Screen Tourism

As the latest series of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders reached its disappointing conclusion, like many others across the world, I felt deflated at the prospect of waiting two more long years for the penultimate, and hopefully more action-packed, series.

As the mania and hype builds further, the Peaky Blinders effect has tourism at an all time high in and around Birmingham as we satisfy our obsession.

Birmingham is home to the Peaky Blinders gang and, though predominantly shot in Manchester and Liverpool, the West Midlands city has seen tourism spike since the first series aired in 2013.

For the launch of series 5 in August 2019, the BBC put a fan painted mural on the side of the Custard Factory, a creative hub in Birmingham and the former site of Bird’s Custard. Gang leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) looks down over Digbeth, drawing fans directly into the heart of the city.

Some scenes are shot at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, which has just had its fifth year of growth. Visitors are up a third since 2013. The museum made a loss of £599,745 in 2012/13 and in its annual report for 2018 shows profits of £910,095.

I, like many, want to recognise something from the show, or to have a photo taken or stand in the spot the actors did. It’s silly when you think about it, but it’s a phenomenon that is making the area a lot of money and shows no sign of slowing down.

Shops, a festival, escape rooms, themed evenings, series screenings, it all sells out almost instantly. The impact it’s had is incredible with Joe Godwin, the director of BBC Midlands, telling the Guardian: “Peaky Blinders has been a game changer for Birmingham.”

Sticking to the UK, the BBC series Poldark draws tourists to Cornwall with Visit Cornwall claiming it accounts for 13 per cent of all holidaymakers. Though the fashions, drinks and theme of the show have not made it to the mainstream like Peaky Blinders (thankfully, not sure I am feeling a corset) not everyone in the south is happy, complaining tourists ruin the area.

I would argue the opposite and a programme that encourages any sort of UK staycation is positive for the economy, the arts and history of the local area. I highly doubt the Poldark crowd is particularly larger lout-ish either and is probably more inclined to buy branded tea towels than other fans!

Virgin jumped on the bandwagon last week and re-launched Gavin and Stacey tours of Barry Island in Wales. For £60 you and a friend can go on a bus trip around all the filming locations on a Dave’s Coaches branded bus. Those who booked to go in July 2019 were treated to selfies with the show’s star James Corden as it coincided with the filming of the Christmas special.  And Marco is a real person selling his ice-cream, so he must be thrilled!

I am excited to be inspired to visit somewhere else in the UK as the next big thing launches on the BBC and hope the Peaky Blinders bubble doesn’t burst. Perhaps a getaway to Dudley is on the cards, who would have thought it?

And yes, Tommy Shelby is in my dining room


Ticket pricing in the West End

Some of my fondest childhood memories are annual birthday trips to London. Shopping, sightseeing, amazingly calorific food topped off with a West End theatre production of my choice. The soundtrack tape was always purchased and formed the basis of car sing offs for the next six months.

We would occasionally pre-book tickets but generally wing it, visiting a box office and snapping up tickets for a show starting in 20 minutes across town and run fast, simultaneously mocking our mother’s bladder function.

An annual ticket survey conducted by The Stage in October 2019 found the most expensive tickets have risen on average just under 60 per cent since 2012 though, pricing a lot of us out of the market. Average seats are up 13 per cent on 2018 and personally I will not part with money for the cheapest, restricted view seats – not to mention how quickly they sell out.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical, Hamilton, is the latest show to be criticised over pricing and a quick Google for tickets shows Ticketmaster first. A returned ticket for January 31 in the stalls or royal circle is £287.50 and a grand circle, nose-bleeder seat is £66.25. So four tickets with a decent view would cost a staggering £1150!

Tickets direct through the Victoria Palace Theatre are £250 for the best seats available, so can Ticketmaster really justify charging £37.50 a head to handle the process?

Liberal Democrat peer Patrick Boyle tabled a motion for debate on this issue in April 2019. He wants more regulation in the industry with his speech in the House of Lords centered around the idea many can no longer afford ticket prices, with a lack of transparency on where the money went. He is the Earl of Glasgow, so if he can’t afford it there is no hope for me.

I spoke to Chris Kirkwood, the chief executive of the Lincoln Drill Hall, about pricing in general and why the West End is so expensive compared to Lincoln. Chris said: “I would argue the Government will stay out of the debate in terms of the West End as it’s a commercial proposition. I’m not sure they could regulate what someone charges for a product any more than they could do for the car industry.

“In the West End an estimate to put a new musical on the stage costs £1million upwards, so pricing is always going to be high to recoup costs. Channel 4 did a documentary a few years ago and the producer of Top Hat suggested they had to gross £250,000 per week just to stay afloat. With that in mind the West End couldn’t move towards Pay What You Decide.”

My local theatre, the South Holland Centre in Spalding, is a lot more comfortable than the dizzying heights of the grand circles of London so I want to book more National Theatre Live.  For under £20 a live streaming of the performance is broadcast direct from the theatre.

But I will need a West End fix every now and again for the whole experience, so I better start another Hamilton-sized piggy bank.