Lights, camera, action...

MICHAEL Caine, Richard Attenborough, Richard Todd and many other top movie stars have all visited our area for location filming for well known top films.

MICHAEL Caine, Richard Attenborough, Richard Todd and many other top movie stars have all visited our area for location filming for well known top films.

Our part of Suffolk has been used for several different productions over the years, but one still holds a mystery as to whether Martlesham and Ipswich ever joined Clarke Gable on screen.

Michael Caine and writer Frederick Forsyth would find a very different scene at Ipswich Dock today, the rather run down industrial site chosen for the filming of Mr Forsyth's gripping spy thriller “The Fourth Protocol”.

It was June 1986 when the helicopters, supposedly of the Special Air Services, swooped into Ipswich Dock. The action had the crack squad meeting up with secret agent, played by Michael Caine, in a disused warehouse, to plot an attack of a Soviet Spy. The star and his SAS team appeared to raid a house at “Cherryhayes” on the Stoke Park estate, where the Russian, played by Pierce Brosnan, was holed up.

In the strange world of cinema this was shot in Milton Keynes, because that was how film bosses thought Ipswich should look! Sadly for all his fans I do not think that the future James Bond star ever made it to Ipswich!

Michael Caine told Evening Star reporter June Hastie at the time “Ipswich is just right for what we want and everybody has gone out of their way to help us. I really do like it here and I wish I could spend more time in this part of the world. These old docks are marvelous and they are just the thing for us with helicopters and everything”

Most Read

Novelist Frederick Forsyth was also in town for the filming and had spent time “prowling around” Ipswich. Frederick Forsyth began his writing career in 1958 as a journalist with the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich. His knowledge of East Anglia no doubt explains the plot being based around an American air base called 'Baywaters' near the east coast. He also thanked Suffolk Police for setting up an 'incident room' at the dock and provided several squad cars for filming action sequences.

Alan Powell of Ipswich, who takes a keen interest in aviation history tells me of one 'Star' of the silver screen that does not get a credit at the end of one Metro Goldwin Meyer epic with a line up of big names from the late 1930s. The only record of filming locally is in the pilot's log book.

Alan explains how the filming at RAF Martlesham has now turned into its own mystery. Alan said “A Prototype Hurricane was at RAF Martlesham Heath for final evaluation trials during the spring of 1937. It was flown by the Martlesham test pilot, Sammy Wroath, at the Empire Air Day displays at Martlesham and Felixstowe.”

“At about this time the Air Ministry was approached by Metro Goldwyn Meyer with a request to assist with the making of a film. They required a modern fighter and pilot for flying sequences. Camera crews arrived at Martlesham Heath and pilot Sammy Wroath's logbook reveals that the Hurricane made fourteen flights between August and October of 1938. The entries stated that the flying sequences were filmed with the intention of including them in the film.”

“The film in question was a successful Hollywood epic of the time and starred Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracey. Originally intended to be named “Shadow of the Wing”, it was renamed “Test Pilot” before being released. The flying sequences featuring Sammy Wroath, with his helmet and goggles would have been indistinguishable from Clark Gable.”

“MGM had studios in this country and indeed made the very successful film “Pygmalion” here, also in 1938. However, records show that “Test Pilot” was filmed in the US. The filming of the flying sequences of the Hurricane would have been sent to America to be included as required. No records of this appeared in Hawker records and the only verification which exists is in the logbook of Martlesham test pilot, Sammy Wroath.”

“Whether the sequences were ever used in the final print of the film I cannot say. Maybe they finished up on the cutting room floor. Perhaps if a video or DVD is still available we might find a volunteer to sit through it and find out? Not being a fan of glitzy Hollywood “epics”, I don't feel like being that volunteer. In fact, as Samuel Goldwyn was once memorably heard to say, “Include me out!”

Felixstowe was used for the filming of 'The Sea Shall Not Have Them.' Shots were taken where the dock is now and Felixstowe Town Station was featured.

The film 'Yangtze Incident', the true story of the attack on HMS Amethyst by the Communist forces in China in 1949. It starred Richard Todd with Michael Anderson. Filming was done on the River Orwell, which I presume looks as much like the Yangtze River as Milton Keynes looks like Ipswich!

The Angry Silence starring Richard Attenborough was shot on location at Reavell's engineering works in Ranalagh Road, Ipswich. It was a about a trade union dispute.

Most of the movie and television crews who visit are friendly helpful professionals who will give an interview or chat with locals and sign autographs between takes.

When parts of an episode of 'Only Fools and Horses' was filmed in Rectory Road and Seymour Road, Ipswich, stars David Jason, Buster Merryweather and Nicholas Lindhurst were relaxed and very friendly, they even joined in the photographs of a very surprised couple at St Mary Stoke Church one Saturday afternoon!

As in all professions there are those who think they own the county because they have moved in for a few days. In August 1994 filming of the BBC television drama 'Between the Lines' included setting off an explosion at night on board a house boat moored in a creek between Shotley and Pin Mill. Obviously the blast would wake up people in Shotley, Trimley, and Levington etcetera. There was no secret that the crew was filming locally and Star readers deserved some explanation of the 'Big Bang'. Star editor Nigel Pickover understandably wanted a picture of the ball of fire lighting up the River Orwell. The blast was set for around 11pm. I was 'dispatched' to the scene. “No darling, the River Orwell is a closed set, you cannot take photographs” I was told by a vision in pink standing on the public footpath by the river. Escorted by a local policeman, who seemed to think you could close the river, sky and all around, I left the set. Another lane and foot path half a mile away set me by the river in a field in pitch darkness. The eleven o'clock explosion was only half an hour away so with camera on tripod I settled down with finger on the button. My remote position meant I did not know there were technical problems! Eleven o'clock passed, midnight, one, two am…then at 3.15am BOOM! I got the feeling back in my shutter finger a few weeks later!

• Do you know any more about the filming locally for 'Test Pilot' or did you take part in any of the films made locally? Were you an extra or have you met any of the stars while they were in the area? Write to: Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP1 4LN.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter