The extraordinary true story behind A Very English Scandal stretches from the corridors of Westminster to a caravan in Wales; from a Dublin boutique to foggy Exmoor; from a beach hut in California to Court One of the Old Bailey.
“One of the production challenges with these scripts, was how to clearly define each of our many locations,” producer Dan Winch tells RadioTimes.com. “Because we move between locations so fleetingly, it was important to ensure each location felt distinct.”
So where are the filming locations we see on screen? Here’s what you need to know…
Your eyes do not deceive you: parts of A Very English Scandal were actually filmed outside the Palace of Westminster. But when it came to filming the interiors, the business of government couldn’t grind to a halt even for Hugh Grant – so the team had to find another solution.
That solution was Manchester Town Hall, a Neo-Gothic building completed around the same time as the Palace of Westminster.
“It’s a wonderful example of Gothic architecture,” Winch explains. “There are locations in London where you can film corners of Gothic architecture, but Manchester gave us depth and the ability to have our characters walking down corridors rather than simply in and out of doors in a very contained way.”
He adds: “Manchester gave us stairs, lobbies, the exterior of the great chamber and a wonderful courtyard. But any time our characters walk into an office, we’re in a different location altogether.”
The team “did up” Bulstrode Park, an old vacant stately home near the Buckinghamshire town of Gerrard’s Cross on the outskirts of London. “We basically took over the rooms in there,” Winch says. “We took over a number of rooms,” Winch says. “We put our design touch to it, building wood-panelled walls and adding authentic set dressing.”
Where was the House of Commons debating chamber filmed?
Hugh Grant also didn’t get a chance to make any rousing speeches in the actual chamber of the House of Commons, though what we see on screen is very convincing.
“The parliamentary debating chamber was nothing but a shed funnily enough – literally a farmer’s shed” Winch says.
“We couldn’t really afford to build the full debating chamber, so what you see in the show is a bank of green seats, which we filmed head-on. It’s not possible to tell there’s nothing more than one wall!
“There’s a scene in episode one where we cut away to Norman watching Jeremy from a balcony. Norman’s balcony was actually in Manchester, whilst Jeremy was in this shed in the middle of Buckinghamshire somewhere!”
Did A Very English Scandal film in Dublin?
No. “Fitting in a trip to Ireland would not have been possible on our budget or in our timeframe,” Winch says. But during a recce in Wales, the team discovered the perfect street in Bridgend to stand in for Dublin.
The producer explains: “It’s actually the main precinct in Bridgend, but it just so happened that leant itself to feeling unlike anywhere we’d seen for anything else. And uncannily like areas of Dublin at the time.”
Where was A Very English Scandal filmed in Wales?
A chunk of the story takes place in Tal-y-bont in Wales, where Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) meets Gwen Parry-Jones (Eve Myles).
These scenes were actually shot in Monknash in South Wales, south of Bridgend. The team used a farmhouse for Gwen’s home, and parked a caravan opposite the house for Norman.
Where were the Blackpool scenes filmed?
A brilliant scene in episode two of A Very English Scandal takes us to Blackpool, where airline pilot Andrew Newton (Blake Harrison) is getting smashed at an industry event. But Winch opted for an unusual filming location to create the Art Deco feel of seventies Blackpool.
“We actually VFX tweaked an establishing archive image of Blackpool – animating it so it wasn’t simply a still image” he reveals. “We then filmed our exterior Blackpool action outside the Hoover Building on the A40 in Ealing.”
The Hoover Building is a famous work of Art Deco architecture, once a manufacturing plant and now luxury apartments – with a Tesco round the back.
“There’s a certain camera angle from Tesco’s carpark, that looks back towards the side of the Hoover Building and its wonderful Art Deco architecture,” Winch explains. “It’s the Deco architecture we really played on with Blackpool.
“Our approach throughout, had to be seeking locations which felt distinctive and different from each other. We’re only in Blackpool for two scenes. We played on the Deco architecture as it resembles buildings of a similar style along Blackpool seafront in the sixties and seventies.”
Where were the California beach scenes filmed?
The California scenes were actually filmed on Saunton Sands – a beach on the North Devon coast – with help of VFX to add palm trees and a “higgledy piggledy mishmash” of beach huts.
Unfortunately, the team had to reckon with the English weather.
Winch explains: “We had a bit of a time, because the building our hut unfortunately coincided with Storm Brian’s arrival. The sea came up so high that it began to dislodge the hut. We were worried our hut was rapidly becoming a boat!
“So for a time it was a bit touch and go as to whether we were going to actually be able to film there on the day as scheduled. But we did and it was brilliant and beautiful.”
Where were the Exmoor scenes filmed?
We do see some of Exmoor on screen – but filming for the key moment between Norman, Andrew Newton and Rinka actually took place at Bulstrode Park.
“We filmed some wide camera angles on Exmoor” Winch explains. “Using a drone camera, [director] Stephen Frears and I stood in a rather wet field coordinating. We flew the camera alongside the road with our little period car trundling along it, to achieve angles which enabled us to see Porlock Weir in the distance.
“It was extremely important for us to establish this sequence in the actual location, so we tried really hard to make sure we sited it in the most authentic way for what then followed.”
The events that followed were filmed at Bulstrode Park, because filming the main scene at the actual location in Exmoor would not have been “particularly sensitive,” Winch says.
Where were the North Devon scenes filmed?
Jeremy Thorpe’s constituency was North Devon – and the team was actually able to film on location in the area, in Chittlehampton.
Where were the Old Bailey courtroom scenes filmed?
The final episode takes us into the most famous courtroom in the country. According to Winch, A Very English Scandal was actually the first show ever to be given permission to film in Court One of the Old Bailey – but producers had to regretfully decline. The powers-that-be were only able to give them one Sunday to get everything filmed.
Thankfully, the team was able to film in the lobby area and outside the Old Bailey’s iconic doors.
“There’s a fabulously ornate lobby within the Old Bailey where we’ll see Norman awaiting being summoned in episode three,” Winch says.“And then you see Norman coming out having given his piece in the witness box, and you see Jeremy coming out too.
“And all that takes place in this wonderfully ornate lobby area that has these most ornate paintings on the ceilings and this wonderful dome, and that’s the lobby at the Old Bailey.”
He adds: “We relocated to an old court in Kingston for the courtroom itself, as that gave us the ability to film in one place for a week, which is what we required.”
A Very English Scandal airs on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news