Updated: Sep 16
This is not about the song from 1869, but the film that went on to feature it…
Some will know, but some may not, that the makers of the 1953 British movie “Genevieve” filmed several scenes at or close to Stanwell Moor.
There are many websites on-line with more information about the movie itself, and probably more than anyone will ever want to know, but I've included links to a selection of these at the end of this blog for anyone that’s interested. If you just want the basics, these scans of the “Picture Show” from August 1953 should give you a rough idea.
The movie was front page news at that time and the Picture Show magazine rated it “Excellent”.
The basic story is about two friends that own old cars, and who run them in the London to Brighton car rally. Long story short, they then take on a bet about who can get back to London first.
Why they happened to film in Stanwell Moor relates to some early production decisions, so some explanation would be helpful.
The film was fairly low budget, and the Director Henry Cornelius mortgaged his house to get it made. Most of the story happens while the actors are driving the cars, and to make that as authentic as possible (and without costly back-projection) they filmed most of the movie within a short driving distance of Pinewood Studios, with only the London and Brighton scenes being shot at the true locations.
The actors drove real antique cars for many of the scenes, but where you're watching them from either the front or rear of the vehicles, they used other techniques to create "movie magic".
For scenes looking directly at the front of the vehicle, they used a replica car chassis sitting on a low-loader, with the camera crew in front of them and the truck being driven by a member of the crew "as normal".
For scenes where you're behind the actors and "on board" with them, they converted a truck bed and added the replica car chassis in place of the truck's cab; so for those shots the actor was actually driving the truck with the crew behind them!
These techniques meant they didn't have to close roads or divert any traffic, so backgrounds are all authentic and the moving scenery is aligned with the car.
Any associated noise was not an issue because the sound was dubbed by the actors several weeks after filming had been completed.
As an aside, it turned out that the actor who drove Genevieve, John Gregson could not actually drive, and no one had thought to ask him! The production team arranged a crash course for him early on, so while it's him driving the car in the film, his co-star and the passenger on Genevieve, Dinah Sheridan, said that by the time they had finished shooting, although he knew how to drive an old car, she would not have trusted him with a new one!
With the considerable help from a fan of the film, Don Brockway (his website is in the links below) and my own review of the film - frame-by-frame in some cases - I think I've managed to pull out the scenes filmed on the outskirts of the village, which are as follows:
1) Several scenes (all part of one sequence) at the Mill on Horton Road
2) Several scenes (making up three sequences) of Horton Road at the junction with Stanwell Moor Road.
3) Several scenes (all part of one sequence) of Stanwell Moor Road.
Taking these one-by-one.....
The Mill on Horton Road
Genevieve has to stop at the Mill as they need to put water in the radiator.
The Mill looks beautiful with the coloured ivy across the front - filming took place from September to November - but is that damage to the Mill roof? Are those skylights or are the roof beams exposed to the elements?
When they finally stop and Dinah Sheridan walks towards the Mill House, you can see a timber joist that looks like it's supporting an outside wall, and the window pane above the door on the right hand side looks smashed in.
A good shot of Dinah Sheriden opening the gate to the Mill House.
No answer at the Mill House, so Dinah heads to the river to get water for the car. Are those window panes in the Mill broken or is it the light playing tricks?
Great shot of Kenneth More capitalising on their misfortune and overtaking his rival. See how low the hedge was then? Looks like it was a washing day next door!
This sequence ends as Dinah Sheriden returns with the water.
Horton Road junction with Stanwell Moor Road
This piece of road is used three times in the movie, all representing different stages of the journey.
This first scene has Genevieve driving in Horton Road close to and towards the junction with Stanwell Moor Road. The carriageway layout has been altered quite a bit since the film was made, but it's sufficiently similar to be recognisable, such as the kerb stones and pathway on the right of the picture, and take note of the tree on the left of the shot, as well as the backside of the sign behind and to the right of Genevieve).
