Suffolk bloopers on screen
PUBLISHED: 12:02 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:53 20 February 2013
Playing fast and loose with locations, dodgy accents and, perhaps worst of all, confusing us with Norfolk! Paul Barnes reveals how television and film makers keep showing our county in a less than authentic light
In 1645, the sound of Suffolk was asuccession of screams asMatthew Hopkins set aboutpurging the county of its witches.The wretched victims, accused bymalicious neighbours, tortured intoconfessing their alleged crimes ofconsorting with familiars and castingspells were hanged, drowned or burnedto death.Lavenham market place, where theburnings actually took place, was a giftto the producers of the 1968 filmWitchfinder General. They had a readymadeset, the black-and-white halftimberedbeauty of the Guildhallforming a noble background. Thetrouble was the foreground, an openspace filled with parked cars. They weretemporarily banished, leaving 20thcentury tarmac covered with whitelines. So the technicians spread a fewbales of straw and prayed for calm,windless days. Or did they glue thestuff down?They lit the fire and cued thescreaming, and a crowd of extras, localsin freshly dry-cleaned period dress andshiny shampooed hair looked on,hoping the camera might find them.Velvet-voiced Vincent Price, togged upin black as the lecherous, corruptHopkins, strode among them, relishinghis grisly task.Witchfinder General leavenedpersecution with the picturesque,taking geographical liberties so thatLavenham, Orford Castle and KentwellHall appeared to be only a stones throwfrom each other. It took linguistic liberties too. Genuine Suffolk accentswere replaced by an all-purposemummerset, closer to the WestCountry than to the Waveney valley. Ashepherd in a 17th century Suffolk fieldeven spoke with an unmistakably Welshlilt, possibly Cardiff.This was the sort of howlerguaranteed to offend David Woodward,Waveney born and bred, and best friendof Suffolk dialect and accents. His CDsof the countys yarns and verses havebeen used to coach actors in thebusiness of saying things the Suffolkway.The accent is the tune thats playedwith the dialects words, says David.Dialect could be woven into the script,but some words may not travel well.How many people beyond the county, oreven in it, would be aware that a tittama-torta is a seesaw? It wouldnt domuch for international sales, which iswhat govern a good many productionsthese days.Most recently Suffolk was borrowedby ITV as part of the setting for thecrime caper, Injustice.This took its share of liberties too,prompting raised eyebrows among thatmost pernickety section of theaudience, the railway buffs. Theyspotted that Ipswich station wasphoney.In a couple of scenes there wasclearly a train in Chiltern railwayslivery and also part of what looked likeBanbury railway station, even my wifenoticed, wrote one.Another identified the platform asbelonging to the former Felixstowestation, now part of a little shoppingmall called Great Eastern Square. Theproducers got round the accent problemby having a cast of principal characterswho were mostly imports, but thepeople who played the locals had beencoached well enough to pass muster.Somehow, Suffolk was not Suffolkenough to suit the makers of AWarning to the Curious, the BBCadaptation of M.R. Jamess ghost storyset in the little coastal town ofSeaburgh.James himself wrote that it wasmodelled on Aldeburgh. He stayed thereoften, and his detailed description ofthe place leaves the reader with nodoubts.Marshes intersected by dykes to thesouth flat fields to the north, merginginto heath. A long sea-front and a street:behind that a spacious church of flint,with a broad, solid western tower. Toclinch it he even mentions a distantMartello tower to the south.The BBC chose to shift Seaburgh to the coast of north Norfolk, and in theabsence of a Martello tower made dowith the lighthouse at Happisburgh,striped red and white like a giant stickof rock.As an evocation of place, the earlyseries of Lovejoy from the mid-eightieswas terrific, and still makes fordiverting viewing. The tales of themildly roguish antique dealer with aheart of gold spread themselves aboutthe region with happy abandon. Suffolkfigured often, but couldnt claim solerights as the setting.Lovejoy set out its non-partisan stallfrom the very first episode, when theradio in Ian McShanes clapped outVolvo estate was tuned to RadioNorfolk. But in no time the yarn waswrapped in the half-timbered charm ofLavenham, and dunked in Kerseyswater splash, a scene which introducedLady Jane Felsham, graciouslyunveiling the village sign andungraciously drenched by Lovejoy andhis egregious apprentice Eric as theyhurtle through on a wretched andbrakeless motorbike and sidecar.Theres lots of hurtling in Lovejoy,from one delightful location to another,pub to village green, church to market,hall to cottage, all of which make usglad weve got them.The ultimate representation ofSuffolk on screen has to be Akenfield,inspired by Ronald Blythes 1969 classicbook, an authoritative account ofSuffolk village life during the first 75 years of the 20th century. Akenfield is avillage that never was, and yet alwayswill be. Its an amalgam of Debach andCharsfield where Ronnie Blythe,himself a Suffolk boy, simply listened topeople speaking, and then wrote itdown.The truth of Akenfield struck PeterHall, another Suffolk boy, born in BurySt Edmunds, son of a stationmaster. Hebought the rights to film it. RonnieBlythe wrote the screenplay, but withonly sketchy dialogue. Unionrestrictions meant that, as amateuractors were being used, no words couldactually be learned, only improvisedwithin a loose framework.The life of Old Tom, a farm-worker isrecalled in a series of flashbacks. Tomnever left the village where he wasborn, apart from fighting in World WarOne. He urges his grandson, YoungTom, not to stay on the land, not toendure the kind of suffering he knew.When Old Tom dies his tied cottage isoffered to Young Tom who considers hisgrandfathers words and has to decidewhether to stay, or to leave and find hisfortune elsewhere.Peter Halls amateur players neededcoaxing, but never coaching. Suffolk istheir mother tongue, spoken every dayof their lives. We only have to listen.
The realthing orstand-ins?Suffolk onScreen
- Much of the BBCtelevision drama FiveDaughters, depictingthe 2006 Ipswich serialmurders, was shot onthe streets of Bristolrather than Ipswich.
- In the film The FourthProtocol helicoptersswoop under the OrwellBridge in a climaticscene. No stunt doubleor model was used, itwas the actual bridge.
- The Isle of Man stoodin for Walberswick andWingfield in the 2003film, I Captured TheCastle, starring BillNighy.
- In a scene from oneof the early Lovejoyprogrammes the centralcharacters are seendrinking in the townsDog and Partridge pubbefore stepping outsideon to the Angel Hill.The Dog and Partridgeis located in CrownStreet, a good 100yards or so from theAngel Hill.
- Its the Oxfordshirecountryside (not theSuffolk of DodieSmiths novel) thatyou see in someof the backgroundshots of the re-made,non-animated, 101Dalmatians film.