TV drama production - the UK's regions and nations

Broadchurch filming on location in devon bristol liverpool manchester UK regions and nationsThe UK's television business has often been accused of having a London bias. But the reality is that a lot of high-quality TV dramas have been shot in the nations and regions in the last few years.

International examples include Outlander, Game Of Thrones and The Bastard Executioner, while domestically commissioned drama series include Beowulf, Peaky Blinders and Poldark.

A key reason for this prolific output is the UK's compact geography, says Kaye Elliott, head of production services at Creative England, an agency supporting the creative industries within the English regions: "It is so easy to get around. There are so many great locations within just a few hours of each other."

Coupled with this is the quality of the production infrastructure across the UK: "The crews in the north of England, for example, are excellent," continues Elliott, "and there are great studios across the country in locations like Manchester, Leeds and Bristol."

Not to be overlooked, either, is the financial and logistical support on offer. Says Elliott: "The entire UK benefits from tax breaks but there are also various production funds available. Within England, there is the Yorkshire Content Fund. In Wales and Northern Ireland (which are overseen by their own screen agencies) there are also very attractive funds for production."



One area that has proved very fruitful for the regions is location doubling. "Cities like Manchester and Liverpool have been used to double for the US and even for London," says Elliott. "You get a lot of international producers who are interested in filming in London but find that it is too expensive or too in-demand. So doubling in other parts of the country can be cheaper, helping the producer to put more money on screen."

Not to be overlooked either is the role played by Creative England's sister agencies: Creative Scotland, Wales Screen and NI Screen: "We've all just come back from LA where we were pitching what we had to offer to US producers. And we also do a lot of work on the ground with local stakeholders. We explain to local authorities what the advantages are of hosting production in their area, and we liaise with tourism bodies."

One other factor that may explain the popularity of the UK regions right now is, perhaps surprisingly, the influence and appeal of Scandi noir drama around the world.

As international audiences have become more accustomed to the pacing and palette of this genre, it has opened the way for more dramas to tell universal stories from very specific locations. Happy Valley, Shetland, Hinterland and Doctor Foster are recent examples.

Below, we take a look at some of the UK’s TV drama hotspots:

East Anglia: 

East Anglia was put on the map by the ITV drama series Lovejoy, which ran from 1986 to 1994. Typically, however, it is the city of Cambridge that is the focal point of film and TV producers’ attention. Currently, for example, ITV’s period detective drama Grantchester makes great use of locations in and around the university city.


Herefordshire is a beautiful county in the west of England that doesn’t see a lot of activity because it is perceived as being difficult to get to. However it recently played host to ITV thriller Midwinter of the Spirit, based on the books by Phil Rickman. Locations used during the series included Hereford, Dinedor Hill, Dilwyn and Weobley.

Midwinter of the Spirit

North east England:  
North east England is another location that is perceived as being remote. But that might change now that ITV’s Beowulf has been filmed in the area. Based on the famous old English poem of the same, Beowulf was shot at a massive purpose-built set in a disused County Durham quarry. Filming also took place in Blyth, Northumberland.

The north east is also the backdrop for long-running ITV crime series Vera. Speaking to the Newcastle Chronicle, Vera producer Letitia Knight said: “We love filming in the north east, the people are great and we use a lot of local crews.” Another drama partly shot in County Durham was Dark Angel, though this also shot in Yorkshire where it accessed the Yorkshire Content Fund.


North west England:
Manchester is the biggest production centre in England outside London and the south-east. Home to a huge studio complex at Salford Quays, ITV’s iconic soap Coronation Street and some great independent producers, it has a rich track record in drama production.

Standout titles include Abbotvision’s No Offence, Red Production Company’s Scott & Bailey, Tiger Aspect’s Mount Pleasant, Lime Productions’ Fresh Meat and Shed’s recently concluded Waterloo Road. Liverpool is another production hot spot that is best known for long-running soap Hollyoaks and the gangster drama Peaky Blinders.

Although the latter is set in Birmingham, Liverpool has been used to double for 1920s Birmingham. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Peaky Blinders producer Simon Maloney said: “Liverpool is a terrific place to shoot because it has a range of period architecture, great countryside on its doorstep and London is just a two-hour train journey away.”

Councillor Wendy Simon, assistant mayor and cabinet member responsible for the Film Office, added: “We’re delighted this quality drama is returning to the city and it could not come at a better time with the recent decision to approve plans for a major new studio development.”

The studio Simon refers to is at the former Littlewoods building. With an estimated cost of £25m, it could lead to 900 jobs being created in the area.

Peaky Blinders

Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland has attracted a number of high-profile productions thanks to great locations, talented crews and a production incentive scheme managed by local film agency NI Screen. The most well-known recent production is HBO’s Game Of Thrones, which has returned to Northern Ireland repeatedly.

Alongside the incentive, NI can offer a state of the art studio in Belfast (Titanic Studios) and access to the UK’s nationwide tax relief system.

Other big dramas to have been produced in NI with support from NI Screen include ITV six-parter The Frankenstein Chronicles (set in Georgian London in 1827) and ITV’s The Secret. The BBC’s thriller series Line Of Duty was also filmed in the region.

