Testing Testing

On Sunday I met Mark Wilson outside Snow Hill Station to walk through the testing stage of his guided tour for the festival. On Location visits the sites of famous TV and film locations around the city. Some are set in Birmingham, others merely using the city as a backdrop for somewhere else… and, tantalisingly, sometimes leaving evidence behind.

I assembled a small group of people to give the tour some volume, amongst them James Kennedy (who will be blogging about the festival) and Euan Ferguson (up from London to cover the Birmingham tourist experience for Time Out). We set off into a wintery Birmingham to be shown Mark’s discoveries. Mark is pretty much obsessed with BBC’s “sitcon” Hustle, which drew to a conclusion last week, and had followed filming around the city over the last few months via a network of Twitter based Hustle spotters.

I first met Mark a year ago on one of my own tours: Invisible Cinema for last year’s Flatpack Festival visited forgotten cinemas around the city. Mark took some great photos on the tour and linked me to them on Flickr. Checking his other pictures, it was clear that Mark had a great interest in Birmingham history.

I heard from him again a few weeks later: he’d done some thorough research into Birmingham TV and film locations recently, but how could he go about giving a guided tour of his own? What was the platform for doing that? It so happened that I was in the early stages of developing my own festival of guided walks and was keen to give him that opportunity.

Some months on, the tour was just about ready to be tested. And it was a complete success! We learnt many of the tricks of the industry for setting a scene, and how a TV programme is often a collage of locations. If you know the city, there can be a jarring moment when the drama unfolds under an improbable route: witness Cliff Richard’s short musical stroll from Victoria Square to Gas Street Basin in Take Me High, which seems to take in every Birmingham landmark over a mile radius. And, like an Alfred Hitchcock cameo, Mark himself somehow seemed to regularly be on the scene of filming. By the end it was too cold for Mark to even turn the pages of his notes so we found shelter with a hot drink at IKON gallery. Find out exactly what is on the tour by going on it yourself on Sunday 18 March (part of a joint Flatpack / Still Walking venture).

Euan liked it too – though I’d been clear about the tour still being in development. Well done Mark: your first ever guided tour and it’s being covered by Time Out!