Eric Pahl – Several years ago I traveled to London and tried to seek out a number of locations with connections to Jim Henson and the Muppets. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough time to complete the task. I’ve been wanting to return ever since, and I finally got the chance. I’m happy to say that I was able to check everything off the list, and I even added some new locations. This is where I went:
1. Tower of London
This location is, of course, one of the new additions to my list. For those who are somehow not familiar with Muppets Most Wanted, the last act of the movie was set at the Tower of London. All of the exterior shots were filmed on location, with the likely exception of the rooftop scene. It didn’t really make sense for me to just take photos of the Tower of London, so I decided to recreate some screenshots from the movie.
2. St. Albans Register Office
I took a train about 20 minutes out of London to the city of St. Albans. It is only a couple of stops north of Borehamwood, home to Elstree Studios, where The Muppet Show, The Great Muppet Caper, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth were filmed. The Register Office in St. Albans is the only remaining part of what was St. Albans Prison, which closed in 1924. It was used as the exterior of the prison where Miss Piggy was being held in The Great Muppet Caper. In a very short scene a laundry truck exits the prison and turns down the road with Miss Piggy hanging onto the back.
Jim Henson was quite fond of Hampstead, a neighborhood in the London borough of Camden. There are a few notable locations here, all within a few blocks of each other. In 1977, during the second season of the Muppet Show, Jim rented the house at 12 Frognal Gardens. In 1979 he purchased a house on Downshire Hill, just off the Hampstead high street. Within a month he had also purchased a building just across the street, which would become the headquarters for development of The Dark Crystal and the beginnings of the Creature Shop.
Hampstead Heath was one of the places I felt a need to return to. It is where one will find a special spot, the Sahlin/Henson/Doozer bench. I walked through the park to the bench, sat down, and just listened to some Muppet and Fraggle songs for a while.
4. 30 Oval Road
30 Oval Road is the address of a building in Camden, about one and a half miles south of Hampstead. It was home to the Creature Shop from (I think) 1985 to 1995. I had stopped by here on my previous trip, but I wanted to return since I heard the building had changed ownership again and had undergone a major renovation. It is now an apartment building, with only portions of the original brickwork shell remaining. One plus: it has been named The Henson.
5. Polka Theatre
One of the places I didn’t get to on my previous trip was the Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2007 the bear collection was relocated to the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, so that’s where I went to see one of the original Fozzie Bear puppets. It’s not clear if this was the very first Fozzie, but I believe it is one of the earliest.
6. Battersea Park
This is the place I had really been itching to get back to. Battersea Park is where a memorable sequence from the The Great Muppet Caper was filmed. It starts with Kermit sitting on a park bench holding the glass slipper Miss Piggy left behind as she ran out of the Dubonnet Club; Jerry Nelson walks by for a cameo with his daughter and delivers one of my favorite lines; Peter Falk joins Kermit and tries to guess his back-story; Miss Piggy shows up and gets into a heated argument with Kermit; the dispute is quickly resolved, and the big Muppet bicycle ride begins!
When I last visited Battersea Park I was hoping to pinpoint some of the exact locations of these scenes, but 25 years of change made it difficult and I ran out of time. With the chance to try again I wanted to ensure success, so I was armed with numerous screenshots and fresh viewings of the film. The preparation paid off and I was able to find my primary target, the pond where Kermit was sitting.
This photo is looking across the pond to the spot where Kermit’s bench was and also toward the building that Kermit and Piggy argued in front of. The bench would have been in the raised area where the three nearest trees are.
So that’s it! If you want more details or want to see what locations I found on my previous trip, you can go to http://etphoto.smugmug.com/Henson/Muppets-in-England. There is also a link to a map with all of the locations pinned on it, in case you want to search out any of these places yourself!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org