WRITTEN BY AMANDA LEEK

On the steps of the New York Public Library a man lies on the ground, clutching his chest.

“Uncle Ben?” A young man crouches over him, close to tears. “Uncle Ben?”

Carjacker. Shot. Paramedics. On their way.

The man looks around, bewildered. He smiles, weakly. “Peter.”

 “I’m here, Uncle Ben.”

Their hands grip. “Peter.”

The man closes his eyes in pain.

His hand falls.

Suddenly, ‘Uncle Ben’s’ eyes open and he looks at ‘Peter’. “Can I stop now, Lew?”

It’s New York, 2005, and no one is more enthusiastic about seeing the location of Uncle Ben’s death in Spiderman as Lewis as he orders his long-suffering friend to lie on the ground and enact the scene.

Six years on and Lewis Swan, 39, directs his own company offering tours of film and TV locations across England and Wales.

Brit Movie Tours offers 24 bus and walking tours through the locations of Harry Potter, Dr Who, Gavin and Stacey, James Bond and other British films.

Summer usually brings more people out but Lewis is arranging more and more dates all year round for the increasingly popular tours.

A day-long tour through the locations of Downton Abbey in July is the latest string to their bow.

The Harry Potter bus tour is the most in demand. The £25 adult and £20 child tickets are snapped up with the 29-seater bus sold out on nearly every three hour London tour of locations running twice on Saturdays and Sundays. The ten and a half hour tour to Oxford and Lacock by bus is quickly booked up at £60 for adults and £45 for children.

It’s a remarkable success for a company which only started up in October 2009.

Lewis takes the success in his stride – he reclines on a sofa in his office and when he talks he is serious about adding value to people’s love of the film or TV show.

“We are trying to take people who are fans or interested in that film or T.V. show from the realm of reality back into the world of fantasy which they obviously had connected with, to enjoy that fantasy world in a real time, real world situation.

“You can’t touch it and smell it on screen, it’s just visual.

“But by going, for example, to Downton Abbey, you can drive up that driveway. You can imagine you’re back a hundred years ago in Edwardian times.

“We’re just taking you just a few steps closer to what really intrigued you, fascinated you or made you fall in love.

“We’re getting people to reconnect with all sorts of inner responses they stayed with them from when they first watched that film or TV show.”

Like a pilgrim master? “Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m just trying to make a living out of something I enjoy.”

But the tours do more than just point out places.

Lewis graduated from Royal Holloway University in 1997 with a degree in Modern History and when he talks about his Friday night Jack the Ripper tours you can tell he is doing something unique.

“We try to give more of a factual insight – more of an educational tour, really,” he begins.

“We’re trying to make our tours come in from the social and historical point of view. What was it like to live in the East End in 1888? What would life have been like?

“Not just the threat of this unknown serial killer murdering prostitutes – you’ve also got shorter life expectancy, all manner of crime and social deprivation. We cover that side of things.

“We do a bit more of a sensitive treatment. It’s not just about prostitutes having their heads and guts wrenched out. They’re still human beings. It’s more about the murder mystery and the social conditions really. That’s the angle we come at.

“We don’t show gory pictures of dismembered bodies. I think if people want to see that they can easily find it on the internet or something.”

His enthusiasm for bringing fiction and myth to life dates back to how he met his New York buddy ‘Uncle Ben’ exchanging James Bond quotes over the University student bar.

A Bond fan, he took friends on holiday to the island in The Man With The Golden Gun and, in Jordan, insisted on a photo of him pretending to bite through a chain like Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me.

 “I always had an interest in visiting iconic places from films, just to see what these places are like,” he says. “You see them on screen but when you actually go there it’s a step closer to that fantasy world.”

The light bulb moment came three years ago.

He was sitting on the top deck of a bus driving through West End on his way to work – and ticking off places from film in his head.

 “It just occurred to me I recognise these places and wondered if there was an organised tour. I looked, and there wasn’t.”

Other film location tours existed and they boomed recently. Celebrity Planner, Brit Movie Tours’ main rivals, appeared on Dragon’s Den to pitch their idea of point out celebrity houses in London.

But the idea of a tour heavily themed around one film or TV show seems so logical it’s surprising no one else had done it quite so well before.

 Or maybe Lewis, with his clear passion for film, travel, and a career in publishing and marketing, was simply more serious than most.

For a while it remained a dream, an exit plan in his head during the recession and redundancies. But with one last redundancy he decided to run with it.

 “You can’t really get job security working for somebody else. I just always fancied doing this.”

I went along to the Notting Hill tour in April. The walking tour costs £15 for one person, £10 for two-four people and £8 for five or more. Tickets can be booked online, by email or phone.

The two and a half hour walk in the bright sun (bring water!) was refreshing, although by the end it was tempting to lose the 12-person group in the crowds of Notting Hill market and sate my hunger on irresistible cuisine.

The tour guide delivered a thoroughly entertaining account covering everything from how the spilt-orange-juice scene was done in just 15 minutes, George Orwell’s 1927 house in Portabello Road, to the interesting history of Mews roads in Notting Hill.

The tour guide is 24-year-old Celia Wright. She does Notting Hill on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Harry Potter in the afternoons. In the week, she works full time at The Film Office.

