The Broadchurch Effect: TV drama boosts tourism for West Bay and Bridport
PUBLISHED: 23:00 24 April 2013 | UPDATED: 16:32 11 June 2013
As Bridport writer Chris Chibnall's gripping drama draws to a close Adam Lee-Potter looks at how it has put West Bay on the tourist map
Broadchurch is dead. Long live the Broadchurch effect. ITV’s glitzy whodunnit has helped to thwart what the rotten weather threatened: West Bay is back in the spotlight and business is booming.
The twists and turns are over - we finally know who killed poor Danny Latimer. And David Tennant has never been more convincing, Pauline Quirke more menacing or the Dorset coastline more stunning.
But that’s the point. Even its creator Chris Chibnall admits, for all his starry cast, that it was the Bridport and West Bay setting that stole the show.
“I wanted,” he says, “to make a drama where something terrible happens in a beautiful place. And I knew, as a writer and producer, that this was a cinematic landscape that would look extraordinary if shot in the right way. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response but Dorset should take most of the credit.”
Liverpool-born Chris moved to Bridport ten years ago after a family holiday in Lyme Regis. “I’d never been to Dorset before. We just really fell in love with the place. Then we came back for Valentine’s weekend. There was just something that drew us back here. Bridport, with its arts centre, cinema and market, immediately felt like home.”
Chris, 43, has a muscular TV background: Doctor Who, its spin-off Torchwood, and Law & Order: UK. But Broadchurch was arguably his most personal project to date.
“It’s been a really tough time for businesses locally – the recession, the weather - and I knew that if we brought a TV production down, it would be an economic boost.
“And it just felt right. When I was writing Law & Order, it was all sodium light and rainy concrete. Drama so rarely portrays the world in which most of us live: the small town. This was my response to that.”
As West Bay’s new-found champion, Chris has unwittingly put himself centre stage too. “One of the reasons I became a writer,” he says, “was to be anonymous. I am much more recognisable now and I have mixed feelings about that but, hey, the odd free pint wouldn’t go amiss!”
Steve Tucker, co-owner of the seafront Ellipse Caffé Bistro - which, on screen, neighbours the fictional police station - has been quick to embrace the Broadchurch effect. Steve even hosted a sell-out dinner and screening to celebrate the final episode on April 22.
“The show has been fantastic for business,” he says. “It’s reminded people that West Bay is still here, still beautiful. Despite the recession and the cold weather, people have been coming down in droves. The place just has a buzz again.”
There is even a new Broadchurch walking tour planned for the summer, set up by Lyme-based Natalie Manifold to compliment her Literary Lyme Jane Austen and John Fowles themed walks.
But Bridport and West Bay have long been draws for TV types; from the BBC’s Harbour Lights to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage.
Certainly, the launch of the cinema in 2007 – the Electric Palace – was a glitzy affair, studded by the likes of Martin Clunes, Michael Kitchen, Take That’s Howard Donald, Billy Bragg and PJ Harvey. The Bridport Arts Centre, a few doors down, is a 40-year-old powerhouse and the hub of the Page to Screen Festival - the only film festival to celebrate the art of the screen adaptation.
As Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “These are very exciting times for Bridport. It has got a proper arts scene going. There was a bohemian generation in Bridport in the early 60s. We are into the second generation now and, although the younger generation may leave for a time, they tend to come back.”
During the filming of Broadchurch, the cast stayed at The Bull Hotel, a gastro pub and restaurant on Bridport’s East Street. And why wouldn’t they? Who couldn’t fall in love with a gaffe whose speciality cocktail is made from vodka distilled from Dorset milk?
Co-owner Richard Cooper, who left his job in the music business in London to move to the town, said: “There is an incredibly eclectic mix of people. They do come from everywhere.”
His wife Nikki adds: “Broadchurch can only do West Dorset some good. Everyone who’s seen it has been stunned by how beautiful the place is.”
