henrietta ferguson

Tour de Force: Potty about Harry

“My fascination with the boy wizard began 14 years ago,” explains Henrietta. “I was taking an American family around Britain. By day three their young boy had tired of museums and was bored with counting sheep from the car. His mother asked if I wouldn’t mind playing a Harry Potter audio book for him, I obliged. By the time we got to Edinburgh I was hooked.

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“I left the family at the airport and bought the CD of the second book for my drive back to London. When I arrived, I was so engrossed that I sat outside my house in the car for an hour until the story had finished.

“I bought each of the seven-book series as soon as they came out. I even queued outside Waterstones bookshop waiting for the third book to be released at midnight. When the first film appeared in 2001, I tried to borrow my young nephew so that I wouldn’t be the only grown-up without a child in the cinema. I needn’t have worried – over half the audience were adults.

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“Those enthusiastic movie goers inspired me to create a Harry Potter locations tour. But the producers were secretive about where it was filmed and a lot of backgrounds were difficult to identify. Fortunately, when the DVD came out I could freeze frame the action and work out where scenes were set.

“Fans on the internet were arguing about where the films had been shot. As a Blue Badge Guide I had a head start and could immediately recognise a location like St Paul’s Cathedral – the church’s geometric staircase features in the ‘remembrall’ scene in the fourth film.

“The films have turned London’s King’s Cross station into a tourist destination. In the first movie Harry departs for Hogwarts School from platform 9. (they filmed at platforms 3 and 4). The station installed a Harry Potter luggage trolley on the concourse for visiting fans. Unfortunately, during a recent refurbishment they removed a wrought iron bridge that appeared in the first film. If anyone knows where it is, would they let me know.

“London’s river crossings feature in several films. In the third movie, the Knight bus gets stuck on a bridge. People thought this was London Bridge, but I worked out that it is actually Lambeth Bridge. Tower and the Millennium bridges appear during the death-eaters scene in the Half- Blood Prince.

“The Leaky Cauldron Pub – entrance to Diagon Alley – was filmed in two places in London. For the first movie they used Leadenhall Market in the City of London, for the third film it moved to Borough Market.

“The highlight of a Harry Potter tour is Christ Church College in Oxford, the setting for Hogwarts Hall. It features in the first three films, but when they were preparing the fourth movie the producers wanted to park their vehicles on the college meadow. A farmer was growing wheat there and they asked him to harvest it early. He refused. I am friendly with the bowlerhatted college porters, who tipped me off about this.

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“I am pleased that the Harry Potter films have highlighted some of England’s less well-known tourist attractions, from the stunning medieval Alnwick Castle in Northumberland – where the Quidditch flying scenes are filmed – to the little-known Goathland Railway Station on the North Yorkshire Moors, which acts as Hogwarts Station.

“The stories are so powerful that some of my younger visitors are convinced they are real. One boy was annoyed with his mother when we arrived in Oxford, because he thought he was actually going to attend Hogwarts School. A five-year old girl was upset that the wand we bought from the Harry Potter Shop didn’t work. She wanted to go back and exchange it. I told her that if she waved the wand at every traffic light we were stopped at, she could magic them from red to green – she was delighted.

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“For older visitors who have grown up with the books, the stories create a common bond. I was contacted by three girls in their 20s, one Spanish, one Argentinian and one Mexican. They got to know each other on a Harry Potter internet forum and saved up to travel to London, where they met for the first time. I took them to Oxford. They dressed up in character and I found myself walking the sober ‘City of Learning’ with group of young adults wearing a cape, carrying a wand and sporting a Gryffindor scarf and garters. I didn’t wear a cape!

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“What’s great about these tours is that I can help a younger generation discover British history. It’s difficult to involve children in a cultural tour, but mention Harry Potter and you get their attention. So when I am showing them sites that have been used in the filming, they are subconsciously learning about the real history of the building.

“It’s extraordinary to think that this is the result of the imagination of one woman, JK Rowling. Her powerful idea of a young boy wizard, fighting for good, has enthralled a generation of readers and film fans, and it has led them on pilgrimage to discover Harry Potter and Britain.”

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