The 2020 English Riviera Film Festival introduces 'Torbay in the Movies'

Film Festival
(Last Updated On: November 18, 2020)

The English Riviera Film Festival returns for its sixth year with a host of events and screenings online from the 23rd to the 28th Of November 2020.

One of the leading celebrations of new film making in the south west returns on Saturday November 28th 2020 for the Internationally Recognised English Riviera Film Festival Awards.

Here’s the trailer for the Festival:

The audience will be able to watch the best of this year’s international short film submissions and enjoy the live online announcements and presentation of the awards across 11 categories, including, for the first time, the Best Documentary category, a recognition of the wealth and quality of factual films submitted in previous years, and Best Make. More information on the Festival can be found at:

The Cast and Crew of ‘The Ballad of Lucy Sands’, one of the largest independent Film Productions to come to the South West for a long time, will also are interviewed:

And as part of the Festival, here’s:

The Movies of Torbay

Torbay was on the way to becoming the British Hollywood, a northern European Cannes. We had the exotic-looking locations and the natural light – crucial for outside filming in the early twentieth century.

During the early years of silent British cinema, the Bay was home to two production companies. Raleigh-King Productions was based at Watcombe Hall. It was established for actor, director and producer Dallas Cairns who was already making films at Ealing. Two films were made in 1922, ‘Creation’ and ‘The Island of Romance’. However, it appears as if no prints have survived.

Based in a drill hall in Paignton, ‘Torquay and Paignton Photoplay Productions’ produced ‘The Great London Mystery’ (1920), a 12-episode serial starring stage conjurer Davis Devant.

One of the first of those Bay-set productions was the 90-minute film ‘Nelson’. As the title suggests, this was a biopic of the naval hero. Directed by Maurice Elvey, it was filmed in the second half of 1918. Black and white and silent, it has a wartime propaganda theme – timed to bolster public morale at the end of the Great War – and begins with views of British warships. The captions inform us that British sailors “are the best and always have been”. A young boy is being told to read the story of Nelson. He opens his book and we’re back in the eighteenth century.

This is quite an epic movie with a large cast and various naval and land battles. At 36 minutes in we visit the dissolute King of Naples at his Palace – clearly Torquay’s Grand Hotel with Corbyn Head in the background – and 58 minutes in we see what looks like Torre Abbey in a major battle scene recreating the assault on the Corsican stronghold of Calvi in 1794, where Nelson lost his eye. Torquay stands in for the Italian city and the revolting peasants are played by locals. In the film at 53 minutes we see the storming of Bastia in 1794 – actually Madrepore Road and Pimlico.

Donald Calthrop played Horatio Nelson while Malvina Longfellow was Lady Hamilton. William Pitt is played by Ernest Thesiger- Ernest was probably the first openly gay character in the movies as Dr Septimus Pretorius in the classic ‘Bride of Frankenstein’. Ernest also appeared in 1950 in the Torquay-set social satire ‘The Last Holiday’ alongside Alec Guinness. The film also includes what is possibly the first positive image of a black actor in any movie.

‘The Rocks of Valpre’, made in 1919 and directed by Maurice Elvey was adapted from the popular 1913 novel of the same name by British writer Ethel M. Dell. Here’s the plot: Trevor Mordaunt (Basil Gill, pictured) is a young French inventor who begins a romance with Christine Wyndham (Peggy Carlisle) who is staying on the French coast with her Aunt (Winifred Sadler). A rival, Captain Rudolphe (Humberston Wright), steals the plans of Trevor’s invention, a new design of gun. Trevor is accused of theft by the military, wrongly convicted and sent to Devil’s Island. He later escapes and tracks down Rudolphe to clear his name.

The location filming is around Corbyn Head where the lovers meet on a rocky beach and have to pass the night in a secret cave where clever Trevor is working on his invention. The film uses a title from the book and calls our hero, “The Knight of the Magic Cave”. Trevor and Christine are innocents but the local gossips are watching “Christine’s indiscretion”. Trevor and Rudolphe fight a duel with sabres on the cliff top overlooking the Bay. All’s well that ends well and Christine silently announces, “You fought on my account!”

The filming location of 1944’s ‘Two Thousand Women’ is given as Gainsborough Studios in Islington, though the movie was partly filmed in Torquay’s Grand Hotel. This was due to our unwillingness to advertise to the Luftwaffe the location of our finest actors.

