For a relatively small geographical area, the Harrogate District offers a whole lot of landscape.
From the antique drystone walls and patchwork fields of The Dales to the rugged landmark of Almscliffe Crag, there’s a lot of countryside to walk through, climb over, and gaze on and (if you’re a sheep) graze on.
Then there’s the history. In Knaresborough and Harrogate alone you have towering railway viaducts, a ruined medieval fortress, two historic theatres, ancient spas and a magic waterfall which will turn your teddy bear to stone.
You would think Hollywood location scouts would have the region on their scopes for everything from brooding horror thrillers to romantic period dramas. So why does Harrogate never pop up on the big screen? How many films can you even think of which have scenes shot in or around the town?
Well there’s probably more than you realise and there may even be an Oscar-winner or two.
Cut to December 2018 and the cavernous glass reception area of Harrogate Convention Centre, which is now home to a unique collection of film artefacts documenting Harrogate’s starring roles.
The free exhibition features original copies of every poster of every feature film with a scene shot in or around Harrogate.
The collection belongs to local historian and former tourism promotion manager Mike Hine, a self-confessed ‘big fan of the region’.
“As and when I see that a film has been made here I try to get one of the original posters,” he said. “If it’s a film from a long time ago and the posters aren’t widely available any more than I have to go searching on line for them. But I’ve no reproductions – they are all originals.”
Probably the most renowned film in Mike’s poster collection is Chariots of Fire, the 1982 story of Olympic athletes Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. In one scene Crescent Gardens in Harrogate doubles up as a Parisian street café. The film went on to win four Oscars.
Mike’s collecting began when his experience in promoting the Harrogate district resulted in him assisting producers of the 1997 film Fairy Tale: A True Story, which was loosely based on the famous Cottingley fairies hoax. A series of photographs taken by two teenage sisters in the 1920s, fooled many at the time, including the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that the fairies captured on the photographs were real.
“If I find out in advance that a film is coming out I would contact local cinema managers and ask them to save me a copy of the poster,” he said.
“Out of the posters I’ve bought I’ve never paid more than £40 but I don’t know how much the whole collection would be worth now.”
From his 18 strong collection, which goes back to 1960, Mike’s favourite is his poster for the 1979 film Agatha, a dramatisation of the real-life disappearance of crime writer Agatha Christie, in December 1926. The creator of Poirot and Miss Marple caused intense media speculation and a huge police hunt before she turned up safely at Harrogate’s Old Swan Hotel, claiming to be suffering from amnesia.
Mike said: “That was the film shoot which spent the most time in town. They filmed a lot outside the Royal Baths and Pump Rooms and of course the Old Swan Hotel. Having big stars like Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave in town was great fun.”
Before heading off Mike tells me he believes his poster collection is complete, however, less than 24 hours later he calls to say he has learned of three more films shot in the region recently. They are The Little Stranger, based on the chilling Sarah Waters book of the same name, Funny Cow, the story of a female comedian in the clubs of 1970s northern England, and Ghost Stories a British horror starring Martin Freeman.
The fact that all three pictures were filmed in the past two years is encouraging for the region and could finally be a sign that producers are heading to Yorkshire to shoot.
It looks like Mike’s going to be busy.
The exhibition can be seen on the mezzanine level of Entrance Three (Kings Road) at Harrogate Convention Centre, during opening hours.
The list of films and locations
Paddington 2 (2017) – Nidd Gorge Viaduct
Swallows and Amazons (2016) - Plumpton Rock
Wild Child (2008) – Leathley
The History Boys (2006) – Fountains Abbey
Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997) - Ramsgill
Jane Eyre (1996) – Blubberhouses Moor
The Secret Garden (1993) – Fountains Hall and Allerton Park
Maurice (1987) - Based on the book by EM Forster, which was written in Harrogate
Wetherby (1985) – Harrogate Grammar School
Chariots of Fire (1981) Crescent Gardens
Omen III - The Final Conflict (1981) The Final Conflict (1981) – Fountains Abbey
Agatha (1979) The Old Swan Hotel, The Pump Rooms
Black Jack (1979) North Stainley Hall
The Water Babies (1978) Denton Hall near Ilkley
Escape from the Dark (1976) Ripley Castle and Greenhow Hill
Jane Eyre (1970) - Blubberhouses Moor
Wuthering Heights (1970) Ripley