Vintage video: An Inspector Calls on Saltaire for TV revival

HIS UPBRINGING in Yorkshire has long been credited for providing the inspiration for some of J B Priestley’s best-loved works.

An Inspector Calls filming at Saltaire
An Inspector Calls filming at Saltaire

It can be of little doubt, then, that one of Bradford’s most famous sons would have approved of the decision to use Saltaire as the backdrop for a new adaptation of his classic play An Inspector Calls.

The cobbled streets of the model village were transported back in time to the heyday of the textile industry to breathe new life into the story of the suspense-filled detective thriller.

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Starring Harry Potter actor David Thlewis as the mysterious inspector who arrives at the home of the wealthy the Birlings to interrogate them over the suicide of a young woman, Eva Smith, the BBC series uses the unique surroundings of Salts Mill and Saltaire in a series of flashbacks to unravel how each member contributed to the tragic girl’s demise.

Producer, Yorkshire lad Howard Ella, told The Yorkshire Post that when it came to selecting a filming location, there was no comparison.

He said: “The play is the classic drawing room genre, where all the drama is contained in that one space.

“For it to translate to television we need to show the scale and atmosphere of the world the Birlings inhibit, and the contrast of their lives with girls like Eva. We needed a mill and I knew straight away I wanted Saltaire.

“It is an ideal location, it’s completely untouched, so you get a real sense of what it was like in these industrial towns in 1912, when the play is set, and it looks amazing on camera.”

BBC producer Howard Ella at Salts Mill, Saltaire.. Picture by Simon Hulme

The one-off drama showcases Mr Ella’s home county further, using the market town of Malton as the home of the Birlings, with two Fitzwilliam Malton Estate–owned properties for some of the interior shots.

“Yorkshire is a fantastic place to film, there is such a unique mix here,” added Mr Ella.

“I know I’m bias because I am from here and I still live here, I know the actors were blown away by it too.”

Filming on-location finished earlier this month and An Inspector Calls, which also stars Miranda Richardson and Rebus’ Ken Stott, will be screened in the summer as part of BBC One’s season of classic 20th-century literature.

J. B. Priestley arriving in Leeds in 1970

Other adaptations include Adrian Hodges’ adaptation of The Go-Between, Jed Mercurio’s adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

It is hoped that while providing a fitting testament for fans of what is often deemed Priestley’s greatest work, the themes of the story will capture the imagination of modern audiences.

“This is a timeless play,” continued Mr Ella.

“GCSE students up and down the country still study it and I think a lot of the issues he explores will really resonate with people today.

“It’s remarkable to think that divide between the rich and the poor in the early 20th century which Priestley wrote about are still around today.

“In certain respects, it doesn’t feel like that has moved on all that much from the one which he portrayed.”

While it may be impossible to get the seal of approval from the great man himself, who died in 1984, Mr Ella and the team at Drama Republic, which is producing the programme for the BBC, have the next best thing in the writer’s son, Tom.

Mr Ella said: “We’ve worked with Tom closely throughout the production process and he has given us lots of advice, so we’re hoping it will be as authentic as possible.”