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Friday December 1st 2023

Nowhere Boy | 2009

Nowhere Boy filming location: Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, London
Nowhere Boy location: John Lennon gets his first guitar: formerly The Duke of Uke, Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, London E1

Although there are lots of establishing shots of Liverpool, much of the film about the formative years of a pre-Beatles John Lennon was shot around London, with many of the interiors (including the houses of both Aunt Mimi and Julia) built in the old Ealing Studios (home of the famous comedies of the 40s and 50s), West London.

In the 1960s, the northwestern port of Liverpool on the River Mersey, the fourth most populous city in the UK, became the centre of the musical universe, when a four-piece guitar band radically changed the face of pop music. Blending US rock’n’roll with a dash of British music hall tunefulness, The Beatles eradicated the divide between performers and professional songwriters by – gasp – penning their own songs.

The film kicks off with the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the young Lennon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) running across the frontage of one of Liverpool’s most famous landmarks, the grand Victorian St George’s Hall, St George’s Place, opposite Lime Street Station. Built in 1854 to house concerts, meetings and a courthouse, the Grade I-listed building also supplied the interior of London's 'Old Bailey' courtroom in In The Name Of The Father.

It focuses on Lennon’s adolescent years, torn between the strait-laced Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who brought him up, and his freewheeling but troubled birth mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff).

‘Mendips’, the house of Aunt Mimi where John grew up is now a National Trust property. 251 Menlove Avenue, in Woolton, South Liverpool, was bought by John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and donated to the National Trust. It opened to the public in 2003.

It wasn’t practical to use the real Mendips, so the production added a false porch to a semi-detached house on Woodhall Gate, opposite Old South Close, Hatch End, in northwest London.

Nowhere Boy filming location: Pellicci's, Bethnal Green Road, London E2
Nowhere Boy location: John Lennon whiles away time with his mum: Pellicci's, Bethnal Green Road, London E2

John initially lives with his aunt and uncle, but his Aunt Mimi is left to bring him up alone after Uncle John (David Threlfall) succumbs to a fatal heart attack. The funeral is held at St Pancras Cemetery, 278 High Road, East Finchley.

Supposedly a short walk away from Aunt Mimi’s, the house used as that of John’s mum, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), is a few miles to the south. It’s 82 Sussex Road, Ickenham, the last house at the south end of the road.

Among the real Merseyside locations is the school, where John proves so infuriating to the headmaster, which is the Upper Site of Sacred Heart Catholic College, Liverpool Road, Crosby. It was previously Seafield Convent School, attended by Cherie Blair, wife of the ex-PM, Tony Blair.

Staying in the north of England, John and his mum have a day out in Blackpool, the seaside resort which once seemingly catered to the whole working-class population of northwest England and the Midlands. They take the inevitable stroll along the boards of the North Pier, North Pier Promenade, the most northerly and the oldest of the town’s three Victorian piers.

Also in Blackpool is the cafe from which Mimi watches the five-year-old Lennon having to make a terrible choice, as the truth about him being “stolen” by Aunt Mimi finally spills out. It’s Bel’s Kitchen, 1 Trafalgar Road, near the seafront.

Blackpool became a major getaway following the building of railways in the mid-19th Century, as workers from the industrial north flocked en-masse to enjoy its piers, fortune-tellers, pubs, trams, donkey rides, fish-and-chip shops and theatres.

In 1879, Blackpool Illuminations were launched, called "the greatest free light show on earth”. Six miles of flickering lightbulbs and tableaux along the seafront which have been upgraded over the years – now boasting a hugely successful Dr Who display. In 1894, the unmistakable Blackpool Tower – a smaller English cousin of Paris’s Eiffel Tower – was added to the resort’s attractions.

The town is featured in the 1934 Gracie Fields vehicle, Sing As We Go, in 1995’s Funny Bones, with Lee Evans and Oliver Platt, and is the setting for 1993 comedy drama Bhaji on the Beach, directed by Gurinder Chadha. The resort has faded a little since cheap flights saw holidaymakers heading abroad, but you can see the promenade at its gloriously blowsy peak in Tony Richardson’s 1961 A Taste Of Honey.

The lavish Tower Ballroom, at the foot of the Tower, can be seen in Ken Russell’s 1977 Valentino, with dancer Rudolf Nureyev as the silent screen idol.

Back in Liverpool, Julia takes John to the pictures to see an Elvis Presley newsreel, at the 1926 Woolton Picture House, 3 Mason Street, Woolton, just a little to the east of the real Menlove Avenue house.

Music was, if anything, more divisive than it is today and when Lennon finds out that the discs he’s nicked from the record store are jazz, he tosses them contemptuously into the River Mersey at Liverpool Docks.

There are more glimpses of the real Liverpool – the Protestant Cathedral, and South Brick Street, as Aunt Mimi takes John to buy his first guitar.

But the shop is the Duke of Uke – the only ukulele and banjo emporium in London – which stood at 22 Hanbury Street, in Spitalfields, London E1. Don’t worry – it’s not closed, but the store has recently moved to 88 Cheshire Street, E2.

When Lennon goes traffic-surfing on the roof of a double-decker bus, it’s through the northwest London suburb of Pinner, to a confrontation with knife-wielding Teddy Boys at the bus stop outside the Queen’s Head pub on Pinner High Street.

The little café where he spends time with his mum while suspended from school, and where the two sisters have their moving reconciliation towards the end of the film, is Pellicci’s, 332 Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green, London E2. A hangout of notorious gangsters, the Kray brothers, who lived just around the corner in Vallance Street, Pellicci’s has been in the same family since it was built in 1900. One of the few remaining unchanged 40s-style cafes left in the country, it is actually featured in Brian Helgeland's 2015 Legend, with Tom Hardy as both Ron and Reggie Kray.