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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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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A bit damp, but not a washout

Yesterday it was a scorcher of a day - the hottest since 1943 (88°F, 40°C). So I was a bit wary of the idea of spending an afternoon hiking up hill & down dale around the village of 'Chillingbourne' (aka Chilham).

But when I checked the forecast at about 9am today it said it shouldn't be as hot as yesterday & there was even a 30% chance of rain. Well, being a North European Celtic type & thus not very good in hot weather, this sounded quite promising.

I drove down to Chilham, quite an easy drive with no problems, in about an hour and a half. As I pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain & by the time I'd walked up to the square it was raining properly. Not very heavy, but steady.

I went into the pub (The White Horse, built 1422) and ordered a pint of their finest ale & a sandwich. I'd just got them when there was a huge crash of thunder & the lights went out!! The lightning had hit an overhead electric cable nearby & half the village was without power - and the rain got heavier.

So I sat by the window, the thunderstorm made it dark enough to need lights anywhere else - but there weren't any - and supped my ale. They tried to battle on but with the kitchens out of action, no lights & no tills they decided to close for the afternoon.

Paul Gerrard turned up & waved as he was turned away but I pointed towards the church & we met there shortly afterwards. And still it rained.

I'd arranged to meet Veronica Hitchcock there. She's the lady who is doing the PAL to NTSC transfers for all our American friends. I've met her a few times now & she's very keen on the work of P&P. When she used to work for the Radio Times (the oldest & most trusted listings magazine here) she interviewed P&P a few times. She turned up just as I was coming out of the pub & she introduced me to Alex, her "other half".

I also saw Rodney Meadows (former secretary, Westminster Abbey Bellringers) who I'd met before. He's particularly keen on the film music of course.

A few others had turned up that I'd met on previous trips and everyone headed toward the church where we'd all been told to gather. The ladies of the village had put on a lovely display there as part of the Chilham flower festival. But with no electric lights and it still being overcast it was a bit hard to see all their wonderful work - and still it rained.

Paul Tritton gathered us all together and talked us through what he had planned to do had it not been raining so much. He gave a brief introduction for those who'd not been to one of these outings before and mentioned that we try to gather on the last weekend in August as that's when the film was set, in the last weekend of August in 1943 (and some of it was filmed on the day it was set). He did remind us that yesterday had been the hottest day in August since 1943 - but that we weren't likely to break the record today - and still it rained.

Jim Pople (2nd assistant editor on ACT and others) stood up & said a few words about what it was like to work at Denham in those days. He gave us a nice idea of how the editors worked & the dangers of working with nitrate film stock.

We'd got on to talking about the film's reception in 1943 & the reasons why it was made. Mytle Paton (Widow of Bill Paton, Micky Powell's right hand man since they met during EotW) was there and reminded us that one of the reasons was to show people what they were fighting for. Especially those out in Africa or the far east.

By now the rain had eased off so we ventured out to see what we could see.

Paul led us down to Church Hill, the road into the village that made up part of "the old road", the Pilgrim's Way - and before that the old Drover's Road.

Back to the square, then we headed down the hill to look back up Taylor's Hill and see how it was the model for Charing Street where Peter, Bob & Alison chased the glueman just after he'd attacked Alison.

But it started raining again !!

Rodney suggested we go back to the church for tea - which idea met with resounding agreement from all present.

But the power cut had affected them as well!! No electricity for the tea urn. But it takes more than that to stop the ladies of an English village making tea. One of them found a camping gas ring and another found a kettle and they were back in business, albeit a bit slower that they would have liked. But that gave us more time for chatting, eating cakes, having a look around the church etc. etc.

Not at all put off by the weather we ventured out once more. Paul was just showing us where Alison talked to Polly Finn, the bus driver, in the square, when, guess what, it started to rain again!! There was still time for Pat, Paul's long suffering wife, and another lady who's name I didn't catch, [Helen Lawson] to read out the dialogue between Alison & Polly.

Quite a few people wanted to see the mill so we all got into various cars and drove down there. Veronica, Alex & I eventually found the right way. I told them I wasn't quite sure which way it was so we went by a bit of a roundabout route (i.e. started off in totally the wrong direction)

But we got there, after negotiating the unmanned level crossing. As we approached the light was green but as soon as I walked up to open the gate it went red & we had to wait for the train to pass. But then we joined the others on the bridge by the mill where Bob sees the boys, led by General Terry Holmes, and asks to join them in their boat.

The rain just wouldn't stop, but we still managed to get from the mill up to Juliberrie's Grave (Pow-wow Hill), the Neolithic long barrow that overlooks the mill. But we decided that a hike up to Chilman's Downs where Alison & Colpeper have their roll in the grass, would have been a bit too much!!

On the way back we had a quick chat about what to do next year. We've done Chilham twice now & Fordwich once, so it's got to be Canterbury itself next year. Various people are going to try to get hold of the verger to get permission for us to go around as a group. It won't be the usual Cathedral tour of course, we'll be trying to see the Cathedral that was in the film - they're very similar.

The other suggestion was to see if the organist could give us a quick Toccata & Fugue as we walked around - that would make it perfect.

Of course there are plenty of other locations to see in Canterbury itself so we should be able to make a reasonable event out of it - if it doesn't rain too much. But we never let a bit of rain put us off, do we?

Overall I think most people (participants and onlookers) all decided that we must be crazy to want to stand out in the rain so much, even under umbrellas (which of course we all carry, even in the summer). Yes, it probably is crazy, but it's harmless & I think everyone was glad they came.

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