Friday 25 September 2009

Top 5 Things about Shepperton

We've lived in Shepperton for almost seven years now and are very much at home. It has the same suburban village feel I grew up with in Thames Ditton. It's the sort of place trendy alternative comics would have ripped to pieces in the 80's but I've come to realise it's the sort of place I like to be. I couldn't hack living in the City, however exciting and vibrant it might be, and I don't think I'd cope that well in the Country either. Suburbia is like Baby Bear's porridge. It's not too salty nor too sweet. It's just right.

1. Shepperton Studios - Originally opened in the early thirties, Shepperton Studios remains an active and important part of British cinema. The list of films made there is both extensive and impressive; The Third Man (1949), The Omen (1976), Alien (1979), Ghandi (1982) and Shakespeare In Love (1999) to name a few. Despite the scale of production involved the studios are actually tucked away and only a modest sign and the occasional dayglo direction signs give any indication of what's going on.

2. Home to author J.G. Ballard - The late James Graham Ballard lived with his family in Shepperton since the late fifties. I was quite excited when I first found out the author of "Empire of the Sun" and "Crash" was a fellow resident but disappointingly never saw him around town. I wondered what effect Shepperton had on Ballard's literature and found this article which has some rather bleak looking photos. It also includes some quotes and passages from JGB about the town including a fantastic description of Shepperton residents as "exotic marine creatures with the dream-filled minds of aquatic mammals".

Other famous residents include the actor Frank Finlay, Peter Moran who played Pogo Patterson in Grange Hill and Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry fame.

3. It's destruction in "The War of The Worlds" - That's the H.G. Wells novel of course not some forthcoming event I have precognition of (Sorry, been watching too much "Peep Show" lately, I'm starting to sound like David Mitchell). There's a whole chapter titled "What I Saw of the Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton" which describes the destruction of the town by Martian invaders. We live in a Victorian semi which was built around 1881, some 17 years before the book was published. It added an extra reality to the novel and to my mind we're damn lucky our house is still in one piece.

4. The Damned play Live - Yep, they did and there's an album to prove it. Appropriately titled "Live at Shepperton 1980" it captures a fan club gig from 29th July and was originally released as the fourth side of the double vinyl "Black Album". This got me quite excited as I couldn't imagine what venue they played at. The Village Hall? The Kings Head? The roof of the post office sorting depot? Turns out they played at Shepperton Studios, which is a little disappointing based on my early impression of being able to pop down the local and see a chart topping punk band for a fiver. Shepperton's not renowned for its live music scene the only band I've seen play was my pal Gibbo's first group (Never Before Midnight) who played their final show at the Village Hall in the early 90's. However, I've just discovered that rock legends Uriah Heap also played live at the studios as recorded by the equally appropriately named "Uriah Heep - Live at Shepperton". Shepperton, Rock City!

5. Shepperton Village Fair Raft Race - OK, I'll admit I'm struggling a bit now but the raft race really does have to been seen to be believed. The Village Fair has been a fixture in the calendar for over 35 years. The raft race is always a highlight and this year some 42 "vessels" took part. It's not so much a race as a procession but there's something wonderfully British about watching the never ending stream of home made craft wobble their way round the bend in the river all in the name of charity. Maybe these are the "exotic marine creatures" of Ballard's mind.

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