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Screening of Gone to Earth at Much Wenlock
Sunday, May 26th 2002

So does a 400 mile round trip in 36 hours to stand in the rain a lot and to see one film, count as obsessive? :)

I'm just back from a great time at Much Wenlock and the surrounding area. See How it all got started after Nick & I went on a location tour last November. The film and other events were part of the Much Wenlock Festival and were mainly organised by the Mary Webb Society and Martha Ledgard at the Much Wenlock museum.

I left home at 7 am and got to Much Wenlock by 10 am to meet Martha at the museum. She had already done some great work in getting together a special display of lots of items and displays connected with the film. Nick had sent her a selection of screen captures of various scenes in the film & I added some of the 10x8 studio stills, a set of lobby cards & a poster. (The lobby cards & poster were for The Wild Heart but people knew it was the same film.

As well as that she had a couple of 1950's projectors, copies of the book of Gone to Earth signed by the cast & crew, many photos & reminiscences from people who had been extras & much, much more.

Notices had been put in the local newspapers asking for anyone who had been an extra, or who's relatives had been, or who just remembered the film being made, to get in touch and a lot had responded. Many of them are quite elderly and quite a few couldn't join us on the Sunday evening, many more of course are no longer with us at all (it was made over 50 years ago). But Martha has been collecting a nice list of names and addresses and we hope to contact as many as we can. We will ask them to either write down a few memories or to just relate them to us (we hope to record them to capture the local accents). Some of them will be second hand memories where the person who took part has died but told their story to someone else & that person has contacted Martha. We aren't quite sure what we'll be able to do with all the stories, but we'll do something with them and must capture them while the people are still around.

Various people also had other items such as the notices that they were sent by the film company, invitations to the local premiere, various photos of them in costume and with the stars and many signed items.

And of course a lot had tales to tell :)

After sorting a few things out with Martha I went off to Lordshill Chapel at Snailbeach to meet Liz Stamps and the people from the Mary Webb Society. That's the Baptist Chapel which they used in the film. The fete was held just outside there, Hazel's baptism was held in a pool especially dug there, that's where Jack Reddin leaned against the gravestone while he was stalking Hazel.

A few people from that area who were extras also joined us and after a short while we were also joined by Columba Powell (Michael Powell's younger son). Columba was born a few years after they made GTE so of course had no memories of the making of the film, but he really enjoyed talking to the people & hearing their stories. He had also heard quite a bit from Michael & others about the film & told those stories & answered questions from the various people.

He had stayed the night with his friend Toby who I'd met at the Director's Guild event in Notting Hill. Toby distinguished himself by immediately putting Columba's car in a ditch outside the Chapel. [Columba told me to add that bit Toby <G>]

I'd meant to get a roll of film on the way up to Shropshire but had forgotten so I'll have to rely on the photos taken by the other people there.

Clifford Evans, Columba,
Steve & Toby
After chatting inside the Chapel for a while we braved the rain (hence the mention at the beginning) and went to have a look outside. The film crew added a porch to the cottage next to the Chapel which is still there and a false window to the gable end (which isn't there any more). BTW - that window on the gable end of the cottage next to the Chapel, (seen in long shots looking down the hill to the Chapel). It was a silly place to put a window. There's a chimney stack at that end of the roof which means that there's a fireplace in that room and the flue would go right through where that window is!

Snailbeach extras sheltering
from the rain
We heard from people who were in the Chapel choir and who were in the scenes of the fete held outside the Chapel. One nice lady told Columba that she had been in the film when she was 20 and Columba immediately expressed his disbelief. She looked a bit upset and pointed out that it was made 50 years ago and she was now 72. "That's what I don't believe" said Columba (you old smoothy Columba <G>). She eventually allowed that it was her healthy lifestyle in such a lovely area that made her look so good for her years.

After an hour or so at the Chapel we said our goodbyes to those who lived nearby & the nice lady who takes care of it and made our way to the Stiperstones Inn for a spot of lunch with the people from the Mary Webb Society. Much banter and chatting ensued and a good time was had by all.

Thence back to Much Wenlock by way of the Long Mynd, the 10 mile long, 500 feet high ridge that dominates that lovely landscape (when you're not directly confronted by something like the twin mounds of Pontesford Hill & Earl's Hill). It was on one of the isolated sections on top of the Long Mynd that Reddin stops to ask a roadmender if he's seen a girl during his hunt for Hazel.

With the smell of burning brake drums in our nostrils, we came down through the Devil's Mouth & down Burway Hill into Church Stretton (where they used the local cinema to view the rushes) and on to Much Wenlock again.

Mrs & Mr Mayor, Columba,
Gladys Mary-Coles & Steve
There was a gathering of people in the museum before we saw the film. There was an address by Barbara Ward the President of the Much Wenlock Festival 2002 who greeted us all and thanked us for coming. Especially those who had connections to the film. She thanked Columba, Martha, "Steve Crook and the members of the Powell and Pressburger Appreciation Society" and a few others like the Mayor.

Then, as she finished, but while everyone was still paying attention, I said I had a few messages and read out the greeting from Christian Routh, grandson of Hein Heckroth (Production Designer on GTE):

Dear Steve

I'm sure the Shropshire event will be fun.

Hein's wife Ada, used to talk of their happy trip to film in Shropshire. She was always laughing at the increasingly agitated & endless telegrams that would come in from the film's financiers [especially David O. Selznick] which Mickey completely ignored.

Hein loved it up there, and during breaks would go out sketching in the countryside. I have four of his Shropshire pictures on the walls of my home in Spain, and they are the most potent reminder to me of how beautiful the English countryside can be.

I saw the film at a special screening at the London Film Festival a few years back, with Mickey & Emeric attending, & they too spoke fondly of their time there. It was fascinating for me to see Hein's vivid expressionist colour designs set against the lush English countryside in the film; a unique combination which helped to create the most extraordinary colour scheme.

I'm sure I speak for all participants and their descendants of the film, when I say how delighted I am that the film is still being celebrated, and finding new audiences to enjoy its peculiar charms.

Best wishes
Christian Routh

I then read out another message I'd received but carefully didn't mention the name of the sender until I got to the end:

I'm very sorry that I cannot be at the Much Wenlock Festival screening because of work commitments. I do hope you enjoy seeing the film however, and lots of good luck for a really successful day - and I do hope the sun shines.

Best wishes George Cole

Of course George Cole is very well known and loved here due to his regular TV work as well as his films. GTE was one of his first adult roles, before that he'd mainly played young lads, often with Alastair Sim. Both messages were very well received, especially the thought of paintings of their area bringing thoughts of home to someone in Spain.

Extras, 50 years on
plus Columba
So we had a few glasses of wine, chatted, were interviewed by the local paper, talked to lots of people, and had a lovely time. One I talked to was Percy Tarbuck, now 81-84 (it varies depending on how he feels) years young. He was in a crowd scene but was also the stand-in for Cyril Cusack in the final scene when Edward Marston races up the hill to try to save Hazel. They had had to wait around for some time to get the right conditions (no rain and some decent light) for that last scene and Cyril Cusack had had to go back to London. We shared our amazement at how fit Jennifer Jones was because in that final chase she runs across fields and hills from one end of the county to the other :)

Eventually we drifted across to the Parish Hall where they were showing the film. There had already been a matinee performance, so this was the second showing of the day. The Hall held over 120 people seated and was full for both screenings and even had a few people lingering around the edges so we'll count that as 250 local people seeing the film that was made in their village 50 years ago.

There was an introduction to the story by Dr Gladys Mary Coles, the President of the Mary Webb Society, about the story of Gone to Earth and about local authoress, Mary Webb.

The film was the latest restoration, from the DVD, projected onto a large screen by the good people from "Flicks in the Sticks". They did a good job given the conditions but it was very slightly out of focus (only really noticeable in the titles) and there was a bit of clicking in the quiet passages.

But is was very well received. There were a few delighted muttterings of "There's Aunt Mary" and the like, and even "There we are!" and of course they all knew all the locations :)

Afterwards I chatted to a few people, especially those who I'd noted had said they'd never seen it (it wasn't only the extras and us aficionados there) and they all thought it was wonderful. I also asked a few of them about the accents and the use of colloquialisms. They all agreed that was wonderfully done (apart from when Jennifer slips into a Cockney accent in one scene).

And so wearily we wended our separate ways and off to bed after a great day. I was staying the night at the Gaskill Arms in Much Wenlock, Columba stayed with Toby nearby.

On the Monday morning I went back to see Martha at the museum, picked up the things I'd lent for the great day (but left various items I had duplicates of) and she sorted out copies of a few of the notes she'd made from talking to the various people. We laid out a rough plan for how we'd like to follow up the contacts with all the people she'd found and record their memories for posterity.

Then we said our goodbyes and I headed back to London.

The Much Wenlock Museum will continue displaying the Gone to Earth Exhibit until June 30th 2002, so if you are in the locality, do drop by and have a look around. And give my regards to Martha :)

Pictures at an exhibition
Various displays at the Much Wenlock Museum

Photos and letters

More ...

and more

Nick's scans from the film

Old projectors

Signed books

Display cases

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