In this picture, and many of the others from this series, you can see large pipe sections, and I wonder what was going on in the village at that time?
You can also see a green coach behind the car, and in fact when you watch the movie there are two coaches one after the other. Were these held-up bus services or part of the film crew entourage, being used to mask what's actually behind them?
So if you weren't certain this was Horton Road, the sign in the background is a bit of a give-away.....and see the entrance to the farm area on Stanwell Moor Road?...
...well this next frame is taken with the camera tripod sitting in that entrance, and immediately follows the last shot (you may make out the shadow of the Brighton sign in this picture - top left of the passing car - as the first scene fades into the next) but you'll notice the actors have donned raincoats to make it look different, despite the road being bone dry!
So the above scene is looking up Stanwell Moor Road towards Heathrow, with the reservoirs behind the cameraman.
Now they're going to turn right from Stanwell Moor Road back into Horton Road.
You can see the Horton Road sign, the backside of the sign and that tree, both highlighted in the first shot, and the straight-line edge of the King George VI Reservoir running from left to right. There's also more evidence of those local works, with large metal pipes visible on the verge of Horton Road and peeking out from below the fake Brighton sign.
(Note: the cars are meant to be racing back from Brighton so they should be getting closer to London. However in this sequence, if you believe the signs, they're actually getting closer to Brighton...a mistake by the Editors that I'd not spotted till now!).
The film makers manage to get one more use out of this junction...
This looks to be Genevieve heading down Horton Road again, but slightly further back towards the village. Anyone recognise that distinctive kerb on the right?
There's a Steam Road Roller in the background, which is actually giving off steam in the movie sequence although it plays no part in the story (is that what the buses were designed to hide from the previous shot?). There's also one of the very characteristic lampposts from the village back then, and a boy on his bike watching the goings on.
As the sequence moves on you can see some of those concrete pipes just to the front right of the scene, buried and in the process of being covered up. So one theory is that while the filming was happening, the works in the village related to management of the ditches. If that's correct, then the section in this shot probably relates to the Stanwell Place Ditch, part of which remains exposed in front of Vermeulens to this day.
As the camera zooms in and pans slightly, we get to see the fact Horton Road was a bit more windy at this time, and there are a few more contemporary cars in the background.
In the last scene John Gregson runs into what must have been a dummy phone-box put up by the film crew. This shot gives an even better view of the verge, the lamppost and those concrete pipe sections. You can also see the boy on his bike enjoying the moment.
Stanwell Moor Road
This final sequence is taken between the reservoirs. The junction with Park Road is hidden behind the trees in the background on the right. The pylons give you an idea of the location with respect to the village.
Genevieve has supposedly broken down again, and John Gregson stops this unsuspecting driver for a tow.
There are several good shots of the cars driving back towards the village with the pumping house in the background.
All images from Genevieve, used with permission and remain © ITV Studios
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So that's a quick overview of when the movies "came to town" in Stanwell Moor, and via which these moments of a bygone period in the village have been captured. This was being filmed just 8 years after the end of WW II and the large housing developments of the 60's were still a few years off, so the village would have been quite a sleepy place compared to today, ideal for the film crew, and we are really quite lucky to have this glimpse of the past "as it was".
As a footnote, I happened to visit a car museum in the Netherlands in 2013 and was very surprised, but happy, to come across both the true stars of Genevieve. That place is the Louwman Museum in The Hague, and if you happen to be there and like cars, it's well worth a look. Alternatively, if they happen to be in a future London to Brighton run - they were in it before the movie, and have been in it many times since - then a visit to Hyde Park may be easier, although it does start very early so you need to plan accordingly!
For those that are less inclined, here are a couple of pictures I took at the time.
Darracq 12-HP, 1904 - "Genevieve" © Author
Spyker 12/16-HP Double Phaeton, 1905 © Author
For anyone that wants to read more, here are the links I promised:
Did you or any of your relatives see the filming? Do you recognise any of these scenes from then? Any stories to share? Do you know "the boy on the bike"?
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