How TV hit Home Fires brought Bunbury into the national spotlight
- Credit: Archant
The village of Bunbury was one of the stars of ITV’s Home Fires series. Julie Summers, the Cheshire-born author of Jambusters which inspired the drama, tells Mairead Mahon why she finds it such an irresistible place
The village of Bunbury was one of the stars that helped to make the ITV series, Home Fires, such a hit. The story of a group of women coping when their men went to war, captured the hearts of viewers up and down the country. But when author and historian Julie Summers attended a special preview in the village church, she could be forgiven for being just a touch nervous.
Julie’s book, Jambusters, a riveting non-fiction account about the Women’s Institute in the 1940’s, was the inspiration behind the programme. The screening was a thank you to the villagers who had patiently seen their village transformed into the fictional Great Paxford, complete with a fibre glass war memorial.
‘I didn’t want to sit with the cast and crew because I thought that I might get a more honest response if I just placed myself in the audience but you know there’s always a risk with that: after all the responses might just be a bit more honest than I was prepared for. At the end, there was a terrifying millisecond of silence but then loud and spontaneous applause filled the church and I could breathe again,’ says Julie.
Home Fires has been one of the huge television successes of the year, drawing in millions of viewers, something which has delighted Cheshire girl Julie.
‘It was my idea to film in Cheshire. I had done a lot of my research for the book there and I knew the county had so much to offer. I didn’t know though exactly where the production team would choose and when I heard that they had picked Bunbury, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I have personal links to the village: my aunt, whose mother features in Jambusters, was married in Bunbury Church -I attended the wedding- and my parents still go to the doctors’ surgery there.’ says Julie who was born in Clatterbridge but raised in Delamere Manor, near Cuddington.
‘I have two brothers and one sister and it was a fantastic home full of happy memories. I developed my love of writing here and often whiled away hours writing for my own amusement. I used to write long stories to my boyfriend of the time, usually when I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say! Things change though and Delamere Manor is now a wedding venue. When my father retired, he decided that he would like to try his hand at farming and so, he and my mother now live on a farm near Little Budworth,’ says Julie.
Farming didn’t appeal to Julie though and after attending Culcheth Hall School in Altrincham, she went to university in Bristol and then worked in the art world. In 2004, she took the plunge, gave up her job and began writing full time; writing about many subjects from fashion to rowing.
‘We are an outdoor family: my mum ran Cheshire Forest Pony Club and I have always enjoyed the outdoors whether it’s walking my dogs, running or riding. So, when my son, Sam, took up rowing I was intrigued. It bore fruit in two ways; I became good at it and, in addition, published a book about it,’ says Julie.
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Sam wasn’t the only family member that inspired Julie’s writing though: she has also published books on two illustrious Cheshire ancestors: her great uncle, Sandy Irvine who died on Everest with George Mallory and her maternal grandfather, the original Colonel of Tamarkam, who built the bridge on the River Kwai. This latter won the Audio Book of the Year.
However, it wasn’t until Jam Busters was published, that Julie’s work made it to the screen.
‘I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been. I was historical consultant to the series and I think I can say that it is just about the most exciting thing that I have ever been involved with. The only slightly disappointing thing was that the title was changed from Jambusters to Home Fires. It was my brother, Tim, who came up with Jambusters and, if I’m honest, I still think it is a better title,’ says Julie.
Julie’s huge knowledge of Cheshire in the war years soon earned her a reputation as the oracle on set but, one day, she was told that they had a part for her.
‘It was only a cameo role, a bossy organiser of the WI but it took hours to film, in costume complete with a grey curly wig, It was a lot of fun though,’ says Julie.
Has her acting experience made her harbour any ambition to ditch writing and become an actress?
‘Certainly not! I love writing far too much and, although the cast were very supportive, I don’t think they have anything to fear! Between you and me, I have to admit to a tiny little crush on Mark Bazeley. But they were all very friendly and it was lovely to be addresses as, ‘darling’ all the time by actors such as Samantha Bond, another of my favourites.’ says Julie.
So what next for Julie? ‘Well, a second series of Home Fires has already been commissioned and my brother Tim and I are putting together a book on wartime recipes and yes, it probably will include the odd one for jam.’
Bunbury became Great Paxford and many village locations such as: The Nags Head; St Boniface Church; Bunbury Village Hall; R.F. Burrows, the butcher’s established in 1924 and The Village Chippy shop, disguised as a service station, were used in filming. Most of the locations are centred around the Vicarage Lane area.
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