Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May are often at Dunsfold filming Top Gear (Photo: Todd Antony/BBC)
Surrey TV locations: Top Gear, Cranford, The Good Life etc
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Visiting the location of your favourite television programme can be a real thrill - and, as it happens, Surrey has been beamed into living rooms across the nation many times. Inspired by a new book, The British Television Location Guide, MATTHEW WILLIAMS discovers a few surprises as he delves through the county's on-screen history
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2009
Explore Surrey's film locations
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Many of the garden scenes for BBC One's award-winning 2007 drama Cranford were shot at the National Trust's stunning Winkworth Arboretum near Godalming. Starring Outwood resident Dame Judi Dench, parts of Elizabeth Gaskell's five-part period drama, which follows the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of the people of Cranford, were also filmed at Shepperton Studios.
A short trip back in time takes us to Doctor Who of days gone by. Buckland Sand and Silica quarry is better known to Tom Baker-era fans as where the classic episode The Seeds of Doom was filmed in 1976 - the site was transformed to resemble Antarctica. Just down the road, Betchworth quarry, which has since been landfilled, featured in a scene from 1975's Genesis of the Daleks, which also featured Tom Baker, this time alongside an army of Daleks.
THE GOOD LIFE
Sadly, while The Good Life is considered something of a Surrey institution, and was indeed based on Surbiton, the actual filming took place in Northwood, Middlesex, because it was easier for the cast and crew to travel there from the BBC Television Centre. In the show, Tom and Barbara Good's self-sufficient empire of vegetables would lead to the odd scuffle with upmarket neighbours Margot and Jerry Leadbetter. Margot was, of course, played by former High Sheriff of Surrey and patron of the Surrey Hills, Penelope Keith.
A former Ministry of Defence complex near Chertsey doubles as Holby Blue Station in this spin-off of Casualty and Holby City. Some of the cast spent time at nearby Woking police station shadowing uniformed officers and it was Woking's cell block that the fictional version was based on. The towns of Chertsey, Woking and Egham are all used for exterior scenes such as car chases and gun battles. 'Holby' is loosely modelled on Bristol and so camera men obviously had to put a little extra effort into avoiding catching Surrey's surrounding hills in shot.
IT AIN'T HALF HOT MUM
Rather than a sticky Burmese climate, the furthest location It Ain't Half Hot Mum actually travelled to were the tropical woods of Farnham. The series about the exploits of a Royal Artillery concert party during the Second World War was created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry and a natural follow-up to the pair's previous smash hit Dad's Army. Clever make-up, rubber plants and fake sweat made a convincing and slightly doolally British army camp, drawing on both writers' wartime experience in India.
Midsomer Murders is a popular British television series broadcast on ITV about the fictional English county of Midsomer. In January 2007, the production team behind the show transformed Loseley Park, near Guildford, into the fictional Magna Manor. Based on a series of crime novels by the author Caroline Graham, the detective drama focuses on the main character of Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, played by actor John Nettles, who in this particular episode, They Seek Him Here, investigates a murder on the film set at the manor. Albury Park near Guildford and Royal Holloway College in Egham have also provided filming locations in the past.
Fans of ITV's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple may have spotted that much of At Bertram's Hotel was filmed at the National Trust's Polesden Lacey. A team of 70 film crew and 18 actors and actresses descended upon the Regency house over a four-week period, from mid-November to mid-December 2006, as Polesden Lacey was transformed into an opulent 1950s London hotel for the filming. With the original lift in the house proving to be too small for filming, an exact replica - large enough to accommodate actors, film crew and lights - was built in an out-building on the 1,400 acre estate. Loseley Park has also made appearances on the show.
Don't be too concerned if Surrey has seemed a little out of this world in recent years. Whether it's dinosaurs roaming round Kingston's Bentall Centre, monsters invading Merstham, or just high-adrenaline chases at Thorpe Park and Go Ape at Alice Holt, near Farnham, ITV's Primeval has made quite a home for itself in Surrey since its introduction to our screens in 2007. The sci-fi adventure even took over the University of Surrey's ship-shaped Duke of Kent building for a time.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
In the television mini-series of this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel of the same name, the BBC used Loseley Park's impressive library as Colonel Brandon's own. The front entrance was also used for the scenes in which Brandon and his guests, including the Dashwoods, gather in preparation for his picnic. Meanwhile, the main house featured as the exterior of Sir John Middleton's home, which in the story was set in Devon, and its impressive Oak Room was used in the series to nurse a sick Marianne after her walk in the rain. Ham House in Richmond also doubled as Cleveland in the series.
A former Ministry of Defence complex near Chertsey was used as an American air force base in BBC drama Spooks, which follows the work of a group of MI5 intelligence officers at Thames House. Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), Ros Myers (Hermione Norris) and Lucas North (Richard Armitage) spend their days dodging foreign agents and near-death experiences weekly. This was the same location at which a stuntman died during filming of the last Batman film The Dark Knight.
When not gallivanting around the world winding up environmental focus groups, the motley trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are likely to be found filming Top Gear from their Dunsfold Park base. Keen-eyed fans of the show visiting Dunsfold can also spot some of the programme's previous creations discreetly tucked away. Until 2002, Dunsfold aerodrome had been used by British Aerospace to flight test aircraft such as the Harrier Jump Jet. Now you're more likely to see the Stig and a whole host of celebs powering round the test track, which sits just next door to Surrey Air Ambulance's base, in supercars and, er, a Chevrolet Lacetti. Plans are still afoot to turn the park into a sustainable new village settlement, which would leave Top Gear seeking a new home.
From Doctor Who to Spooks and from Cranford to Midsomer Murders, The British Television Location Guide includes details of where all major British TV shows are filmed and was the inspiration behind us looking further into Surrey's contribution. It is available for £9.99 by calling 0845 625 3045 or by visiting www.splendidbooks.co.uk and includes locations from across the nation.