Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Report on Steve's visit to Fordwich (nr Canterbury) in Kent on Sunday 29th August 1999 for the tour of locations used in the film organised by Paul Tritton.
So I went down to Canterbury, well Fordwich really, a small village just past Canterbury on the A28 (the Margate / Ramsgate road). That's where I'd seen the Town hall when I went on my last tour (before I'd heard about Paul Tritton).
I got there (after a nice train ride from Victoria to Canterbury East and then a cab out to Fordwich) at about 12. The flyer said 12:30 so I was actually early for once in my life :)
There were a few people hanging about outside the pub (The Fordwich Arms, just opposite the Town Hall) so I went up to the first one, a little old lady sitting alone on a bench.
"Are you here for this thing about the film of A Canterbury Tale?" I asked. "Yes" she said "I was the continuity girl".
What a brilliant start. So we went into the pub (which had just opened) and I bought her a cup of coffee and we sat down for a natter.
It turns out that her name is Pat "Paddy" Arnold (now Hayers) and that she had done the continuity on quite a few films made at Pinewood and Denham and had quite a fund of stories. I'll be writing to her to try to mine a few more about P&P.
A few more people turned up soon after that and while Pat was visiting the ladies I spotted a small group standing outside looking around the outside of the Town Hall. I went and asked if they were there for the tour and if one of them was Paul Tritton. Remember, I'd never met the chap, just written & spoken on the phone.
Paul was there so after a few more introductions, to his wife, (also called Pat and the Fordwich local history society man who was helping Paul, we repaired to the bar where we availed ourselves of some fine ale and a light lunch (roast beef salad for me) and thence to the garden.
As we lunched various other people made themselves known to us such as two of the usherettes from the "World Premiere" that was held at Friars Cinema, Canterbury in May 1944.
Also, as I wandered around I heard quite a few people talking about film related things. Quite a good turnout I though ... I asked Paul how many he was expecting and he said "Oh, about 20 or so although more would be nice".
When we'd all finished our lunch we drifted into the church where Paul was to give us an introductory talk. It was the Fordwich church where we see Sgt Bob go to Sunday Service. We only see Bob & the Hortons going in through the doorway but Paul has other photos to prove it's that church.
First shock !! There were over 100 people there !!
Everyone was VERY pleasantly surprised and we all settled down in the old box pews. Paul started his introduction thanking us all for coming and saying how very pleased he was at such a turn out. He then thanked the Church and the Town Hall (managed by a trust) and the local history society for their assistance. He then introduced a few other people, such as Pat (sometimes known as Paddy) Arnold, the continuity lady, and the usherettes. He also introduced us to a stoutish man standing at the back - David Todd, the "Admiral" who cried all through the battle.
He then went on to say that the book has turned into a bit of a monster. A very pleasant one but he has MUCH more information about this than he's ever had for any previous book. The trouble is, he says, as the word spreads people keep telling him more details and finding more things for him. He HAS finished writing it. He's now just got to do the layout (of over 150 pictures) and get it printed. He's not sure how many to get printed but after the turnout on Sunday and my telling him about you lot and other P&P fans around the world, he's upped his previous estimations :)
It'll still not be ready before Spring next year though :(
After a bit more describing what he had planned for us we set off on the tour of the village. We could do it all on foot because although there were various scenes shot in other villages and places in & around Canterbury, the vast majority of them (it turns out) were shot in Fordwich itself. Also, the crew stayed there (at the George & Dragon) and a lot of the extras (such as the boys) came from there.
Of course Paul hadn't planned on quite so many people for his tour of Fordwich but we managed somehow. Every time we stopped at a place we had to make sure we hadn't lost (or gained) too many and that everyone could hear what he was saying. We also tried not to block the local traffic too much - but as it was a nice Sunday afternoon everybody in the vicinity seemed to be trying to drive down the narrow village main street while we were standing there. Some of the people pretended to be road protesters just to confuse everyone.
We started at the top end of the village where Paul pointed out such sights as :-
The house where Powell had gone to tea aged 3 or 4 and remembered it (in a note kept by the owners) when he later came back to Fordwich looking for locations and people.
The farmyard (or the muddy lane towards it) where Alison & Prudence shovelled muck while they did that lovely little piece of dialogue :-
- That's your room. You won't get much of a view I'm afraid.
- You should have seen the view from my room in London.
- Was it a long street with every house a different sort of sadness in it?
- It was a long row of back gardens, and the tall, sad houses were all the same.
- Ghastly in winter.
- Airless in summer. You seem to know them.
- The only man who ever asked me to marry him wanted me to live in a house like that. I'm still a maid.
But he said the farmyard is hardly recognisable now so we didn't actually go up there.
We then wandered down the main street stopping to admire the houses where the boys lived (and blocking a bit more traffic).