“The best thing about these tours is being outside, and being able to talk about films I like talking about. I work 7 days a week… but it’s not really work.”

Three of the six pairs at the Notting Hill tour had done this for a birthday present. Sonya Likhtman, 16, had bought tickets for her younger sister, Asya.

“It’s so hard to think what people haven’t got,” Sonya explained. “I want to get an experience we can do together.”

Warwick University’s Film and Television Studies graduate Khally Saarman-Jones points out: “Unlike watching films, which can be done illegally with pirate DVDs or downloading, the experience of going on a film tour does not really have an alternative. It offers a different type of experience and one that can’t be provided elsewhere.”

“Perhaps they also want to do something different or even just see a hidden side of the capital.”

‘Happy Frog’ blogger from Reading is an avid Doctor Who fan. She bought tickets for a bus-load of friends for the Unofficial Doctor Who Tour of London Locations for her birthday.

She said: “It was so much fun and did not disappoint. Tour guide Helen dressed up as one of the Doctor’s assistants from the 80s. Her knowledge was extremely good and she made us Doctor Who themed cupcakes. Who could ask for more?”

It is an understatement to say everyone can enjoy film and TV. But even so, it was surprising to find the Turkish Ambassador Ünal Çeviköz and his wife Emel at the Notting Hill tour. They readily described themselves as film fans, citing The English Patient, Out Of Africa and Pulp Fiction among their favourites. As well as, of course, Notting Hill.

But Mrs Çeviköz emphasised: “It’s not just about the films. It’s the best way to see the city.”

“I go on tours like these to find out about the city I’m in when my duties cease,” Mr Çeviköz said. “The tour guide is very qualified. I’ve been on other tours which just point at things but this one is very good. They tell you a lot about the city you wouldn’t otherwise know.”

Lewis Swan tells us his aims for a good tour: “If you don’t know London we can take you around all these locations quickly and easily, give you a nice commentary, you can just sit back, relax and you don’t have to worry about A-Zs and how to find these places. We present it with a theme running through it to make it an engaging experience.”

“In a sense it would be educational, you find out new things you didn’t know before. It’s a value-add which you wouldn’t get on your own, we’re giving people insider information which would be difficult for them to find out themselves. On our tours we use DVD clips or stills of the locations as they featured in the TV show or film. We just try to do it in an organised way and there’s a fun, happy element to it.”

Andrea, on the Notting Hill tour, said: “I used the internet on my iPhone, I was doing it on my own. I walked through this exact place before and didn’t see half the things she pointed out!”

In Notting Hill, Celia points out The Portabello hotel where we are told Johnny Depp filled a bath of champagne for Kate Moss.

Sonya comments: “It’s funny to think about celebrities coming to stay here when they make a film, but it is so obvious isn’t it!”

Khally believes people pay for a glimpse of a normally inaccessible industry: “A lot of people view films as glamorous and exciting. Films are a massive part of our culture and entertainment and it is easy to see why a range of different people would be interested to look behind the scenes.”

“The appeal of film tours is as wide and varied as the appeal of the films themselves. More than anything I think people want to see and know something that not everyone has access to and that they did not know before. Simply put, they want knowledge and secrets.”

A 2007 Visit Britain survey showed 40% of people said one of the reasons they would visit Britain was because of something they had seen on film or TV.

But fanatics are not the target audience for Brit Movie Tours.

Celia’s first tour was an Unofficial Doctor Who Cardiff Locations Tour and an unofficial 11th Doctor costume-maker with his own website brought his iPad and corrected her as she tried to remember the full script of new information.

Lewis said: “He was a bit mean on her. It just shows that what we’re trying to do is reach out to fans and people who love these shows but as a result there are some people that are really way beyond that.

“We just want the people that have a healthy interest in it and want to experience it again.”

A problem for Brit Movie Tours in the future could be their need for British films to do well. But for now, the industry may be shaking off the recession.

The King’s Speech swept up the Academies with the largest number of nominations for a British film since 1998 and The UK Film Council’s figures show investment in new UK film production reaching a record £1.555 billion across 119 films, including the penultimate Harry Potter.

“The financial trouble of prominent companies such as MGM are well documented, however, from my point of view, the picture does not look too unhealthy,” says Khally.

 “Cinema is, for many, a way to escape reality and so in tough times the appeal of escaping the world and being submersed in another more exciting and glamorous world is just as strong, if not stronger, than it is in good times.”

Lewis is calm in the face of uncertain times: “I just want to see how far I can take it, really.

“Hopefully it’s going well. I’m not arrogant enough to say ‘take over the world’. I want it to be successful. It’s definitely growing.

We’ll see what happens when people have a bit more money to spend.”

So with their Dr Who, Harry Potter and Gavin and Stacey tours gaining international media attention, and more fans and followers every day on their Facebook and Twitter, what is next for Brit Movie Tours?

“Much further down the line I think a Da Vinci Code tour would be a great tour for Paris and London as it was set between the two. I’d like to do something in Europe.

“But, the idea at the moment is just focus on tours in this country. I just want to make sure that the tours we do are run as best as possible before we start launching any new tours after Downton Abbey. We’re constantly trying to improve these tours and give them more of a narrative.

“It’s still such early days so hopefully the only way is up. Or the only way is Essex? One of the two.”

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.