| Email Us | South Central MediaScene  



South-Central Region Production History

  To accompany our chronological listing of  film and TV dramas shot locally over the past century, the production history below outlines the main developments and trends.  

The Silent Era
From before WW1 on, Cecil Hepworth, pioneering British film-maker, comes down to Lulworth every summer to film, making it probably British cinema's first "repertory" locations area. His largest-scale production is a £10,000 production of Hamlet in 1913, for which he builds a plaster-and-lathe castle on the clifftop.
Hollywood filmmakers begin to adapt Hardy novels for the screen, with a 1915 version of Far From The Madding Crowd by American producer Larry Trimble the first to shoot on location. Hardy helps arrange filming in and around Dorchester for the 1921 The Mayor Of Casterbridge, later claimed as 'the first film made entirely on location in Britain.'
Shots of large-scale Army exercises staged on Salisbury Plain appear in documentaries and as 2nd-unit footage in dramas set in the WWI trenches, including D.W. Griffith’s Hearts Of The World (1918) and M.A. Wetherell’s The Somme (1927).
British film pioneer J. Stuart Blackton shoots scenes in 1923 at Beaulieu Abbey for his epic meant to show off the new Prizmacolor process, The Virgin Queen.
A US producer comes to England to find a "British Hollywood" and announces the best location would be Bournemouth.

The Early Sound-Film Era
Under The Greenwood Tree, shot at Elstree studios in 1929, is the first Hardy "talkie" (and musical), and the last Hardy work filmed for the cinema till 1967.
Portland begins to be used for Navy service comedies (such as Jack Hulbert in Jack Ahoy) and naval dramas such as Brown On Resolution (starring a young John Mills), and an historical naval drama, from Captain Marryat's book, Sir Carol Reed's first film (Mr) Midshipman Easy.
Bournemouth appears in 'opening-night' crowd scenes in Gracie Fields's showbiz comedy-drama Keep Smiling (1938).

The 1940s
As war begins, Hitchcock leaves for Hollywood and his Suspicion, from a classic Dorset-set crime novel, is shot all on a soundstage. Fritz Lang also films on a soundstage Geoffrey Household's Dorset-set thriller Rogue Male as Man Hunt, which has a finale in the Lyme Undercliff.
Second-unit scenes of Fighter Command airfields appear in The First Of The Few (Spitfire) at RAF Warmwell, RAF Boscombe Down, and RAF Ibsley, with director-star Leslie Howard staying at Christchurch.
Sherborne School makes its screen debut as the embodiment of the English public school in the postwar drama The Guinea Pig, followed by Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave.
All Over The Town, a "postwar readjustment" drama, is filmed partly in Weymouth and Lyme.
Cult director Michael Powell, who grew up partly in this area, shoots the famous bomb-defusing finale of Nigel Balchin's psychological-reconciliation story The Small Back Room on Chesil Bank, and the opening of the film at Stonehenge.

The 1950s
Geoffrey Household, author of Rogue Male, becomes the most filmed local writer after Hardy, with Brandy For The Parson, a 1951 comedy shot mainly around Cerne Abbas, and Rough Shoot, a 1952 thriller starring Joel McCrae shot around East Lulworth.
The Portland area plays an important role in the cycle of how-we-won-the-War dramas. Ealing Studio's The Cruel Sea uses the rough waters of Portland tide race to portray the North Atlantic in winter, and the Portland Docks for harbour scenes. Ealing's war/smuggling drama The Ship That Died Of Shame, from another Nicholas Montsarrat story, uses Weymouth Quay and Poole Harbour. The Dam Busters reuses actual 16mm footage of the bouncing bomb shot in Fleet Lagoon by inventor Barnes Wallis. Sir Carol Reed returns to Portland and Weymouth to film the war drama The Key with William Holden and Sophia Loren. The postwar cycle of "service comedies" are also shot here, as with You Know What Sailors Are. Norman Wisdom's The Bulldog Breed uses both Portland and Poole locations, while The Navy Lark uses West Bay.
Dorset's sandy heaths and quarries are utilised in a pair of semi-professional 16mm Biblical epics. Voice In The Wilderness and Messiah are shot in the Purbeck area with hundreds of extras, both being privately produced by Lady Madeline Lees of South Lytchett Manor, using Oriental props given her by her missionary colleague, the explorer and mystic Sir Francis Younghusband.
The 1958 Hollywood film of Terence Rattigan’s play Separate Tables, for which David Niven wins an Oscar, is the first major film set in Bournemouth, but (despite later publicity claims) is all shot on a set representing a local chine and boarding house.
The Technicolor single-strip camera allows colour location filming, and Disney's The Sword And The Rose, starring Richard Todd, and The Moonraker, starring George Baker, are the first of Dorset's many appearances in costume adventure-dramas.
Dorset as a children’s adventure playground comes to the screen with the first Famous Five film, based on the stories by Enid Blyton whose holiday home was at Swanage: a 1957 Children's Film Foundation serial, Five On A Treasure Island, combines shots of Brownsea and Corfe.
A cycle of so-called "nudie" films with titles such as Travelling Light and Nudes Of The World are made semi-professionally from 1955 on, in 16mm colour, as propaganda to promote the cause of Naturism, by Edward Craven Walker at his Ringwood nudist camp and Studland Beach, which with Sandbanks Ferry are often used to indicate a vague Baltic setting. These semi-professional productions receive wide cinema release, helping relax censorship.

