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Tales from the Tower

Gruesome past comes to life in TLC program

By Freda Yarbrough
1 Nov 1998
The Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate; Page 34-MAG

For tourists, a visit to the Tower of London is a fascinating round-trip venture into a barbaric time. For the prisoners who once resided there, it was a one-way ticket to hell.

The Learning Channel (TCI cable Channel 48) will air Tales from the Tower, a three-part program tonight, Nov. 1, from 7-10 p.m. delving into the often bloody and gruesome past of one of England's most notorious landmarks.

"It's one of the most famous landmarks in England," said Genevieve Robinson, producer of the program in a telephone interview two weeks ago from London. "It's got such a wealth of stories. It's something we thought about for awhile." Many English historical figures familiar to Americans from history courses "either passed through or ended up in the Tower," said Robinson.

"Some ended their days there. Some escaped. It's a mix of royalty and less well known," said Robinson. "Recreating the past, I find very fascinating." Robinson added that actors from around London were cast as historical figures and although the 10 scenes were filmed with what looked like a lot of actors, it was a relatively small number of actors who portrayed the various roles.

Construction of the first section of the Tower, called the White Tower because of the pale color of the bricks and limestone used, was begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror and completed in 1097, about 10 years after he died. It was built to replace an earlier wooden fort situated on the same site on the east side of the City of London.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the complex expanded beyond the City of London's walls. An inner section includes 13 towers, while the outer section, originally surrounded by a moat fed by the Thames, contains six towers and two bastions. The moat, drained in 1843, is enclosed by an outside wall which includes cannons, some of which are still fired during state occasions.

The documentary re-enactments of historical scenes include:

Guy Fawkes' failed attempt to blow up the British parliament and his subsequent torture and execution;

The beheading of Henry VIII 's fifth wife Queen Catherine Howard;

The mystery of Richard III's two nephews who were thought to have been murdered there and buried on site;

The escape of Lord James Maxwell, whose wife Winifred dressed her husband as a woman and walked him out of The Tower;

The jailing of the last notable prisoner of The Tower, Nazi Rudolf Hess, who was jailed in 1941 by Winston Churchill.

Narrated by Samuel West, the show was produced by Edward Windsor, also known as His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, and his company, Ardent Productions. The prince is interviewed frequently throughout the program.

"We had to work out where I was going to film. At lot (was filmed) at The Tower and other locations, like the rivers." Robinson said much of her work involved gathering information for the stories, reading sources and talking to yeomen (the guides, also called Beefeaters, on the grounds of The Tower who are dressed in the familiar red Tudor-era uniforms).

"We were allowed to film during opening hours from strategic points," said Robinson, "and filmed after hours, which is difficult, very early in the morning and very late at night."

"We were blessed with no great mishaps. That doesn't make for very good copy, does it?," laughed Robinson. "No encounters with ghosts."

Maybe no surveillance by ghosts, but the crew was definitely given plenty of scrutiny by the large, deep black, almost purple Ravens that inhabit the grounds of The Tower. The birds have little fear of visitors and act as if they own the place.

Which they do.

"Do you know the legend of the Ravens?" asked Robinson, "If there are no Ravens left, England itself will fall. We found them quite fascinating." Making sure the Ravens remain on the ground of The Tower, the birds' wings are clipped.

Robinson said the crew at Ardent Productions works closely with Windsor who gets involved early on in the process of writing.

"He has a very keen interest on history and was invaluable and has a great love of it," who added that when the group works together, the prince is called Edward Windsor, not "your highness."

The present-day Tower, a complex of towers and bastions covering about 18 acres, has become England's biggest historical attraction, with more than 2.5 million visitors touring the grounds each year.

Even though a tourist attraction, The Tower is still considered a palace with the official designation of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London."

Visitors come to see the Crown Jewels (moved to a more spacious above-ground location in 1994), the armory and the royal apartments.

(The Royal Armories collection of arms and armor was relocated in 1996 to Leeds castle.)

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You can check the schedule for The Learning Channel using the search engine on the Discovery On-Line Web Site. Just enter "Tales from the Tower". (As of 9 Feb 1999, no showings are scheduled within the next 30 days.)

While on the Discovery On-Line site, you might enjoy reading their four part   article entitled, Royal Scandals: Or How Kings and Queens Make Quite a Mess of Things. The Catherine Howard story is in Part 2: Tawdry Sexual Escapades.

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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