From the east coast to the big screen
PUBLISHED: 10:37 20 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:37 20 November 2015
THE recent ballyhoo and hype about Spectre, the latest film featuring secret agent James Bond and his “licence to kill”, might well have jogged the memories of a few Yarmouthians who, like Mrs Peggotty and me, can claim a link – albeit tenuous - with the indestructible hero.
In 1981 one of our sons was an apprentice at OSEL on the Harfrey’s industrial estate when the Mantis, a small submersible designed and built there, was featured in For Your Eyes Only, starring Roger Moore. In the film Bond is in a mini-submarine seeking a top-secret piece of equipment in a sunken ship when he is attacked by the baddie-operated Mantis.
For the filming in the Pinewood Studios tank, the £250,000 Mantis was piloted by OSEL technical director Graham Hawkes accompanied by submersibles manager Fred Border. Four OSEL executives attended the world premiere in London while their employees and some customers had a private screening at the Yarmouth seafront Cinema One (ex-Royal Aquarium) before being entertained to lunch.
East Norfolk’s biggest starring location was in 1976 when scenes for a Hollywood blockbuster which scooped several Oscars were filmed on the shore at Winterton, doubling as America’s rich summer playground Cape Cod in the 1930s. Director Fred Zinnemann ruled out Cape Cod itself because commercial development had changed it beyond recognition.
Jane Fonda and Jason Robards were in Norfolk for shooting on a set including a specially-built water’s-edge bungalow with movable internal walls so cameras could track the actors. A-top the dunes were a church, barn and other buildings – all shored-up and one-dimensional.
By coincidence, my recent feature about the long-established Queen’s Hotel in its prime Yarmouth sea-front location also ties into today’s cinemas saga because some of the principals involved in the making of a 1926 melodrama, The Rolling Road, stayed there during location filming. The production crew was billeted throughout the town. Some local folk were recruited as extras.
Also coincidentally, regular correspondent Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, recently asked me if I knew anything about a film made in Yarmouth in 1926 called The Rolling Road because a picture was on sale on the eBay computer site “depicting a man carrying a lady on Yarmouth beach from the film.”
Peter said his friend, Parry Watson, has a photograph of the sailing vessel used in the film moored near the Fishwharf. Peter looked the movie up on the internet “and there is no mention of Yarmouth, the film being made down in the south-west somewhere. A real mystery!”
Down the intervening nine decades reports and speculation about the shooting of this film in Yarmouth have become blurred and distorted, and apparently no mention of the film could be found in the various cinema reference books. Today, perhaps I can help to put the record straight.
According to the late photographer Clifford Temple’s 1993 book of some of his variety of Yarmouth area pictures: “Among the many incidents to be filmed was the rescue of the heroine, Flora le Breton, from the sea by the hero, Carlyle Blackwell. However, the October sea proved too cold for Flora, clad in the first ‘bikini’ – two pieces of her dress – to be seen in Great Yarmouth. She had to be rescued in real life when she lost consciousness in the freezing water.”
It is Mr Temple’s shot of the heroine being carried up the beach that is available to buy on eBay, and is one of my illustrations today.
He told a previous Peggotty years ago that when the film was given an early screening at our Regent Cinema to acknowledge the borough’s help and co-operation during location filming, “the audience was amazed to see the golden sands of Yarmouth adorned with tropical palm trees.”
I located The Rolling Road on an internet search facility which produced information that the male star, stage and screen actor and producer Carlyle Blackwell, was on a ten-year visit to the UK, his first role here being action hero Bulldog Drummond.
Yarmouth beach doubling as a palm-fringed Pacific shore? According to the website, The Rolling Road was about a young woman in a Cornish fishing village with the dilemma of having to choose between suitors!
The sailing barque Shakespeare was chartered to be the renamed Gleam in the film, moving from the harbour to anchor off the Britannia Pier when necessary. But the alleged rescue of the heroine during the off-season filming had a large figurative question mark over it that probably will never been resolved. There were also claims that it was a staged publicity stunt.
Subsequent reports have suggested that when the skimpily-clad heroine actually did get into difficulties in the cold North Sea, she was saved not by the film’s hero but by Robert “Chickie” Drane, a Yarmouthian who was an acknowledged champion swimmer and lifesaver and allegedly doubled for Carlyle Blackwell in the aquatic scenes, including a dive from the rigging of the barque as part of the action.
To confuse the issue even more, another claim was that the real-life rescuer and diver from the high rigging was “Tiny” Shreeve, “a well-known Yarmouth swimmer”.
Whether it was the male star, or Chickie Drane, or Tiny Shreeve, or real or make-believe, we will never know. What is not in dispute is that Chickie’s heroism can be confirmed because in his career he was awarded no fewer than 12 Royal Humane Society medals, three clasps and nine testimonials for disregarding his own safety and well-being and rescuing poor souls in life-threatening difficulties in the waters hereabouts.
As for Walter “Tiny” Shreeve, he was a former weightlifter, wrestler, boxer and swimming coach in Norfolk.
There are folk who delight in spotting anachronisms in cinema films and television programmes set in the past. I cannot discover what period The Rolling Road was set in, but assume that the sailing ship it featured dated the plot to the 18th or 19th centuries.
Clifford Temple claimed that 20th century herring drifters could be seen steaming past in the film! Well, the Yarmouth filming was in autumn when the herring fishery would have been in full flow.