Spotting selfies at the filming locations of BBC's This Country
PUBLISHED: 12:12 13 November 2018
© Thousand Word Media
Thanks to the impact of ground-breaking comedy This Country, the quiet market town of Northleach has become one of the Cotswolds' hottest film locations. Katie Jarvis is sent to investigate
‘‘How about this for an idea!” Mike Lowe, my editor says. “Go and visit the locations used in This Country and see if anybody’s there taking selfies.”
My one rule is never to scoff at my editor.
“There’s not going to be anyone in Northleach taking This Country selfies!” I scoff (meaning I literally now have no rules). “Northleach is about cream teas and the Church of St Peter and St Paul, where the oldest surviving part is the chancel, though much modified, of which the walls, the steeply pitched roof and the sacristy doorway all date from the 14th century!”
“The bus shelter, the pub, the garage on the A429, the lock-ups on the Farmington Road, and Fairford Bowls Club,” Mike says.
So I tut, get in my car and head out on the Fosse, thinking: I’ll glance at a couple of bus shelters, see if I can spot Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, then have a cream tea.
While I’m waiting for Andrew, the photographer – who also fancies a cream tea – to pitch up, I wander up to the Church of St Peter and St Paul, where the oldest surviving part is the chancel, though much modified, of which the walls, the steeply pitched roof and the sacristy doorway all date from the 14th century.
A welcoming official-greeter hands me an information card, explaining that the font is carved with angels playing musical instruments.
“Do you have any questions?” he asks.
“Yes,” I reply. “Do you like This Country?”
“Not much,” he says. “You’ll notice, interestingly, that the roof wasn’t made for this church – it doesn’t fit; it was bought off the medieval equivalent of eBay.”
I wander off to look at the remains of the brass commemorating John Fortey, donator of £300 to remodel the church. It’s his bad luck that inflation caught up with him; in the 15th century, 300 quid was enough to buy eBay and put a reasonable down-payment on Facebook to boot; nowadays, you could draw it out of a cashpoint – if only there were one in Northleach. I gaze on all the magnificent wool-merchants, thinking, ‘I bet they wouldn’t like This Country either’.
I wander out and pass four young people and a bearded collie walking towards me. For the sake of form, I say, “Strange question, but have you seen This Country?”
“Err, yes! That’s why we’re here!” they reply. “Up from Swindon to see all the location sites and take selfies.”
“No! NO!” I say, astounded. “No - I don’t believe you!”
“Yes, genuinely from Swindon,” they confirm.
“Meet me in 10 at the bus stop! Andrew will take your pic!” I order.
On a roll, I pounce on three middle-aged tourists making for the church. “I bet you’re here for This Country!” I shout.
“What?” they say.
The quartet – Jess, Matt, Bill and Josh, with Wallace, the 11-year-old bearded collie – turn out to be an absolute delight, if slightly potty. They love This Country – “We love how real it is; how much you can relate to it” – though one of their friends bumped into Laurence at Swindon station and didn’t think he was humble at all. They obligingly pose for photos in the bus shelter – we try to google the opening bus-stop scene but can’t get signal - then Andrew wants to show us something he’s spotted.
On a post, pointing uphill into a housing-estate, is a green arrow that reads, ‘TC LOC 1’.
In John Fortey’s time, this would be the equivalent of Sir Galahad finding a green arrow reading, ‘HG CUP 1’.
Andrew and I exchange looks.
I suppose I’d better explain. (Though my theory is that, if you don’t know about This Country, you’ll have stopped reading by now anyway.) (And my theory is that, if you do know about This Country, you’ll have stopped reading by now anyway.)
We’re talking the hit BBC mockumentary – written by Cirencester brother-and-sister team Charlie and Daisy May Cooper – focusing on the lives of two disaffected young Cotswold cousins, Kurtan and Kerry Mucklowe.
I don’t know the exact reason they film so much of it in Northleach – mainly to do with scale, I think – but I do know you couldn’t find a nicer bunch of residents than here.
As Andrew and I hare up the hill into Fortey Road (you defo couldn’t get a road named after you for 300 quid nowadays), we pass David and his dog Roxy, sitting in their sunny garden enjoying an ice cream.
David doesn’t blink when we explain our mission. “You need to see Tim,” he says, pointing down the road. “He works in the toilets – gets loads of people taking selfies there.”
Tim’s not in – he’s gone to see Colin, just a few doors up from the house where Kerry lives: neat cream ‘council’ house with famous sloping garden. I’m a bit worried about knocking – out of the blue – on Colin’s door. (My friend Barbara, who now works for Reuters, once knocked on a door and got chased down a street in Bromsgrove.)
I needn’t have worried. Colin and Tim are equally friendly and invite us both in.
“Three doors down. That’s Nigel’s house – Kerry’s house in This Country,” Colin explains. “Every weekend we see the cars pull up with people taking photographs. On This Country, you can see my car on the driveway – the grey Citroen. They did the van scene here. Remember the very first one, carrying the dummy?”
“The scarecrow,” Tim chips in. “My public toilets are quite popular. The amount of people that go there now and have selfies taken!”
“And older people.”
“When they used to plum the house,” Colin adds, “we all laughed and said that’s taking the piss out of country people. But, apparently, it was right. Back in the day, if they didn’t like you, they used to throw plums at the house. We talked to some old-timers and that’s what they actually used to do.”
“They were filming here yesterday, outside the Sherborne Arms; they change the name on it. They filmed JK Rowling’s down there as well. And The Gathering.”
“Sky One did Zombie Apocalypse.”
“I reckon there’s more tourists coming in now because of it.”
