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Wymondham cinema to screen movie filmed in the area on its 30th birthday

PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 October 2014

Geese from Laughterhouse in London.

Geese from Laughterhouse in London.

Archant

Hooks Farm in the sleepy village of Letton, five miles from Dereham, became a hive of activity when a cast and crew from Greenpoint Films descended on it in late January 1984.

Penelope Wilton and Ian Holm.Penelope Wilton and Ian Holm.

The farm, then run by John and Muriel Searle, was to provide the location for the opening scenes in a comedy drama called Laughterhouse or, in America, Singleton’s Pluck.

And to mark its 30th anniversary this movie, which also saw filming at Old Buckenham, will be screened by the Regal Experience on Sunday, October 19 at the Wymondham Ex-Services’ Club, the Regal Cinema.

With a script written by wrestler-cum-actor Brian Glover, Laughterhouse tells the story of a Norfolk farmer, played by Ian Holm, who decides to drive his geese to London’s Smithfield Market because of union-controlled transport difficulties.

It is filled with incidents interwoven with several sub-plots. Penelope Wilton, now of Downton Abbey fame, is the farmer’s wife, while Bill Owen, Compo in Last of the Summer Wine, and Richard Hope, who on leaving school had been involved at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich, were cast as farm workers.

Eastern Daily Press competition winners and their partners at the Norwich charity premiere at the ABC CInema. Brian Glover, who wrote the script, is in the middle.Eastern Daily Press competition winners and their partners at the Norwich charity premiere at the ABC CInema. Brian Glover, who wrote the script, is in the middle.

But perhaps the main stars were the 350 geese, who were supplied by the late John Adlard of Norfolk Geese, Chestnut Farm, Pulham Market, and trained by Jeremy and Erica Hart of Rushall, near Diss.

There was tight security at the training farm, where the geese were taught to walk through country lanes, cross fords and jump in and out of ponds. It was said their loss would “bring the film-makers out in goose pimples!”

After exploring the Norfolk countryside to find a suitably antiquated farm, the film people settled on Hooks Farm, which dates from around 1560.

Brenda Vaughan, John Searle’s daughter who now lives there with her husband Martin, recalls that although it was winter extra mud was brought in to give a more run-down rural appearance – and John’s tractor, which is seen in the film, is still in daily use today.

The weather was extremely cold and Bill Owen wore two pairs of thermal underwear, one of which he pinched from Richard Hope!

After enjoying the Searle’s hospitality the cast and crew moved on to Old Buckenham, where cameras rolled and the geese honked as dusk fell on the usually tranquil green. Villagers also played their part by being in the background of some scenes.

Several other East Anglian locations, among them Long Melford, were used on the way from Letton to London and, although their feet were tarred, the geese didn’t walk too much.

Two cattle trucks were used to carry them from one stop to the next. On reaching the capital they walked from Paternoster Square to St Paul’s – much to the amusement of American and Japanese tourists who were busy clicking their cameras.

Some locals were invited to a preview at the Odeon, Leicester Square, but a charity premiere was held at the ABC Cinema in Prince of Wales Road, Norwich on July 19 1984.

Those attending included the Lord Mayor Stan Petersen and his wife together with Brian Glover, who remarked that it was fitting the film should open in Norwich before London.

And in a competition 10 Eastern Evening News readers won pairs of tickets to the screening and Laughterhouse t-shirts with winner Ann Bennett, who attended from Wymondham with her late husband David, saying that “it was an enjoyable occasion, especially with the Norfolk connections”.

Brian Glover spoke to the ABC audience. He said: “Laughterhouse is a celebration of Norfolk, it’s a beautiful place, a county of skies and churches, and the film reflects that.”

Some years later Ian Holm commented that he had fond memories of his Norfolk experience and “the journey with the geese was wonderful and exhilarating”.

There will be an exhibition about Laughterhouse and its making at the show, as well as a comedy short Mr H is Late, starring the likes of Eric Sykes, Freddie Starr, Charlie Drake and Spike Milligan.

Laughterhouse will be screened at 2.30pm. Tickets are available from Maureen Dodman on 01953 605593, Michael Armstrong on 01953 603246 or at Simply Cards on Market Street. They are priced £5, with concessions £4.

Do you have a story about our area’s history? Contact reporter Lauren Cope on lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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