Mr Selfridge final series: Highcliffe Castle
PUBLISHED: 16:26 15 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:26 15 February 2016
The final series of ITV's Mr Selfridge features the retail mogul's beloved Highcliffe Castle and his passion for some captivating high-spending identical twins, as Jeremy Miles discovers
Mr Selfridge star Jeremy Piven has told fellow cast members of the moving moment he visiting Harry Selfridge’s grave while filming in Dorset.
Piven made the pilgrimage to the see the simple headstone that marks the American retail giant’s final resting place while shooting scenes for the new season of the hit ITV series at nearby Highcliffe Castle.
The cliff top castle, dating from the 1830s, was Harry Selfridge’s country home for six years from 1916 to 1922. He was still a multi-millionaire back then, a self-made retail mogul who established the famous Selfridge’s department store in Oxford Street, made shopping exciting for straight-laced Britons and acquired a fortune along the way.
Unfortunately Harry, who had worked his way up from being a humble stockroom boy in his native Chicago, was also a gambler, a risk-taker and a womaniser whose free spending on the gaming tables and generosity to a string of high-maintenance mistresses aided a spectacular downfall.
The death of the prime stabilising influence in his life, his wife Rosalie - who had run a wartime convalescence hospital for wounded American servicemen at Highcliffe Castle - spelled disaster.
Harry spiraled out of control. A combination of reckless spending, fast women and the Wall Street crash laid waste to a fortune that had once been estimated at £60 million. Forced out of his own business in a boardroom coup, he died in 1947 at the age of 90, virtually penniless. His frugal grave at St Mark’s Church in Highcliffe bears testament to both his love of this part of the country and his drastically reduced circumstances.
The final series of ITV’s Mr Selfridge focuses on Harry’s dramatic fall as he loses hold on the empire and social status that he worked so hard to create.
Central to his sad decline were the spectacular American/Hungarian showgirls The Dolly Sister. Identical twins Jenny and Rosie Dolly were already stars in America when they arrived in Europe in the 1920s and took high society by storm. Even though they were 36 years his junior, Harry was smitten. He wooed them both and started a long and extremely expensive affair with Jenny whose taste for gambling and fine living he cheerily financed.
Though actress Zoe Richards, who plays Jenny in the new series, didn’t get to film in Dorset she told me that cast members who did had felt a strong connection with the real Mr Selfridge while visiting his former home at Highcliffe.
“It was so nice that they filmed at the castle. It was a perfect location, a connection with the great man himself. Jeremy was saying in the make-up trailer how much he’d enjoyed going there. It was quite special and moving to him to see the site where Harry Selfridge lived and is buried.” Zoe says she would like to visit Highcliffe too. “I’d like to see the castle and Harry’s grave one day.”
Having spent months filming the series alongside fellow actress Emma Hamilton who plays Rosie, Zoe says she has become increasingly aware of the Selfridge history. Her own occasional visits to the London store are usually confined to buying a few presents each year but have now taken on a special significance. “It’s incredible to think about the history of that building and the characters who once worked there.”
As Zoe learned more about Harry Selfridge she says she felt a growing responsibility to portray Jenny Dolly as a human being and not a one-dimensional bad girl who was only after his money. “It’s easy to see the Dolly Sisters as being responsible for Harry’s financial ruin and downfall but I think it’s important to realise that they were real people, multi-layered individuals and not just gold-diggers.
“There was a very genuine side to Jenny’s relationship with Harry, a great friendship. ITV have treated the story very sensitively. I think it’s clear that she wasn’t just in it for the money.”
Indeed there was no need. The sisters’ individual shows were earning them £5,000-a-night and Jenny once won $11 million in a single evening on the baccarat tables.
“They were amazing women,” says Zoe admiringly, “successful, autonomous and actually quite masculine in their approach to society. They could go out for a night with the boys without having to go to bed with them. They were fun. They had a tomboyish quality and were very different from the usual coquettish, post-Victorian women who tended to play the damsel in distress. They were real go-getters. I guess Harry kind of met his match.”
Quite how the Dolly Sisters story will unfold on screen is still under wraps, “It includes a lot of reality from the girls’ lives but there is a bit of a twist,” Zoe reveals.
The series is Zoe’s first television job and she says she loved every minute of the experience. “It’s quite nerve-wracking arriving on the first day, particularly when it is such a well-established show but everyone was so relaxed, friendly and warm. They really made me feel welcome.”
She says she loved the glamour of her character. “The Dolly Sisters were among the first movie stars and you get a real taste of those early days of motion pictures. The costumes are fantastic. The Mr Selfridge series has been known for its amazing wardrobe from the beginning but in this final installment they really go for it with wonderful glitter, feathers and furs. The fans are going to love it.”
There was just one downside to the reality versus fiction aspect of entering the world of Mr Selfridge. The real Jenny Dolly was able to swan into the Oxford Street store, buy whatever she wanted and stick it on Harry Selfridge’s account.
“I got quite used to the idea,” laughs Zoe. “It was a bit tough when I realised that I wasn’t going to get the same deal in real life!”
The fourth and final series of Mr Selfridge is currently on ITV on Friday nights at 9pm
Take the Tour: The Real Mr Selfridge Experience
Harry Gordon Selfridge rented and lived at Highcliffe Castle between 1916 and 1922. On this special guided tour you will hear all about this period of the Castle’s history and enjoy a proper High Tea at the Castle Tearooms followed by a short walk to St Mark’s Church to see Selfridge’s final resting place.
To find out more visit highcliffecastle.co.uk or to book call Karen: 07941150127 or Charles: 07757102443
• Multi millionaire retailer Mr Selfridge’s secret Dorset life - Harry Gordon Selfridge spoiled women in his personal life the same way he did the female customers in his department store. But his love of dance girls, his ostentacious plans and lavish spending in Dorset heralded the start of his sad demise into penury