Sitting it out in the servants' quarters

Pride and Prejudice starts on television on Sunday but a Wiltshire village has been living with it for months writes Decca Aitkenhead
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an elderly lady in possession of a grand house is in want of a fortune.

When Angela Horn settles down on Sunday night to watch the first episode of Pride and Prejudice, the BBC's latest blockbuster costume drama, she will have the strange sensation of viewing the very room she is sitting in. Stranger still, she may not even recognise it. For Mrs Horn's home, in the world of television, is the Bennets' 18th-century abode. When the film crew took over last year, she was relegated to the servants' quarters, and another rural retreat was pitched into chaos and the limelight in the name of classic drama.

The costs of maintaining a stately home are huge; the rewards for inviting in a BBC costume drama are handsome, as Mrs Horn discovered when a location manager came knocking on the door of Luckington Court in Wiltshire in January 1994.

"They made me a very fair offer and, as the roof needed re-tiling, I thought this is the answer to a maiden's prayer. I said yes, I'd be delighted to have you in," Mrs Horn recalls. For five months, actors, camera crews, catering teams and make-up trailers swarmed over her Queen Anne mansion, clothing every hint of the 20th century with Austenian authenticity.

"The whole experience was great fun. Really, I've never enjoyed myself more. The actors were young and charming, and the house looked delightful - everything in the 1700s was so beautiful. Lots of people said it was awfully sporting of me to have them in, but the book is so nice that even a great-grandmother like me could approve.

"I do miss the crew terribly. I was most upset when they all left - they felt like family. But it will be great fun to watch it on television - I get very tired of all that interminable blood, sex and thunder. Thank God, for Jane Austen, I say."

Not every encounter between impatient film crews and landed gentry is this successful. Anna Weber, who runs Lavish Locations, an agency which links up film producers and historic houses, says: "It's like having a non-stop party in your house, except everyone's a gatecrasher. We've lost a few properties from our books through crews hacking about. One crew hacked down a priceless Jacobean chandelier because it was in the eye of the director. That's very rare: more often, the problem's with the neighbours.

"I was on a shoot once and the next-door neighbour insisted on playing deafening heavy metal music. In the end, we shut him up with pounds 100, but then word went round the street that he'd got pounds 100, so they all started playing heavy metal."

There are 8,000 houses on Lavish Location's books, commanding fees of up to pounds 14,000 a day. "I'm getting more and more every day, mainly because of the collapse at Lloyd's," explains Ms Weber. "I even have some royal houses."

Pride and Prejudice was filmed at several locations. The National Trust village of Lacock was selected for the town of Meryton, and for eight days last October the Wiltshire village was overrun.

As the location manager, Sam Breckton had the task of smoothing things over with local people. "Finding the location is just the beginning," he says. "You need to spend a lot of time looking after people, otherwise you're in real trouble."

The then landlord of the Red Lion, Roger Ling, admits he was anxious before the crew arrived, "but it's not every day you see a film crew in action, is it? And they all cleaned up after themselves. I think most of the village would be glad to have cameras here for ever."

The pay-off for the village could be enormous. Any disgruntled Lacock locals need look no farther than Stamford, in Lincolnshire, to see the dividends of a few days' disruption.

"Middlemarch was filmed here two years ago, and we still get tourists turning up from all over the world because of it," says local tourism director John Slater. "We've put together a Middlemarch tourism campaign, and we did a very brisk trade indeed in Middlemarch souvenirs last summer."

Mr Slater travelled to New York following the serial's screening in the US to deal with the surge of American interest in Stamford.

Pride and Prejudice began boosting Lacock's tourism long ago. "It was amazing how many people had already heard about the filming," recalls Mr Ling, "and came to see for themselves." Well over 20 years after Doctor Dolittle was shot in nearby Castle Combe, the village still draws fans of the classic film.

Luckington Court will star in Pride and Prejudice, but not its owner. "I was offered a part as an extra," explains Mrs Horn. "But I'm very fussy these days about being photographed. I don't mind as long as I hide under a hat, but otherwise I rather look my age." And this weekend, so will her home.