Torquay: the horrible truth
An ordinary street corner in Devon? Look again. TV sitcom locations are everywhere in London.
Saturday 28 August 1999
You've seen the clip: Basil Fawlty jumps out of his broken-down Austin 1100, shaking his fist and shouting oaths at the top of his voice. He looks maniacally around, before scuttling out of shot. There is an expectant pause, and then he rushes back wielding a tree branch with which he proceeds to thrash his car to within an inch of its life.
For better or worse, this Fawlty Towers moment (from the 1975 episode "Gourmet Night") is etched on the nation's psyche - the most repeated, and one of the funniest, scenes in British sitcom history. But does anyone have the faintest idea where it was filmed? As a sitcom devotee, it is my duty to bring to light these neglected sites, and to guide the novice location-seeker around some of London's finest sitcom landmarks.
And where better to start our tour than with Fawlty Towers itself? Despite the series being set in Torquay, the car-thrashing scene was filmed in north London, on the corner of Lapstone Gardens and Mentmore Close in Kenton. Twenty-four years on, it's largely unchanged, and if the local council had any sense, they'd put up a plaque.
Nearby are two other Fawlty Towers locations. From the same episode, Basil collects a cooked duck for his hotel guests from the fictional Andres Restaurant on Preston Road (now a Chinese restaurant called Wings), a stone's throw from where he abused his car. And close by is Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, in which Sybil is having her ingrown toenail removed in that oft-repeated (and rather overrated) episode "The Germans".
Two stops along the Metropolitan line and you come to Pinner. This was where the fictional solicitor's office of Semple, Callendar and Henty was based, as featured in May to December. This age-gap comedy featured a PE teacher called Zoe Angall (played by Eve Matheson and then Lesley Dunlop), who taught at nearby Whitmore High School on Lascelles Avenue, Harrow.
Moving into central London, fashionable Holland Park played host to the pilot episode of You Rang, M'Lord?. A large house on Holland Park Avenue featured as Lord Meldrum's stately pile, but was subsequently replaced in the four seasons that followed by a fake frontage in Norfolk. Nearby, Hammersmith provided rather more seedy settings for Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson's bad-bachelors sitcom, Bottom. Around the corner, a flat in Earls Court was the location for Man About the House and, a decade earlier, Marriage Lines. An offshoot of the former, Robin's Nest, featured a bistro of that name in Notting Hill.
To the East End now, and Bethnal Green was the scene of time-travelling sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart. Duckets Passage, the alley in which Gary Sparrow returns to the 1940s, is Ezra Street, off Columbia Road. The exterior of Blitz and Pieces, Gary's wartime memorabilia shop, was shot on Old Street. The Royal Oak, the series' pub, was played by the bona fide Royal Oak pub on Columbia Road. For the most recent series, however, the locations were recreated at Shepperton Studios.
It's common knowledge that Only Fools and Horses used Bristol as its main location, but it wasn't always like that - before crowds grew too large to make filming unfeasible, Harlech Tower on Park Road East, Acton, used to double as Nelson Mandela House. When Del meets his wife-to-be, Raquel, on a blind date, it is at one of London's most famous rendezvous points - under the clock in Waterloo station. Later in the series, Damien Trotter's christening was filmed at two London churches - St John's, Ladbroke Grove, for the interior, and St John's, Kentish Town, for the exterior. Later still, Sotheby's in New Bond Street played host to the triumphal scene where the Trotters finally become the millionaires they'd always aspired to be.
Suburban London features in countless sitcoms. Probably the most famous is The Good Life, which was set in the leafy suburbs of Surbiton, south London, but was actually filmed in Middlesex. Kewferry Road in Northwood stood in for The Avenue, Surbiton. The producer was lucky enough to find a rundown house for the rustic Tom and Barbara Good, and a smart one next door as a home for the upwardly mobile Leadbetters.
A 1960s shopping centre (called, oddly enough, The Centre) in Walton- on-Thames was the venue for Is it Legal?, while Terry and June and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin were both set in Purley. Men Behaving Badly had two film locations: the front of their house was in Ellerton Road, Surbiton, while their back garden was a more unkempt version in Eaton Rise, five minutes' walk from the BBC Television Film Studios in Ealing.
Let's not forget the wonderful Porridge, featuring Ronnie Barker as a crook from Muswell Hill. Because of the nature of the series, little was seen outside the environs of Slade Prison, except for one episode when Fletcher returns home (on false pretences, naturally). He is escorted by a policeman from Fortis Green Road police station, and down Fortis Green Avenue. More of his Muswell Hill residence is seen in Going Straight, the inferior sequel. On the other side of Alexandra Park, you will find a bus depot in Wood Green that was the home of Reg Varney in On the Buses, a sitcom so good it was rejected by the BBC.
Some writers do `ave `em - fictional sitcom addresses in London: George and Mildred George and Mildred Roper, 46 Peacock Crescent, Hampton Wick; Sykes Eric & Hattie Sykes, 28 Sebastopol Terrace, East Acton; Up the Elephant and Round the Castle Jim London, 17 Railway Terrace, Elephant & Castle; Steptoe and Son Albert & Harold Steptoe, Mews Cottage, Oil Drum Lane, Shepherd's Bush; Man About the House Robin Tripp, Chrissy & Jo, 6 Myddleton Terrace, Earls Court
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