A BBC documentary about Wainwright’s life was broadcast in 2007. This was to celebrate the centenary of Wainwright’s birth in 1907. Shortly after, Julia Bradbury presented the first of two series based on Wainwright’s original walks in the Lake District.
Julia played a large role in introducing Alfred Wainwright to fresh audiences. These programmes propelled Wainwright back into the public’s consciousness again. Julia followed up the success of the first two series with a Coast to Coast series which aired in 2009. This new series was based on Wainwright’s famous long-distance walk created back in 1973. Julia’s programmes introduced Wainwright to a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts. Going back a few decades earlier, we were introduced to the original Wainwright TV series, these were the programmes that started it all…
When Wainwright was in the latter years of his life, it was a battle to get him to commit to any publicity. He was a very private person and was content with remaining in the shadows. Richard Else, a young producer at BBC Newcastle, played a big part in coaxing Wainwright to the small screen (a story in itself). The original 30-minute Wainwright programme was first broadcast on BBC North East in the autumn of 1982. The broadcast only covered part of Cumbria and stopped mid-way down the Lake District. Richard personally took VHS tapes to Wainwright & Betty, so they could see the programmes when they first went out. It wasn’t until May of 1983 that it would be aired nationally.
Monday 12 May 1986 was the date when viewers across the UK were treated to the first ongoing series of the Lakeland enigma. The series was a success and in 1988 a Scottish TV series was broadcast, which proved extremely popular – Wainwright visited remote parts of Scotland he never thought he would see again. Wainwright also wrote a successful companion book to the Scottish TV series, called ‘Wainwright in Scotland’. The following year in 1989 the Coast to Coast TV series hit our screens. The Westmorland Gazette normally printed the Coast to Coast Walk book in batches of 3,000. Strong sales of the book were anticipated before the series aired, and 10,000 books were printed in advance – they all sold out and more were printed. Wainwright, whether he liked it or not, was now a star.
After unforeseen delays, another TV series had been green lit, and filming commenced in Blackburn in 1990. Wainwright fell ill during the production and he returned home with Betty. He sadly passed away just a few weeks later.
Richard’s Wainwright TV series have always been very special to me and viewing the programmes was the closest myself and others have ever been to meeting Wainwright. I know every episode almost word for word, and it’s thanks to Richard that we have so many of these fine locations with Wainwright preserved forever on film.
Recently, my wife Priscilla and I were honoured to welcome Richard and his lovely wife Margaret as our guests for the evening. It was great hearing about his experiences with AW and the many ‘behind the scenes’ production tales. As a bonus, Richard even signed my Wainwright DVD trilogy.
A few weeks later my wife and I were Richard’s guests in the Cairngorms. On the first day, Richard took us to the beautiful Loch Morlich where 31 years ago (almost to the date), Richard had completed a photoshoot with Alfred Wainwright and Eric Robson for the Scottish TV series. Richard visits the Loch regularly but had not been back to the photoshoot location since 1987, and the exact spot he had taken the photographs proved elusive to us.
We studied the original photographs on location and hoped that nothing had changed in the intervening years. We scoured the shoreline for some time until we eventually found the tree where Wainwright and Eric sat together by the sandy shore. Richard and I tried to replicate the original shots. Incidentally, the image of Wainwright sat at this tree was used on the front cover of Richard’s recent publication ‘Wainwright Revealed’. Richard’s book goes into detail about his time with Wainwright during 1980’s and you can feel the love Richard has for him.
Day two’s expedition was a walk to ‘Carn Eilrig’ and to find the location Wainwright stood to photograph this mountain for volume Five of his Scottish Mountain Drawings book series. The scenery in this part of the Cairngorms was spectacular. It was an enjoyable couple of miles walk until we found the spot Wainwright had stood many years earlier. My two-day visit to the Cairngorms has made me want to return and to explore the area in more detail, and to seek out other Wainwright related locations.
During our visit and photoshoot, Richard used the exact same camera and film stock that he had used during the original TV series back in the 1980’s. Richard is the copyright owner of the Wainwright image and is used with kind permission.
Richard also revealed to us, dozens of unpublished behind the scenes images taken from various locations filmed throughout the TV series. It was very educating reading through the production notes and transcripts. Everything combined is a great piece of Wainwright history.
I just want to thank Richard again for his kind hospitality, and most of all for giving us these wonderful Wainwright programmes that gave us an insight to this remarkable man and his work.