Withnail & I | 1987
With an endlessly quotable script and unforgettable performances, Bruce Robinson’s Sixties-set comedy can genuinely claim to have become a classic.
Firstly, that magnificently squalid flat with its terrifying sink, which was long rumoured to have been demolished. It wasn’t and has scrubbed up remarkably well, but it’s nowhere near Camden but in West London. It was the first floor (US readers: second floor – we count the ground floor as 0) of 57 Chepstow Place, at Dawson Place, Bayswater, London W2, and now a très desirable property. The front door and steps are still recognisable from the famous publicity still.
One location which has finally been demolished, after surviving for many years, was the pub which became briefly transformed into ‘The Mother Red Cap’.
The name is a conflation of two legendary stalwarts of Camden nightlife – the Black Cap, one of the city’s most famous gay bars and, for decades, synonymous with its legendary drag performances (it’s now sadly closed and empty); but it more closely resembles the Mother Red Cap, opposite Camden tube station, a big scruffy old boozer since reinvented as the buzzing World’s End music bar.
As anyone familiar with the geography of London will have realised, the pub in which Withnail (Richard E Grant) enthusiastically ordered “Two large gins. Two pints of cider. Ice in the cider” wasn’t in Camden either.
It’s in Westbourne Park, London W11, north of Notting Hill. When I first discovered the place in the Nineties, the bar was going by the laddish name of Fudrucker’s. It went on the become part of the Babushka vodka bar chain, a classy restaurant called Crescent House and finally The Tavistock. For a brief period it was even relaunched under the name Mother Black Cap.
On a personal note, the launch for my book Movie London was held here in 2008, but not even this great accolade could guarantee viability. In 2010, the bar was demolished and a block of flats now stands on the site, 41 Tavistock Crescent, W11, facing St Luke’s Road. Its environs are instantly recognisable – despite the lush growth of trees tending to mask that hated tower.
The immediate area is a popular spot for movie-makers. Nearby you’ll find the spot where Andrew Lincoln silently declared his feelings in Love Actually and the street where Ringo Starr artfully took photos of milk bottles in The Beatles’ first feature film A Hard Day’s Night.
Withnail and Marwood (Paul McGann) decide to visit Withnail's Uncle Monty, who owns a country cottage which might provide a brief escape from their shabby surroundings.
There’s little seen of the exterior of Uncle Monty’s (Richard Griffiths) grand London home, but it’s West House, 35 Glebe Place, tucked away in a crook of the street off Bramerton Street, in an exclusive part of Chelsea, SW3.
At the time of filming, West House was home to Bernard Nevill, the Design Director for West End store Liberty. The real interior was used and that’s Nevill’s own collection of paintings, furniture and furnishings.
A previous owner was George Price Boyce, a Pre-Raphaelite watercolourist, which is why the property boasts those three separate front doors – one for the owner and his family, one for tradespeople and a separate one for models.
Glebe Place became something of an artists’ enclave. Charles Rennie Mackintosh had a studio almost opposite West House and, further along the street, 49 Glebe Place remains the only home he designed in London.
As a kind of tribute, the corner house with the white picket fence you can see in the film as the pair drive up to Monty’s house was replaced by an eye-catching Mackintosh-inspired Arts & Crafts mansion in 1996.
As a wrecking ball tears down bits of the old London, Withnail and Marwood set off for that much-needed holiday up north in Monty’s country cottage. They head north on Freston Road, north of Shepherd’s Bush, under the railway arch at Lockton Street, W10.
During the Seventies, many empty properties were taken over by squatters. In a gesture inspired by Ealing Studios’ Passport to Pimlico, a section of the neighbourhood seceded from the UK and, when they were threatened with eviction, appealed to the UN. The short-lived ‘Kingdom of Frestonia’ issued ‘passports’ allowing the Quadrophenia film crew to work.
‘Crow Cragg’, where the pair end up “on holiday by mistake”, is Sleddale Hall, a derelict cottage alongside Wet Sleddale Reservoir, just west from the A6, near Shap, about 15 miles south of Penrith, Cumbria (rail: Penrith). And, yes, that is Wet Sleddale and not ‘West Sleddale’, though I don't imagine there’s a Dry Sleddale Reservoir.
There’s a limited bus service from Penrith to the village of Shap and, a mile south of there, a narrow road runs west to Wet Sleddale. About two miles of footpath then lead to Sleddale Hall.
Although the cottage overlooks Wet Sleddale Reservoir, the spectacular body of water seen in the movie is Haweswater Reservoir, much larger and more photogenic and a few miles to the west. You’ll find the island and promontory down at the southern tip of Haweswater.
The phone box from which Withnail phones his useless agent wasn’t a prop. It stands alongside that stone bus shelter which is on Wideworth Farm Road, at Bampton, a tiny village a few miles north of Sleddale Hall. You can spot a little notice promoting an event at Bampton Hall on the shelter's noticeboard.
I don’t know if there still are, in the age of the Internet, but there used to be plenty of Withnail fans who headed to Penrith to find the ‘King Henry’ pub and the ‘Penrith Tea Rooms’ without realising that these scenes were filmed in Buckinghamshire.
That little town square is the Market Square of Stony Stratford, a few miles northwest of Milton Keynes (though the nearest railway station is Wolverton). During the intervening years, the Square has sprouted a grove of trees which render the familiar images all-but impossible to photograph.
Instantly recognisable, though, is The Crown, 9 Market Place, which was transformed into the ‘King Henry’ pub. The interior seems to have had quite a makeover, but it remains a relaxing traditional local pub.
The really sad news is that there is no tea room – neither in 'Penrith' nor Stony Stratford – so you’ll not be able to soak up the booze with cake nor order the finest wines available to humanity. You can get something for that nagging headache, though.
Across Market Square from the Crown, 1 Market Place, which is the town's oldest shop, was used as the tearoom. It now houses pharmacist Cox and Robinson.
On the journey back to London, the battered, one-eyed Jag Mk II is stopped by the police, unfortunately while the totally wasted Withnail is driving. They’re pulled over on the Harrow Road (A404) just as it approaches the Westway (again) north of Paddington, where in no uncertain terms they ordered to “Get in the back of the van!”
Finally, the closest we get to the real Camden is the closing scene alongside what in those days was the Wolf Enclosure of London Zoo in Regent’s Park. The enclosure backed onto the park itself and this was one of the few places you could get a free peek at the animals without entering the zoo proper. In our far more security-conscious times, the wolves have long since been relocated.
In the rain, the two glumly plod along the Broad Walk in the northeastern corner of the park – in the background you can see the Ready Money Drinking Fountain. It was named after a 19th century Parsee businessman and philanthropist called Sir Cowasji Jehangir, but oddly nicknamed Ready Money.
The spot where Withnail finally gets to give his interpretation of “the Dane” to an unappreciative lupine audience, is near the Park’s Gloucester Gate entrance, at the end of Parkway, the main road facing Camden tube station.