Why Yorkshire's coast is so important for the region's film and TV industry

Lighthouses, lapping waves and looming cliffs – filmmakers have long used such scenes as visual motifs for mystery.

And given cinema’s relationship with the seaside is a special one, it is little surprise that the sprawling and diverse Yorkshire Coast is able to get in on the act.

In recent years, though, the pace has picked up, typified by the recent success of Rose Glass’s psychological horror Saint Maud, the latest high profile hit to be shot in Scarborough.

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Before it came out to rave reviews last month, Glass told The Yorkshire Post that the town has “the magic combination of everything we were looking for”, adding: “Having any story set by the sea immediately gives the sort of visual world of the film this kind of elemental, grander scale.”

Paul Drury-Bradey in Scarborough. Picture: Tony Johnson

Having chosen Yorkshire over other regions, the Essex native simply said of the North: “The sea looks better up there – a little bit more dramatic.”

But more than that, those who work in the industry locally believe that it is the wide range of scenery available to filmmakers and television crews that is a key to why the Yorkshire Coast, in particular, is such a draw.

Indeed, figures for the region at large show that for years, the growth in the screen industries across Yorkshire well outpaced the UK average.

Chris Hordley, who works in production liaison and development for Screen Yorkshire, describes the coast as a “really important” part of the agency’s mission to bring more film and television productions to the region.

Filming of Dads Army in Bridlington. Picture: Paul Atkinson.

“In terms of its variety of locations, it’s our big selling point and it’s what brings a lot of productions here,” he says. “You can travel not very far and get a very different look. It’s not just the variety of locations it’s also the variety of tone.”

Indeed, the productions that have been beside Yorkshire’s seaside in recent years are starkly different.

Saint Maud is a tense and dark exploration of isolation brought to life through bold visuals, and Glass chose Scarborough because she wanted a coastal town that could be made “unplaceable” on the silver screen, its neon lights and arcade klaxons used to create an unnerving atmosphere inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

In contrast, the BBC series Scarborough, created by Benidorm’s Derren Litten, starring Jason Manford and broadcast just over a year ago, consciously played on the town’s gentle charms and sleepy scenery as the writer tried to develop what he saw as the “first comedy soap”.

Further along the coast, some filming for director Armando Iannucci’s Charles Dickens-inspired The Personal History Of David Copperfield, a critical and Box Office smash in January, took place in Hull’s Old Town.

Among the many Yorkshire locations used to film last year’s third series of ITV’s Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman, Flamborough Head stood in for Isle of Wight, where the monarch went on holidays.

Meanwhile, heavyweight Hollywood director Paul Thomas Anderson brought his production of 2017 film Phantom Thread – Sir Daniel Day-Lewis’s final screen role – to Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby.

The latter, naturally, was also visited by crews filming the BBC production of Dracula, which aired as part of the last Christmas television schedule.

British horror Ghost Stories (2017), features Hornsea and ITV’s Dark Angel filmed at the seafront and The Ship Inn at Saltburn-by-Sea.

In 2016, the film remake of Dad’s Army – starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bill Nighy – came out, with Bempton Cliffs doubling for the Kent coastline.

The BBC series The Syndicate, by Kay Mellor, has filmed in the historic Old Town in Scarborough; Little Voice, the successful British film starring Jane Horrocks and Michael Caine in 1998, was made there too; and Old Jack’s Boat, the CBeebies show with Bernard Cribbins, features Staithes.

And where film stars have tread, fans will follow. The tourism demand is healthy enough that Screen Yorkshire recently set up a new website, Filmed in Yorkshire, dedicated to highlighting locations for people from around the region and further afield to visit.

“You can actually walk in the footsteps of your favourite cast members by visiting those locations,” says Hordley. “We’re really excited about this. That’s a massive catalyst to then bring further economic benefits into these areas.”

Hotels, restaurants, pubs and retailers all stand to benefit from crews setting up by the coast, and before the second lockdown, Hordley says that a number of productions were due to get under way on the Yorkshire coast.

Paul Drury-Bradey works in audience development and helped to promote Saint Maud with StudioCanal. After 10 years in London working in film and culture agency roles – doing publicity and marketing work which took him to France’s Cannes Film Festival three times – he moved with his family to Scarborough.

He is part of a community cinema collective, Sea/Film, which has put on eight events so far, including Shifting Sands, a festival of documentary, debates, magazine creation and archive film.

“The Yorkshire Coast is just steeped in history, iconic cinematic locations and that X-factor of atmosphere,” says Drury-Bradey. “From stunning cliffs, to sandy beaches, to unmistakable and unique architecture – living and working in this part of the world means a creative mind doesn’t switch off.

“There’s endless variety, a sense of fun and a kind of renegade punk spirit here – the can-do attitude has inspired me to give new things a go.”

Coastal parts of Yorkshire also appeal to a “visual tourism” popular among the Instagram generation.

“Film tourism can have an immense impact because it brings different people here. It brings people who’ve perhaps got a bit more money to spend.”

The statistics would appear to back him up. Budgets for high-end television dramas and feature films made in Yorkshire average between £10m and £20m per project.

According to the latest figures shared last year, Screen Yorkshire says the impact on the wider economy is greater still once the supply chain is taken into account.

The total impact of the screen industries in the region is estimated to support some 12,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, with a turnover of just below £1.1 billion. And the spillover to tourism is seen as particularly significant, with the such industries estimated to account for 1,000 jobs and some £120m of the turnover of tourism-based companies, according to the agency.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that between 2009 and 2015, screen industries in Yorkshire and the Humber region grew faster than anywhere else in the UK, including London and the South-East.

Employment across the film and television industries in the region grew 88 per cent against a UK average of 32 per cent. They generated an annual turnover of £424m across 590 creative businesses, an increase of 247 per cent compared to the UK average of 118 per cent, while the number of related business units across the region grew 57 per cent, while the UK average was 47 per cent.

Combined with this, the region’s cities are becoming breeding grounds for young screen talent in front and behind the lens.

Leeds not only now counts itself as a base for Channel 4, but the revered National Film and Television School – of which Glass is a graduate – has also set up in the city.

All of which paints an encouraging and exciting picture here in Yorkshire, one that’s all the more significant at a time of such uncertainty.