Filming in the Archives

Sarehole Mill

Sarehole Mill, 1917 (Ref: WK/H2/20)

The author J.R.R. Tolkien lived in Birmingham from 1895 to 1911. For four of those years, as a boy, he lived at Sarehole on the edge of Hall Green. At that time Sarehole was in the country, although close to Moseley and the ‘bourgeoisie’ of Birmingham. Tolkien’s youth was spent in Birmingham, but he later became a professor of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English at the University of Oxford. He wrote many scholarly texts as well as the stories for which he is famous; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Sarehole Mill became a museum and recently obtained funding to make a short film and an associated exhibition about Tolkien’s life in Birmingham. The film includes interviews with three people talking about Tolkien at Sarehole; Viv Wilkes, Bob Blackham and myself. This blog is about the experience of being filmed.

We were given a set of eight questions on which the interview would be based and were asked to complete the answers in preparation for the filming. Originally Viv and Bob were to be filmed at Sarehole, so we agreed I would be filmed at Central Library with books on shelves in the background. The filming was arranged for a day in November 2011 when Floor 6 was closed, so we might hope for quiet surroundings. Our hopes were not fulfilled. It turned out that that was the day on which work was being carried out on the escalator, with accompanying cheerful shouted conversation and loud metallic bangs. Andrew, the film-maker, set up the camera about five yards from where I sat at a table with books, photos and maps from the collections of Archives and Heritage. Eventually Andrew said he was happy with what he had filmed and we waited to see the results.  

The preview was arranged at Sarehole in March this year. The film was skilfully composed and produced, intercutting readings from Tolkien’s books, historic and modern images, music, selections from the interviews and shots of local wildlife. However, one thing Andrew had not told us was that we would appear in close-up. We have since learnt that that is the current trend. Also, that he would introduce symbolic colour filters – brown for Bob so that he looked like a hobbit in a hobbit-hole, purple for Viv as she was wearing a purple scarf, and blue for me to suggest academic research. So Viv looks deathly white and I appear a delicate shade of pale green!

Seriously though, the film is well made and the new exhibition at Sarehole about Tolkien, the Mill, local nature and wildlife, is very good. There are materials and activities for people of all ages and a pleasant cafe. Sarehole Mill Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday through the summer and there is free access on the first Sunday of every month:

Further information about Tolkien

Maggie Burns


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