Words Peter West
Illustrations Lucy Bayliss
Over the years, location scouts, producers and directors have flocked to Fitzrovia to make use of its buildings and streets in a variety of films and TV programmes. Here’s a look at some of those productions. As a prime example of a beautiful Georgian space, Fitzroy Square has attracted many film crews keen to use its authentic locales for historical dramas and period pieces. The BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (2009) filmed extensively in the square, while 3 Fitzroy Square was the home of Vanessa Redgrave who took the title role in Mrs Dalloway (1997). The interiors of 6 Fitzroy Square served in the BBC pre-Raphaelite drama, Desperate Romantics (2009) and again in Vanity Fair (2004), a version of Thackeray’s novel starring Reece Witherspoon.
Fitzroy Square has also popped up in later time periods such as the pre- and post-WW2 drama The Heart of Me (2003), as well as the BAFTA-winning Vera Drake (2004), the story of an illegal abortionist set in the 1950s, with Imelda Staunton in the eponymous role. More than one filmmaker decided that 33 Portland Place had the right look for an office. It served as Lionel Logue’s office in The King’s Speech (2010) and as the office of Peter Sellers’ agent in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).
“Sherlock Holmes’ Adventures in Fitzrovia” isn’t the title of a Conan Doyle book, but the area has been used in two films about the great detective: Robert Downey Jr starred in Sherlock Holmes (2009), where scenes were shot in Bedford Square, while the BBC’s Sherlock (2011) filmed a night scene in Whitfield Street for the episode entitled ‘The Reichenbach Fall’. Fitzrovia has caught the eye of horror filmmakers: The Mummy Returns (2001) was filmed in and around UCL, while a city worker met a grizzly end at Tottenham Court Road tube station in An American Werewolf in London (1981).
But, perhaps the most famous – or infamous – horror film that featured Fitzrovia was Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which used the Newman Arms, Newman Passage and Rathbone Place as locations. This thriller/horror film, directed by Michael Powell, told the story of a serial killer who captured his victims’ dying expressions of terror on camera. The film was highly controversial when released but was later hailed as a masterpiece. Another controversy-later-acknowledged masterpiece was Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Curiously, he used Berners Street as a stand-in for Greenwich Village.
Fitzrovian restaurants have featured in films. Hugh Grant tells a girlfriend it’s all over at Hakkasan in Hanway Place in About a Boy (2002). Gwyneth Paltrow both worked and drank at Bertorelli’s on Charlotte Street in the rom-com Sliding Doors (1998). Charlotte Street has appeared in a variety of films including Sapphire (1959), a British crime drama about racial tension, Mike Leigh’s film Naked (1983), and Smashing Time (1967), where Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave, two Northern girls in London strolled down the street after a party. Night rain scenes were filmed where Charlotte Street intersects with Percy Street in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971).
Beatlemania was in full swing in 1964 so a Beatles’ film made sense both commercially and as a reward for their dedicated fans. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the ‘Fab Four’ ran down Charlotte Street and ended up in the Scala Theatre, where they played a concert. Sadly the theatre no longer exists – it was damaged by fire and later demolished in 1969. Fitzrovia’s largest landmark is the BT Tower. This prominent building has figured in a number of films such as Bedazzled (1967), a British comedy starring Dudley Moore, with Peter Cook as the Devil; Sebastian (1968), where Dirk Bogarde and Susannah York sipped tea in the then-rotating restaurant at the top of the tower. An episode of The New Avengers (1976) showed Garth Hunt and Patrick Macnee (AKA Gambit and Steed) looking out over a deserted London from the 34th floor of the tower. In the War Machines (1966), the original Dr Who, William Hartnell, landed the TARDIS near the BT Tower in Fitzroy Square.
But perhaps the most famous appearance of the BT Tower was not actually the tower at all. Rather, it was a model. It appeared in an episode of the popular British comedy TV series, The Goodies (1971), which starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie: entitled ‘Kitten Kong’, the episode centres on a white fluffy kitten called Twinkles who grows to an extraordinary size after being fed some super-growth food. The shot of the kitten scaling the BT Tower was forever etched on all who saw the episode in the 1970s. You’ll find it on YouTube.