London’s iconic skyline and famous landmarks have been the stars of the movies and television almost from the first moment cameras rolled. The city is unique, juxtaposing atmospheric alleyways, royal palaces and Dickensian streets with thoroughly modern skyscrapers, converted warehouse buildings and street markets, making it a director’s dream – and all best seen on foot.
In fact, London could be described as the home of TV: it was on Frith Street in Soho that, from his attic room workshop, inventor John Logie Baird, gave the first television broadcast on 26 January 1926. In recent times crime thrillers from Spooks to the latest series of Silent Witness have been filmed all across the city. The BBC mini-series, Little Dorrit, recreated Venice at Hampton Court, floating a gondola into Clock Court, while the palace’s Tudor kitchens doubled as the debtors’ prison, Marshalsea.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew starred in David Attenborough’s series Kingdom of Plants. Even the sleepier suburbs of London get screen time: Wimbledon, home to the 1970s children’s favourite, The Wombles and a certain well-known tennis tournament, has even starred in a racy romcom – titled Wimbledon. Wandsworth gets one over its posher neighbour Chiswick by providing the exterior shots for family sitcom Outnumbered.
The world’s longest-running science fiction television series, Doctor Who, has been fighting Daleks on London’s streets ever since their encounter in Trafalgar Square in 1964. Alfred Hitchcock is credited with starting the trend for using London’s iconic buildings in spy thrillers with his 1929 film Blackmail, partly shot on the city streets. Other landmarks have followed suit: Buckingham Palace looked suitably regal in the Bond spoof in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony – a scene inspired by the Bond film Die Another Day (2002), when billionaire Gustav Graves parachutes into the Palace to receive his knighthood. Tower Bridge features in Mission Impossible, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Da Vinci Code and Young Sherlock Holmes.
The foggy, lamp-lit streets of London evoke more than enough atmosphere for period dramatisations from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech and the TV epic Parade’s End. Tucked away behind the bustle of Brick Lane is a perfectly preserved network of Georgian streets. Princelet Street recently starred in Daniel Radcliffe’s scary movie The Woman in Black; Ralph Fiennes’s forthcoming The Invisible Woman, and TV’s Ruby in the Smoke, with Billie Piper as the feisty detective Sally Lockhart.
Another venerable location is the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich. The productions that have filmed here rival an Oscar nomination roll call. Most recently, the epic Les Misérables, used Greenwich as the dramatic setting for the barricades of revolutionary Paris, as did Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in its thrilling opening sequence where Jack Sparrow stands astride racing carriages. The Iron Lady, Gulliver’s Travels and the Sherlock Holmes movies also rolled the cameras here. Wren’s baroque chapel was the scene of Bernard and Lydia’s wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral, with a stuttering Rowan Atkinson as the nervous vicar.
Go North: famous shoots the length and breadth of Britain
You could travel the length and breadth of Britain location spotting. Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s Express steamed along Scotland’s West Highland Railway, while Ardverikie House near Fort William was the royal retreat in Mrs Brown, starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria. Another stately Scottish estate, Pollok Country Park, starred in legal drama Garrow’s Law, and pretty Tobermory on the Isle of Mull was transformed into Balamory for the children’s series. Hopetown House in Edinburgh featured in the bio-drama Young James Herriot.
Heading south, visit Nora Batty’s cosy cottage from Last of the Summer Wine at Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, and call in to see the dreaming spires of Oxford (Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour). Then there’s Highclere Castle near Newbury (Downton Abbey); splendid Stoke Park outside Windsor (Midsomer Murders, Bridget Jones’s Diary) and stunning Wiltshire village of Lacock for a stroll around the lanes of Cranford.
The BBC’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’s The Hound of the Baskervilles was filmed on Dartmoor – though don’t try and stay in the pub (it’s in Wales). You can book Blackpool Mill Cottage near Bideford, however – transformed into Barton Cottage in another TV adaptation: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. For sea, salt and spray, head to quaint Port Isaac in Cornwall, and a touch of just what Doc Martin ordered.
Harry Potter Locations
London features prominently in the world of Harry Potter. Head to King’s Cross to see a half a luggage trolley poking out of the wall at Platform 9 3 /4, or to the Reptile House at London Zoo, where the young wizard first spoke parseltongue. Pop into the Exhibition Hall at Australia House in Aldwych, where the goblins counted their gold at Gringott’s Bank, and explore Diagon Alley — in real life the Victorian splendour of Leadenhall Market.
One of the best-loved soaps is famously set in the East End. But in fact, there is no such borough as Walford, and Albert Square was modelled on Fasset Square in Dalston. In a case of life imitating art, the series’ fictitious E20 postcode has become a reality: it belongs the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.