Goodbye Mr Chips | 1969
Like Repton (used in the 1939 film) it’s a public (i.e. private, fee-paying boarding) school, this time founded way back in 705AD – although being alongside Sherborne Abbey, it had to be founded all over again in 1550, after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. King Alfred the Great, notorious cake-burner, was reputedly a pupil here.
More recent alumni include computer scientist Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2014’s The Imitation Game), writer John le Carré, actors Jeremy Irons and Hugh Bonneville, and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
Being a musical, the chilly Alpine holiday of the original story is replaced by an Italian jaunt, which takes in the ruins of Pompeii, the city buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79. It’s short train ride southeast of Naples, from Napoli Porta Nolana station on the Circumvesuviana line.
The film gives a neat travelogue of Pompeii's treasures.
Mr Chipping, ‘Chips’ (Peter O'Toole), and stage entertainer Katie (Petula Clark) meet by chance in Pompeii’s Great Theatre, from which Chips takes her to see the smaller Odeon Theatre alongside – which he claims is even better.
In the Civil Forum, Chips reassures Katie that he’s certainly not bored showing her around. In the huge Amphitheatre, Chips makes her laugh and we drift off into the song “And the sky smiled” as she begins to recognise her feelings for him.
The Amphitheatre was the setting for another but very different screen musical – the 1971 concert film Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii.
The long, paved street is the view north along Via di Mercurio (Mercury Street) to the brick Arch of Caligula.
From here it’s on to the courtyard with that little statue of a dancing satyr, which gives the name to the House of the Faun, which had been one of the largest and most expensive homes in the city.
Past tombs lining Via del Tombe in the Necropolis of Porto Ercolano (Herculanaeum Gate), to another large house.
This is the House of the Vettii, owned by two freed slaves (possibly the Vettius brothers) who seem to have done rather well for themselves. This is where you’ll find the courtyard with delicate fountains.
And on to the garden of a third grand house – the Domus Degli Amorini Dorati (House of the Golden Cupids), where Katie does that little dance. This house was owned by a relative of Poppaea, the second wife of Nero (that’s the one he jumped on according to Leo Bloom in The Producers).
On a purely touristy note, if you’re visiting Pompeii, be sure not to miss the much smaller but far better preserved town of Herculaneum nearby.
The song’s last line is accompanied by that soaring ‘copter shot of the Temple of Neptune, one of three Greek temples at Paestum, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea some 60 miles south of Naples.
The quayside, where they spend their last evening, is at Positano, on the coast between Paestum and Naples. The waterfront is reached by descending around two hundred steps. Behind them you can see the frontage and the bell tower of Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta as the naïve Chips awkwardly takes his leave.
Back to England, and London, where Katie is determined to pursue the shy Chips. She invites him to a rather theatrical party at her home,“223 River Walk, Chiswick”, which is actually 59 Strand-on-The-Green, on the north bank of the Thames just east of Kew Bridge, London W4. This is the same stretch of riverside seen in John Schlesinger’s 1965 Darling, with Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde.
After the party, as Katie and Chips stroll along Strand-on-the-Green, she finally declares her love for him.
As Chips becomes ditheringly evasive, the conversation continues through a montage of London locations – the grand, glittering The Salisbury pub on St Martin's Lane in the West End (famous as the gay bar at the centre of 1960’s Victim and as Maggie Smith’s digs in George Cukor’s 1972 adaptation of Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt; the elegant curve of Pelham Crescent, South Kensington, SW3 – also featured in Mike Todd’s 1956 film of Around The World in 80 Days; and finally in front of the glass dome of the Great Conservatory at Syon Park, Brentford – where Katie takes the initiative and proposes.
The house itself has appeared in films as diverse as Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, Joseph Losey’s Accident, The Madness of King George, the 1996 film of Emma, The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl and The Avengers – that’s the 1998 cinema version of the cult Sixties TV series.