The 1960s
Dorset's "adult playground" aspect continues to be seen in nudist films, with Poole Harbour usually doubling for a vague southern-Scandinavian coastal setting.
As WWII dramas graduate into Technicolor and widescreen epics, the fact-based The Heroes Of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas, blends location filming in Norway with scenes shot at Poole and Weymouth docks.
Blacklisted American director Joseph Losey is drawn to film an SF-horror film, The Damned, by the novel's bleak Portland setting. Dorset quarries first appear as the wastelands of other planets in BBC’s Dr Who.
BBC-TV begins to use Dorset as an all-purpose "heritage backlot," adding filmed location action scenes to its studio-shot serials for children’s adventure serials such as The Three Musketeers with Brian Blessed.
Sensitive new film stocks allow filming of interiors on location even in period films, and lightweight cameras allow flexible ‘hand-held’ setups.
Tom Jones, a "liberated" period comedy from Henry Fielding’s satiric novel, uses Cranborne Manor and estate, Minterne Magna gardens, and Cerne Abbey.
Far From The Madding Crowd starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch is the first all-location production of a Hardy novel, shot in colour and 70mm widescreen at over twenty Dorset locations, and the three-hour film is considered by some the best Hardy screen adaptation to date.
A semi-musical version of Goodbye Mr Chips starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark , scripted by Terence Rattigan and directed by American choreographer Herbert Ross again uses Sherborne, now seen in colour and widescreen, as the epitome of the English public school.
The first Jane Austen TV adaptation with location shooting appears, ITV’s Persuasion (1969), with its famous scene on the Lyme Regis Cobb.

The 1970s
BBC's Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Dave Allen Show, and The Goodies all shoot scenes on the Dorset coast.
Ridley Scott’s ‘Bike Boy’ ad for Hovis makes Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill steep cobbled street a TV landmark.
ITV films a Famous Five series locally, much of it in the Christchurch-New Forest area.
Locally-resident director Ken Russell demonstrates the area's versatility as a locations centre by filming scenes for his lyrical "biopics" with international settings here. Larmer Tree Gardens, Portland, Bovington, Highcliffe Castle, the New Forest, Poole, and Bournemouth appear in biopics about Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Arnold Bax, Gaudier-Brezka (Savage Messiah, 1972), Tchaikovsky (The Music Lovers, 1972), and Valentino (with Bournemouth and Poole portraying 1920s Hollywood).
With the switch to colour and the new BBC-2 channel, BBC-TV begins to produce drama serials from Hardy's novels: Jude The Obscure and The Woodlanders (both studio-shot with filmed inserts); Wessex Tales, a series of 16mm telefeatures shot on the Dorset coast downs; and a Dennis Potter adaptation of The Mayor Of Casterbridge with Alan Bates, the first to shoot all on location in colour video, using Corfe Castle village.
The "adult-playground" aspect is also used for social satires, as in Mike Leigh's cult black comedy about a couple holidaying in the Purbecks, Nuts In May (entirely shot there), and BBC's cult 1970s sitcom The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, which uses the idea of "escape to Dorset" as a comedy motif with its faked-suicide title sequence shot at West Bay. To The Manor Born (1979-83) makes a manor house on the Somerset border into a tourist attraction.
Wilton House near Salisbury becomes a regular setting for scenes set in sumptuous Regency houses in films such as Lady Caroline Lamb and Barry Lyndon.
In the "country house weekend" contemporary-crime crossover genre, Athelhampton House portrays modern Gothic "Cloak Manor" in Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth.
The 1974 ‘remake’ of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, starring Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, uses the New Forest and Winchester.

