Oxfordshire’s glittering career as a film location

Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox filming a scene for Lewis in 2012 at Rumsey’s Chocolaterie in Thame, which became Porters Tea Rooms for the occasion.  Picture: OX53883 Jon Lewis

Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox filming a scene for Lewis in 2012 at Rumsey’s Chocolaterie in Thame, which became Porters Tea Rooms for the occasion. Picture: OX53883 Jon Lewis Buy this photo

First published in News Witney Gazette: Photograph of the Author by

FROM Hollywood blockbusters to TV favourites, Oxfordshire has proved the perfect setting for many filmmakers.

Oxford is famously home to television detective series Inspector Morse and its spin-offs Lewis and Endeavour. But not everyone may know that it is also where some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed and that Bampton in West Oxfordshire is one of the settings for Downton Abbey.

And parts of South Oxfordshire, including Wallingford and Dorchester- on-Thames, have regularly featured as sets in the long-running ITV detective series Midsomer Murders, starring first John Nettles and now Neil Dudgeon as Inspector Barnaby.

Giles Ingram, director of Experience Oxfordshire, estimates that the popularity of the county will have brought in millions of pounds to the local economy.

He said: “It is an enormous amount. Downton Abbey in the US is incredibly popular and CBS is re-running Morse and Lewis.

“We have a constant stream of people coming over to visit the locations.

“I would think it’s millions of pounds – direct expenditure from the film companies and the value of tourism it creates and the reputation it creates, which benefits the county.”

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Coachloads of Downton-mad tourists are known to visit Bampton, where the show has been filmed since 2010, while in Oxford there are popular Morse and Harry Potter tours.

Harry Potter film locations include Christ Church, used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and the Chamber of Secrets, and New College, used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Next month, the team responsible for Lewis will be returning to Oxford to film an eighth series, to be broadcast on ITV.

On why Oxford is attractive to filmmakers, Mr Ingram said: “There are two things really.

“One is the value both of the city and the locations that come across so well on camera. There is so much character in the city and that is really valuable.

“Filming in the city is made straightforward and simple for people through services provided by the city council and Location Oxfordshire, so filmmakers are encouraged and it is made a lot easier.

“It is the combination of these two factors.”

Location Oxfordshire, run by Film Oxford, provides information to those looking to film in the area.

The Victoria Arms in Old Marston has been used as a location in Inspector Morse and Lewis, most notably in the famous final scene in episode 33, The Remorseful Day broadcast in 2000, when Morse throws in his police badge for good.

Pub manager Lizzie Cunningham said fans often visited the pub, adding: “It is obviously going to bring people in.

“I think people film in Oxford because it is a great location. Although it is a city, it has a rural aspect.”

On filming in the county, Mr Ingram added: “In Oxfordshire it is similar, we have got beautiful villages, beautiful countryside and again, people who are working to help filmmakers.

“We have the Cotswolds, iconic stately homes and wonderful countryside, it is what they are looking for.

“And no doubt the proximity to the heart of the film industry as well – we are close to London and major studios outside London.”

Brad Pitt caused a stir last year when he was spotted filming war movie Fury in the small village of Shirburn near Watlington with co-star Shia LaBeouf. It was not the first time the A-lister had filmed in the county, having worked on zombie thriller World War Z on the former American airbase at Upper Heyford in September 2011.

Witney Gazette:

Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf pictured above on the set of the new film Fury being filmed at Shirburn, near Watlington, last year

THE closure of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for a year gave film makers an opportunity to shoot in an empty location.

The second episode of the new series of Morse prequel Endeavour was filmed in the museum in October last year and Sir David Attenborough’s Eden Channel show Natural Curiosities was also shot there. Museum spokesman Scott Billings, said: “The Museum of Natural History is a favourite amongst film makers for all sorts of reasons.

Witney Gazette:

Scott Billings

“Often it is the specimens themselves that draw people in – Sir David Attenborough has filmed sequences for a number of documentaries here – and our whale skeletons were the subject of a recent film by Ruskin School of Art filmmaker Robert Rapoport. But the building itself is also a spectacular backdrop for all sorts of footage, including dramas.