“Oh, yes,” says Colin. “We’re on the map.”
“They were here filming in May’s Crescent this morning,” Tim adds.
Our ears prick up.
Andrew and I hare off again, knocking at Nigel’s house on the way. He’s not in - though I do note yogurt-drinks on the doorstep that the milkman has delivered. (I won’t reveal the brand; that would be intrusive.)
We stop by Maureen’s, in Macarthur Road – she’s been told we’re in the neighbourhood. The ‘This Country’ crew use Maureen’s for changing and going to the toilet. “I’ve known the father, Paul, and Charlie for years,” she says. “My grandson, Daniel, used to play football with Charlie, and his father was the coach.”
Does she enjoy the series?
“It’s very good. It takes a bit to get into it; then, once you have, you go with it. It’s even over in Australia. Daniel has been there four years now and he watches it. He says Charlie hasn’t changed.
“My niece came down from Wales last Thursday, when I told her they were starting back filming. When she got here, she couldn’t see anybody so she went up to the Westwoods. Charlie and the vicar were there and she had her photograph taken with them.”
She gestures to a house opposite, on the end of the row. That’s Big Mandy’s.
“This morning, they were filming at the back in May’s Crescent. Where they’ve gone to now, I don’t know.”
We hare off again – my overworked Fitbit panically sounding the 10,000 steps mark. I’m now considering moving to Northleach: I haven’t met one person I haven’t liked.
Sophie – at Big Mandy’s – opens the door, with Romey in arms. The whole thing began with a letter through the door, she explains, saying the Beeb were looking for locations.
“Everybody was wondering: Is it going to be something good, or a bit like Shameless? So we were thinking – Oh god! Do we really want to look like that? In my head, I thought of Gavin & Stacey. If it was like that – brilliant!
“When I finally saw it, I thought it was really funny. I’m from Cheltenham originally but it’s the same sort of people. Everybody knows a Kurtan.”
After Sophie and her husband said yes to filming, the crew moved in for a few days and decorated their front room Big Mandy style. When they were done, they decorated back and left everything spick and span.
“It’s quite weird, seeing your own house. You see them on our sofa but everything else was theirs. Daisy was pregnant when they filmed the second time - she was off ill - so we ended up having Big Mandy’s front room for a whole week rather than two days. We had to sit with all these horrible things in the room until they could film again. They gave my little girl some of the meerkats they used.”
The kids – Sophie has four – have seen the suitable bits, and love recognising Northleach. “They think it’s fun and cool.”
None of them minds the hordes of sightseers who turn up – sometimes she’ll catch them standing in the garden as she looks out of her kitchen window. They even take selfies by the ‘No ball games’ sign in the road, which featured in a Big Mandy scene.
But what does Sophie – who has the most stunning, work-of-art tattoo – think of Mandy’s ink-based efforts?
“When I watched that episode where they had the tattoos in the book, I thought some of them were actually quite good!
“I do like Big Mandy - she’s so funny - though I think I’d be a bit scared of her. One of my friends actually spoke to her in the green room and said she was completely different. Really nice.”
Fairford Bowling Club is teeming with players. This place is AMAZING. Indoor greens. An outdoor, beautifully mown stretch of turf (it costs £10,000 each year to keep it in such fine fettle), fronted in the distance by pretty houses - just like playing boules on a village green.
Brian, the treasurer, speaks for them all when he expresses pride in this magnificent facility. “It’s been built up over several generations: started in 1914, on the corner of the local cricket pitch - we had our centenary four years ago. It moved to this site in the 1920s when it was half the size; expanded in 1935; and the ladies were allowed in in the late 1960s.”
Ten years ago, it would have been blazers, shirts and ties. Today, things are more relaxed: bright shirts; coloured woods. Shorts came in a few years ago.
Last year, things changed even more radically when a film crew came knocking. “The storyline included the vicar playing bowls, so they were looking for a bowling green. Northleach hasn’t got one. They looked at Cirencester but we’re more rural. There’s no traffic here – you can hear the birds singing when you’re playing.”
“We knew what This Country was,” says Jean, a committee member.
“Well, some of us did,” Brian adds.
“There was uproar to begin with. People thought it was a serious documentary. And the language. They were here on Friday, and we ended up bowling until about quarter to eight – I was saying, ‘Its so dark, I can’t see the bowls!’ But they wanted us in the background while they were filming. They kept saying, ‘Take!’”
“Last year,” throws in Madeleine, who has appeared as an extra, “they were here for two days and we got just five minutes on screen. If you go onto YouTube, you can see all the out-takes.”
One of the best bits is catering – bowlers can tuck into the lunches: “Curry, steak and kidney pie, macaroni cheese, stuffed peppers, several sweets, cheese and biscuits and fresh fruit.”
The worst is that the crew insists on old-fashioned props: round tables with long cloths and twee lamps.
“I told them, ‘We’re 21st century here!’”
In This Country, Kurtan has a job behind the bowls club bar. Would they employ him in real life?
“He’s nice to look at but his language would have to be right. I did show him the swear-box and he did use it,” Jean says.
So. Back in Northleach, Andrew and I round a corner and – suddenly! - a minibus pulls up. And out climbs Kurtan, practising lines with the vicar, who’s following behind. “They’ll think you’ve got Munchausen by proxy, Vicar,” Kurtan says.
In the garden is Slugs. I grin at him. He grins back.
Later, I ring Mike.
“About your This Country idea, Mike,” I begin.
“Don’t worry if you didn’t manage to get anything,” he says.
The third series of This Country will be screened in 2019.