The Most English Thing In England
Every week in ‘The Avengers’, the old TV series, not the Marvel Comics lycra-fest, John Steed and Cathy Gale/Emma Peel/ Tara King (not sure I count Purdy though I’m willing to hear a persuasive argument) solved a bizarre plot. The situations involved losing an hour, losing the population of a village, losing a graveyard, losing a train, and finding dead agents who suffered delusions or nightmares, who drowned in dry fields or were attacked by non-existent winged creatures. There was always a villain guest-star (Donald Sutherland! Christopher Lee!) and his henchmen, and a simplistic resolution involving a trap, some karate-chopping, the villain telling a henchman ‘Mr Steed is snooping around. Make sure he doesn’t leave’ and the reason for the situation – a code, a bomb, a gamma ray or another assassination device.
But the abiding image of the Avengers is a deserted country road. It’s surprising how little of it was shot in London. Steed’s flat in Weymouth Mews was rarely seen from its exterior, and there was no London location shooting. Instead, Steed’s green Bentley always raced through the country lanes to the south-west of the capital, where nobody had to pay London shoot fees.
This week a story has appeared in the press that feels like an Avengers episode. The 2,000-acre North Yorkshire village of West Heslerton has been owned by the Dawnay family for more than 150 years. It has a pub, a garage, playing fields and a sports pavilion, a 21-bedroom historic hall and 43 houses. It’s a functioning English village, with a population of around 375, frozen in time until now. Because for £20m, a buyer is being sought to purchase the perfectly preserved, quintessential Yorkshire village, where time has stood still.
It’s not a chocolate-box village but it’s quintessentially English. What if an evil lord (Michael Hordern, possibly, or Peter Jeffrey) takes it and sets about training the occupants into an elite squad of hitpersons, masquerading as trainspotters or dead people?