“A recent episode of the Morse spin-off Endeavour was filmed in the museum, complete with 1960s period graphics.”

The museum was closed during 2013 for restoration work on its roof and reopened last month.

First Class

X-Men First Class, the fifth film in the popular comic book franchise filmed scenes in Oxford in 2010.

Witney Gazette:

James McAvoy and January Jones filming the X-Men First Class outside the Sheldonian

The film is a prequel which tells the story of the well-known characters in their younger years with Professor Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy, studying at Oxford University in the 1960s.

Film crews used the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bridge of Sighs among the backdrops.

BLENHEIM'S STAR TURN

FILM fans should be able to recognise Woodstock’s Blenheim Palace as a popular location on the silver screen.
It has been used as the backdrop to a number of films including Gulliver’s Travels, featuring Jack Black and Emily Blunt in 2010, The Young Victoria, again starring Emily Blunt in 2008 and The Libertine, featuring Johnny Depp in 2004.

Witney Gazette:

John Hoy

Palace chief executive John Hoy said: “Oxfordshire is an excellent location for film-makers – it is sensibly located with reference to the main studios around London and it is a county rich in heritage buildings and beautiful countryside.
“Blenheim Palace provides a wonderful backdrop and the space within the courtyards and around the park offers great diversity with location requirements in mind.”
He added: “Film tourism is growingly important and there is no doubt that visitors come to Blenheim Palace to ‘follow’ previous productions – whether it is to see the Harry Potter tree or to stand in the courtyard used by Young Victoria and Gulliver’s Travels or to enjoy the magnificent state rooms used by many productions over the years.”

COLLEGE TRANSFORMED INTO HOGWART'S

OXFORD University college Christ Church has featured in a number of Hollywood movies, the most famous of which is Harry Potter.
The college’s Great Hall was replicated in the film studios to create Hogwart's Hall, but a scene from the first film was shot on the 16th century staircase which leads up to the Great Hall.
Here, Harry and the new first years enter Hogwarts and are greeted by Professor McGonagall.
The college’s 1,000-year-old cloisters were the setting for the scene when Harry is shown the trophy his father won as a seeker in Quidditch in the first film.
Christopher Lewis, college dean, said: “Oxford colleges are quite beautiful and slightly mysterious with hidden corners that people want to see.

Witney Gazette:

Christopher Lewis

“They provide a very good backdrop because they are recognisable.
“People like the ambience and the cobbled streets.”
The Golden Compass – the film version of the first part of Oxford author Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials triology was also filmed in the college’s Tom Quad. The rest of the triology remains unfilmed.

A SMALL VILLAGE THAT IS FOREVER DOWNTON

A SMALL village in West Oxfordshire found itself cast into the spotlight in 2010 when Downton Abbey began.
Bampton, one of the settings for the hugely popular ITV series, has since attracted swarms of tourists keen to see where it was filmed.
Bampton Archive chairman Robin Shuckburgh, with a book about the  village’s role in the series, predicts that Bampton will see twice as many fans this year.

Witney Gazette:

Robin Shuckburgh

He said the reasons the area was so popular with film makers were down to its natural setting and proximity to the capital.
“My view is that it is partly its natural beauty but largely it is because we are near London,” he said.
“The number of visitors is growing considerably.
“It is going to be at least as twice as busy as last year.
“We may be on series five here, but some of the rest of the world have only just started so we are getting tourists from those countries.
“The Christmas before last was the first showing of series one in Germany. It was a great success and we will be getting lots more tourists from there.”
The drama, which tells the story of the aristocratic Crawley family, return to TV screens in the UK this year for series five.
Picture: OX54406 Ric Mellis

AND A REALLY EXPENSIVE TURKEY ...

WHEN film makers come to Oxford it is not always a successful operation and the city was part of a movie which has its place in film ignominy.
Heaven’s Gate was directed by Michael Cimino off the back of his hugely successful film The Deer Hunter starring Robert De Niro.
However, if The Deer Hunter was the film that made him, Heaven’s Gate was his undoing in 1980. The original budget of $7.5m ballooned to $36m, only for the movie to be savaged by the critics and flop at the box office.
It was filmed throughout  the city centre but scenes were heavily cut in the final edit.

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