The old Brandon bridge over the Little Ouse – location for a scene of the film ‘The First Offence’ 1933
Most of us have heard that nearby Elveden Hall was used as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s film “Eyes Wide Shut” starring two of the movie world’s most famous actors, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
It is not such a well known fact, however, that in the early 1930s Brandon was the location for part of a film starring two up-and-coming young actors who would soon be very famous themselves: John Mills (now Sir John Mills) who was 28 at the time and 22 year-old Lilli Palmer the German-Austrian actress who had recently arrived from Paris. The movie, released in 1936, was the first film from director Herbert Mason and was a crime thriller called “The First Offence” although its alternative UK title was “Bad Blood“. The BFI holds a copy of the film in its archive.
Sir John MillsJohn Mills played Johnnie Penrose, the spoiled son of a wealthy doctor, who is so furious when his father refuses to buy him a car that he crosses the channel and joins a gang of French car thieves. Thankfully his father, played by H. G. Stoker, chases after him and saves him from a life of crime. It would seem that Brandon (and a stretch of road near Weeting) at that time looked sufficiently like parts of France to save the film-crew from having to make an expensive cross-channel trip of their own.
The actors, director and crew took rooms at the White Hart Hotel in Brandon High Street (since demolished) and the event made quite an impression on the people of the town, especially the children, many of whom stayed up past their bed-time to watch the filming take place, some finding unofficial viewing points at the windows of the old maltings overlooking the river.
A local lady wrote down her recollections of that time:-
“My fiancé (now my husband) and I with a few others stayed up all night to watch the scene being filmed. It depicted John Mills with Lilli Palmer in a two seater car being chased by several police on motor cycles racing down Brandon High Street.
“The technicians rigged up a ramp on the slip-way beside the original bridge, which the two stars took advantage of, and turned into as the chasing police motorcycles continued Lilli Palmerover the bridge. However, because of the speed of the car and the ramp the car landed up in the middle of the river. Needless to say, the two stars were replaced by a stuntman driving the car and a rag-doll model of Lilli Palmer dressed in a replica green suit and blond wig.
“The following evening we and a small crowd watched the rescue scene being filmed. The real pair John Mills and Lilli Palmer were rowed out to the car which had been left in the middle of the river and they had to sit in it before being rescued by the rowing boat.
“The director shouted ‘take her back to the hotel for a hot bath’ as she had been sitting in water in the car.”
We have heard that when the film was finally released and made its way to Brandon’s cinema on the London Road a loud cheer went up whenever our particular scene came onto the screen. To this day many Brandonians hold special memories of that very entertaining experience.
John Mills (I) …. Johnnie Penrose
Lilli Palmer …. Jeanette
Bernard Nedell …. The Boss
Michel André (I) …. Michel
H.G. Stoker …. Dr. Penrose
Jean Wall …. The Zebra
Paul Velsa …. Peanuts
Marcel Maupi …. Man in Panama Hat
Writer: Austin Melford – based on a story by Stafford Dickens
Producer: Michael Balcon
Cinematography: Arthur Crabtree
We have also heard tell that filming was carried out in Brandon on another occasion when gentlemen dressed as Arab Sheiks could be seen milling around the knapping activities at the rear of the Flintknappers Arms. If anyone has any further information regarding what this film may have been about or if you have first hand memories of the event we would love to hear from you.