How movie magic is keeping disappeared townscapes alive

Want to know what your town used to look like?

This picture was taken during the filming of Gone To Earth in Much Wenlock in 1949. The photo came from Judy Garrett, who was an extra, and whose father Jim Bradford, on the left in profile and wearing a cap, was also an extra.
This picture was taken during the filming of Gone To Earth in Much Wenlock in 1949. The photo came from Judy Garrett, who was an extra, and whose father Jim Bradford, on the left in profile and wearing a cap, was also an extra.

One way of finding out might be to watch an old movie.

With scores of films being shot in the region, the movie-makers have also in the process recorded snapshots of local social history and frozen on film long-disappeared townscapes.

"In the Midlands at least 150 feature films have been made in the last 100 years," says John Tunstill, one of the founders of a website which shines the spotlight on feature film locations and tries to unearth more information.

"More than 80 films which were made in the Midlands are listed on our site, reelstreets.com."

A West Brom player going on to the pitch to the roar of the crowd, as seen in this screenshot from the 1962 documentary The Saturday Men.

Supported by dedicated sleuths worldwide, the ReelStreets site has now investigated over 2,400 movies.

The website in some cases includes evocative shots of locations used in the movies. Among those with Midlands connections is paintedmade by Ealing Studios in 1945, which follows the lives of two families living on the canal boats of Britain in the mid-1940s.

Among a wide variety of locations were Staffordshire and the West Midlands.

John Cleese checks his lines near Much Wenlock during filming for Clockwise

The Saturday Men made in 1962 is a British sports documentary which follows a week in the life of West Bromwich Albion, and among the screen grabs used on the website is Don Howe kicking a football around with his son Stephen in a field behind his house in Wolverhampton.

Don Howe was one of Albion's most famous defenders, and returned later to the club for a managerial spell.

Clockwise in 1986 featured John Cleese as an obsessive headteacher at Thomas Tompion Comprehensive School – a thematic fictional name, as Tompion was a famous clockmaker – which in reality was the then Menzies High School at Hateley Heath, West Bromwich.

Part of the movie was also filmed on location in Much Wenlock and the Shropshire countryside.

John Cleese outside the Raven Hotel in Much Wenlock in the movie "Clockwise."

Among other well known films shot in Shropshire were A Christmas Carol (1984) and Gone To Earth (1949), for which the ReelStreets website is seeking local information about the movies and then and now pictures of places used.

John said: "The site was conceived in 2002 and generally covers films made in the 20th century – there is, after all, far too much CGI in modern films which renders the locations in a false perspective.

"Many of these wonderful feature films are the only remaining evidence of roads, houses, streets and towns before the Blitz, destruction and gentrifying."

He added that there were generally ignored, unrecorded and long-forgotten streets and places which were not recorded as photos in any local archive, but were only ever seen and used as a location in the making of one feature film, often 70 or more years ago.

"Sometimes they provide a unique photographic example for a particular area."

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