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Thursday November 15th 2018

Doctor Dolittle | 1967

Doctor Dolittle (1967) filming location: Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: ‘Puddleby-on-the-Marsh’: Castle Combe, Wiltshire

Astonishingly, this big-budget, musicalised version of Hugh Lofting’s story got an Oscar nomination as Best Film. What had members of the Academy been smoking that year?

Doctor Dolittle (1967) filming location: Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: ‘Puddleby-on-the-Marsh’ seafront: By Brook, Castle Combe, Wiltshire

To portray the little coastal town of ‘Puddleby-on-the-Marsh’, the filmmakers chose what had been voted the ‘Prettiest Village in England’, Castle Combe in Wiltshire. From the start, this was destined to be a troubled production. Castle Combe is situated on the southern-most edge of the Cotswolds about 12 miles from the city of Bath – and nowhere near the sea. No matter.

Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: ‘Puddleby-on-the-Marsh’ seafront: By Brook, Castle Combe, Wiltshire

The bank of By Brook, the tiny river which runs through the village, was transformed into a bustling seafront, changing the unspoiled loveliness of the location, which had attracted 20th Century-Fox in the first place.

The subsequent disruption, along with the constant high-decibel playback of music tracks during filming of the musical numbers, resulted in plummeting relations with the locals.

Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: the doctor’s house: Castle Combe, Wiltshire

One villager, who had the intention of removing the set once and for all, was intercepted carrying sticks of dynamite.

Nevertheless, in the main street you can still recognise the ‘sea front’, the jail, and the Doctor’s house.

Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: the doctor is held in jail: Castle Combe, Wiltshire

 

The UK’s lack of constant sunshine seemed to take the production company by surprise and, as the already poor weather continued to deteriorate, the production was finally closed down and moved to Los Angeles, where the village was recreated on a Hollywood soundstage.

Times and changed and film companies are now much more sensitive toward their locations. The village seems to have forgiven Hollywood and, finally, cameras have been allowed back. Castle Combe became ‘Stormhold’ for Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 fantasy Stardust, as well as the superstitious hamlet of ‘Blackmoor’ in Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman and, of course, the site of the horse fair in Steven Spielberg’s film of War Horse.

Castle Combe’s houses are of the typical Cotswold type, built of stone with thick walls, and roofs made from split natural stone tiles. They are hundreds of years old and listed as ancient monuments, subject to strict rules preserving the village’s character.

Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: Marigot bay, Saint Lucia
Doctor Dolittle (1967) location: the tropical island: Marigot Bay, St Lucia, West Indies | Photograph: iStockphoto / Graffizone

Then it was time to move to the tropical splendour of the West Indies for the beach scenes with the giant pink snail, which were filmed at Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia in the Windward Islands. True to form, the crew arrived just in time for the rainy season.