I find the Observer’s Tiddler the most subversive media product
around. Out it drops onto the mat from the great wodge of inflated
supplements week after week saying ’read me, I’m small, different and
not going to take all day’.
The other Sunday it devoted its slender resources to a GCSE-style essay
- listing the reasons why it is smart not to go away on holiday -
splendidly oblivious to the travel section of the main paper, which
groans with adverts tempting readers to jet around the world.
I caught myself thinking Tiddler-style thoughts as I watched the English
Patient sweep the Oscars last week. Already Tunisia has leapt into
action with the message: you’ve watched the film, now come and see the
In fact any country with a decent stretch of desert within reach of a
nice bit of coast will assuredly see a pick up in tourism. Last year
Braveheart gave a boost of sorts to the Scottish tourism industry,
despite the fact that the film was largely made in Ireland and featured
a lot of rain, bare bottoms and fierce natives daubed in woad.
This link between the media and tourism is not new but the public’s
willingness and ability to travel in pursuit of a suggestive celluloid
or fictional dream is certainly growing and so are the number of TV
holiday shows, however different or real they claim to be. The sure fire
way for a tourist board to raise visitor numbers is to woo a film or TV
company to its area. In fact, the British Film Commission and its
regional offshoots now exist in large measure to fix welcoming locations
and, as Lottery money starts cascading into film production later this
year, whole tracts of the country will become sets.
Even homespun TV plays its part. The ITV detective drama Wycliffe, a
pretty standard product filmed entirely in Cornwall and completely
lacking the Mel Gibson factor, was credited last month with ’awakening
people to the county’s attractions’: visitors were up by 11 per cent.
But the desire to see the spot where something is regularly filmed is
actually causing productions to retreat to secure locations. Mass market
TV drama is becoming remarkably obsessed with real estate and dedicated
open-air sets which can hold the public at bay.
It is why Yorkshire TV wants its own village for Emmerdale on Earl
Harewood’s estate: the capital outlay more than compensates for
London’s Burning is based in a studio posing as an industrial
So, should we take the Tiddler line and stay at home? Well, the
suggestive power of the media is so great that it just won’t happen. I’m
not convinced anyway that media fame destroys a place. Provence survived
and so will Tunisia. But British TV is passing up a great opportunity:
companies should build replica visitor sets. The time for a Soap Land
experience has truly arrived.