Transcendent Travel Featured in The London Times
Dramas such as Midsomer Murders present a cosy, albeit crime-tinged, picture of life in Britain, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that Americans are smitten.
US tourists are paying more than £5,000 for week-long guided tours of villages and country estates featured in classic British shows as sleepy television series become transatlantic hits.
The itinerary includes visits to Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the real-life Downton Abbey, as well as a day in Port Isaac, the Cornwall fishing village that provides the backdrop for the medical drama Doc Martin starring Martin Clunes.
The anglophile tourists, inspired by Poirot, are also escorted to Greenway in Devon, former holiday home of the sleuth’s creator, Agatha Christie, and enjoy a walking tour of Dorchester-on-Thames, one of the Oxfordshire villages where the long-running detective series Midsomer Murders is filmed. Other stops include the picturesque Cotswold village of Biddestone, the location of Sky One’s comedy crime drama Agatha Raisin.
British comedies including Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mr Bean and The Office have long held cult success in the US, but the streaming revolution has created a new and unexpected global audience for leisurely paced British dramas.
Acorn TV and Britbox, two specialist “British binge” services, have quietly built more than a million international subscribers by offering quintessential UK programming to North American subscribers. The tours aim to capitalise on this success. The Acorn TV-themed itinerary, now in its third year, costs $6,495 (£4,897) for seven days, excluding air fare, or $5,495 (£4,143) per person for a couple.
Despite the eye-popping prices, the tour organiser, Andrew Lannerd, says that interest in this summer’s programme is higher than ever. “I think it’s escapism, really,” he said. “They’re looking for something that is very different than their day-to-day lives. They watch these shows and think how nice it would be to live in the Cotswolds, or wake up in Port Isaac on the Cornish coast. I think there’s so much turmoil in the US that it’s a kind of escape.”
Each tour accepts about 25 to 30 guests. In addition to meals, transport and accommodation they go behind the scenes on some of the sets, and are promised “meet-and-greets” with cast members.
Mr Lannerd was raised in Indiana but says he became an anglophile after studying British history, and turned his hobby into a business by founding the boutique agency Transcendent Travel in 2013. It puts on tours on behalf of Acorn TV.
The television tours tend to attract wealthy older women who are very interested in all things English, he said, adding: “Most of my clients have been to the UK before but they will have just done London.”
There appears to be no shortage of potential locations. Another of the company’s tours, Great British Telly, takes in Chavenage House in Gloucestershire where Poldark is filmed, the Vicar of Dibley village, Turville, in Buckinghamshire, and Bletchley Park on the back of The Bletchley Circle.
“I always remind my groups when we’re in little villages: this is first and foremost where people live, so let’s be very respectful,” Mr Lannerd said.
Big-budget global dramas like Game of Thrones and House of Cards may dominate the headlines, but there is evidence that many viewers crave the familiar and reassuring. Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, recently noted the continuing popularity of “warm-bath television”.
THE HOLIDAY PROGRAMME
Monday: Tour of state apartments at Windsor Castle and evening meet-and-greet with the author and Agatha Christie expert Sophie Hannah
Tuesday: Tour of Highclere Castle — “picture yourself in the library next to the fireplace just like Lord & Lady Grantham” — then on to Bath
Wednesday: Visit the Jane Austen Centre in Bath before heading to Biddestone in the Cotswolds, then off to Devon to stay at Boringdon Hall, filming location of Delicious
Thursday: “Quickly fall in love with” Port Isaac before meeting cast members of Doc Martin at a “celebrity dinner”
Friday: Trip to Agatha Christie’s Greenway Estate then “seaside fun” in Sidmouth
Saturday: A walking tour of Dorchester-on-Thames to see all the Midsomer Murder sites
Sunday: Back to Windsor, “close to Heathrow”