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Tuesday November 13th 2018

Billy Liar | 1963

Billy Liar location: Hinchcliffe Avenue, Baildon, Yorkshire
Billy Liar location: Billy's house: Hinchliffe Avenue, Baildon, Yorkshire

The New Wave of the Sixties shifted the focus of British cinema from the middle class Home Counties to working class inner cities up North.

One of the first, 1959's Room at the Top, was filmed around Bradford, West Yorkshire, but still relied on actors schooled in Received Pronunciation faking flat Northern vowels.

Four years later, when John Schlesinger filmed this adaptation of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s play in the same West Yorkshire town, the former documentary maker was bold enough to cast Northerners.

Schlesinger incorporated fantasy sequences and broad satire into the story of Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay), an undertaker’s clerk who lives a rich fantasy life but ultimately blows his chance of real escape with swinging free spirit Liz (the iconic Julie Christie).

Billy Liar location: War Memorial, Bradford, Yorkshire
Billy Liar location: Billy and his mate clown about on the War Memorial, Bradford, Yorkshire

Filmed mainly around Bradford in West Yorkshire, where Billy clowns about on the city’s war memorial on Prince’s Way (shockingly disrespectful, less than twenty years after the end of WWII). If you're visiting Bradford, don't forget to visit the National Media Museum, with its IMAX cinema, which you'll find in the city centre.

Billy Liar location: Southgate, Bradford, Yorkshire
Billy Liar location: ‘Shadrack and Duxbury’ – the undertaker where Billy worked: Southgate, Bradford, Yorkshire

The shop which served as ‘Shadrack and Duxbury’, the undertakers where Billy works, can be found nearby, at the foot of the steps on Southgate, off Sunbridge Road.

The pompous Victorian cemetery in which Billy walks, with one of his two fiancées, can be found northeast of the city centre. The grimy monuments of Undercliffe Cemetery overlook Bradford, on Undercliffe Lane, off Otley Road.

Billy Liar location: Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, Yorkshire
Billy Liar location: Billy walks with his fiancées: Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, Yorkshire

Although Billy appears to walk to the city centre in a couple of minutes, his home is in one of the nicer suburbs, about four miles north of the city centre, at 37 Hinchliffe Avenue, Baildon, at Midland Road, north of Shipley (rail: Baildon).

The dance hall, where Billy’s romantic entanglements catch up with him, was the old Locarno, now gone, which stood on Manningham Lane.

Billy’s review of the victorious troops in the fantasy realm of ‘Ambrosia’ filmed at Leeds Town Hall. Look out for director John Schlesinger, in a characteristic Hitchcock-style cameo, as a Russian officer in one of the fantasy sequences.

Billy Liar location: Marylebone Station, London
Billy Liar location: Billy chickens out of leaving for London with Liz: Marylebone Station – London

Even this film is not all the real North, though. The final scene, supposedly set on ‘Central Station, Bradford’, with Liz leaving for the Big City, filmed in the capital itself, ironically, on London’s Marylebone Station.

Marylebone cropped a year later, masquerading as another nothern station (Liverpool), in the Beatles' first feature film, A Hard Day's Night. More recently, its frontage stood in for the not-very-photogenic 'Paddington Station' in, of all things, Paddington.