On perhaps the wettest day to hit West London for weeks, we arrived at Osterley Park to find a Talking Pictures TV banner and a small marquee where we could pick up our brochure and picnic lunch. It was lovely to finally meet Sarah Cronin, who does so much with her family to programme the weird and wonderful (and sometimes both) film and TV fare of Talking Pictures TV.
On a packed Routemaster (we discovered later from a friendly former bus driver that it had been a green bus in service, but now painted red), we set out for a three-hour tour of locations across Ealing (and a bit of Hounslow).
The route in our book wasn’t quite the route we followed – the driver decided to miss out Hanwell and visited Ealing Broadway a little earlier than planned – and the loudspeaker on the top deck was sadly inaudible until the final hour of the tour, but as a local couple my husband and I were able to roughly follow the progress of the tour from Osterley to Heston, to Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway, South Ealing, Brentford then back to the park.
Highlights along the way included former cinemas the Palace Southall, Odeon Southall, and the former sites of the Walpole and the Empire in Ealing, and locations where “Richard Attenborough caught the bus in Seance on a Wet Afternoon“, “Benny Hill came past this building towards the camera in Who Done It“, and the gate “depicted in The Lavender Hill Mob“, to mention but three.
We spotted the former homes of legendary comics Sid James and Arthur Haynes (both on Gunnersbury Road, with blue plaques), and the alleyway used in Run for Your Money, as well as the corner where George Formby once walked in It’s in the Air and where the policemen marched in Carry on Constable.
Of course the main attraction was Ealing Studios, where so many great films were created and shot, from the early days of Will Barker in 1902 through to the present day. This is currently the focus of an attempt to create a Walk of Fame to celebrate those stars and crew who made films across the borough.
The booklet utilised film stills and brief descriptions, but I would have added a simple map of the route so it could be retraced by locals or more easily understood for those new to the borough. It was also an ambitious route for the time and traffic, even on a Sunday morning, so future tours may wish to bear that in mind. However, care and time had clearly been lavished on this event.
A tasty packed lunch of crisps, a cheese and tomato sandwich, and a traditional scone with clotted cream and jam (which we took home with us), plus a glass of bubbly on arrival and a Roses chocolate en route, was much appreciated, as were the two rest stops (although I think Southall Park disappointed with the loos closed!).
Our £45 tickets also included a tour of Osterley House, but we decided to call it a day after our mystery tour, planning to use the booklet on future travels around Ealing (and to tick off any films listed which we have not seen yet).
Roll on next March, when the Renown Film Festival takes place in St Albans.