TV locations to star in UK tourism push

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EVERYONE SEEMS to know the fairytale success story of the Crown Hotel at Amersham after the release of the equally fairytale film, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

More specifically they know about the Elizabeth I Suite, next to the courtyard, where Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell spent a night of passion in the four-poster bed.

Things at the Buckinghamshire hotel have never been the same since.

"Ever since the film we have been inundated with couples who want to spend the night in that room. The suite is currently booked up for the rest of the year," the rooms manager, Catherine Rice, said yesterday.

From Carnforth Station in Lancashire, where Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson looked wistful in Brief Encounter, to Sleddale Hall near Penrith where the cast of Withnail and I camped it up, appearing in a film can have a tremendous effect on a location's wider appeal.

Yesterday the Government recognised the importance of such stardom when it revealed a 15-point plan to boost Britain's tourism industry. Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture announced that, as part of a "Tomorrow's Tourism" initiative, locations and attractions linked to films and television series will receive special government backing.

The list of locations that have become famous for featuring as fictitious places is almost endless. Goathland in North Yorkshire is perhaps more glamorously known as the home of TV series Heartbeat, while the tiny Scottish village of Pennan was the setting for Bill Forsyth's 1983 film Local Hero.

Meanwhile, the cob at Lyme Regis played itself in The French Lieutenant's Woman, and no one made any attempt to disguise Sheffield in The Full Monty. Grimethorpe near Barnsley starred as Grimley in the film Brassed Off, the stars of which - including Ewan McGregor - remain in touch with the community.

"They were great and the film created a lot of interest," said Andy Kershaw, a co- ordinator at the town's local resource centre.

Jo Lesley, spokeswoman for the British Tourist Authority (BTA) said yesterday: "An awful lot of overseas visitors only learn about Britain through what they see in films and on television.

"At our calls centre in New York last year we took 400,000 calls. The second most popular location - after England - was Scotland and more than a third of those callers said they wanted to visit because they had seen either Rob Roy or Braveheart."

Saltram House in Devon, the Dashwood home in Sense and Sensibility, has seen a 57 per cent rise in visitors since the film was released in 1995 and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, used in Mrs Brown, has seen a 25 per cent increase since the film came out.

The Travel Bookshop in west London has seen a surge of interest after its inspiration for the bookshop in the yet to be released film Notting Hill, also starring Hugh Grant.

"We have had lots of people coming in here asking about the film," said the manager, Jim Blackburn. "I expect once the film is released there will be a lot more. We are not going to be shy about it."

Tourism is Britain's single biggest invisible export and last year directly earned the country pounds 12.7bn with a total value to the economy of more than pounds 50bn. In all 25.7 million people visited from overseas. The BTA hopes that by next year the numbers will have risen to 27.5 million, bringing in directly a total of pounds 14.7bn.

As part of this drive Mr Smith announced yesterday the setting up of a new body that will co-ordinate the regional authorities. These will be supported by the Government, especially in the regeneration of traditional resorts that have declined as a result of cheap holidays abroad.

Mr Smith said: "Tourism is one of our most important industries. It has the potential to create even more jobs, generate more wealth and help rejuvenate rundown areas. To maximise tourism's contribution to the economy and to our vision for Britain we need to work with the industry to an agreed plan."

Other initiatives will include a unified grading system for accommodation, designed to make it easier for visitors to choose where to stay as well as promoting better standards within the hotel trade.

Mr Smith said: "Visitors to Britain give us high marks for our heritage but not so high marks for the quality and value for money of accommodation."

The grading will award stars and be partly administered by the AA and RAC, who run their own hotel awards schemes.