At the bottom end of the high street most of us took a quick diversion through another farmyard (sticking to the footpaths) where the horse & the hay wagon that we first see Leslie on came from. There were two people in wheelchairs so they went round by road.
We all met at the other side of the farm and stopped by a phone box outside the George & Dragon pub. This was where Powell & a lot of the crew had stayed and it was used as some of the shots for the Inn where Sgt Bob stayed - others were of the Red Lion in Wingham. He really played about with those locations did Mr Powell. There are quite a few other occasions where he used different buildings (often 20 or so miles apart) as different angles of a "single" building. Paul Tritton has done an amazing job putting these together.
BTW it really annoyed the local history people (until Paul explained it all). They'd just think they recognised somewhere and then they'd see a reverse angle of what was meant to be the same building and they wouldn't recognise it as the same place !! :)
So, there we were outside the George & Dragon and Paul introduced us to two more people from the crowd.
First he told us how Powell had hired a car from a local taxi company and had had the same driver every day who would pick them up at the George & drive off to wherever they were shooting. Sometimes the driver would bring his little girl along - and there she was amongst us, with her Dad's taxi badge & some photos.
Then he reminded us about Powell's right hand man Bill Paton. A Shetlander who'd been with Powell since the days of Edge of the World. Well the crew (& Bill) had a few days off and they went into town where Bill met a nice Red Cross Nurse. He so impressed her that she consented to marry him. Yes, she was there as well. Myrtle Paton is the daughter of Neville Horton, the real blacksmith portrayed in the film by George Merritt. Neville and his brother Ben, the real wheelwright, are amongst the bystanders in the scene filmed at their yard in Shottenden.
We were then shown the old house that appears in the film as The Colpeper Institute - the sign & quote outside was faked but the building's exterior was real. The interior was all in the studio. It's the curved exposed beams that help to identify it.
Off we went once more, back towards the other pub where we started out from (every good village has two pubs so that you can have rival teams). We were divided up into groups of about 20-30 (4 groups) to go into the old Town Hall (see my pictures of the Town Hall from my last trip at Pic1-10 & Pic1-11).
Although the village is a LONG way from the sea, Fordwich is (or was) a port. It was the highest navigable point on the River Stour and they still call the area by the Town Hall "the quay". The Village is in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest "town" (a town, not really a village, because it's got a town hall) in the country. Even though the town hall has a floor area of only about 20-25 feet square.
There are two floors though and from the front door you go straight up the stairs to what looks remarkably like the room where we first meet Mr Colpeper. But it isn't!! The room itself is MUCH too small to have got the Technicolor monster of a camera, to say nothing of the lights, in. So they reproduced it all back at Denham. When I get my photos developed you'll see what a good reproduction they did. There are only a few differences such as the motto on the bar (in the film) "Love and honour the truth", it's on the wall in reality.
Then of course there's the way that Peter runs round the back of the town hall in the film - that's where the river is!! Can he walk on water?
Almost perfect though. The ducking stool is there, as is the room/cupboard where Alison hears something (it's really the jury's retiring room).
When we were up there Paul and his wife did a lovely recreation of the first meeting between Alison & Colpeper. Very brave of them :)
So after Paul & the local history people had told us lots more about it and we'd signed the visitors book we trooped back to the church to let the next group up & to have some tea & biscuits.
While we were there a man was cleaning and "exercising" the church organ. As he started I said to one of the other visitors "He's playing the wrong tune". She knew what I meant so we went and asked if he knew Bach's Toccata & Fugue (that Peter plays in the Cathedral) - sadly he didn't know it well enough to feel he could risk playing it :(
After a lot more teas & biscuits (and grateful donations to the church & town hall funds) we just mingled and chatted amongst ourselves for a while. I was pleasantly pleased to discover that most of the people had come because of the film rather than just the local history side of things and that most of them knew at least some other P&P films - so we can expect a few new members soon :)
As people started to drift away we got talking to the Churchwarden and an old gent who's name happened to be Culpepper (like the herbalist, with a 'u' & double 'l'). Paul had a photo taken on Sunday, August 29th 1943 - 56 years to the day - of the churchwarden at the time & Eric Portman as Colpeper just outside the church. So we re-created it with the current churchwarden & Mr Culpepper.
Then Paul & Pat gave me a lift back into Canterbury to get the train home.
What a delightful day and such a nice bunch of people.
We were all agreed we must do something similar sometime. The most votes seemed to be for a "country walk" to visit all the outdoor scenes, the battle, the old mill, the hill overlooking Canterbury etc. Of course that's dependent on the weather so we'll have to have an alternative if it's wet.
Oh, did I say, it was a scorcher of a day. That's twice I've been to that area this year and both times it's been scorching hot. But this time I was outside more and the sun was beating down hard on my balding pate - and I got a bit of sunstroke !! That's why I'm only just back at the office today.
The full gallery of photos taken during the trip is available.
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