Come to sitcom country, in old Budapest

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The Independent Online
So anyway, a year or two back I visited Craigmillar Castle on the southern edge of Edinburgh with my nine-year-old son, and I was impressed by the tumbledown air of faded history, though my son wasn't. "Come on, Dad, let's go - this is BORING!" was his only comment.

What neither of us knew was that Craigmillar Castle was soon to be used as a location for the filming of Ivanhoe, and would be featured for that reason in a Radio Times "Holiday 97" supplement ("Come to Ivanhoe Country!"). If we had known, it would have made all the difference. We would have steered clear and gone somewhere else, he because he has no idea who Ivanhoe was, and I because I can't see the point of visiting the-place- where-the-programme-was-made and would like to avoid those who do.

I must be in a minority. About once a fortnight I come across articles featuring Avoca, the Irish village in which Ballykissangel is filmed, and I can only assume from the frequency of these articles that people do actually go to Avoca to see the place where Ballykissangel is filmed. I myself have never seen the TV sitcom Ballykissangel, though I know by now that is yet another of these programmes to the glory of Irish rural life and the endearing nature of old Irish priests (which never seems quite to fit in with the real-life image of Irish rural life being wet, poor and miserable and Irish priests being given to sexual misadventures on such a grand scale that not even the publicity machine of the Irish Catholic Church can cover them up), and I even know by now that Fitzgerald's Bar in the programme is actually called the Fountain Bar in real life, and I truly marvel that such is the power of TV that a) people go to Avoca to see where it was done; b) I cannot prevent myself learning all this useless background info.

Another village which used to be in the news a lot is the one used for Last of the Summer Wine, but that must be so well-known that it isn't worth mentioning any more. Certainly, the Radio Times supplement skates over it and prefers to offer Travel Tip articles on "Rebecca Country", "Cadfael Country" and "Wildfell Hall Country". From these you learn that although Rebecca was set by Daphne du Maurier in Cornwall, it filmed in South Devon and Hampshire. You can buy The Making of Rebecca from Andre Deutsch for pounds 12.99 if you want the full details, but the detail that sticks in my mind is that the part of Manderley was played by Rotherfield Park in Hampshire. So where IS "Rebecca Country"? Not Cornwall, that's for sure.

And what about "Wildfell Hall Country"? "West Yorkshire is the dramatic setting for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte's classic novel," says the Radio Times, and then goes on to say without embarrassment that West Yorkshire is never seen on screen, as it was filmed entirely in Lancashire, Oxfordshire and Cumbria. Worse is to come in "Cadfael Country", because the ITV series Cadfael, about the medieval detective monk at Shrewsbury Abbey, "was filmed entirely on location in and around Budapest".

So if you board a coach promising you a few days in "Cadfael Country" you will logically find yourself driving across Europe to Hungary's capital, a place which has nothing in common with the monastic life of Shropshire except that bits of it look like bits of Shropshire. And you will find yourself mingling with coachloads of people who have come to see "Maigret Country", for it was in Budapest that the watchable Maigret series featuring Michael Gambon was made, which means that in the mad logic of TV tourism, "Cadfael Country" and "Maigret Country" are exactly the same place.

As a postscript to this ridiculous business, I should like to mention that last December I floated the idea of setting a TV sitcom in a fictional Cotswold village which was perpetually being used as a location for films. I even invented a character, the Retired Colonel, who spent half his time inveighing against the film companies and the other half taking as much money from them as possible.

Not long afterwards, I had a call from a local company which actually fixes film location work in the vicinity.

"Enjoyed the piece," said a lady's voice, "but how on earth did you know the Colonel?"

"The Colonel?" I said. "I made him up."

"Oh no you didn't," she said. "We know him well. He lives at ..." She named a well-known village. "We are always having run-ins with him. He is exactly as you describe."

So there we have it. A new TV sitcom, just waiting for someone to commission me, set in the Cotswolds. Though I don't think we'd actually film it in the Cotswolds. I like the sound of Budapest better.

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