The 1980s
After a long battle with Hollywood producers, author John Fowles and director Karel Reisz manage to film his 1967 bestseller The French Lieutenant's Woman in a unique period-versus-modern adaptation by Harold Pinter. Shot authentically in Lyme Regis, it makes the town, with its stone Cobb jetty, an international tourism destination.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs episode which became the cornerstone of the British union movement is given a big-screen yet naturalistic treatment by writer-director Bill Douglas's 1986 big-screen 3-hour saga Comrades, with the first two hours shot mainly in the ruined village of Tyneham, dressed up as 1830s Tolpuddle.
ITV also uses the area for episodes of adult detective series Inspector Wexford (Romsey plus parts of Bournemouth, as "Kingsmarkham") and P.D. James's Adam Dalgleish (Clavel Tower on the Purbeck cliffs as “The Black Tower”).
Channel Four launches its first night with a filmed Enid Blyton made by the Comic Strip group of French and Saunders et al, Five Go Mad In Dorset.
BBC uses Bournemouth as a general suburban setting for exterior scenes in sitcoms such as Potter, Don't Wait Up, and Brush Strokes. It also continues to use Dorset as an all-purpose locations centre, e.g. in To Serve Them All My Days (Milton Abbas as a school near Exmoor), Miss Marple (Powerstock in “A Murder Is Announced” and Bournemouth as "Danemouth"), The Collectors (Poole as "Wrelling"), Tenko (a quarried area near Moreton as Malaya), and Beau Geste. (The desert outpost "Fort Zinderneuf" is played by a fibreglass replica built in a Purbeck quarry, plus Weymouth's Nothe Fort in interiors.)
BBC’s primetime ‘soap opera’ Howard's Way (1985-90) turns the Hamble estuary into a tourism destination.

The 1990s
Cliff Richards's 50th-birthday Saviour's Day is shot atop the cliffs at Durdle Door.
As well as using the area in its heritage dramas, BBC continues using Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole conurbation for its sitcoms 2.4 Children, One Foot In The Grave, and Waiting For God (which is overtly set in Bournemouth alias “God's Waiting Room”), while The Brittas Empire (1990-96) uses Ringwood. BBC Scotland’s 1997 2-part comedy The Missing Postman, adapted by humorous travel writer (500 Mile Walkies) Mark Wallington of Swanage from his novel, uses Poole and East Dorset to represent various places around England. BBC's series Harbour Lights (1998-9) uses West Bay and nearby west Dorset locations.
Mike Figgis' remake of Rattigan's The Browning Version, starring Albert Finney, uses Milton Abbey rather than Sherborne School.
The New Forest portrays Sherwood Forest in the Kevin Coster Robin Hood.
A cycle of 18th-19th century period literary adaptations follow the success of Middlemarch on TV, showcasing the area’s profusion of country villages, stately homes and estates, such as Mapperton, Montacute, Wilton House, and Lacock village. Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Emma (the Gwyneth Paltrow version) use west Dorset locations, as does BBC’s Tom Jones. West Dorset’s ‘Jurassic Coast’ portrays fairytale-land beaches as well as England in Gulliver's Travels. Lacock village in Wiltshire features in Austen’s Pride And Prejudice (1995) and Emma (1997), as well as in Moll Flanders (1996). The Ang Lee feature version of Sense And Sensibility (1995) uses locations near Salisbury, as does The Madness Of King George (1994). Mrs Brown (1997) also uses Wilton House as Windsor Castle as well as filming authentically on Wight. Hampshire and Wiltshire appear as Hardy’s Wessex in The Woodlanders, and west Dorset in The Scarlet Tunic (from "The Melancholy Hussar"), and Dorset plus Stonehenge in ITV's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. A US production of Rose Tremain's Restoration, set elsewhere, uses Mapperton and Forde Abbey. The feature biopic Wilde, starring Stephen Fry, uses Lulworth and Swanage. For Saving Private Ryan, the Ryan family farm in Iowa is recreated in Wiltshire. Wiltshire and Somerset appear as France in Chocolat. Elizabeth (1998) includes Montacute and Athelhampton in its stately-homes lineup.

The 2000s
Adaptations of Austen and Hardy continue with a US cinema version of Pride And Prejudice (2005), using Wiltshire and Hampshire locations, an ITV Mayor Of Casterbridge (2003) using central and west Dorset sites, and an ITV Persuasion [in production].
Germany’s state-TV channel ZDF sponsors a series of feature-length TV adaptations of Rosamunde Pilcher novels, some of which are set and filmed in Dorset, as with Morgen träumen wir gemeinsam (Tomorrow We Dream Together) (2002) which uses Bournemouth, Milton Abbas, Wareham, Studland, etc.
The Harry Potter films include Lacock Abbey in their diverse locations lineup.
The Da Vinci Code films two scenes at Winchester Cathedral, representing different locales.