Another Six English Towns, originally broadcast in 1984, was the third and final series in which Alec Clifton-Taylor cast his expert eye over the architectural merits of a variety of English towns. My review of the first two series can be found here.
The format remains unchanged. Architectural historian Clifton-Taylor inspects the streets and notable buildings of each town, dispensing approbation or disfavour as he sees fit and quietly applauding those towns which have managed to preserve their status without recourse to the horrors of modern life (high rise buildings and pebbledash being two particular bête noires of his!).
We open in Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, which finds Clifton-Taylor in an approving mood. He’s particularly taken with the pleasing mixture of styles on display, commenting that “in the market place, the buildings burst forth into a chorus of painted stucco”. The town’s mansion, Cirencester House, complete with a ten thousand acre park, also catches his eye.
Up next is the fishing town of Whitby, which nestles on the North East coast. The ruins of Whitby Abbey are striking and whilst St Mary’s Church may look somewhat unprepossessing from the outside, inside it’s quite a different matter. Clifton-Taylor regards it as “a thrill. Absolutely unforgettable. Not a work of art, but a most illuminating social document.”
Bury St Edmonds has an impressive collection of Georgian buildings, created with different varieties of coloured clay, although Clifton-Taylor is a little miffed that “they are so smothered with Virginia creeper that one can hardly see what colour they are!” This town has rich pickings elsewhere though – the town hall (reconstructed by the notable eighteenth century architect Robert Adam) appeals, as does the Theatre Royal, designed by William Wilkins, architect of the National Gallery.
Clifton-Taylor travels to Wiltshire for the fourth episode, his destination being Devizes. He’s saddened that the twelfth century castle no longer remains (on the site is something he dubs as a pantomime recreation from the Victorian period) and reacts in horror when he sees that some of the eighteenth century timber houses have recently “been smothered with that most repellent material – pebbledash!”
He remains in a slightly caustic mood when he reaches Sandwich, sorrowfully reflecting that the original character of some of the 16th century brickwork has been submerged under fresh coats of paint. But the Salutation, a house and garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944), is much more to his taste. Clifton-Taylor has little hesitation in regarding him as “the greatest English architect of the last 100 years”
The series concludes with Durham. He’s impressed with the Cathedral, especially the vaults, which have remained unchanged for eight and a half centuries. Clifton-Taylor is also taken with a public convenience, built in 1841, concluding that “few loos, surely, can hold their heads so high!”. An idiosyncratic, but delightful, moment.
A lovely snapshot of six English towns frozen in time some thirty years ago, Another Six English Towns will certainly appeal both to those who have already collected the first two series, as well as anyone who is familiar with the featured locations and wishes to compare then to now.
Shot on 16mm film, the picture quality is on a par with the earlier releases. The prints are rather faded and dirty in places, but still perfectly watchable.
Alec Clifton-Taylor maintains the persona of a kindly headmaster, eager to give credit where it’s due, but also quite capable of expressing irritation and exasperation (albeit with his impeccable manners always intact). An impressive series of travelogues, Another Six English Towns also educates and informs, as Clifton-Taylor is effortlessly able to show how different periods of architecture can live side by side in harmony (or not, as the case may be!)
Another Six English Towns is released by Simply Media on the 23rd of January 2017. RRP £19.99.