The man famous directors must get past to film on our beautiful beaches

If Martin Scorsese decided Formby Beach would be the must-have location for his next blockbuster he would have to get past Gordon White first. Gordon, 49, is countryside officer for Green Sefton, the team that looks after Sefton Council ‘s green spaces, and an unexpected part of his job of protecting the coastline involves dealing with film crews. Over the past 10 years, this stretch of coastal land has been used as a location for movies, TV dramas and documentaries, adverts and pop videos.

Monster trucks have driven along the beach, massive catering lorries with bottles of gas have parked near the sand dunes – and it’s Gordon’s job to make sure they don’t damage the environment or harm the wildlife that includes protected species such as red squirrels and natterjack toads. Even when that means saying ‘no’ to big shot directors who aren’t used to hearing that word.

Gordon White, countryside officer at Green Sefton

Gordon told the ECHO’s Liminal podcast : “In the past there have been quite large scale productions here for two to three weeks at a time, transporting gear across routes that we wouldn’t normally use for vehicles. “Normally I deal with one or two people per shoot but I rely on them to then make sure that the rest of the crew are aware of why we’ve set things up the way we have.

“I’ve turned up at shoots before where the location managers have moved on to their next job and the directors and the production team are all there not following what’s been agreed. So that’s caused a bit of friction on occasion.” Sometimes the directors haven’t been to the location at all before filming begins, having chosen it from photographs.

Gordon said: “On day one of the shoot the directors and the production managers arrive not having specifically been to the location and all of a sudden their reaction is ‘right we’ll do it over there’. My response to that is ‘I’m really sorry but you can’t do that’.”

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Stories of the Merseyside coastline

Many productions apply directly to Sefton Council for permission to use the land, while others come through Liverpool Film Office, the organisation that promotes the city as a location for shooting and enables it to be used as one. Recent productions have included the TV film of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, starring Kim Cattrall, and last year’s prime time BBC mini-series War of the Worlds with Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall.

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Peter Kay used Formby Beach as a location for Car Share, with a monster truck driving across the sands, and Paloma Faith chose the Southport end of the coastal stretch as the backdrop for an album cover.

Peaky Blinders, Location Location Location, Countryfile, Britain From The Air and Hollyoaks have all filmed there, as well as companies making TV and online ads for McDonalds, Ford, VW and Vauxhall.

The man famous directors must get past to film on our beautiful beachesPeaky Blinders actors Tom Hardy, left, and Cillian Murphy, right, chat after filming all day on Freshfield Beach

Gordon said: “It’s quite easy for film and TV companies to cheat this area for any time in history. “For Witness for the Prosecution, they cheated Edwardian times at the beach and it was supposed to be a French Riviera type location. It’s probably an awful lot cheaper to film here than it is in Nice with a crew of 50 people.

“We had an online advert for an aftershave with Jude Law. They built a big stage and a big set on the beach at Ainsdale. That was a well-kept secret for a while.

He was chauffeur-driven down the beach in some sort of gold-coloured Bentley. Amazing.” Sports shows have also filmed along the Sefton coastline, from the Premier League doing short pieces to camera in the run-up to Merseyside derbies to the Grand National recreating Red Rum’s training regime along the beach.

Gordon said: “I think naturalness is one of the important aspects of the coastline that people find quite attractive to bring their teams here to shoot films or adverts. “I find it a very calming environment. All your senses are tested because you smell the pine trees, you can smell the sea, you can hear the wind.

There’s birdsong, it’s quiet, it’s natural.

The man famous directors must get past to film on our beautiful beachesA winter morning in Formby pinewoods

“Overhead it’s a bit grey and cloudy and misty today, and a bit rainy, but the next time you come and visit the tide won’t be in the same place and the wind won’t sound the same or it’ll be from a different direction, or the sun might be out. It might be a lot busier. “It fascinates me that you can come to the same place and have a different experience every time you come.”

Gordon has been working for Sefton Council for 25 years, following a five-year spell on the Jurassic Coast in Norfolk. When that short-term contract ran out and he was offered a job back home he was quick to accept: “It’s been amazing. I’ve loved every minute of it.

No day is the same as the cliche goes.”

The man famous directors must get past to film on our beautiful beachesFormby Point at sunset

He even spends some of his spare time at Formby Beach, walking his dogs with his family at weekends. He said: “The beach is eroding here so Formby Point is disappearing but if you go a little bit further up the coast in either direction you’ll find the opposite is happening, it’s actually accreeting and growing. “At Southport and Ainsdale the beach is growing seaward.

Southport was built at a time when land was reclaimed from the sea in order to do that. We’re at a stage now that the Pier is now one of the shortest ones over sand.” One of Gordon’s favourite spots along this 20-mile stretch of coastline is Ravenmeols, in Formby, where there was a seaside resort planned towards the end of the 19th century.

He said: “It’s lovely and quiet – really good wildlife, fascinating history and has the remains of some old buildings where many years ago there was a move to create Formby-on-Sea.

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“They built a promenade and they started to build hotels and houses there. Some of those have fallen down now but still some remain. The sea wall they built is buried under sand dunes now, which shows you how much accretion has occurred.

“There’s a very big sand blow out called Devil’s Hole and at the back edge there are pine woods with mature trees. You can stand on the sand and look across the tops of the 60ft-high trees. You think ‘Wow, what a weird experience’.”

Visit the Merseyside coastline from your living room

Listen to the full interview with Gordon, recorded on a walk through Formby Pinewoods to the beach, on the ECHO’s Liminal podcast.

In each episode, presenter Laura Davis takes listeners for a stroll along Merseyside’s windswept coastline with the people who have made their lives at the edge.

Click HERE to find Liminal on all podcast apps, but for an interactive, immersive experience listen on the Entale app.

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