THE 1990s TV comedy, The Fast Show, was filmed in locations dotted about the North-East, as we told last week. Unlucky Alf, the begloved pensioner for whom things always go terribly wrong leading him to exclaim “oh bugger”, filmed sketches in Railway Street in Langley Park, a mining village five miles from Durham City.

“What about all the other things that were filmed in Railway Street,” suggested Alison Hiles, and the list is long.

But, to understand why Railway Street was so attractive to film-makers, a little history is useful.

Langley Park is an archetypical Durham mining community. The Lanchester Valley Railway opened in 1862 to connect the Consett ironworks with the ironstone mines of the Cleveland Hills. Stations were built along its route as it passed through the empty Durham countryside. The one at Langley Park was called Witton Gilbert, which was a village a mile away, because there was absolutely nothing at Langley Park – indeed, the nearest settlement to the new station was Wall Nook, but it was just a hamlet named after the ancient wall of the Prior of Durham’s Beaurepaire Park.

But the arrival of the railway encouraged the Consett Iron Company to seek out local coal to fire its furnaces. When it sunk its first shaft near the Browney in 1871, it made up a name – Langley Park – for the location.

It built the first terraces – North and South Street – at Langley Park for the shaftsinkers, but they were only temporary structures, of wood and stone, because no one knew if the seam would prove viable. Indeed, Langley Park’s first shaft quickly filled with water and was abandoned.

But the second shaft was successful, and Langley Park Colliery began to operate in 1873. More terraces sprung up – Langley, Durham and Railway streets – built with traditional outside toilets where archetypal activities took place.

"I remember playing with a piece of coal or a stone in a back street in Langley Park, in County Durham, where I lived," reminisced Sir Bobby Robson, the former manager of England and Newcastle, who moved into 15, Langley Street when he was just a baby. “If we didn't have a ball, what was the next best thing? It was a piece of coal or a pebble.”

Sir Bobby’s Langley Street was twinned with Durham Street and they shared a back lane lined which was lined with their outside toilets. But Railway Street was all on its own. It did not have a twin with which to share a back lane. Its netties, therefore, were built over the road from its front doors and they backed onto the railway line from which it took its name.

And so it still is to this day – an evocative reminder of life in the coalfield when toilets were netties and were across the road.

Even into the 1970s, the residents of Railway Street would wake up and wander across the back lane in their dressing gowns to empty the nightly contents of their gozunders into their netties.

"For me it was a novel way to meet my new neighbours,” said a chap who arrived in the street in 1978, “definitely an ice breaker."

Consequently, when film-makers wanted some authentic gritty coalfield realism they beat a path to the doors of Railway Street.

The street’s first starring role was in Days of Hope, a BBC mini-series directed by Ken Loach in 1973. It featured in an episode set in 1921 when miners were locked out of the pits for refusing to take a pay cut. It was so authentic that a dozen or so Langley Park residents were cast as extras, and it was so realistic that a pretend pitched battle between police and pitmen frightened those who witnessed it.

Alun Armstrong, the son of an Annfield Plain miner, was among the stars of Days of Hope, and he returned to Railway Street in 1975 to film a 12-part Granada TV series called The Stars Look Down. It was a gritty look at life in a fictional North-East mining town, called Sleescale, after the First World War.

The Stars Look Down is notable because it featured the on-screen debut of 16-year-old Steven Morrissey. It was very fleeting - "even if you don't blink at all you will miss me" – and it featured him in the distance with "a punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate". It was another decade before miserable Morrissey found fame as the singer in the Smiths, but it could be that his entertainment career began at Langley Park.

As a response to all this realistic grittiness, a pair of Pythons – Michael Palin and Terry Jones – descended on Railway Street in 1977 to poke fun at film-makers who took everything so seriously. They made an episode of Ripping Yarns called The Testing of Eric Olthwaite, in which Eric, played by Michael Palin, was a man who was so boring even his own family left him – until he got caught up in a bank robbery and had interestingness bestowed upon him.

Beamish Museum and Tow Law feature in the programme, but Eric’s home is in Railway Street. The opening sequence features him walking down the street, amid the flat-capped children playing football, being incredibly boring about the weather. “It were always raining on Denley Moor except on days when it were fine, but there weren’t many of them, not if you include drizzle as rain, and even if it weren’t drizzling it were overcast with a lot of moisture in the air,” he said as he approached his terraced front door in Railway Street. “You’d come home damp as if it had been raining even though there were no evidence of precipitation in the rain gauge outside the town hall…”

In 1981, Railway Street was again a film set when Tyne Tees TV made its version of how West Auckland won the first World Cup in 1909. A Captain’s Tale featured Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy, and the authentic terraced atmosphere of Railway Street featured in the scenes in which the players paraded the trophy they had won in Italy.

The TV cameras returned to Railway Street in 1994 when snippets of the Fast Show were filmed there. This comedy starred Paul Whitehouse and featured a string of characters with quickfire catchphrases set in odd locations across the North-East.

A favourite character was Unlucky Alf, and it was just around the corner from Railway Street, in Dale Street, where Unlucky Alf was about to successfully taste triumph and catch a United bus when the bus stop sign unaccountably smashed down on his head and the driver drove on. Oh, bugger.

In 2000, scenes for the film Billy Elliott were shot in Langley Park school, but Railway Street, like a grand aging actor, is now resting, just waiting for the right part in which it can be cast as a traditional Durham mining terrace, or perhaps it is turning down all offers as it thinks it has become typecast.

OTHER reports of Fast Show locations: we’re told that Ron Manager was often filmed at Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United, where, innit, he could reminisce about the days of jumpers for goalposts; the dining room at Barnard Castle School apparently also featured, and Unlucky Alf also ended up in the lake in Darlington’s South Park.

Geoff Carr, of Aycliffe, writes: “The Fast Show is one of my all time favourite shows. I’ve just recently watched a re-run, probably for the sixth time, and spotted one of our favourite gardens – I don’t know how I’d missed it before.

“There’s a Ted and Ralph sketch in the walled garden at Wallington in Northumberland.

“When the show was first aired, I remember trying to spot places each week as it soon became obvious that they’d filmed it all up here. Darlington’s Cornmill Centre was the first giveaway.

“Yet I don’t recall any comments in the local press. I’d love to know why they chose our area.”