The Frankenstein Chronicles

The university city of Oxford became famous as a TV backdrop thanks to the long-running Inspector Morse franchise. It then returned to TV screens in the Morse spin-off series Lewis and Endeavour. Meanwhile, the county of Oxfordshire has played host to hit series such as Downton Abbey and Midsomer Murders, which have both taken advantage of the county’s beautiful towns and countryside.


Like Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has big ambitions in terms of film and TV drama. It has superb rural and urban locations, a strong crew base and a can-do approach to permitting. A major coup came when US premium PayTV channel Starz decided to shoot its flagship period drama Outlander in Scotland. With the show looking set to run and run, it could turn out to be Scotland’s equivalent of Game Of Thrones. 


Outside Outlander, Scotland owes a lot of its current production activity to a concerted drive by the BBC. Recent productions include One Of Us, which is set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands. “I am so excited to be bringing this unique thriller by two of the freshest UK screenwriters to Scotland,” said Christopher Aird, head of BBC Drama Production England, when the show was unveiled.

“Sitting alongside Shetland and our adaptation of Iain Banks’ Stonemouth, One Of Us shows BBC Drama’s substantial commitment to drama in Scotland.” Also worth a mention in this context is From Darkness, a drama set in the Western Isles of Scotland and shot around Argyll.

South west England:
Devon and Cornwall have some of the most beautiful locations in the UK but aren’t used a lot. Partly this is because they can seem off the beaten track to London-based producers and partly because there are no regional incentives.

To cite examples, the quintessentially Cornish story Jamaica Inn was shot mainly in Yorkshire while the BBC’s retelling of the Hound Of The Baskervilles in its Sherlock series was filmed mainly in Wales, with just a few scenes shot in the story’s actual location Dartmoor.

Having said all this, ITV’s Doc Martin has proved it is possible to base a hit show in Cornwall. And recently the BBC’s Poldark has underlined the point, filming in Cornish locations like Truro, St Agnes Head, Bodmin and Charleston. Also coming up is BBC drama The Coroner, which is set in locations such as Salcombe and Totnes, both in Devon.


Depending on your definition of south-west England, you could also cite Broadchurch, filmed mainly in west Dorset. And then, of course, there is Bristol, which is the gateway to the region. Bristol seemed to be on the back foot a few years ago when the BBC relocated its medical soap Casualty to Wales.

But the city has fought back and is now a buzzing drama hub. Shows to have been filmed in the studio or on location in Bristol include Wolf Hall, Poldark and Sherlock. A recent addition to this list is The Living and the Dead. A six-part supernatural drama set in Somerset in the 1800s, this was filmed at Bottle Yard Studios, the largest production space in the south-west.

The transformation in the Welsh drama business over the last decade has been remarkable. It started in 2005 with the BBC’s decision to base sci-fi series Doctor Who at a new studio complex in Cardiff Bay.

Subsequently Doctor Who spin-offs such as Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures helped build momentum.

Today, Wales is a hive of activity for both domestic and international drama productions. Shows to have been based here include Da Vinci’s Demons, Atlantis and War and Peace. Such is the strength of Wales’ appeal these days that Pinewood decided to build a studio near Cardiff, with 70,000 square feet of shooting space.

Productions to have passed through Pinewood’s new Wales-based complex already include the pilot of US cable channel FX’s big budget period drama The Bastard Executioner (which went on to base the full series run at Dragon Studios near Bridgend).

Pinewood’s entry into the Welsh market came via a partnership with the Welsh government. As part of this alliance, the Welsh government set up a £30 million production fund to support film and TV drama. The hope is that this will generate around £90m for the local economy.

While Cardiff is the hub of the Welsh TV drama business, other parts of the country have benefited from the boom. Da Vinci’s Demons shot in locations such as Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot while Atlantis visited the welsh town of Chepstow.

Another drama that takes great advantage of Welsh locations is Hinterland, shot in and around the Aberystwyth area of Ceredigion.

War and Peace

West Midlands/Birmingham:
Birmingham is a bit overlooked by producers but it does play host to Peaky Blinders for some locations. The dark period drama makes use of the ready made ‘set’ offered by the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, as well as locations in Birmingham itself.

The area was also home to BBC1 drama WPC 56. Set in 1956, the show explores the chauvinism faced by Gina Dawson, the first female PC to serve in her home town of Brinford. The show uses period locations including the Jewellery Quarter. Birmingham was also the key location for BBC drama Survivors. 


Yorkshire has a superb coastline, beautiful windswept moors and architecturally interesting cities. But a key reason it attracts so much production is Screen Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Content Fund, which provides financial support to productions that film in the county. That fund received a boost earlier this year, when Screen Yorkshire secured an additional £7.5m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

There was more good news for Yorkshire in 2015 following the launch of The Yorkshire Studios, which is located between Leeds and York. The first major production to be based there is ITV’s eight-part drama Victoria, produced by Mammoth Screen.

Mammoth Screen MD Damien Timmer said: “The Yorkshire Studios give us all the space we need for our massively ambitious studio build, are a stone’s throw from Leeds and close to the many fantastic locations which we’ll need to capture the grandeur and opulence that the series demands.’”

Major productions to have been made in Yorkshire recently include Death Comes To Pemberley, The Great Train Robbery, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Dark Angel. 

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