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The Seaside on Screen

harry hillThis month sees one of Britain’s best loved comedians taking a road trip to Blackpool. Harry Hill hits the big screen for his first feature film in a story which involves his dying hamster’s last wish, his petrol-drinking Nan, played by the legendary Julie Walters, and a fight at the top of the Tower. All typically madcap Harry Hill and a reminder that Blackpool has been the backdrop to many stories both on the big and small screen.

Stretching all the way back to the silent era, Blackpool has been the setting for numerous films. The Three Kings (1929) was a British-German produced drama about the rivalry between two circus performers over a woman. Hindle Wakes was made in 1918 and remade in 1927. Based on a play by Stanley Houghton from 1910, it is the story of two factory girls who take a traditional Wakes Week holiday from their Lancashire mill town to Blackpool. One of the girls meets up with the factory owner’s son, who persuades her to go to the more up-market Llandudno for a ‘dirty weekend’. Shocking stuff at the time and a film that was remade two more times, with sound, in 1931 and 1952. The links between the mill towns of Lancashire and Blackpool are also prevalent in The Cotton Queen (1937) starring Stanley Holloway and Sing As We Go (1934) also starring Holloway and the legendary Gracie Fields.

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Hindle Wakes (1927)

Dual Alibi (1947) and Forbidden (1949) are thrillers set in Blackpool. Dual Alibi starred Herbert Lom as a pair of twins who are a top acrobatic act at the Circus.  One of the twins falls in love with a girl who then steals their winning French lottery ticket, and they head to Paris seeking revenge.

A Taste Of Honey (1961) is considered one the best examples of gritty, kitchen sink realism British cinema. It centres on the story of a 17 year old schoolgirl, played by Rita Tushingham, and her domineering, alcoholic mother, played by Dora Bryan. She falls pregnant after a brief relationship with a black sailor, and moves in with her friend, a gay textile design student. It is praised for its look at working-class life at the turn of the sixties, including attitudes towards race, sexuality and poverty. The film won four BAFTAs and awards for Best Actor and Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. It was mainly shot in and around Salford, but there is a sequence shot in Blackpool where the mother, and her abusive lover, and daughter take a day trip to the giddy sights and sounds of the seaside, in contrast to the dark, dank streets of Salford.

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A Taste Of Honey (1961)

Like It Is (1998) is another gritty film, which tackles homosexual relationships to a backdrop of clubland and boxing, using Blackpool and London as its prime locations. Its cast includes The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Boy A (2007) starring Andrew Garfield is another hard hitting film with scenes shot in Blackpool, with a story about a young man who is released from prison and tries to start a new life, distancing himself from the crimes he committed as a boy.

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Andrew Garfield in Boy A (2007)
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Bhaji On The Beach (1993)

The 90’s saw Bhaji On The Beach (1993) and Funny Bones (1995). Bhaji On The Beach was written by Meera Syal of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars fame, and looked at a multi-generational group of women of Indian descent on a day trip to Blackpool and the differences and problems faced amongst them. Funny Bones contained a stellar cast, including Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, Lee Evans, Richard Griffiths, Oliver Reed and Blackpool favourite Freddie ‘Parrot-Face’ Davies, and was about a failed Las Vegas comedian who returns to the scene of childhood summer holidays, the Vegas of the North, in order to seek out unique acts and purchase their acts.

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Funny Bones (1995)

 

Like Harry Hill, another of Britain’s top comedians took his first step onto the big screen with a film set partly in the resort. The Parole Officer (2001) starred Steve Coogan alongside the likes of Lena Heady, Omar Sharif, Jenny Agutter and Simon Pegg. It includes a scene where Coogan’s character definitely cannot handle a ride on the Big One.

 

Blackpool has featured on the small screen many times as well. Notably, the nation’s two favourite soaps have paid a visit. In 1996, Eastenders sent some of its young characters on a typical weekend coach trip up north, where they encountered a very old-fashioned Blackpool land-lady.

 

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Corrie on the beach

You can’t beat Blackpool. There in a couple of hours in a charabanc. Everybody’s letting their hair down. You can cut smell of shrimps and best bitter with a knife. It’s paradise.” – Bet Lynch

Blackpool could well lay claim to being Coronation Street’s second home. It’s been the destination for numbers of coach trips and romantic weekends away, right from its early days at the start of the 1960s. It’s also seen its share of iconic TV moments from Corrie. Alan Bradley was hit a killed by a tram on the Promenade whilst chasing Street favourite Rita Sullivan. And more recently Roy Cropper took terminally ill wife Hayley on a special trip to the town, where she got to fulfil her wish of dancing in the Tower Ballroom. The Alan Bradley moment gets a blink and you’ll miss it reference in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, when Brian Potter moves past a floral tribute on the Prom on his way to get some seaside inspiration to re-open the Phoenix Club from Jim Bowen, whose hotel, Le Ponderosa, offers sunshine indoors and includes ’69 rooms en-suit’, ‘a sarolium’ and ‘a lift to all floors’.

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Rita, Alan Bradley, Roy and Hayley, and Brian Potter on the Promenade

Before he was Doctor Who, David Tennant starred in Blackpool, alongside David Morrissey. Blackpool (2004) was centred on the investigation of the murder of a man in an arcade, which was the Lucky Star near the Pleasure Beach. Morrissey played the slightly sleazy, Elvis, an obsessed arcade owner who had visions of a Las Vegas style casino hotel and Tennant was the detective sent to investigate the murder. A quirky comedy drama, which often broke into song and dance numbers, Blackpool was a great slice of TV that looked at Blackpool from the bright lights to some of the seedier elements that reside behind the façade. Morrissey starred in a one-off sequel in 2006 called Viva Blackpool.

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David Morrissey and David Tennant in Blackpool (2004)

From its appearances on film and TV you get the feeling Blackpool is used by filmmakers because of its unique and quirky charms. It is not used as Anytown UK, but becomes a character in its own right and its iconic landmarks are recognisable to the vast majority of the audience, wherever they come from.

The Harry Hill Movie is out in cinemas 20 December.

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