‘Two Thousand Women’ is a 1944 British comedy-drama war film about a camp of interned British women in Occupied France – this is the second in an “unofficial trilogy”, along with ‘Millions Like Us’ (1943) and ‘Waterloo Road’ (1945). These 2,000 women from every part of the Empire are confined to what was once a luxury spa, a remarkably luxurious German internment camp without male company. Into this mix of our social classes drop three RAF crew from a shot-down bomber, and the women try to smuggle the men out to safety. There’s a battle of wits against the incompetent, easily intimidated and /or seduced German guards and, of course, there’s an informer.

The film is populated with just about every British character actress from the time- including Flora Robson, Phyllis Calvert, and Patricia Roc. That many of the younger women seem to have a problem with keeping all their clothes on may have been something of a draw in 1944. Conversely, while male critics generally dismissed the movie on its release, it’s now promoted in feminist film studies as it portrays independent women working without male guidance – this was unusual for its time. As the film was a success with its largely female audience at the British box office in 1944, it was subsequently released in the United States in 1951 in a severely cut-down version under the title of ‘House of 1,000 Women’. Here’s a short clip:

Bees in Paradise is a musical comedy wartime morale-raiser. Filmed in Babbacombe back in 1944, it’s a 72 minute long Gainsborough Pictures movie directed by Val Guest, starring Arthur Askey, Anne Shelton, and Peter Graves. The movie’s external shots were filmed on Babbacombe’s cliffs. It’s set on a mysterious island where warrior women hold all the power and men are regarded as disposable beings useful only for breeding purposes- their mating rituals entail the death of all males by making them jump off a cliff. Comic scenes follow when four airmen arrive on the island and become the object of native women’s desires. And, of course, Arthur finds the need to disguise himself as a female maid. It’s a bit like a British Bob Hope/Bing Crosby/Dorothy Lamour ‘Road Movie’ and does reference that well-known American series. Incidentally, Bees in Paradise predates Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) where the duo encounter a very similar civilization consisting entirely of beautiful women.

The Last Holiday (1950) stars Alec Guinness, long before he wielded the light sabre as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy. In Kind Hearts and Coronets Alec Guinness took on eight roles and became established as an acting force. A year later he surprised audiences by taking on the character of a quiet salesman who is told he has only a few months to live after being diagnosed with the fictional Lampington’s Disease. His doctor advises him to take his savings and enjoy himself in the little time left. George buys £65 of new clothes and travels to Pinebourne, an exclusive resort with an elite clientele with whom he has nothing in common. Pinebourne is, of course, Torquay and the up-market residential hotel he stays in is the Rosetor. The Rosetor was later demolished and the Riviera Centre now stands on the site. The Grand Hotel also makes an appearance. The well-dressed newcomer arouses the interest of fellow residents who are impressed by his good luck at croquet, poker and horse racing. Yet, he relates mostly to the clerks and maids, including the housekeeper Mrs Poole (Kay Walsh), while also resisting the attentions of one of the married guests (Beatrice Campbell). Sid James appears in a minor role.

The Last Holiday is a sharp class satire full of social observations. For instance, George rebukes two machinery magnates for their use of cheap labour, and the hotel workers go on strike, forcing the guests to cook and clean for themselves. Significantly, the screenplay was written by JB Priestley, a popular left-wing radio broadcaster for the BBC and cofounder of the Socialist Common Wealth Party. The director, Henry Cass went on to direct horror films such as Blood of the Vampire and The Hand. Unfortunately, though Last Holiday was well received by critics and art-house audiences in the US, it wasn’t successful in Britain. Today, however, it is seen as an example of classic 1950s cinema, with one critic describing it as “a perfectly constructed, witty and moving little drama as you’re likely to encounter anywhere”. If the plot seems familiar, in 2006 there was an American remake with Queen Latifah as Georgia Bird, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton and Alicia Witt.

Brandy for the Parson (1952) sees a young couple experiencing a series of mishaps and accidents, and getting unintentionally involved in a racket smuggling brandy from France. The ‘French port scenes’ were filmed in Torquay.

The System made in 1964 – also known as The Girl Getters in the United States, where it was heavily cut – is the story of a group of blazer-and-tie sporting young men scouring Torquay’s seasonal tourists in search of sexual conquests. Near the end of one summer, the leader of the group, played by Oliver Reed, aims to conquer an affluent fashion model, but finds himself unexpectedly falling in love. Music is provided by the Searchers, who make a rare film appearance in a club scene.
Directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish) with Nicholas Roeg (Performance, The Man who fell to Earth) behind the camera, The System is described as “a great lost document of mod 60s British culture, utilizing the talents of many artists who went on to more celebrated accomplishments… in this captivating, authentic precursor to Quadrophenia”.

