The House of Commons, the Old Bailey, historic hotels and police headquarters where Poirot pays a visit. Who’d have thought all that could fit inside Bradford’s City Hall?
But such is the draw of the location for filmmakers and producers of hit television dramas that the civic landmark has proved the perfect mock-up for all of the above in recent years.
Oscar-winning actors such as Adrien Brody and fellow A-listers like Keira Knightley, John Malkovich, Cillian Murphy and Rupert Grint have all worked their magic in its ornate rooms, staircases and corridors.
However, the Grade I-listed building’s use as a filming location goes back to 1959, says Professor David Wilson, director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film.
Much of Room at the Top, which starred Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret – who went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress while Neil Paterson took Best Adapted Screenplay – was shot at City Hall.
“It was one of the first British films to have a local dialect,” said Mr Wilson.
“There were reports at the time that southerners would ask for subtitles because they didn’t know what they were saying.”
Four years later, director John Schlesinger’s adaption of the Keith Waterhouse novel Billy Liar – one of the classic ‘kitchen sink’ features – was filmed in the immediately surrounding areas.
But in recent years it has come into its own, with programmes as diverse as Peaky Blinders, The ABC Murders, Spooks, DCI Banks, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and an adaption of play King Charles III among the mainstream TV projects partly shot at the building.
The first of those has been met with huge popularity on an international scale.
Mr Wilson said: “It’s got a cult following in America – they have Peaky Blinders weddings and things.”
A lot of its fourth and upcoming fifth series was filmed on location at the hall.
Season four’s opening scene features protagonist Tommy Shelby ascending City Hall’s steps and the inside staircase as it doubles for the Midland Hotel in Birmingham, where the BBC’s post-First World War family gang drama is placed.
Set at Christmas time, Mr Wilson had to help facilitate a snow machine outside in Centenary Square and a Christmas tree in the building’s main entrance.
“It was June 17,” he deadpans.
A reception area was used as the the hotel room of antagonist Luca Changretta, played by Adrien Brody, who was the youngest person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor at 29 for his main role in The Pianist (2002).
The grandeur of the Lord Mayor’s suite has been used for scenes in the show, but the Shelby brothers have also found themselves below ground in the landmark’s murky holding cells – some still daubed with prisoner graffiti – which were last used for real life trouble-makers in the 1980s.
“All the time, they’re looking for authenticity,” said Mr Wilson of producers.
The Banqueting Hall, grand though it is, has never made its was into the programme.
Mr Wilson said: “If Peaky Blinders if in town, if this is available, they’ll have racks and racks of overcoats for the wardrobe in here and they might eat in here or decide to put a wardrobe or a make-up station in here.
“It’s amazing. It is hard work – the number of hours that they put in compared to the number of hours that you see on screen, you can’t really work it out. It’s really not to be underestimated.”
While City Hall doubled as Birmingham’s Midland Hotel in the show, Bradford’s own Midland Hotel, confusingly, was a mock-up of Liverpool Docks.
The ABC Murders, an Agatha Christie which first aired on the BBC on Boxing Day last year, starred Hollywood veteran John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot and Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint as surly Inspector Crome.
Mr Wilson can remember going to work one day and hearing what sounded like a “prima donna” on set.
But on inspection, it was none other than Mr Malkovich, dressed in full Poirot costume – apart from a pair of trainers – pacing up and down, going over his lines.
One of the hall’s committee rooms was used as Inspector Crome’s office.
Mr Wilson said: “People would say, ‘Well why not build it in a film studio?’ Well, you could do that, and a lot of people will do that. If they’ve got big budgets you can afford to build those big sets.
“This is authentic because of the size and the scale of it and the wood paneling around the sides and half-way up the wall, that’s what makes it authentic.
“An art director and a director come in here and they can see straight away how it’s going to look on screen.”
He added: “Corridors and staircases as joining shots in between the main features is so important. The more that they can do in one building, the less expensive it is.
“So if you imagine that even if you’ve got two people in front of camera for a TV drama like The ABC Murders, you’ve for 60 or 70 in the crew at least. And if you’ve got to move location every day that’s 60 or 70 people and all that gear that has to be moved in vans and trucks and everything else. So the more locations they can get in close proximity the better for them.”
Location shooting is also increasingly favoured, he said, because high-definition television can be “unforgiving” when exposing false details created in a studio.
The hall’s decorative entrance has been used to portray the Old Bailey in the upcoming film Official Secrets, which comes out in October.
“So Keira Knightley was in the building as well, which came with its own challenges,” said Mr Wilson.
“With an A-lister coming into the building and just being able [to make sure] that they could get in and out securely.
“And the fact that for something like that with Official Secrets, where you’ve got maybe 60, 70 people for a TV drama, for a feature film of that magnitude you’ve got the whole circus. A 40-foot crane.
“They wanted to light the [glass ceiling] dome. So they put a crane from the front of the building arching over the top to put a massive big spotlight through there.”
The hall’s council chamber has doubled for the House of Commons in Victoria, King Charles III and the Great Train Robbery – and the Pakistan Consulate building in an Indian Hindi-language film called Welcome 2 Karachi.
“Part of the attraction for Bollywood, I’m told from a few directors, is that a lot of the architectural style of the wood paneling is the same as the Prime Minister’s office suite in New Delhi in India, because it was built in the same period, and probably a similar type of fashion,” said Mr Wilson.
But the old Victorian court room – which like the cells has not been used for real since the eighties – will be familiar to audiences closer to home, having been used multiple times in Emmerdale and Coronation Street.
“Tracy Barlow’s famous trial was in here,” said Mr Wilson
So was Robbie Coltrane’s, or more accurately that of his character Paul Finchley in 2016 Channel 4 series National Treasure, which also starred Julie Walters.
Of course, day-to-day, the hall serves as one of the city’s main municipal buildings, and sometimes it is as though time itself stops for filming projects.
Mr Wilson said: “Whenever you film in City Hall, the bells chime every 15 minutes…I learned at a very early stage that you’ve got to turn the bells off because they chime all the way through the set.
“We’ve got a problem: Emmerdale are coming on Yorkshire Day, the 1st of August, and the bells are going to be playing On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at four or five times during the day, so I’m trying to co-ordinate On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at chiming on the bells in between takes of Emmerdale.”
As well as Yorkshire becoming a hive of film and TV production due to its dramatic and diverse landscapes, tax credits and the strength of the dollar against the pound are also seen as incentives for international producers.
The city itself, and those that govern it, is also catching on to the practicalities of filming.
Mr Wilson said: “If you’re in New York City you get asked to close roads. If a Batman movie comes along you’re not going to say no.
“So what I was trying to say to Bradford was, it was about educating people to the benefits of having this kind of thing in town for the local hotels, for the local coffee suppliers.
“But also, I think it gives a sense of civic pride as well. You know, oh, ‘Bradford’s on the TV and Bradford’s on film.’ We’ve never been as busy.”