Sunday 18th March 2012 – 12:00pm
Having arrived in Birmingham at 10:30am to check the reverse route back from Brindleyplace to Snow Hill was free from unexpected obstacles I got to the station starting spot a good 30 minutes before the tour was due to begin. I was joined shortly afterwards by Mr Still Walking himself, Ben and second to arrive was his festival counterpart Nikki Pugh. It was lovely to finally meet Nikki after exchanging a few emails in the planning stages of the tour. I was pleased to see them both as my tickets sales for the midday tour has been disappointing and I’d been informed that we had just one confirmed booking, so they had trebled my expected tour numbers already. As the minutes on the reflection of the Cathedral clock in the glass windows of One Colmore Row ticked backwards towards noon more people arrived and most had booking references. Once the Flatpack volunteers arrived it became clear that the ticketing system has defaulted most bookings to 2:30pm regardless of the time selected. With 14 people booked on the 2:30pm slot I hoped that things would balance out across the tours and as it approached midday we had gathered a good crowd of 12 plus the 4 festival organisers/volunteers.
Ben kicked off the tour with a brief introduction and before I knew it we were off and running, well walking anyway. Starting at Snow Hill with a couple of Hustle ‘Police Stations’, one an office block the other now a Waitrose supermarket, we went back in time with tales of 1970s Gangsters, racially charged dialogue and tension as I explained the Battle of Snow Hill scene from the BBC drama series. We continued the 1970s theme following a short stroll down Colmore Row where I shared the story of the Soap wedding of the decade. Had we tried to gather outside St Philip’s Cathedral some 37 years and a few days earlier (10th February 1975) we may have struggled to get near it as 3,000 Crossroads fans would have occupied the square to see the stars filming the wedding of Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon) to Hugh Mortimer (John Bentley) in an episode that would attract over 15 million viewers.
We headed off down Church Street, walking by the soon to reopen Grand Hotel (used in productions Toast and Dancing on the Edge), and arrived in Edmund Street. Here I gathered the group and discussed the filming of Series Two of Survivors and described some of the logistics involved in turning Birmingham into the deserted streets of post-apocalyptic Manchester. The nearby Barwick Street was next where I spoke from first hand experience about my surprise extra role in the final episode of Hustle.
At Margaret Street and the wonderful School of Art I explained how multiple locations are often cleverly edited together to fool the viewer with shots in Birmingham City Centre, Moseley and London all appearing to be in the same place when they are shown on the small screen.
Venturing into Victoria Square we found ourselves outside stand-ins for the Royal Albert Hall (Brassed Off) and the Western Bank of California (Hustle) before discovering that Cliff Richard deserved little in the way of ‘congratulations’ for his map reading skills on his route from here to Gas Street in his 1974 movie Take Me High. More Hustle tales were shared on Navigation Street, beneath the unlikely and noisy location of the Suffolk Street Queensway, and with the city ring road traffic roaring high above our heads we moved onto surely the saddest location on the tour.
At the foot of the 28 floor Alpha Tower I explained that the sorry looking, half-demolished, building behind me was once housed the most advanced TV studio facilities in Europe. It was a fact that was hard to swallow for some as they looked at the crumbling remains of the concrete structure and smashed windows. ATV Studios (later Central TV) produced many popular shows over 27 years until its closure in 1997 and I think the ones I selected to share certainly massaged the memories of those that could recall them.
Walking along Broad Street we bypassed the next planned stop, at the former Municipal Bank building, as the Saturday night drinking crowds have usually found some bladder relief beneath the ornate colonnade and the overnight rain can revitalise the rather unpleasant odours they have left behind. The Bank building holds many fictional secrets, a shop, a kitchen, a police station and even the National Bank of Syria have been located behind the grand grade II listed façade.
We were now gathered in Bridge Street at the rear of the former studios, where a couple of filming clues remain clearly visible despite it wrapping over 2 years ago. Having explained the background to the mystery wall graffiti and the odd hospital sign we headed off across the Gas Street basin, having taken a totally different route to the directionally challenged Mr Richard, to discover the location of a rare Hustle scene that was actually set in Birmingham and therefore did not have to pretend to be somewhere in the capital city. We bid farewell to Wilf Harvey’s former Crossroads home and headed towards our final location.
Stepping into the modern surroundings of Brindleyplace it was easy to see how this location could easily be passed off as central London, no wonder that Hustle have used this location extensively over the past three series to such good effect. The tour concluded with Gladiatorial games and finally the big city adventures of a little car named Brum.
The friendly crowd applauded, I thanked them for coming along and they made their way onto their next destination while we headed off for refreshments and a rest before On Location – the return journey at 2:30pm
Sunday 18th March 2012 – 2:30pm
A similar sized group gathered for the return tour journey back to Snow Hill Station and we started off on a reverse of the midday route. The only slight difference came in Victoria Square as when we arrived a large crowd holding yellow balloons had gathered by Queen Victoria. We found a new spot by the Town Hall and left them to their demonstration.
Finishing back at Snow Hill Station the appreciative ripple of applause had just faded away as the raindrops started to fall. These quickly turned into hailstones as I made my way along Colmore Row. I allowed myself a wry smile at the sudden weather change and thankful that it had held off until the very end of the tour, I ducked into the doorway of the former home of Hudson’s coffee shop while the sudden storm passed by, then down to the Mailbox for my own private tour wrap party with my wife and son.