The advertising proclaims: “A generation who try not to fall not in love because it’s ‘square’ who fall in love because they’re young”.

Isadora, partly filmed at Oldway Mansion, a 1968 biographical film which tells the story of celebrated American dancer Isadora Duncan. It stars Vanessa Redgrave, along with Jason Robards as Oldway owner Paris Singer.  Isadora (also known as The Loves of Isadora) was nominated for the Academy award for Best Actress (Vanessa) and was also up for the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival where it won for Best Actress.

Released in 1979, ‘That Summer’ starred a very youthful Ray Winstone. Indeed, there’s an ongoing debate over whether ‘That Summer’ was some kind of unofficial follow on from the far edgier ‘Scum’, with the Ray character just having left a Borstal, the setting for the earlier movie.

‘That Summer’s’ plot consists of two girls who arrive in Torquay to work as chamber maids for the summer. They meet two boys, also in Torquay for the summer. One of these (Ray’s character) is entered in the ‘Round the Bay’ swimming race. They quickly come into conflict with a Scottish gang, one of whom is also predictably in the race. In a Torquay where every time you go out you meet the same people, various confrontations follow and Ray is framed for a robbery in a chemists’ shop. Our hero is promptly arrested just as he is about to start the race. He does, however, manage to escape and joins the competition. The real Scottish chemist-plundering villains are quite easily forced to confess and Ray, of course, goes on to win back his good name, the race and his girlfriend.

One scene that caused much amusement among locals was filmed in the Pickwick pub. In the film Ray gets a job and accommodation in the Pickwick – now Twiggy’s Bar. He opens his curtains and gets a fine view of Torquay harbour… rather than the back of Primark. ‘That Summer ‘isn’t going to rival ‘Citizen Kane’ but is a glimpse back at a past Torquay. The long-gone 400 Club appears, and there are scenes filmed on the Strand and Oddicombe Beach showing just how many people came to Torbay in the past. Also worth mentioning is the fine late 1970s soundtrack released, naturally, on vinyl. It includes: Ian Dury and the Blockheads; Mink DeVille; Elvis Costello; The Boomtown Rats; The Undertones; and Eddie and the Hot Rods.

Blackball (2003) starred Paul Kaye, Vince Vaughn, James Cromwell, Bernard Cribbins and Johnny Vegas. Cliff Starkey (played by Paul Kaye) is a rebellious young bowls player whose dream is to play for his country. However his behaviour gets him banned from the bowls club for 15 years. Picked up by a sports agent (Vince Vaughn), Starkey is re-branded as the ‘bad boy of bowls’, turning the normally sedate sport into a glitzy competition. Although the plot is fictional, the central character is based on real-life local bowls player Griff Sanders. Blackball was filmed in Torquay and the Isle of Man during October and November 2002. To appeal to an American audience, the movie was known as National Lampoon’s Blackball in the States. Here’s the American trailer:

Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004) stars Christian Slater, Neve Campbell, and a host of British comedy talent, including Bob Mortimer, Vic Reeves, Rik Mayall, Harry Enfield and Leslie Phillips.The movie is a satire on the way Hollywood has written Britain out of the Second World War, in films such as U571 (which had the capture of an Enigma machine being by the Americans rather than the British) and Pearl Harbour (where Americans appear to have won the Battle of Britain). The film’s other targets are the upper-class pro-Germans who sought a compromise with Hitler. It has Winston Churchill (Christian Slater) as a US Marine closely resembling Bruce Willis. After singlehandedly repelling a Nazi invasion in 1940, he dies in the Battle of Britain, leaving Princess Elizabeth (Neve Campbell) pregnant. He is then replaced by a British actor resembling the familiar wartime leader.

While mainly filmed at Plymouth’s Royal William Yard, the movie’s opening shot features Brixham Harbour as Plymouth Docks. We also see Oldway Mansion doubling as Buckingham Palace, along with Powderham Castle, and Cockington as Frothington-on-the-Waddle. Churchill the Hollywood Years was directed by South Devon’s own Peter Richardson, who rose to prominence through the Comic Strip presents movies

These were just a few of the movies made in the Bay over the last hundred years. There were others. Torbay was once suggested as the British Hollywood… it still could be…

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Kevin Dixon went to Audley Park – now Torquay Academy – and South Devon College when it was at Torre. After studying at Birmingham City University, he returned home because there’s nowhere else quite like Torquay. He then became involved in community and adult education, completed a PhD at Exeter University , and started writing about the weird and unknown side of town. He now Chairs Healthwatch Torbay and is involved in health and social care in the Bay.