed and interviewed for a sidebar piece on the town's local problem of attracting shoots when situated at the edge of two screen commissions' jurisdictions, and this was dropped.
In regard to the status of the handling of enquiries about Dorset locations, a disturbing situation came to light when in personal conversation with a Dorset Tourism Information Centre official, I discovered that film companies were bypassing the regional film-commission infrastructure as they wanted to talk directly to people with personal knowledge of area resources. Apparently it is still routine practise for locations scouts to use the "How May We Help You?" pamphlet of all the TICs and simply phone around inquiring about local ruined churches or whatever is needed. To make matters worse, the result was that, during the tourist season, these enquiries were often being handled by young TIC summer staff. (The film project mentioned was probably an adaptation of Henry James's Portrait Of A Lady, which could have been one of two productions announced in 1994 as then in development, and which could now be considered another lost opportunity).*

A recent development in the attempt at information-provision is Dorset's becoming the first County to go on the Internet. Included in the coverage was a "page" on historic Dorset locations, compiled after an information request from the USA. It contains an odd selection of 20 films from 1942 through 1995-6, ending with the new Gulliver's Travels, which included scenes shot on the Dorset coast portraying both England (as in the final panorama) and (intercut with scenes shot in Portugal) the shores of several fabled lands. The major local-interest cinema release of 1996 (actually made for the Film Centenary), Restoration, however was not included. And unfortunately, the selection is misguided and most of the entries contain mistakes; a claim for some films listed as having been shot here is dubious, some evidently confused with other productions, while more important films are omitted.


1. Any anticipated increase in production revenues from location filming since the advent of the national and regional screen-commissions network has failed to materialize. The productions mentioned above are only those productions which Dorset had some reasonable claim to be considered for, but with the area's proven ability to "double" for other locales (as with BBC's Tenko), one could argue that many other productions have also been lost. Production seems to be deserting the area for adjacent Counties with better organization and promotion. With no film-liaison office of the sort now standard elsewhere, the area is evidently no longer competitive.

2. The actual extent of the economic loss is impossible to calculate, but one can give indicators. A Times article on film commission work [6/2/95] notes that "Anyone making a film, a commercial or a television production typically spends 50,000 to 65,000 a day on local labour and services." The duration of a shoot typically ranges from 1 or 2 days for a commercial to perhaps 30 shooting days for a feature film and up to 12 weeks for a major drama serial, but of course different location areas may be involved in a drama production. One published figure concerning local financial impact was that In The Name Of The Father (with Daniel Day-Lewis), a recent medium-budget British production, required 1,400 bed-nights at one hotel, the cast and crew also drinking the hotel bar dry. In the case of the BBC's Screen Two feature drama Giving Tongue, when the 1 million-plus production was filmed in Ireland instead of the New Forest, the press account estimated, based on a week's filming in the area, losses to local hotels, shops, labour etc at 300,000. Applying a rough formula that, say, 25% of a budget can go into the local economy, and applying that to average production budgets, of 1 million for a television drama or low-budget telefeature and 1-5 million for a feature film for cinema showing, one can calculate a loss of 250,000 per telefeature-drama and 1 million per feature film. Hence a major municipal Film Office such as Liverpool's estimates it brings in over 5 million per annum.

3. This calculation is exclusive of tourism revenues, which increase noticeably after a popular film or tv shoot. Tourist-office queries routinely increase 30% after an area has been featured on television. Conversely, there is a knock to local confidence, reputation and potential tourism revenues when productions which could reasonably be expected to film here, as when the stories are actually set here, go and film elsewhere. Such an effect had already been encountered with Polanski's Tess, which in fact was filmed elsewhere for non-relevant reasons (the director would have been arrested had he come to England).
Complaints in the press by local officials over lost shoots however only make matters worse here, since they seem like sour grapes and are inevitably followed by filmmaker criticisms, of deficiencies encountered in local resources or co-operation, being published in the press on a right-of-reply basis. These may in fact be later rationalizations for a decision taken on vague aesthetic or even irrelevant grounds, and they only add to negative publicity which creates a self-perpetuating reputation within the film-tv industry. And by this time (as I tried to explain to Tourism officials after the "Famous Five Snub Dorset" publicity incident) it is far too late anyway - one needs to work one to two years ahead in attracting shoots.

