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15:08 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 16:08 UK

A Christmas Carol in Shrewsbury

Audrey Tomlin and Martin Wood

Shrewsbury was transformed into Victorian London for the 1984 filming of Charles Dickens's classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

It starred George C Scott, Frank Finlay, Susannah York and Edward Woodward, while local schoolboy Anthony Walters played Tiny Tim.

More than 450 people from the town were used as extras during the filming.

One was Martin Wood, Shrewsbury's town crier, who was Edward Woodward's stand-in.

Shrewsbury was one of Dickens's favourite places, so it was appropriate that the film should be made there.

"The money he made from the book paid for him to get out of debt and out of debtors' prison"


Martin Wood

In fact it was in the Music Hall in Shrewsbury that Dickens gave the first ever public reading of A Christmas Carol.

Martin Wood said the author had stayed at the Lion Hotel: "Shrewsbury was a very, very favourite place of his. He was incarcerated in the debtors' prison which is why he wrote A Christmas Carol.

"The money he made from the book paid for him to get out of debt and out of debtors' prison."

Biggest Fan

Audrey Tomlin from Whitchurch loves the story of A Christmas Carol. She is also a great fan of the film and knows every line of the script: "I could prompt them now if they got stuck. I've seen it so many times I couldn't even start to count."

She accompanied Martin Wood on a tour of the film locations around Shrewsbury.

Martin Wood and Audrey Tomlin outside Scrooge's house

The Square was used for the opening scenes of the film, covered in snow with people walking about in Victorian dress.

Martin recalled an incident where filming was stopped for an ambulance to get through the Square.

At the end of the day, the producers phoned the hospital and discovered it was a mother in childbirth.

"As a form of apology for holding the ambulance up, which they didn't actually do, the producers turned up at maternity with a massive big bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates and a big bottle of champagne to wet the baby's head."

Treated like a star

Mr Wood's wife, Sue, did not go along to the filming at first.

Clive Donner, the director, asked him where his wife was and he explained that because she used a wheelchair she was unable to see what was going on.

Mrs Wood recalled: "Mr Donner kindly said 'every day you're on set I want your wife here as well.' So it was fantastic for me, I was really treated like a star."

The director even had a generator moved while they were filming at Hortonwood because he thought her view might be blocked.

Graveyard scene

The grave of Ebenezer Scrooge is still to be seen in the churchyard of St Chad's overlooking the Quarry.

"Scrooge came in and got down on his hands and knees and the spirit literally floated over the graves and came above him"


Martin Wood

The scenes there were filmed at 2am and a raised railway was built across the graves to carry a box on wheels with a pole sticking out of it.

Martin Wood was also the double for Michael Carter, who played the Spirit of Christmas Future: "We had to stand on this box and grip it with our knees... while we were doing this guys would be pulling us along.

"Scrooge came in and got down on his hands and knees and the spirit literally floated over the graves and came above him"

He also managed to terrify the Bishop of Shrewsbury's wife, who had come to watch the filming. He came up behind her, dressed all in black: "When she stepped back and turned round to see who it was, she screamed."

Special Effects

St Julian's Church

Mr Wood was particularly impressed by the special effects used by the film makers.

Looking down Fish Street in Shrewsbury St Julian's Church should be visible, but in the film the dome of St Paul's Cathedral appears. It was added later at Pinewood studios.

In the years after the film, Mr Wood did Christmas Carol Tours of the town for visitors, especially Americans: "They would come and stand here and take photographs and they would say 'Where's the domed church gone?'

"I used to say 'Well, a couple of weeks after the film was done there was a big fire and it completely destroyed it... but at least you can still see it on the films."

Carol singers

Mr Wood was also impressed with the skating scene outside what is now the Parade shopping centre which was used as the exterior of the Corn Market for the film. The ice slide had been created with sheets of polythene and gallons of washing up liquid.

"It's better actually seeing it for real. I feel like I've touched a little bit of Charles Dickens's history"


Audrey Tomlin

The carol singers who also appeared in the same scene had a hidden secret: "One of the ladies standing at the front has got a fairly large skirt. She is actually standing astride a speaker and the music is blasting out from there while they are miming to it."

Standing outside the building used as Scrooge's house in the film, Audrey Tomlin said she could remember watching the door knocker changing into the face of Marley's ghost.

She said she had enjoyed her tour: "It's better actually seeing it for real. I feel like I've touched a little bit of Charles Dickens's history."

She said she would go home and watch the film again: "When I look at the film now I can see it and think 'I actually stood there... I've had my photograph taken there.' It's absolutely brilliant."




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