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Thursday September 19th 2019

Brighton Rock | 1947

Brighton Rock filming location: Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Fred Hale meets his end on the pier: Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex

We're so used to the reliably cuddly Richard Attenborough that it's easy to forget how surprisingly menacing he could be (10 Rillington Place, Séance On A Wet Afternoon) and never more so than in this early role as babyfaced teenage hoodlum Pinkie in Graham Greene’s adaptation of his own book, set in a seedy Forties Brighton.

This south coast town became fashionable resort for the upper classes during the the early 19th Century, as the dandyish Prince Regent took over as acting monarch from his father, the ailing George III; hence its elegant Regency architecture and its extravagant faux-Oriental Royal Pavilion.

The convenience of rail travel in the Century saw Brighton transformed into London-on-Sea, a convenient getaway for furtive weekend assignations and other nefarious activities.

For a while, its reputation became quite nasty but, as the opening disclaimer informs us, “that other Brighton” is “happily no more”. Presumably, that statement was the price paid for permission to film in the city.

Made in a time when most films were shot in the studio, Brighton Rock is famous for its use of real locations but, in fact, most – including the ‘Four Feathers pub’, ‘Snow’s café’ and the ‘Metropolitan Hotel’ – was shot in the old Welwyn Studios, Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire.

Brighton Rock filming location: Brighton Railway Station, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Fred Hale arrives in town: Brighton Railway Station, Brighton, East Sussex

The real Brighton is certainly much in evidence, though, particularly during the opening sequence as journo Fred Hale – in the guise of 'Kolley Kibber', a character dreamed up as part of a newspaper ‘giveaway’ campaign – arrives by train at Brighton Railway Station.

This is not such a good idea since Hale is on the hit list of a smalltime criminal gang he exposed, and it’s not long before he’s been recognised.

Brighton Rock filming location: The Lanes, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Fred Hale is chased through the narrow streets: The Lanes, Brighton, East Sussex

The outfit, comprised of Pinkie, Dallow (William Hartnell, now remembered as the very first Dr Who) and Cubitt (Nigel Stock) confront the rattled Hale in the Four Feathers and he’s soon running for his life through the real streets of the old town.

Brighton Rock filming location: The Lanes, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Fred Hale is chased through the narrow streets: The Lanes, Brighton, East Sussex

Hale flees through The Lanes, a maze of old shops, now antique and jewellery stores packed with tourists. It's a historic area and, despite the gentrification of individual businesses, you'll still recognise much of the old layout.

Brighton Rock filming location: West Street, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Hale runs for his life past the Clock Tower: West Street, Brighton, East Sussex

He runs past the base of the Jubilee Clock Tower, still standing on West Street in the heart of the main shopping district, up Queens Road back to the railway station, only to find Cubitt waiting for him.

Thinking quickly, Hale leaps onto a Number Six bus heading back toward the centre of town, jumping off only a few hundred yards away at the junction of Queens Road and Upper Gloucester Road.

Brighton Rock filming location: Queens Road, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Hale jumps off the bus: Queens Road, Brighton, East Sussex

The film is better on atmosphere than geography and Hale is immediately hurrying past what was the Blue Posts pub, now a private home, on the corner of North Road and Frederick Street, before scuttling down Church Street past arts venue Brighton Dome to the seafront.

Brighton Rock filming location: Upper Gloucester Road, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Hale runs through the streets: Upper Gloucester Road, Brighton, East Sussex

Hale is ultimately cornered on Brighton Pier, plunging to his death from the Dante’s Inferno scare ride – an ending perfectly in keeping with the gloomy Catholicism underpinning Greene’s story.

Brighton Rock filming location: Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: Fred Hale is cornered on the Pier: Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex

The Pier is still going strong but, understandably, has undergone many changes since the 1940s, not least in terms of Health & Safety regulations concerning gaping holes beneath funfair rides.

Pinkie and the gang’s hideout is briefly established by a shot of the narrow passageway which links Russell Square to the northeast corner of Regency Square, alongside the Regency Tavern. This historic Tavern, by the way, is one of two remaining pubs that applied for the town’s original 'Beer Shop Licence' in 1830.

Brighton Rock filming location: Regency Square, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: the gang's hideout: Regency Square, Brighton, East Sussex

When Spicer, another member of the gang, becomes a problem, Pinkie sets him up to be murdered by rivals among the crowds at a race meeting. The event, which Spicer inconveniently survives but at which Pinkie gets his face slashed, is held at Brighton Racecourse, Freshfield Road.

The local council, none too pleased with the violence, closed down filming at the course after a couple of days.

There are more scenes set on the Pier and the immediate seafront, but most of the rest of the film was shot on soundstages.