4. In terms of lost publicity, one obvious indicator of the result of the longterm lack of effective representation is the Dorset coverage in BTA's Movie Map of 1990 and 1996, which had a quarter-million copies issued worldwide. As detailed above, coverage is not merely inaccurate but almost slighting. Especially given that the number of Map entries overall has increased from 75 to 186, publicity representation of Dorset since 1990 can actually be said to have been reduced.

5. It remains ultimately impossible to say which shoots Dorset would have obtained, all things being equal. But this is not necessary. One can argue that at least one major shoot has certainly been lost, and the economic loss from just one such instance is far greater than the cost not simply of subscribing to both the two relevant screen commissions but of establishing a locally-based promotional campaign and infrastructure that would make Dorset at least as competitive as its neighbours.

6. Bournemouth's inherent range of resources as the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe, with its variety of Victorian and 20th-century architecture, and the existence within an hour's drive of an established "heritage backlot" make it potentially a prime location-finding centre, but immediate action would have to be taken to take any advantage of the current investment boom.


Illustrations & 2006 Notes
(Notes are keyed to asterisks in the original report text at left.



Tenko, part-filmed in Dorset

* Tenko was partly filmed in Dorset, at a disused quarry near Moreton.


* Mulberry The house seen in exteriors was High House near Wimborne, and scenes were also shot in the vicinity e.g. Throop Mill, including some in Bournemouth, at Westbourne Arcade. 



  Waiting For God book cover

Waiting For God took its title from an old nickname for Bournemouth, and had town exteriors filmed there, though the retirement home [pictured left] which was the sitcom's central setting was actually in Oxfordshire - possibly to reduce the prospect of litigation by angry Bournemouth care-home owners.


* The Green Man: As far as I've been able to discover, it was shot at UpCerne Manor and nearby Dominey's Yard, and in the surrounding countryside [NW of Dorchester].

TVS's 'Inspector Wexford' series starring George Baker often shot scenes locally.

Ken Russell's wife, actress Hetty Baines, dances on a mockup of the Cerne Giant.

Ken Russell's then wife, actress Hetty Baines, dances on a mockup of the Cerne Giant created near Worth Matravers for his Channel 4 Erotic Tales episode "The Insatiable Mrs Kirsch."






Monty Python - at Studland?

* Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Monty Python team had filmed scenes in Dorset from the outset. The scene with the bearded castaway who gasps the one word “It’s...” which sets up the opening titles of each episode was shot on Studland Beach.




* Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967: The classic 1967 all-location version was shot at over 20 sites around Dorset. Although a key local-interest film, many TV and even 35mm prints are tatty and incomplete, as are many video and DVD versions, which are also not in widescreen.






scene from Lifeforce, from Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires* Echo Letter-Of-The Week: The Echo published my Sep. '94 letter of complaint, reproduced below, under the humorous headline “Nude Female Space Vampires Were Here” - a reference to part of Tobe Hooper’s SF-horror film Life Force being shot locally. (In fact it just used the model of central London which in the mid-1980s stood at Tuckton as a background in some special-effects scenes.)

Nude Female Space Vampires Were Here
Dear Editor:
THE concern of your September 9 editorial “Screening Dorset” - and accompanying article on the formation of the South West Film Commission is somewhat misplaced. Your concern that such an agency could attract films showing the wrong sort of tourism image, based on the premise that filming up to now has been of authentic Dorset stories, is doubly incorrect.
Location matching, which includes being able to shoot foreign-set films around a local production centre is essential. Dorset has been “doubling” foreign locales since Hollywood itself was established. The British film pioneer Hepworth used to come down here every year — you can see a clip of his 1913 Hamlet at the Museum of the Moving Image in London, for which a plaster Elsinore was built at Lulworth. In fact the official History of British Film says that in the 1920s a Hollywood producer announced Bournemouth would be the best base for a British Hollywood. Incidentally despite some disastrous early adaptations, Thomas Hardy was, unlike many of his more snobbish supporters, supportive of British cinema.
Since silent days, in films, TV drama and commercials, Dorset countryside had stood in for many other locales around England and the world — France, the Sahara, a Pacific desert island, even the wastelands of other planets in TV sci-fi. Location managers have long also been attracted by Dorset’s varied urban architecture. Dorset towns have stood in for Trondheim, London, Newcastle and even Hollywood itself.
Regarding your concern that rundown suburbs might be used for thrillers, a scene involving someone being thrown out a window was filmed across the road from me for the Hampshire-set TV detective serial Inspector Wexford. The idea of any negative impact on tourism is naive. An X-rated horror about nude female space vampires was filmed partly in Christchurch by the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I doubt that even our many film students know this.
The real problem is what is not shot here. Stories set or part-set here — but not filmed here — include Separate Tables, Lawrence Of Arabia, Lillie, Tess, Howard’s End and The Remains of The Day. The fact is that Dorset is no longer competitive, for elsewhere around Britain are over a dozen regional and even municipal screen commissions which assist film and TV producers with their location work. This type of agency, incidentally has been around in America since 1948.
The idea of such an agency covering Dorset is not, in fact, new as you suggest. A SouthWest Film Commission was first announced at the launch of the umbrella agency, the British Film Commission, in London in March 1992, where I heard the BFC Commissioner refer to certain parts of England being - organisationally - “black holes.”
Though Bournemouth would have been the ideal base, because there was no local initiative, the SWFC was built around the successful Bath Film Office, an initiative at once rewarded with the locations for Remains Of The Day being relocated mainly to Avon (the novel ends in Weymouth).
This is a trend that will continue. An adaptation of The Woodlanders of Charnel 4 announced in the trade papers for 1995 does not list any Dorset locations.
Kenneth Branagh last year expressed on Radio 4 interest in filming Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native and this should have been at once followed up with offers of cost-saving location assistance. (You mention Four Weddings And A Funeral as if it were a great success here, but apart from an early motorway signpost shot, Dorset is uncredited and anonymous.)
Before the SWFC was organized, a 1990 ITV “Xmas movie” production of Lorna Doone was all filmed in Scotland to the horror and the fury of the West Country Tourism Board. As The Independent recently pointed out re Scotland’s current success here, a major foreign film ‘shoot’ is equivalent to a major export order for Britain. If the next large-screen Thomas Hardy film is shot in Scotland or Wales or Ireland or anywhere else, there will a lot of be embarrassed explaining to do.

*  Famous Five series: In the event, the 1990s series was largely shot farther down in the West Country. The 1970s Southern-TV version had been shot in the New Forest area, probably the source of the confusion below.

* Five Go Mad In Dorset: In retrospect it seems unlikely this was shot in the New Forest (what I had been told). A Channel 4 documentary on The Comic Strip troupe says that director Peter Richardson always insisted on dragging the group down to distant Devon locations, a factor in the group’s breakup as these were so far from London the others could not appear in stage plays etc. BBC1's Comedy Map Of Britain in Feb 07 narrated how Five Go Mad In Dorset was shot in the Staverton area near Totnes and the South Devon steam railway, the location being chosen as the director's parents lived there.) The campaign to have Blyton's Famous Five films made using authentic locales etc. is being ongoing, via Viv Endicott of Ginger Pop Promotions of Corfe, which sells Blyton souvenir items.

* The African Queen – press reports it was part-filmed in the Frome marshes have proved impossible to verify, as does a tie-in report that Bogart practiced his tiller-work on the Wick Ferry!  


* The Browning Version: locations are still being incorrectly reported for this. 

* Clarissa and Middlemarch: there are references to both dramas having some scenes shot in Dorset.

* Inspector Morse: there is now a plaque in the Lyme Regis hotel commemorating the sequence dropped from the TV version, where in the novel Morse stays on holiday.

