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Sunday, 1 August 2010

West Malling: then & now.

Ah, West Malling: We hardly knew you, too.
"Chosen" by the Beatles as a primary location for Magical Mystery Tour, largely due to gross incompetence (they hadn't bothered to book a proper film studio, thus everywhere was taken and it was all they could get), the airfield represents, in excelsis, another one of those happy accidents that occur at almost every turn where these four "shit-kickers" (Ringo's words, not mine) are concerned; it proved ideal.
That MMT is a load of pish is an almost universally accepted "fact". However, having recently viewed it again after a gap of around 20 years, with lowered expectations, I'd take issue with the consensus. Parts of it are (and I'm struggling to find a better term, so I won't bother) a load of pish; the "wizards" are to be regretted, and the title sequences and intermittent explosive "special" effects have aged less than well... but beyond that, I can't really find much to dislike. It veers (wildly) from the silly (though charming) to the scintillating. I do wish they would release it in a properly re-mastered version on DVD.
And so to a little wittering about West Malling.
Assuming you have functioning eyes, the aerial pic below is self explanatory. Nevertheless, clockwise from top left: the main hanger where the finale was filmed, the blast shields (two locations) which served as backdrop to the Walrus sequence, and, finally, at the bottom, the patch of ground once occupied by yet another blast shield - this one used by the Rutles (they couldn't find the right one - and neither could I when I was there in the 1980s):

Speaking of the Walrus areas, it's now very hard to identify precisely where these points were; as regulars will know, the airfield is long gone, and the whole place is gradually being eaten by a large modern housing development called Kings Hill. However, too much time poring over Google Earth and the like leads me to believe (quite possibly wrongly) that where the Walrus blast shields once stood is now a street called Durello Avenue. You can see it below, to the right. This satellite image is at least a couple of years old; I'm pretty sure that the waste ground has been covered in new houses in the interim. If I'm right, then someone's front drive now sits where the Walrus once sat:

Lastly, some charming home movie footage, showing West Malling airfield in the late 1970s, around 10 years after the MMT cast and crew packed up and left; filmed by glider pilots, and therefore not of a specifically Beatles bent, glimpses of those blast shields can nevertheless be seen, amongst other things. Three more parts are to be found on YouTube.
Thanks to Nernie, E. and Christopher "I'm not drinking today" Stewart for "input", and to The Beatles' London (Schreuders, Lewisohn & Smith), without which West Malling MMT topography would have been forever lost.


  1. Being a Kentish Man (or is it Man of Kent -never sure about that - whatever) and now living in the greater Tonbridge area, I have, over the years, wasted far too much time looking for the elusive Knole Park Tree to the huge irritation of the kids in tow. More recently, having re-watched the MMT DVD (and agree that some of it is really worth watching) my attention has switched to the old West Malling site passed every weekend on the way to the in-laws in Maidstone. Fascinated by this blog entry and resolve to stop on Sunday and take a look. I can hear the howls from the back seat - but hell, this is important. Love this blog.

    1. Interesting. I know someone who was on the Magical Mystery Tour and appears in the film. :-)

  2. Great - try and get a few shots of Durello Avenue, if you can.

  3. Ok - did the family bit at Dover Castle and called into Kingshill on the way home. Spent an hour driving around trying to find Durrello Avenue but no joy. Even Google Maps on the mobile was no help. Called into the miserable Asda in the centre of the hapless estate to ask directions no use. I can only assume it is a new road...its out there somewhere. Whole family hate me. Try again Sunday.

  4. This comment, for some reason, has cheered me up a great deal.
    Try one of the satellite image things with the labelling turned on, and you will find it.

  5. In fact, Brilig, that is the best comment on this blog thus far. Rarely do I larf out loud.

  6. I was the navigator on Briling's first attempt to find Durrello Ave in Kingshill. As he indicated, it is not listed on Google Maps and asking a few folks as we drove around and around, no love. Based on your last comment, I've poured over Google Earth to try and match up the picture you've blogged.
    To help satisfy our curiosity, could you possibly post the latitude/longitude of the location you believe the blast shield was. If you can't do that, could you give us a better idea of exactly where Durello Ave is by telling us what street(s) it crosses in Kinghill?
    Thanks for the fascinating blog.

  7. It's near the end of King's Hill Avenue. There's a roundabout there, and if you look from there towards Lavenders Road on Google Maps, you'll see the spot. Google Maps is very out of date, and I can't recall which satellite "thing" I saw it on.

  8. Found it on Bing Maps! I've forwarded the info to Brilig for his next attempt.

  9. Thanks to James and Kenwoodlennon. Re-visit scheduled for Sunday but strictly hush-hush. Plan to over feed and water family at Maidstone in-laws PM, lull them off to sleep late afternoon on journey back home (Peaceful Ocean Surf CD on standby) then slip off the A20 when they least expect it as Zzzzzz hit full decibels, park up in Durello Ave camera at the ready. Hey ! Am I not alouded some me-time !

  10. I look forward to hearing (and seeing) the results of your search Brilig! I'm sure if I listen hard tomorrow I will hear the groans in unison from your bunch all the way here in the states :)