Turnstone, by John Maiden, Tuesday, April 25

Alec Guinness Barnacle Bill
Alec Guinness Barnacle Bill

Poet and tutor, Sue Burge was the speaker at the April meeting of Hunstanton & District Civic Society.

Her subject was films shot on location in Norfolk. She also highlighted the cost incurred when certain locations are transformed for period extravaganzas, such as “Revolution”, which saw parts of King’s Lynn turned into 18th Century New York.

Sue explained that Lynn has been a popular location because the character and appearance of several streets and buildings have been so well preserved.

Not only did they serve the purpose in 1985 for “Revolution”, they did equally well in 1943 when Lynn became part of Holland during the Nazi occupation for filming “The Silver Fleet”.

Unfortunately, Hunstanton’s character has been steadily eroded ever since it was chosen as the perfect location for “Barnacle Bill” sixty years ago.

This film was the last in the series of famous Ealing Comedies.

But it was no laughing matter for the director to find that work was already well underway, on a characterless extension over the promenade, when filming began on the pier in the spring of 1957.

It was for this reason that Alec Guinness had to ascend an improvised flight of steps from the promenade in order get onto the pier.

Permission had been granted for this sideways extension by the Urban District Council, on the condition that its curved asbestos roof would be no higher than the original Victorian entrance, which was not replaced by a tasteless two-story “brutalist” structure until 1963.

When it came to filming: “All The King’s Men” in 1999, it was not only the Norfolk accents that were unacceptable, but also Hunstanton as a location, because the town had failed to retain its First World War appearance.

When the men from the Sandringham estate enjoyed a trip to Hunstanton before going to war, the actors had to be filmed on Cromer Pier, because it had retained its Edwardian character and appearance.

As an alternative to shooting movies on location, Sue explained how Alfred Hitchcock had built an enormous set in order to film “Rear Window” without leaving the studio.

This information came as a surprise to me, because nearly twenty years ago I had stayed at the York Hotel in San Francisco, which I thought had been the location for “Rear window”.

It was only later that I remembered it was “Vertigo” that was filmed at the York Hotel.

I do not suffer from vertigo, but this was clearly a case of amnesia.

In spite of this, there can be no doubt that my favourite Hitchcock movie of all time has to be “North by Northwest”, even if Cary Grant was in a studio when he was supposed to be on Mount Rushmore!

Never mind, as I told Sue afterwards, the most vivid memory from her talk, is that for “The Silver Fleet”, Gestapo Headquarters was located in the town hall, which is now home to West Norfolk Council.

Need I say more?