The Royal Pavilion has served as a location for several major films, including On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Ian McKellen’s Richard III and Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair. We have recently learned of another drama that was filmed here, following the discovery of some photographs amongst our archival materials relating to the Pavilion.
Showing filming on the eastern lawns and the Banqueting Room, we were initially unable to identify the production or its stars. The mystery was eventually solved by our guide and researcher Alexandra Loske. After a good deal of detective work, and with the help of the Brighton Past Facebook group, we have learned that the film in question was not a film at all, but an episode from Alfred Hitchcock Presents… a popular TV series that ran during the 1950s and 1960s.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents… consisted of individual mystery stories. Few were directed by Hitchcock, but he introduced and closed each tale with a drily comic monologue. The episode filmed at the Pavilion was first broadcast in December 1961. The story, entitled I Spy, was an adaptation of a play by John Mortimer. Set in Brighton, much of the episode was shot on location: the Palace Pier and Queen’s Hotel also appear. Starring Kay Walsh and Eric Barker, I Spy is the tale of a private detective investigating the estranged wife of his client. A thorough summary and discussion of the episode by Jack Seabrook can be found here and the entirety of the show is presently available to view on You Tube (the scene at the Pavilion starts at about 14:30 minutes in).
What is remarkable about these photos is that they not only provide a glimpse at the Pavilion’s life as an occasional film set, but they also show the building as it was presented to the public at the time. The chandelier and wall decorations may be recognisable, but the banqueting table is conspicuously absent. Today the Banqueting Room is presented to suggest its use as a place of feasting and entertaining; in the early 1960s, with its square of seats in the centre, it still carried a sense of what former Pavilion director Clifford Musgrave described as ‘municipal nakedness’.
But if there is one element to the scene that has perhaps not changed over the years, it’s the response of the visitors.
‘What a gorgeous chandelier!’ declares the undercover detective.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to have to wash that down,’ replies the estranged wife.
That moment of wonder, followed by a consideration of the practical implications of running a royal palace, is probably typical of many visitors’ conversations today.
Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer