Film Festival honours Swanage schoolboy who made millions smile

One of Swanage’s most famous school pupils is being celebrated at the 2023 Purbeck Film Festival – and it’s bound to bring a smile to many faces.

Tony Hancock, star of Hancock’s Half Hour on radio and TV in the 1950s and 60s, attended Durlston Court Preparatory School, part of Durlston boarding school, in the 1930s while his family lived in Bournemouth.


Tony Hancock’s film The Punch and Judy Man will be shown at The Mowlem on the film’s 60th anniversary

Fond memories of life by the seaside

He also starred in two films, the second of which – The Punch and Judy Man – was based around his fond memories of life at the seaside in both Swanage and Bournemouth.

The film was released in 1963 and is being shown as a 60th anniversary tribute at The Mowlem on Sunday 22nd October 2023, along with an introduction by Tom Dommett of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society.

It is one of the highlights of the 28th Purbeck Film Festival, which runs from Friday 20th October to Saturday 4th November 2023 with more than 70 films at 31 venues in Swanage, Wareham and across Purbeck.


Swanage cinematographer Brian West’s work 84 Charing Cross Road will be shown at the festival

Paying tribute to a Swanage film maker

Three respected names from the world of film have agreed to be patrons of the 2023 festival including Sir Mark Rylance, whose celebrated career on stage and screen has included playing Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall and The Big Friendly Giant in Steven Spielberg’s version of Roald Dahl’s book.

Olivia Hetreed, BAFTA nominated screenwriter for Mrs Harris Goes To Paris and Wuthering Heights, and Andy Paterson, producer and assistant director of The Railway Man and Girl With A Pearl Earring are also patrons of the festival.

Cinematographer Brian West of Swanage, who died recently, will be honoured at the festival with the screening of 84 Charing Cross Road, the 1987 Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft film which he worked on.

Paul Angel and Andrea Etherington at The Mowlem

Andrea Etherington, of Purbeck Film Festival with chair of The Mowlem Trustees Paul Angel

‘Oh, yes, I worked with Spielberg’

Chair of the Purbeck Film Festival Andrea Etherington said:

“Brian was a very charming and modest man, who attended the U3A film course my husband ran, and at the end of the sessions he would quietly say ‘Oh, yes, I worked with Spielberg,’ or ‘I knew Anthony Hopkins,’ or whatever and we got a real insight into his work.

“We hope that people will be able to celebrate his life and his distinguished career with us.

“There are a lot of wonderful films on offer this year, I could name 20 or 30 which are special to me, though I think my favourite is The Eight Mountains.

“I like the fact that they come from so many different countries, so many different perspectives.”


A Yak in the Classroom, a family drama from Bhutan which is exciting the Western film world

An insight into other cultures

Andrea Etherington added:

“In the past we used to choose the theme and then find films which fitted it, but now we look at films in all the international festivals and find a body of work from which certain themes might arise.

“They tend to reflect the concerns of society at the time – the environment, refugees, or whatever, and this year there is a very strong theme around children and young people.

“As children’s experiences help to define our future, we hope that our chosen films highlight the difficulties that some children face.

“We showed a film from Bhutan last year, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom and then it suddenly exploded on the scene and three venues were quite adamant that was the film they wanted, so we are having it back.

“It is a perfect chance for people to see some films they may not ordinarily go to see and get an insight into other cultures.”

The Rex cinema in Wareham

The Rex Cinema in Wareham will run film festival events most nights

14,000 brochures taken out around Dorset

Purbeck Film Festival is run almost entirely by volunteers and committee members have been very busy already getting 14,000 brochures distributed around Dorset. They will also be taking equipment out to villages to allow films to be shown as community events.

While the heart of the festival is in Purbeck, venues this year are as far flung as Bridport and Poole, although The Mowlem in Swanage and Wareham’s Rex Cinema will be running events most nights.

Other venues will include Durlston Castle, Corfe Castle village hall, Harmans Cross village hall, the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, the Knoll House Hotel in Studland, St Mary’s Church in Swanage, the Salvation Army Hall in Swanage and Worth Matravers village hall.


The Eight Mountains is ‘a memorable and exceptional piece of cinema’

Always looking for more volunteers

Andrea Etherington said:

“With the current size of the committee I don’t think we should get any bigger, although we are always looking for volunteers to help!

“We do have a shortage of technical people, those who are not frightened to put all the equipment together and carry it to some fairly remote venues.

“It is the longest running rural film festival, although no longer the biggest after Borderlines in Herefordshire expanded. We have had a lot of offers in the past to expand, but it is very difficult when there is a small core of volunteers running the committee.

“We went from 2,000 viewers when we first started to an audience of 8,500 in 2019 and although Covid had a huge effect on the festival, viewing figures in 2022 were over 5,000, quite an achievement when some of the venues have a capacity as small as 20.”


Pixar movie Coco is being shown as a pre Halloween party film for families

Pre Halloween party with Pixar

Films being shown over the two weeks include well known classics such as Once Upon A Time in the West, The Piano, Don’t Look Now, and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove.

There are also some of the most acclaimed recent films including an Oscar winning turn from Brendan Fraser in The Whale, Jim Broadbent in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Ken Loach’s The Old Oak, about a group of Syrians arriving in a former mining area of the north east.

And to allow the whole family to join in with the festival there’s a pre Halloween party screening at Carey Hall, Wareham, on Sunday 22nd October 2023, of Disney Pixar’s Coco, a tale set during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, where the audience will be encouraged to show up in spooky costume!

As many films as possible will be introduced by people who have had some insight into making them, including producer, director and film historian Phil Grabsky, and writer Jane Giles whose book Scala!!! inspired a documentary on the trailblazing London cinema of the same name.


A Crack in the Mountain, being shown at Durlston Castle, explores the environment and tourism

Regarded as the greatest comedian

Tom Dommett, who edits the magazine of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, will give an insight into the meteoric rise and tragic fall of the schoolboy from Durlston.

More than 50 years after his death at the age of 44, Tony Hancock is still regarded by many as the greatest comedian Britain has ever produced and his legion of fans today include musicians Phil Collins and Pete Doherty and comedians including Steve Coogan and Paul Merton.

Characters that today’s viewers enjoy, such as Alan Partridge, Victor Meldrew and David Brent, were modelled on Tony Hancock’s screen persona – pompous, self deluded buffoons who believe they are better than everyone else around them.


A still from The Punch and Judy Man with Tony Hancock and Hugh Lloyd

Plagued by self destructive behaviour

Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran from 1954 to 1961 as a radio and then a TV series, was the first show which whole families would stay in to watch, and it practically invented situation comedy in Britain.

Supported by stars including Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams, and working with scripts from Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Hancock became a huge star, becoming the first British comedian to earn a thousand pounds a week.

But behind his success lay self destructive behaviour that plagued him all his life. Prone to self doubt and wanting to be the star of his own show, he first got rid of James, and then sacked Galton and Simpson who immediately went on to create the legendary show Steptoe and Son.

Purbeck Film Festival programmes are now available at The Mowlem and The Rex Cinema and tickets can be booked online.


Alcarras, which focuses on rural life in Spain, is part of a Spanish and Latin American double bill

Further information

Watch the official Film Festival preview

A Durlston schoolboy gives blood – “That’s very nearly an armful!”

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