Its perhaps a consequence of the reluctant study of my school years that some of the great authors I read at the time had any future appeal completely extinguished. The burden of completing Nostromo was sufficient to deter me from reading Conrad ever again. Eliot’s poetry was another victim, despite the fact that a line from The Waste Land was echoed as the title for another of the books on our reading list; Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. Waugh fared magically better; his work being an easier read I went as far as reaching for some of his other works but I didn’t make it as far as Brideshead Revisited. Nor did I watch the TV series. Or see the film.
The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.*
So there you have it; a self-confessed Philistine! And one who can walk the corridors of Castle Howard without the moments of recognition that come from entering a film location that he’s familiar with, or equally knowingly spotting where directors have taken liberties in moving seamlessly between locations that are often quite separate in reality. I’ve done my share of that when skiing on Schilthorn or enjoying the gardens of Villa del Balbianello. The point is that both the series and the movie were filmed here so that Castle Howard has become synonymous with Brideshead.
The interiors of a stately home can be as much of an attraction as the exterior, and in some cases more so. Personally I’m less inclined to wonder at the table settings and bed linen than I am at the spaces and the artistry that has been applied to them but each to their own. Consequently I didn’t linger too much in Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom (that’s how rumours start), the Turquoise Drawing Room (imaginative name) or many places in between other than the Great Hall.
Now you might think that access to these colourful chambers was the reason for the interest of location scouts, but the truth is a little stranger. The magnificent great hall is mostly a restoration, but the original fresco inside the dome was Fall of Phaeton by Pellegrini. The irony being that this myth tells of Phaeton losing control of his father’s chariot which carried the sun across the sky and the earth being in danger of incineration as a result and yet the artwork was lost when in November 1940 a chimney fire quickly spread through the property resulting in several rooms being gutted and the dome collapsing into the hall below.
I sought inspiration among gutted places*
It was those rooms where filming took place since they provided a blank canvas for the set designers but in a setting with the high ceilings and grand doorways as standard.
What does it matter when its built if its beautiful?*
For years afterwards Castle Howard has traded on its Brideshead alter ego, though when I visited a new TV series was being aired which was filmed here and at several other locations in Yorkshire where grand buildings stood in for royal palaces. The series is an account of the early life of Queen Victoria and Castle Howard represents Kensington Palace. Had they concentrated on a later period of her rein the house could finally have played itself. She came here in August 1850.
* Quotations from Brideshead Revisited