Mick Jagger is among fans of the town’s nationally famous fish restaurant, The Riverside, on Bridport’s West Bay, which has been described by food critic Mario Wyn-Jones as “one of the only genuine seafood restaurants along the whole south coast of England.”
Literature is an important part of the Bridport scene too, its annual prize for poetry and short stories, which has been running since 1973, has an international reputation. In the early days of the competition, which is anonymous, 5,000 entry forms went out. Today, hundreds of thousands enter the Bridport Prize from around the world.
The Broadchurch effect has, seemingly, been universal. The whole area has received a much-needed boost. The council’s tourist office website (www.visit-dorset.com) has been attracting up to 200 hits a minute during the show. “We’re over the moon with all the positive coverage the show has been receiving,” says their marketing officer Jessica Thornton.
“The March statistics show that we received 99,999 unique visits to the website which is an all-time record and this off-season spike in traffic was almost certainly due to the Broadchurch effect.
“Seeing the West Dorset coastline depicted in a high profile TV drama encourages people to find out more about where the show was filmed then hopefully go on to plan a visit to a destination they haven’t discovered before. ‘Set-jetting’ has become a real tourism phenomenon with many people choosing to visit the places they’ve grown to love on-screen - for example Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle - and we are hoping that Broadchurch is going to have a similar impact on tourism in West Bay.”
Trade is brisk at Freshwater Beach Holiday Park – halfway between West Bay and Burton Bradstock – the site of Pauline Quirke’s sinister caravan.
Business is also good at West Bay’s Watch House Café where I can heartily vouch for their legendary breakfasts. I will never forget the delight of their bacon and eggs after a three-hour yomp following a wet and miserable night camping in a Puncknowle field. But its sister restaurant, The Hive Beach Café, has also benefited from Broadchurch.
Operations manager Barry George has noticed a surge in business and interest. “A lot of customers have been asking about the show,” he says. “Broadchurch has been a real talking point. And it’s been a hugely popular thread for us on Twitter.”
Tracy Crisp, landlady at the West Bay Hotel, agrees: “Business has really picked up at the pub. And we have a holiday apartment. Some people have booked specifically because of their interest in the show.”
The Tiger Inn’s Graham Taylor adds: “We’ve had very positive feedback. The town needs pick-me-ups like this. We’ve had Harbour Lights and Fearnley-Whittingstall. This latest interest is hugely welcome.”
If the queue outside Leakers Bakery in Bridport is anything to go by on a brisk Friday morning, manager Jo Dobbs doesn’t need any televisual help shifting her delicious, £1.75 lemon and pistachio slices. “Broadchurch has really got customers going. Everyone wants to know where it was all filmed. I think it was a great show.”
Butcher Richard Balson – who heads up Britain’s oldest family business – is equally busy but less of a fan: “It was a tad slow for me,” he shrugs. “The horsemeat scandal has given us more business. But we did have one customer who came down from Portsmouth with a caravan. They thought it was absolutely great. There’s no accounting for taste.”
And that’s surely the point of any great town: variety. Bridport is anything but uniform. Proud and idiosyncratic, it even boasted its own mint in the 10th century. And, given the history, a murder mystery makes perfect sense: it was Bridport rope that was used to make hangman’s nooses, once called ‘Bridport daggers’.
Broadchurch was undeniably entertaining and – as writer Chris relishes – a welcome change from the gritty streets of London, Liverpool or Manchester.
And there’s yet more good news. “I’ve got some other TV projects set in Dorset in hand,” reveals Chris. “Broadchurch was just the beginning.”
Explore Broadchurch Country with us...
Literary Lyme are running Broadchurch Walking Tours on Sundays in July (start 11.30am) and Saturdays in August (start 10.30am). Meet at the Watch House Café Cafe behind the Bridport Arms next to East Beach in West Bay. More details visit literarylyme.co.uk or call Natalie on 07763 974569 or email email@example.com
Explore Broadchurch Country App. Want to know more about this part of Dorset? Why not download our app and explore this area further? Find out more at buyamag.co.uk or visit our website dorset.greatbritishlife.co.uk