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Unusual locations in North East have a starring role on TV

Increasingly the North's dramatic locations have a starring role to play as TV and film locations. Some are not the ones you'd expect as Barbara Hodgson reports

Northumbrian Water Filming of George Gently at Northmbrian Water sites
Filming of George Gently at Northmbrian Water sites

Local Inspector George Gently fans can have a bit of fun spotting familiar locations and the current series of the North East-shot BBC favourite has been no exception, with new settings being explored beyond its Durham base and the backdrop of the cathedral and castle.

But few might be able to identify some of those spots chosen for the grittier scenes of the 1960-set crime drama which stars Martin Shaw as the eponymous detective chief and Lee Ingleby as his sidekick Bacchus.

Northumbrian Water sites are being used these days by filmmakers and one of the company’s treatment works was picked to double as the set of a top secret army drugs laboratory in this week’s episode of the sixth series, which has seen action move to 1969, with Gently and Detective Sergeant Bacchus still suffering from the mental, as well as physical, scars of nearly being killed at a dramatic shooting in Durham Cathedral at the end of the previous series.

Thursday’s story saw the pair investigate the world of army secrets after a young ex-soldier committed a murder and here the company’s Mosswood water treatment works near Consett, County Durham, played a role in crucial scenes of the drama, with its offices and the reception area used as the drugs laboratory Hopewood.

Filmed over three days last June, the treatment works, built in the 1960s and with original features still intact, was chosen by location scouts from Company Pictures, who thought it perfect for the drama’s period setting.

Several exterior scenes were also filmed on land surrounding the works, but the actors and the 30-strong film crew did not interrupt operations at the site which supplies drinking water for South Tyneside, Washington and part of Sunderland.

David Pattinson, team leader at the works, co-ordinated the filming and said: “We were really excited to be used as a location for Inspector George Gently. It’s not every day that your place of work is used for a top TV drama series.

“The meeting room was totally transformed into a 1960s office including decoration, old furniture and props - then they reinstated it back to its normal state.

“It was really interesting to see what goes into making a TV show. What surprised us most was how long it takes to shoot just one short scene.”

The company’s Waskerley Reservoir, a popular fishing spot that forms part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was also used as a backdrop in the same episode.

Northumbrian Water donated its location fee to WaterAid, its adopted international charity which improves access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. It estimated that more than 130 lives would be saved as a result.

John Yorke, executive producer of the TV series, said: “We’re delighted to have filmed Inspector George Gently again in Durham and the North East and it’s fantastic to be able to recreate the world of 1969 which was hugely helped when we used Mosswood as a location.

“There were such vivid and colourful changes in society at that time, and hopefully our series will continue to give a real portrait of the age.”

Besides Inspector George Gently and ITV regular Vera, the detective drama based on the books by local crime author Ann Cleeves and starring Brenda Blethyn (which has used Derwent reservoir), other water company locations featured in filming have included Kielder Water and Forest Park in shows such as TV’s Tales from Northumberland with Robson Green, and C4’s Amazing Spaces with Sunderland-born George Clarke.

And perhaps most unusual is a spot 170ft below Kielder Water which was used in a trailer for new thriller The Tunnel, screened on Sky Atlantic.

Picked to represent the dividing line in the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France, it represented the location where a body was found in the thriller starring Bafta-winning Game of Thrones actor Stephen Dillane as a UK investigator and Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as a French detective on the hunt for a serial killer.

John Tulip, managing director of creative development agency Northern Film & Media, has said that the approach to filming requests by organisations such as Northumbrian Water is integral to the success of filming in the North East.

“Over £7m is spent annually in the region by production companies but the added effect of seeing our region on screen is invaluable.”

Alistair Baker, communications and PR manager for Northumbrian Water, said: “It’s great that the company is able to help host filming like this.

“It promotes our region and supports its economy while giving people who work for Northumbrian Water something really different to be involved with.”

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