Poldark, Peaky Blinders and 6 other historical TV shows that have tourists flocking to Britain
As the backdrop to Ross Poldark's shirtless shenanigans in the hit period drama Poldark, Cornwall has seen a huge influx of tourists looking to visit the show's scenic filming locations. In 2018, tourism chiefs warned that the BBC television drama is putting the county's coastline at risk of "over-tourism". As the fifth and final series of the drama begins, we take a closer look at 'Poldark effect' and the other shows bringing tourists to Britain…
The chief executive of Cornish tourist board Visit Cornwall says the area is struggling to cope with an unprecedented surge in holidaymakers, it was reported in 2018. Visitors were encouraged to look beyond popular Poldark filming locations Porthcurno beach and Kynance Cove, which feature as Poldark’s beloved Nampara. Poldark is reported to have influenced around 14 per cent of all visitors to Cornwall, and businesses have long reported a boost in the number of tourists from overseas because of the so-called ‘Poldark effect’.
Poldark is one of many drama series inspiring so-called ‘TV tourism’: in 2018, in its travel trends report, Trip Advisor found that 1 in 5 global travellers visited a location because they saw it on a TV show. Significantly, says Vogue magazine, “TV’s tourism influence is now rivalling that of film – perhaps even surpassing it”. A report from the University of North Texas found that “TV viewing behaviour is the strongest predictor of entertainment-motivated tourism… television series are often watched on regular basis thus, viewers are more likely to be exposed to the destination image for a longer period.”
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Set in 18th-century Cornwall, the hugely popular BBC One drama Poldark starring Aidan Turner (as Poldark) and Eleanor Tomlinson (as Demelza) draws inspiration from Winston Graham’s 12 novels, which were written between 1945 and 2002.
Here, we look at seven other historical TV dramas that are attracting tourists from Britain and beyond...
***Please note this article contains spoilers ***
Pride and Prejudice
Lyme Park in Disley, Cheshire, which starred as Jane Austen’s Pemberley in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, enjoyed a 176 per cent increase in visitor numbers after the series aired in 1995. Fans flocked to the lake where, in what has become an iconic scene in television history, Mr Darcy (played by Colin Firth) meets Elizabeth Bennet after emerging from the water in a soaked, clinging white shirt. The scene was in 2013 named the most memorable moment in British TV drama.
Lyme Park – a stately home on the edge of the Peak District – is still reaping the benefits of Pride and Prejudice 20 years on, the Guardian reported in 2015. “It’s a win-win for us,” said Harvey Edgington, the National Trust’s head of filming and locations. “It’s a very good way of getting people interested in a property.”
The gritty gangster series set in 1920s Birmingham is filmed predominately at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley. Open to the public, the museum’s canal arm features as the famous Charlie Strong's Yard, with huge factories added using CGI (computer-generated imagery). Tommy Shelby’s iconic walk past the firing furnaces was filmed at the museum’s Rolling Mill, and the dramatic murder of Father Hughes in the finale of season three was shot in the museum’s St James's School.
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Peaky Blinders has also worked wonders for Birmingham’s local economy, with tours, themed restaurants and dedicated pub crawls taking place across the city. One pub in Dale End, in the centre of Birmingham, simply named ‘The Peaky Blinder’, serves a Peaky Blinder cocktail made with whisky and blackcurrant, and its staff dress in Shelby-style attire.
Game of Thrones
Not exactly a historical drama per se, but the wildly popular Game of Thrones is reported to be worth about £30 million (€34 million) a year to the local economy in Northern Ireland. Tourism NI estimates that around 120,000 Game of Thrones visitors came to Northern Ireland in 2016 to see the real-life Kingsroad or Winterfell, among other sites. Rosemarie McHugh, Tourism NI’s director of product development, told The Irish Times the show has been “transformative” for screen tourism in Northern Ireland.
The fantasy drama series is also reported to have helped to turn around Iceland’s struggling economy in the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis by bolstering its tourism sector. According to FocusEconomics: “Game of Thrones is, at the very least, partly responsible for the major uptick in tourism growth in recent years. Many of Iceland’s glaciers, lakes and national parks serve as the backdrop for the ‘lands beyond the wall’ and the popularity of the show has given rise to massive increases in tourism, as the show’s many diehard fans from around the world make pilgrimages, so to speak, to visit the show’s popular filming locations.”
Game of Thrones fans have also been flocking to Dubrovnik, Croatia, which features as King’s Landing. But the mayor of the medieval city last year announced he is considering capping visitors to just 4,000 per day to prevent “ruinous overcrowding”.
The wildly popular Netflix Original series The Crown, which follows the young Queen Elizabeth II from the 1940s through to modern times, is rumoured to have cost a whopping $130 million to produce – making it the most expensive television show ever made. According to a survey conducted by Barclays bank in 2017, the appeal of the quintessentially British biopic abroad is whetting travellers’ appetites for a UK holiday.
Dubbed ‘The Crown effect’, the popularity of the show – plus that of Poldark, Sherlock and Downton Abbey – is encouraging overseas tourists to holiday in places such as the Peak District, the Lake District and the Cotswolds.
According to the survey of 10,000 respondents, some 44 per cent of Chinese tourists interested in visiting the UK said television programmes had driven their interest. More than a quarter of Americans planning a UK visit said the same.
The first two series of The Crown star Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Prince Philip. The third series, which will see Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies take over, is expected to air in 2019.
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The six-part BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was a huge hit both on and off-screen. Starring Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII, the 2015 drama sent fans flocking to filming locations including Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, the real-life Wolf Hall; Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, which portrayed scenes from Cromwell’s childhood in Putney; and Montacute House in Somerset, which was used as the setting for Greenwich Palace – Henry VIII’s main London seat and the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest in Wolf Hall.
Around 40 per cent of the shoots in Wolf Hall took place at sites owned by the National Trust, with the location fees providing much-needed income to help maintain the properties. The show’s producer, Mark Pybus, said: “The advantages of filming in a historic location are massive. It also helps the actors, if they’re stepping into the buildings that Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell walked around in it helps bring a realness to the project.”
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The time-travel drama in which a Second World War army nurse is carried back to Scotland in 1743 has brought tourists flocking to the country’s castles and other spots where much of the three series were filmed.
According to the ONS Travel Trends 2017 statistics, Doune Castle, which features in the series as the fictional Castle Leoch, has seen a 227 per cent increase in numbers since 2013 when Outlander first aired.
The 15th-century Blackness Castle in West Lothian, which featured as the Fort William headquarters of ‘Black Jack’ Randall (Tobias Menzies), attracted a record 43,763 visitors in 2017, while Linlithgow Palace, which is used as Wentworth Prison where Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is imprisoned, welcomed a record 87,254 – up 17 per cent on the previous year, the Daily Express reports.
Highclere Castle was dangerously unstable and parts of the building were deemed uninhabitable when Julian Fellowes began filming his period drama Downton Abbey there in 2010. The stately home, located five miles south of Newbury in Berkshire and owned by George ‘Geordie’ Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, was facing a near £12m repair bill.
“It was just after the banking crisis and it was gloom in all directions,” Lord Carnarvon told the Guardian. “Then Downton came along and it became a major tourist attraction.” Visitor numbers doubled, to 1,200 a day, and Highclere is today one of Britain’s most recognisable stately homes.
The success of Downton has funded “a rolling programme of building repairs aimed at safeguarding Highclere for the next generation,” the family said.
The Downton cast and crew will return to Highclere in September 2018 to film a feature-length movie.
Emma Mason is the Digital Editor at HistoryExtra.com