Shaftesbury Filmed Today For Major New BBC Series

A new BBC series and an accompanying book should boost Shaftesbury tourism because part of the story is set on Gold Hill.

TV presenter Andrew Marr was filming on the iconic cobbles this morning. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred asked him about the programme and heard the political commentator’s prediction for the Brexit outcome.

A BBC film crew was busily at work at 8.45am this morning. The team of six was anchored to a position just below the Salt Cellar café, preparing to film a sequence with Andrew Marr as the mists rose in the valley below.

Andrew Marr

Alec Webb is assistant producer of the, as yet unnamed, TV series. “There will be three parts, each looking at a different aspect of how Britain has changed since the 1950’s. There will be a bit of industry, a bit of culture and a bit of social change,” said Alec.

“We’re telling the story of what I call ‘attitudinal change’ in Britain during the Queen’s reign,” added Andrew, the programme’s host and writer. “It’s the changes inside our heads when it comes to work, gender, race and class. This is a film really about how we make our money, how we earn our lunch and put the bread on the table.”

That was the first of many bread references.

“One of the ways we do that increasingly, as the Queen’s reign goes on, is through great advertising and marketing,” continued Andrew. “We make fewer things, we export fewer physical things but we export ideas and images. And of course, the iconic Hovis ad from 1973 is a very good example of that. It is why I’m here.”

As I watched the team of half a dozen staff at work, I realised how slow and labour-intensive television production can be. “We have got the sound and the camera. They are most important by a long shout. Everyone else is effectively a hanger-on, doing very little bar Andrew, who is also fairly pivotal,” joked Alec.

Andrew had to stand still, surveying the beautiful view for what seemed like an eternity. Then he changed positions and stared into the distance from another angle. For three minutes, nobody said a word. “He’ll be filming about five to six sentences here. That will fit into a broader sequence. Gold Hill will be part of a six minute sequence in the end,” whispered Alec.

There were no cue cards. Alec says that Marr works without visual prompts although they had agreed a broad topic outline beforehand. “There will be some kind of vague ideas and points. The amazing skill is turning it into a fairly cogent piece-to-camera when you’re on location, and in about two and a half minutes,” said Alec.

It was time for a ‘take’. Andrew faced the camera and perfectly recited the sentences he had memorised. He did this eight or nine times over a half hour period. The filming had to stop each time someone walked into shot, climbing up the hill. And as we all know, for some people that can take quite a while. Then there were two prams, which made a noise on the cobbles outside the museum. Cut!

“It takes a very, very long time. There is an enormous amount of hanging around. In fact, that’s the greatest skill you need, hanging around,” Andrew said. And then there was another interruption caused by the town’s clock chiming at 9am.

Andrew spoke about the Hovis ad director, Ridley Scott. “He is one of the brilliant, precocious, iconic young directors,” said Andrew, who believes that British TV ads have struck a chord with us and become classics, because they are better than those across the pond. In the UK, viewers have been able to switch over to commercial free-channels from the BBC, so the standard of our adverts had to be high, to retain viewers.

“Therefore the TV adverts have themselves to be compelling pieces of cinematography and storytelling. And you get this young generation of British directors, of whom Ridley Scott is the most prominent example, who come up learning how to make really compelling TV ads. Shaftesbury is a very good example of that. They go on to make very famous films, like Alien and Thelma and Louise. They become big Hollywood names, but they start on the streets and in the villages of England,” he said.

Andrew explained why they chose Shaftesbury as a filming location. “Partly because of the view, partly because I think that, for an entire generation, the Hovis ad is lodged in the consciousness. It is what people remember when they think of these adverts – the music and the golden light over Shaftesbury. It brings back, for an entire generation – people living from the north of Scotland, right down to Cornwall – an image of England, an image of Hovis. It’s very compelling and nostalgic and emotional,” said Andrew.

Some people mistakenly think Gold Hill is in the north because a voiceover used on one version of the advert was northern. Andrew promised that Shaftesbury’s location will be promoted. “That is absolutely hilarious, this notion that we are actually standing in the middle of Yorkshire or somewhere. I promise you, it will say Gold Hill, Shaftesbury in Dorset!”

At the moment, even the crew don’t know what the series will be called. “Working titles are always changed depending on who you’re speaking to, which invariably confuses everyone enormously, because you never quite know who’s talking about what and when. It’s uncertain at the moment but we’ll let you know the moment we do,” Alec said.

“We are probably some way from the TV show airing. The book will come out, I hope, next year,” Andrew added. But when the programme is broadcast, it should offer prime time promotion for our hilltop town. “Fingers crossed, it’ll be on BBC One,” said Alec.

I couldn’t let one of Britain’s most respected political commentators leave Shaftesbury without asking Andrew Marr for his Brexit prediction. “For a long time, I have thought the likeliest outcome is ‘no deal’. Now for all sorts of reasons, I hope I’m wrong, but that seems to be where we are going as it were, bit by bit, in a kind of ‘butter fingers, oops’ way rather than actually intending it,” he said.

We’ll have to wait and see how that part of British history is written. But Shaftesbury’s place in Britain’s social history was clearly recorded as the crew packed up and headed back to London.