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Friday November 15th 2019

A Private Function | 1984

A Private Function filming location: Albert Road, Barnoldswick, Lancashire
A Private Function location: Gilbert's premises on The Parade: Albert Road, Barnoldswick, Lancashire | Photograph: Nigel Hatton

It’s 1947 and despite post-WWII austerity in Britain, local dignitaries of a northern town plan a celebratory dinner to celebrate the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) to Prince Philip. There’s just the little problem of food rationing to overcome.

Alan Bennett’s sharp comedy of social climbing and civic corruption sees Joyce Chilvers (Maggie Smith), the ambitious wife of mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert (Michael Palin) into a suburban Lady Macbeth as she urges him to kill an unlicensed pig, sweetly named Betty.

The film was made on location, mainly in Bennett’s native Yorkshire, and a reminiscence of the filming by locals published in the Ilkley Gazette provides handy details.

The village, seen spread out in the valley below as Chilvers cycles between appointments, is Ilkley, about 12 miles north of Bradford in West Yorkshire, known to most of us in the UK from the old dialect song On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at (On Ilkley Moor, devoid of protective headgear).

The Chilvers’ modest home is 27 Moorfield Road, Ben Rhydding, a village just one short railway stop east of Ilkley.

In Ilkley itself is the butcher shop, run by the black-marketeering Nuttal (Pete Postlethwaite), which is now furniture store The Secret Drawer, 27 Church Street, near the corner of Hawksworth Street.

Gilbert’s great ambition is to operate his business out of premises on ‘The Parade’, the town’s prestigious row of shops, which would give Joyce and him the social standing they crave.

The ‘Parade’ is the south side of Albert Road, between Fern Lea Avenue and Ellis Street in Barnoldswick (known locally as Barlick), some 15 miles to the west of Ilkley, over the county border in Lancashire. Gilbert’s proposed premises is in the grandly-named Majestic Buildings, and stands alongside what is now Usmaniyah Indian Takeaway.

A Private Function filming location: Albert Road, Barnoldswick, Lancashire
A Private Function location: the 'Majestic Cinema' on The Parade: Albert Road, Barnoldswick, Lancashire | Photograph: Nigel Hatton

To the left of his shop you can see the stone arch of Majestic Buildings which was transformed into the entrance of the fictitious ‘Majestic Cinema’, where Joyce Chilvers – reluctantly accompanied by her mother (Liz Smith) – rises from the depths to play the old-fashioned illuminated Compton organ (a British counterpart to the more famous American Wurlitzer).

To find a suitable period cinema – with organ – the production had to venture all the way south to Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

It was the old 1937 Regal Cinema, 2 Boroma Way, Henley-on-Thames. The organ itself came originally from the Ritz Cinema in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, to be installed at the Regal in 1972.

Sadly, the Regal was demolished in 1993, with plans to turn the site into a supermarket. After a local outcry, a new cinema was finally built on the site.

Prior to demolition, the organ was rescued and you can now see it in the Burtey Fen Collection, Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire.

A Private Function filming location: King's Hall and Winter Garden, Station Road, Ilkley, West Yorkshire
A Private Function location: the 'Grand Hotel': King's Hall and Winter Garden, Station Road, Ilkley, West Yorkshire | Photograph: Wikimedia / Tim Green

It’s back to Ilkley, though, for the centre of the town’s social life – the ‘Grand Hotel’, where Mrs Chilvers dreams of enjoying afternoon tea and where the celebration feast is held.

It’s the Winter Garden on Station Road, opposite the railway station, and part of the King’s Hall and Winter Garden complex.