The Day The Earth Caught Fire | 1961
A surprisingly downbeat, detailed – and prescient – sci-fi, with global warming pushed to extremes after nuclear tests tilt the earth’s axis.
The pessimistic gloom is briefly lifted by the priceless credit: ‘Beatnik music by Monty Norman’. The next year, Monty Norman moved on from groovy beats to write possibly the most famous bit of film music ever – the James Bond theme for Dr No.
Much of The Day The Earth Caught Fire’s docu-style realism comes from the decision to film in the actual offices of the Daily Express, 121 Fleet Street, EC4.
Although the Express has long since moved out, the 1932 black glass, deco landmark still stands on Fleet Street which was, for many years, the heart of the city’s newspaper industry. Sadly, the building is not open to the public, but don’t miss the chance to peer through the glass doors at the dazzling gold lobby – a bit of Manhattan-style sophistication in the City.
The newspaper’s editor is played by Arthur Christiansen, who was indeed at the helm of the Express for 25 years, and who also acted as technical advisor on the journalistic aspects of the film.
Fleet Street crops up as the world faces catastrophe again in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film of PD James’s novel, Children Of Men: Theo (Clive Owen) witnesses the terror attack on a coffee shop as he stands outside the old Daily Telegraph Building.
The ‘Met Centre’, where reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) tries to ferret out the truth about sunspots and bizarre weather, is actually the Ministry of Defence on Horse Guards Avenue in Westminster, SW1. Conspiracy theorists take note that this spot is the site of the ‘gentlemen’s toilet’ entrance to the ‘Ministry of Magic’ in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part I. Just saying...
The CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) rally filmed, of course, in Trafalgar Square, in the days when anti-bomb protesters regularly marched to London from Aldermaston, the Berkshire village which was home to the Atomic Weapons Establishment.
Stenning takes his son to the old Battersea Funfair which stood, until the 1970s, in Battersea Park, on the south bank of the River Thames across from Chelsea. You can see the famous old institution in 1963 comedy The Wrong Arm Of The Law, with Peter Sellers, and in the 1960 dinosaur-on-the-loose pic Gorgo.
The rides have gone, but you can still visit the peaceful park – now often seen standing in for other green London spaces, such as ‘St James’s Park’ (101 Dalmatians), ‘Clapham Common’ (Neil Jordan’s The End Of The Affair) and ‘Hyde Park’ (Wilde, with Stephen Fry as the celebrated playwright).