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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Colin Turner's ACT Location Visit, 23 March 2010
I spent today March 23rd 2010 visiting Canterbury and Chilham for the website. Here's a report, I hope its OK......
For many years my favourite film of all time has been 'OOOAIM'. Despite its far reaching consequences in my own life it is fast being paralleled by 'ACT' - and I've only visually dissected that a few times.
On March 23 rd 2010 I decided to take off for the day and have a look at Canterbury and some of the sites of the ACT filming locations around the city centre. If I had time I thought I would go to Chilham Mill and Jullieberrie's Grave and get home......when I got home.
I took the bus and train to Canterbury East station from Chatham and Faversham and if you go this way be aware the train splits with the first half going to Ramsgate via Margate. I also learnt from the railway staff that trains are hourly to Selling ('Chillingbourne').
I asked the ticket inspector on the train, who interrupted my day dreaming as I recalled the carriage conversation scene, if the last station we had passed was 'Chillingbourne'. Visibly concerned and bemused he confirmed it was Selling and he had never heard of the film. Luckily he had a sense of humour and was willing to hear about his railway lines history.
After passing through Chillingbourne we entered the Selling tunnel, (remember where the trio and Thomas Colpeper are in the carriage and as they enter the tunnel in the darkness Eric Portman changes his facial features to look downwards with a slightly demonic air?) - I soon realised the tunnel is about four or five times longer than the film sequence would suggest.
Another anomaly I noticed was that the railway sequences at the end of the film are shot on two different tracks. One imagines that going from Chillingbourne into Canterbury, ('It's only ten minutes on the train'), you would arrive at Canterbury East. In fact looking at the scene shot I have they are entering from the Ashford line to Canterbury West with the Westgate Tower clearly visible from the carriage window between Eric Portman and Dennis Price. In the intervening years the traffic and road signs seem to have sprouted up all over the scene.
I found the Westgate Tower without too much difficulty, its big enough, and just to one side is the Police Station which is now the local music school confirmed by the din coming from within. I privately reenacted the police station scene to myself - luckily no one saw me and I walked back to Westgate Tower. The point where they all shook hands and parted is easy to find, watch out for passing traffic though, and I then walked down the High Street to find the 'Cathedral Tea Rooms'.
As correctly stated on the P&PAS websites the tea rooms are now a Starbucks but clearly this is the place and I was able to get a decent size mug of tea, (habit forming stuff), in the window where Bob Johnson sat and received his blessing. The new manager and had just started that day and told me Michael Caine had once dropped in during filming a couple of years ago. A nice girl - I hope she got a blessing too.
In fact I got blessed a number of times on this trip. One blessing was to find a busker outside strumming his guitar who took a cup of tea from me I had erroneously purchased at the 'Pret' tea shop on the other corner. When I told 'Mark' why I was in Canterbury buying tea he began to recite every P&P film he could think of. I was stunned. Apparently he did a film arts Degree ten years ago and still kept up to date with Kent film happenings.
The city centre is well worth a visit but as of March 2010 the Marlow Theatre has been demolished which has figured I believe in some ACT tours and is due to be rebuilt in two years time. After lunch I caught the train from Canterbury West to Chilham via Chartham although there was a one hour wait during which time I chatted with a friendly bearded gentleman and his wife. They wanted to know about all about the film as their daughter was engaged in film production and it soon became clear that I was talking to Graham Clarke who is a well know Kentish artist and President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. I'm certain he could give a stirring talk at one of Tom Colpeper's lectures! I realised we even shared the same amusing chimney sweep! More blessings.
Leaving Chilham station and looking at the surround hills I wondered at just how beautiful Kent was even in winter, (Tom Colpeper was right) and I soon found my way from the station walking along the A28 turning left and crossing over the level crossing to get to Chilham Mill and the 'battle' area. You just have to pass by the garage and the catering company and along past the Mill turning left and up onto the 'Grave'.Its all changed of course, just like the rest of the world. The wooden bridges are gone, kids play with X boxes and not wooden guns but nothing destroys the magic of the film or the place.
The climb to Jullieberrie's Grave is steep and you can make your way easily to the downs. I only had an hour before the next train so I made my way back making a mental note of the 15th Century tea rooms hoping to use that as a ruse to get my wife along next week when we go and buy a copy of the book ACT from the printers in Wincheap.
I'm sorry reader if you read this and say it has all been done before. I know these places have been visited on previous ACT tours but just think how a film made nearly 70 years ago can still stir emotions today and cause a rambler to explore the wonderful Kent countryside and evaluate the changes in our country, values and culture. Thanks to P&P I now know more of where I live and can appreciate its beauty in all seasons. I also pine for a lost world. As the pop song says, 'celluloid heroes never die'.
I got home late and found my wife has booked us in to a hotel in Boston Lincolnshire so that we can attend a memorial service, see some wild birds and no doubt do some more 'OOOAIM' research.
High Halstow Rochester
Other P&P trips