ITV approached us to ask if we could host an episode of Ant & Dec’s Red or Black programme. Luckily, there was space in the diary, so we quickly said we would be delighted to have them. They have written about it on their blog though we are not quite in the Cotswolds but can see them on a clear day in the distance.
We love having TV and filming at Eastnor. They are challenging and different, but a great way to use the house and to get ourselves known to a wider audience. In an earlier TV film of a ghost story, my brother, George, was used as an extra and had to stick his big toe out from behind a cupboard door, which was the limit of his exposure, but apparently he enjoyed it and did not need an Equity card for the work, which I suspect was unpaid.
We have had a good run with TV programmes this year, after a visit from John Craven on Countryfile, Ruth Watson on Country House Rescue and Dan Cruickshank on the Country House Revealed. We have only had brief appearances, and so we have not enjoyed the surge in visitor numbers enjoyed by Highclere Castle as a result of Downton Abbey, but one day perhaps… JH-B 25th June 2011
We have been lucky to have a number of famous visitors to Eastnor, often here for filming, TV, the Big Chill or to drive Land Rovers. But the one most remembered is Fred Dibnah, the world-famous steeplejack who came here after we met and became friends at the Welland Steam rally, where I was showing my Fowler B6 Heavy Road Locomotive, “Atlas”. Fred came over to admire the engine as it had been well known in Lancashire where he lived, and I invited him to drive it back to Eastnor with me.
Fred was passionate about engines and, as I then discovered, old buildings, especially those of the 19th century, where elements of Victorian engineering and craftsmanship survived. Eastnor filled the bill nicely. Late, after he had repaired “Atlas” in his Bolton workshop, he returned the engine here as part of one of his TV series, and then came back to film under the roof where we examined a huge cast iron beam, used over the Great Hall in the construction of the house to support the Keep. Fred was a natural broadcaster, enthusiastic, articulate and professional, he kept his cap on throughout.
Fred then generously came back to attend our steam rallies and sign books, videos and photographs for visitors. He certainly drew the crowds and had time for a chat with everyone who was prepared to wait. He sat in the shadow of “Atlas”, drinking beer steadily throughout the day. Being a celebrity did not change him: he was always himself, and he was loved for what he was.
We display photographs of Fred dangling from one of our towers in his bosun’s chair, scraping the remains of the Virginia creeper off the walls and swinging about with a long hoe trying to finish the job. If I ever meet strangers who say they recognise me, it is always because they remember my appearing on Fred’s programmes. He was a great man, and we miss him. JH-B 7th January 2011
About 25 years ago, we had the chance to be the location for a BBC film of John Masefield’s story, The Box of Delights. It was a very appropriate choice as Masefield was a Ledbury poet, and now local people in the Ledbury area will have the chance to see the film again – see the Ledbury Reporter.
It is fun having a film at Eastnor, but hard work. We are with the crews all the time they are on site, and they start early. The BBC crews in particular are used to working in historic houses and treat the contents with care. They usually have everything they want in the way of props, but occasionally we can help with more authentic items form the collection.
I will always remember the Box of Delights filming, because one night we arrived from London to see the North Wall of the house in flames. As we arrived in the Courtyard, our fears were further increased by seeing a number of fire engines parked there. But all was well. It was a special effects fire, created well away from the wall but not obviously so from a distance. The fire engines were there just in case – fact took over from fiction.
JH-B 20th November 2009