Wells: Star of the Big Screen

PUBLISHED: 17:06 21 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:55 20 February 2013

Wells: Star of the Big Screen

Wells: Star of the Big Screen

Famous for its Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace, Wells has also made its name as a top-class film location. Words by Sarah Ford

The Somerset city of Wells has always been an essential stop on the tourist trail. The magnificent Cathedral, with its new entry cloister, shop and restaurant, welcomes more than 300,000 visitors each year and 20% of those come from overseas.
Meanwhile, over at the nearby medieval Bishops Palace and Gardens, work is now under way on a 4.8m development project to enhance the experience for visitors and the local community. The major plans include a new green caf (heated using renewable energy), a community garden, outdoor theatre and a new viewing point to see the moats famous swans.
The Palace home to the Bishop of Bath and Wells since 1206 is a site of international significance and many of the buildings are scheduled ancient monuments. The gardens enclose the prehistoric wells that give the city its name.
With its exceptional architecture and rich history, it is unsurprising that Wells has also attracted film-makers over the years. The city has been the star in a variety of productions such as Dr Who, The Libertine (starring Johnny Depp) and British comedy film Hot Fuzz, which was written and directed by Edgar Wright
who grew up here and attended The
Blue School.

My Somerset Life: Derek Cooper

Derek Cooper has been in the cinema industry for 48 years. He has managed cinemas in Bristol and Wales and was a projectionist at the former Regal Cinema in Wells. In 1992, he opened the Wells Film Centre. Derek and his wife, June, have six daughters and Sally and Libby manage the three-screen cinema along with their father. The family also run the Spinning Wheel
Tea Rooms in Wells.

Tell me about your first cinema.
It was at home in West Pennard and
I projected the film on a piece of hardboard. When I was at school in
St Dunstans, Glastonbury, I started a film society.

What are your memories of going to the movies in Wells?
I used to catch the bus from Glastonbury or cycle across the moors into Wells with my friend John Hillier. We bought a jam doughnut at Curtis the bakers and queued outside the Regal to watch the films. I became a rewind boy, rewinding the film reels, at the Regal when I was 16.

What was it like for Wells to be the star of the 2007 British comedy film Hot Fuzz?
The majority of the town embraced
it and the cast and crew embraced
the city. June and I did a couple of scenes as extras. Most people in Wells were excited by the filming and people still talk about it today. I did five weeks on the shoot for crowd control and security, raising money from this for
the Winter Carnival.

What part did the film centre play?
I did the rushes at the cinema and I was there with the director and the director of photography many a night until three in the morning putting together miles of film. The Wells premire was held at the film centre and it was quite a night, with the stars and director all willing to greet the public before the screening.

I believe the films director, Edgar Wright, grew up locally and used to work for you at the Regal.
He was a projectionist and I remember he used to make home movies. I told him his name would be up on the big screen one day. We laugh now because I fired him. He has admitted himself that he was not the best of projectionists, but he is obviously a fantastic film-maker. Edgar is the writer on Spielbergs next film, The Adventures of Tintin.

Do you have any other memorable film moments?
In 2004, Wells played host to some of the filming of The Libertine directed by another Blue School pupil, Laurence Dunmore, and starring Johnny Depp and John Malkovich. I did a few days as an extra in the scene filmed in the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral. Johnny Depp giving the big speech standing right in front of you was very exciting.

Why do people visit Wells?
People come to Wells because of its charm. In this square mile we have the beauty of the Cathedral and Bishops Palace, we have shops, entertainment and a diverse High Street. Visitors can stay in one of the beautiful hotels surrounded by friendly people. What more could you want?

Where would you eat out?
Of course I have to mention our tea rooms, The Spinning Wheel, but I think we have visited every pub, restaurant and caf over the years. In warmer weather I enjoy sitting outside Bekynton Brasserie in the Market Place watching the world go by.

What is your favourite view?
The top of Deer Leap (in the Mendip Hills) offers brilliant views. You can see across to Brean Down, South Wales and see Glastonbury Tor as a dot across the moors. Everyone can get fed up with where they live but if youve been away for a while and then travel back home over the Mendips you understand why people come here from all over the world to experience what this county has to offer.

Do you have a favourite walk?
I like to walk through the park in Wells and look at those fabulous big trees. I used to see them as a boy while I was holding my mothers hand and now my grandson does the same.

What shops could you not live without?
Small independent retailers are the heart of places like Wells and 40 years ago there were many offering a wide choice. There are still a few, such as Microbitz the computer shop, Swan Stationery, award-winning butchers F Griffiths & Sons and Thatchers Pet Shop. Whiting & Son is a wonderful ironmongers and you know that whatever it is you want they will have it.

For a list of show times at the film centre go to wellsfilmcentre.co.uk. Highlights this month include multi-BAFTA winner The Kings Speech. To book: 01749 673195.

Latest from the Somerset Life