The Harry Potter phenomenon

Improved literacy, a boost to the UK film industry, more tourism – it's all down to the boy wizard

Kate Youde
Sunday 03 July 2011 00:00 BST

Boarding schools

During term-time, Harry lives and learns his magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, said the image the films presented of boarding schools – the "sense of community, activity and excitement" – was helpful. Shots of children dining together, their friendships and the "opportunities for excitement and learning" were positive, he added. While boarding numbers at Independent Schools Council schools were up this year, overall numbers have fallen since 1997.


The £3.6bn-grossing films were all made in the UK, allowing for investment in and development of expertise and capacity. According to Gaynor Davenport, chief executive of the UK Screen Association, our visual effects industry quadrupled between the late 1990s and 2004 and is now a world leader. William Sargent, chief executive of visual effects studio Framestore, which worked on the Potter films, said that they acted as a "showcase" and persuaded Hollywood to consider the UK. He estimates between 20 and 50 per cent of visual effects Oscar nominations are now for British companies.


Sarah De Zoysa, schools manager at National Literacy Trust, said: "The Harry Potter books have been great for literacy in the UK as so many children have loved reading them." They have also got children reading longer books – some of the titles stretch to 800 pages. According to Public Lending Right, which collects loans data for public libraries, at least one of J K Rowling's books has made the annual top 10 most borrowed children's fiction titles list every year since 1999/2000. Loans of her titles topped more than 500,000 in 2005/06 alone.


The success of Harry Potter illustrated that children's publishing could be lucrative and created a market for other series, such as Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight vampire phenomenon. "They wouldn't have been as successful as they were if Harry Potter hadn't blazed that trail," said Jon Howells, spokesman for Waterstone's. "It forced publishers to start marketing children's books in a much more dynamic way." Rowling is launching the Pottermore website in October to sell Harry Potter ebooks.


Jack Delvin, president of the Magic Circle, said Harry Potter brought magic to a new audience. However, other influences – such as television shows, theatre performances and magicians at parties – are also piquing the interest of people young and old. Marvin Berglas, creator of Marvin's Magic, which has a range of magic products and is enjoying "record sales", said the brand saw a "great deal of interest" following the first Potter books and films. Membership of Marvin's Magic Club has trebled since 1997, and Marvin's Magic School launches classes in London later this month.


You name it, you can probably get a Harry Potter-themed version. The brand has teamed up with licensees on everything from wands to animatronics. Yesterday, Warner Bros Consumer Products launched a display of branded merchandise from toy companies Tomy and Lego, and video games developer EA Games at the London Film Museum. Fans were able to dress up in official costumes from Rubies, Noble and Lochaven for a photo in front of a Hogwarts background. The products are on display with film props until the end of the year.


Harry Potter fans are no strangers to "set jetting" – visiting film locations. King's Cross station in London welcomes coach loads of tourists keen to have their picture taken at Platform 93/4 – the portal to the magical world. Network Rail installed a mock-up sign for the fictional platform – complete with luggage trolley disappearing into the wall – in 2003. Graham Heard, general manager of the National Trust's Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, said visitor numbers "definitely went up" after the abbey and cloisters featured in the first two films, and "lots and lots of people" still came to see parts of "Hogwarts".


Emma Watson, who plays the bookworm Hermione Granger, is a fashion icon off screen and has modelled for Burberry. Yet fans have also taken inspiration from the bespectacled Harry: Optical Express saw a "huge spike of interest" in round-framed glasses from its children's range in December 2001 after the release of the first film. A "notable high" in sales of round-framed adult glasses followed when the second film came out in 2002. Glasses Direct has witnessed "steady growth" in sales of a frame style similar to that worn by Harry.

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