The people of Thetford are proud of their town’s place in comedy history.
Chosen as the filming location for the fictional village of Walmington-on-Sea in Dad’s Army, it was in the Norfolk town that a German pilot was filmed dangling from the bell tower of the town hall while Corporal Jones pointed a rifle at him, and where Captain Mainwaring was trampled in the rush to leave the cinema before the national anthem was played.
Now locals are angry that their status as the ‘home’ of the wartime sitcom about a hapless band of Home Guard volunteers is being stolen from them by the upstarts in Bridlington.
The Yorkshire town, which was chosen as the filming location for the new Dad’s Army movie due for release next year, this week launched a bid to be twinned with Walmington.
“We have already seen an upsurge in tourism. We have had a lot of positive comments about twinning,” said Mayor John Copsey.
The suggestion was welcomed by town crier David Hinde, who is also the spokesperson for Bridlington Old Town Association, as “a marketing tool to try to encourage economic growth in the town.”
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And Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “It’s a fun idea, and would be another great reason for visitors to come to Bridlington!”
But in Thetford, which already has a museum dedicated to the series, as well as a statue of Arthur Lowe as the original Captain Mainwaring, people are not happy.
Stuart Wright, chairman of the Dad’s Army Museum and former mayor of Thetford, said: “We are Walmington on Sea and have been since 1968. The TV series started here and the cast and crew made their home here every year for nine years.
“The thousands of fans who make their way to our museum see us as Walmington on Sea, despite being 50 miles from the coast. If any town would be twinned it would be Thetford, not Bridlington because the TV series was filmed here.”
Commenting on Bridlington’s plans to capitalise on links with Dad’s Army, he said: “I was slightly miffed that they are trying to steal our thunder. I’m sure it’s just a publicity opportunity riding on the back of the new film.”
Corinne Fulford, director of the ‘Thetford’s Great’ tourist information service, was bullish. “Thetford doesn’t need to twin with Walmington-on-Sea because we ARE Walmington-on-Sea,” she said. “There have been other films made but everyone knows that Thetford is the true home of Dad’s Army and that’s why thousands of people come here every year.”
Both towns are far from the supposed location of the hometown of Private Pike and Sergeant Wilson, which was portrayed as being somewhere on the south-east coast of England.
Bridlington can point to one advantage over Thetford, at least: it is actually by the sea. Thetford is in fact 50 miles from the coast.
The appeal of trying to twin the towns with their fictional alter ego is obvious. The original show was watched by more than 18 million viewers at the height of its popularity while being filmed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The makers of the new film, starring Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a reporter, saw its first trailer released this week, and Bridlington already claims to have seen a 134 per cent rise in bookings since filming last year.
Frank Williams, who played Reverend Timothy Farthing in the original series and is one of only two surviving members of the cast, was diplomatic to the two claims.
“The connection with Thetford is a very long standing one but I still think there’s room for somewhere else to have one too,” he said. “The idea of twinning with an imaginary place is a bit odd in a way. Maybe Bridlington should twin with Thetford.”
Whatever happens, it seems the move will not be officially recognised. Despite Wincanton in Somerset twinning with Ankh-Morpork from the bestselling Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett back in 2002, a spokesperson for the Council of European Municipalities and Regions said: “Only twinnings between two genuine European villages, towns or cities would, for obvious reasons, be likely to be supported by official bodies at national or European levels.”
Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire
Founded: The first mention of Bridlington was in the Domesday Book in 1086
Most famous building: Bridlington Priory, founded in the 12th Century
Notable residents: The film director Mark Herman was born in Bridlington, and the artist David Hockney has had a home there since 2005
Founded: The town dates back to pre-Roman times, its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Theodford
Most famous building: Thetford Priory, which dates back more than 800 years
Notable residents: The 18th century philosopher Thomas Paine (Rights of Man) and Maharajah Duleep Singh, the first Sikh to settle in BritainReuse content