The Skull Beneath The Skin: This does not seem to have been produced after all, through four episodes were made of ITV’s ‘Cordelia Grey’ detective series An Unsuitable Job for a Woman in 1997.

The Heroes Of Telemark: A 1965 Norwegian resistance drama starring Kirk Douglas, this received local press coverage in 1995-6 , with reader input recalling how its dockside scenes were filmed using Poole's opposing new and old quays portraying a Norwegian and then a British port. 


The BBC's Prince And The Pauper used Christchurch Priory as a Tudor-era Westminster Abbey for its finale.


* The Return Of The Native: this US-financed Hallmark TV production may have killed off Branagh’s announced interest.

1973 Ridley Scott "Bike Boy" Hovis ad

Location doubling: Ridley Scott's 'Bike Boy' ad for Hovis, remade in 1993, used Shafestbury's cobbled Gold Hill to portray a northern town scene, and in the process made it an internationally-recognized landmark.




* The Scarlet Tunic: the film was made in west Dorset using a local crew, and was admired for its photography and scenery on its release, but received little distribution.

* Announced TV Adaptations: The BBC did film their Tom Jones partly in Dorset, at Mapperton Manor. Left unproduced were A Pair Of Blue Eyes, Branagh's Return Of The Native, and Wessex Tales, and the announced Mayor Of Casterbridge “adaptation from the same producer-director team that made Jude". However an ITV version of The Mayor Of Casterbridge, starring Ciaran Hinds, did get made, and was shot largely in Dorset. ITV’s Far From The Madding Crowd was shot in Yorkshire.

BTA Movie Map 1990

The notoriously inaccurate British Tourist Authority Movie Map of 1990, whose misinformation is still with us today.

One Foot In The Grave

* “Bournemouth, Hants" - Where One Foot In The Grave was shot, according to the BTA, who were evidently unaware in 1990 that Bournemouth had ceased to be part of Hampshire in 1974.

* Portrait Of A Lady: in the event, the scene in question was shot at Heale House Gardens, N of Salisbury for this Jane Campion film starring Nicole Kidman, otherwise filmed in America, Europe and Australia.

1955 Moonfleet poster

The most common mistaken claim for a film having been shot in Dorset when it wasn't must be the 1955 Fritz Lang version of Moonfleet, the novel being largely set here. The film's one location exterior, the escape up the Zig-Zag path at White Nothe, is patently a California beach. It was the 1984 BBC version that was filmed here, the 1955 film's only local connection being that star Stewart Granger grew up in Bournemouth.

The French Lieutenant's Woman
The French Lieutenant's Woman:
one of the most famous shots in film history, this is in fact a studio shot of Meryl Streep, cut in over shots of a male stunt double in a hooded cape on Lyme Regis's Cobb. Waves breaking over the Cobb made an on-location close-up impractical.

Tthe 1969 Goodbye Mr Chips filmed at Sherborne


Another neglected local production, the 1969 three-hour musical version of Goodbye Mr Chips, starring Peter O'Toole, Petula Clark, and "The Boys Of Sherborne School."



BTA Movie Map 1996

The 1996 version of the British Tourist Authority's Movie Map, containing almost all the mistakes of the 1990 edition, plus some new ones.

The BTA’s inaccurate Movie Map is now gone, in both its print and online versions (though still linked to on many other sites). This disappearance is probably because so many towns and counties are providing their own, more accurate, information on film locations.
Locally, there is some representation of film-location resources on local-government websites, but Bournemouth still has no municipal film office, Dorset has no separate screen commission, and the area continues thus to be neglected. A recent SWFC seminar to teach local authorities how to ensure their jurisdiction is ‘film-friendly’, was attended only by one local-government representative. And of course the trend toward ‘runaway productions’ or lost shoots continues - see various 2005 and 2006 MediaScene blog entries.
 Under The Greenwood Tree - DVD coverRunaway productions continue - ITV's Xmas 2005 telefeature Under The Greenwood Tree, set in Dorset but shot on Jersey.

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