Bentwaters becomes a TV star

GALLERY Whether it's stunts for Top Gear, a setting for a space spoof or a borstal for dogs, TV and film-makers have been flocking to Suffolk.

WHETHER it's stunts for Top Gear, a setting for a space spoof or a borstal for dogs, TV and film-makers have been flocking to Suffolk.

The old Bentwaters air base has also become a sought-after location for film makers drawn to the maze of cavernous bomb-proof hangars and intimidating top security weapons stores.

Its 1.4-mile runway is also perfect for TV car shows, with drivers from Fifth Gear relishing its freedom and now being used in the new series of BBC2's Top Gear.

Presenter James May spent several days at the 1,000-acre former base at Rendlesham with specialised crews preparing and filming a series of stunts, one of which is being shown each week.

So far this series viewers have seen the Top Gear stuntman attempt to break a world record by jumping an Austin Allegro backwards over cars, and the re-creation of a James Bond stunt where a car does a 360-degree barrel-roll flying between two bridges, only in a Maestro not the AMC Hornet 007 used in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Sarah Brown, a director of Bentwaters Parks Ltd, said the company was pleased with the growing use of the base for filming.

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“More people from TV and film industry are now living in Suffolk, particularly film crews, stunt men, film caterers, and all those needed for the work, so we are very handy for them and also have good access to London if they need that, too,” she said.

“The Top Gear team stayed four days and set up several stunts which were filmed one after the other- they really love that big piece of concrete we have got.

“We meet all the film-makers' requirements - whether it is the old military buildings, the runway, or the farm next door with its twee thatched cottages if they need that sort of thing.

“They also know we provide all the health and safety they need, and the site is secure so they can work undisturbed away from the public, and traffic, noise and other disturbance is not a problem.”

The company is encouraging film makers to use the former base and the 1,500-acre farm with their variety of buildings and environments and advertising the facilities worldwide.

It has been used for episodes of Robot Wars, Mission Implausible, X-Fire and popular BBC3 show Dog Borstal, where stroppy dogs and irresponsible owners are put through their paces by modern-day Barbara Woodhouses.

The spoof show Space Cadets used the base for its Russian HQ and simulator to persuade its cadets they were in space.

What else do you think Bentwaters could be used for? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

FASTFACTS: Bentwaters

Bentwaters became a USAF base in 1951 and eventually home to America's largest fighter wing.

Because of its bomb-proof shelters it was always assumed that nuclear weapons were stored there.

The American air force left Bentwaters in 1993 and in 2001 Bill Kemball, whose family farm land at Wantisden adjoining the airbase boundary, bought more than 900 acres of the base.

The “domestic” side of the base, not owned by the Kemballs, has been transformed into a huge housing estate and includes a new primary school, sports centre, church and shops.

A new Cold War museum detailing the fascinating history of a former American air base opened on the site last year in the hardened Wing Command Post.

The Command Post was manned during the 1986 American raids on Colonel Gadaffi's headquarters in Libya - there are unconfirmed reports that the entire operation was planned and controlled from there - and again during the first Gulf War in 1991 when the base supported the A10 Tankbusters that were deployed.