IF you wanted to go celebrity spotting then you would probably head down to London’s swanky Knightsbridge, or the trendy boutiques of Soho.
But I doubt that Bridlington High Street would be top of many people’s list. Nevertheless, if you happened to have been there in recent weeks you might just have bumped into Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay, or Bill Nighy and perhaps even Catherine Zeta-Jones.
These are just a few of the star names in the big-screen version of Dad’s Army which has been filming in Bridlington as well as further up the coast in Scarborough. When news broke that the remake was being filmed in Yorkshire it sparked a flurry of interest not only here but around the world. It has been a huge feather in the region’s cap and gives credence to the notion of Yorkshire being the “Hollywood of England”, as one leading film and TV producer once called it.
Yorkshire has long been synonymous with much loved TV programmes like All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine, as well as classic films like The Railway Children. In recent years the number of production companies opting for Yorkshire has risen and it’s not just the big cities that are benefiting.
The county has always done a nice line in northern grit and bleak, rain-swept moors but the rest of the world is beginning to appreciate what our stunning coastline has to offer, too.
The BBC’s 2011 mini series South Riding was filmed at various locations along Yorkshire’s coast, as was ITV’s A Touch Of Frost, while The Damned United, a fictionalised account of Brian Clough’s ill-fated tenure as manager of Leeds United, featured the Royal Hotel in Scarborough.
But over the past 12 months the Yorkshire coast has seen unprecedented levels of filming, from gardening and motoring programmes through to TV dramas and big budget films. Remember Me, starring Michael Palin, was partly filmed in Scarborough earlier this year, with Palin himself describing the seaside town as “an absolute revelation”. Then in September, Bernard Cribbins returned to Staithes to film a new series of CBeebies favourite Old Jack’s Boat.
These aren’t isolated examples. The coastal scenes in Hunter’s Prayer, a feature film due out next year starring Australian actor Sam Worthington, were filmed in Scarborough and near Flamborough, while a film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s brilliant First World War memoir Testament of Youth, also out next year, made the most of the stunning coastline.
This kind of “free advertising” isn’t just about the kudos it brings a place, there are a tangible economic benefits, too. Screen Yorkshire has played an integral role in championing Yorkshire to the TV and film industry not only in this country but also overseas.
At the heart of this success is its £15m Yorkshire Content Fund, the biggest regional investment fund for production in the UK, which was set up in 2012. The fund invests money in commercial, high profile projects with multi-million pound budgets, rather than dishing out grants or subsidies. The idea being that it makes money that can then be invested in future productions.
Sally Joynson, chief executive at Screen Yorkshire, points out that it’s already paying dividends. “This is the underlying reason for why we are seeing this great burst of activity.”
She believes that TV and film productions can have huge impact on a local economy. “There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates very strong links between film and TV production and tourism. Look at Dad’s Army and the effect it has had. Just 24 hours after the first production shots were released there was a staggering 69 per cent increasing in bookings in Bridlington.
“Social media traffic sky rocketed and on Trip Advisor there were some lovely comments about it being one of Yorkshire’s jewels. But it doesn’t just boost hotels and B&Bs, there are restaurants, cafes and taxi companies that have all benefitted enormously.”
Film and TV dramas are very expensive so the fact that Screen Yorkshire can part-fund productions helps make Yorkshire an even more enticing option over and above all its great locations. “A lot of hard work goes into this and we shouldn’t under-estimate just how important this fund is in bringing film and TV productions to Yorkshire. Local crews are saying they haven’t been this busy for decades which shows the impact it’s having.”
Rowena Marsden, events and filming officer at Scarborough Borough Council, says there are several reasons why there’s been an upsurge in production companies choosing to film in the area. “They come here because of the wonderful coastal scenery and also the architecture. South Cliff has a lot of big buildings with railings and these have been used as film location doubles for London and Brighton.”
She says the benefits have a knock-on effect. “It starts with pre-production and then you have the days of filming and the crew’s accommodation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five star hotel or a B&B, it all boosts the local economy.”
The BBC’s hugely popular Top Gear, reportedly the most watched factual TV programme on the planet, filmed a segment in Whitby for its next series due to start in the new year. “Jeremy Clarkson came here in September and he was filmed driving over the top of Blakey Ridge, which was as much about the scenery as the car. He insisted that they ended filming on Whitby’s West pier to create this spectacular backdrop.”
Marsden says there were 68 filming enquiries over the past 12 months with around 90 per cent going on to film in the area. “We are getting more people coming to Scarborough just because they have seen it on TV.”
And the more people see the town the more likely they are to visit. “We have a really good rapport with one or two of the location managers and they know what we have to offer. We can also look at a script and say, ‘We know a place that would work’ and it’s not just Scarborough’s South Bay or Whitby, it’s all the bits in between.”
The Government might get criticised for failing to appreciate the economic value that culture can bring to towns and cities. But organisations like Creative England, a not-for-profit group funded by the BFI, are using their industry connections to help bring filmmakers to the country’s regions.
Chris Hordley, Creative England’s production liaison manager in Yorkshire, says this Film Friendly partnership makes our region an attractive proposition for TV and film makers. “We have ‘go to’ people in local authorities across Yorkshire so that we can get roads closed or lights removed from a street for a particular scene, and that makes a difference.
“There’s a lot of untouched coastline here, there are white cliffs in East Yorkshire which can double for Dover and places like Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire that can double for the Cornish coast.”
Creative England estimates that filming can bring up to £32,000 a day into the local economy, creating jobs for film crews based in the area, as well as vehicle and equipment companies, on top of all the hotels, bars and restaurants.
Hordley says they are even getting requests from production companies in the United States asking about filming in Yorkshire. “We’ve seen a rise in demand for our location service in Yorkshire over the last three years and 2015 looks set to be another busy year – we’ve got a lot to shout about right now.”