Zreče crest

The Story of the Town that Wants a Twin

How Sedbergh Came to Feature in a Television Programme

During September and October 2004 the television cameras were in Sedbergh, filming a twelve-part series on town twinning that was broadcast on BBC2 in January 2005 under the title, The Town That Wants a Twin. (You can read about the history of Sedbergh’s town-twinning intiatives here).

A televison production company comes to visit

One day, quite unexpectedly, an email arrived from a television production company saying they were thinking of producing a series of programmes about town twinning and would we be interested in talking to them about this?

On the premise that there is (said to be) no such thing as bad publicity, we felt the answer had to be yes. Representatives of the production company visited Sedbergh on a number of occasions on each of which the sun happened to be shining in a clear blue sky, and after meeting a variety of local people in the pub and seeing the photogenic scenery, the production teams said they thought that Sedbergh was just the town in the UK to focus the proposed programmes on.

Sedbergh is chosen to feature in a series

There were a number of conditions upon which the television production company would come to Sedbergh to film their programmes.

  1. We should not be involved in any existing town twinning arrangement, and since we already were close to making an agreement (with a town in Germany, see A Small Town in Germany on How we Entered Into a Twinning Arrangement) we had to suspend our existing town twinning initiatives.
  2. We were not allowed to know which towns were coming to visit us until immediately before their arrival, when a video presentation, made in the locality that was soon to arrive, would introduce the visitors to us.
  3. People from the visiting town would work alongside their counterparts in Sedbergh: a butcher working with the butcher; a farmer working with one of our farmers; an estate agent working alongside one of our estate agents, and so on, and be filmed in the process.

This was, and is, an unconventional approach to town twinning – not one that appears in the classic case studies – however we were advised that it would make for good television.

Four towns are invited to meet us
We were told of the dates that each of four towns would come to visit and that the visitors from each town would stay for a week, though we were not told in advance which towns they were. On a prescribed date, we were shown a video presentation made by the visiting town – everyone in Sedbergh was invited to the video presentation – and then some days afterwards, the bus bringing the visitors from the airport was due to arrive, and we were to provide a welcome party.
Throughout the week of a town’s stay, various activities were to be put on, mostly suggested by the production company teams, activitiesd that involved joint participation by the visitors and local people. These activities would be filmed.
Wine and food tasting in Garth Steadman's butcher’s shop

Wine and food tasting in Garth Steadman's butcher’s shop

First town, Eymet, France

The visitors from Eymet were at a distinct disadvantage over the others. They came first, which meant that we were unpractised in receiving a visiting town, and they came when the schools were still on their summer holidays, which made for little or no involvement by young people.

But we did our best and events were arranged (ie suggested by the production teams) including pillow fights in the swimming pool and, as it turned out with all the other towns, a food-sampling evening.

Liz Artemis Janet Sandra

Liz, Janet and Sandra being taught to dance by Artemis

Second town, Athienou, Cyprus

The second town to arrive were from the Greek-speaking part of Cyprus and this turned out to be a somewhat higher-profile event than the first; we were becoming practised in receiving visiting groups and the personal relationships seemed to be more successful. People from Sedbergh are still visiting the friends they made in Athienou and are being welcomed most warmly.

Zdenka  Sandra

Zdenka Sandra

Third town, Zreče, Slovenia

The television production company had chosen towns to come and visit us, without really understanding that there needed to be some common threads, some ground of shared interest and aspirations, for a town twinning arrangement to stand much chance of being valuable. In Zreče, by chance, that common interest was there: music. In addition, the two young people who spent a week as pupils in Settlebeck (Sedbergh's state secondary school) classes turned out to be a great hit. At the end of each week of visitors, a party was arranged for the vistors and Sedbergh's townspeople. The party when Zreče was here was oversubscribed – people were being turned away at the door – and the atmosphere was said by those present to be ‘electric’.

Blindfold tasting

Stuart, Sandra and Dennis blindfold food tasting

Fourth town, Seefeld, Austria

The television production company’s choice of Seefeld as a potential twin town for Sedbergh was seen by some as rather odd. Seefeld is a busy skiing resort with few obvious overlaps, in terms of needs and shared aspirations, with Sedbergh. From the television production company’s point of view, of course, there was one important attribute that Seefeld had: enough English speakers. Good relationships were made nonetheless and some in Sedbergh felt that what could be learned from a town that already had a lot of practice in accommodating visitors, could be quite helpful.

Promoting Zreče

Promoting Zreče

Town Champions

After each of the four towns had visited Sedbergh, the television production company asked that groups of people in Sedbergh form themselves together, to champion the town that they most favoured Sedbergh to twin with. These groups would then canvass for votes for their preferred town, with events and banners and posters and any other means of cajolement they could think of. It must have seemed quite odd to people driving through Sedbergh at the time, to be greeted by placards by the side of the road on the way in, painted with slogans like, ‘Vote for Cyprus’. People must have wondered who Mr. Cyprus was and what he stood for.

Vote being announced

The results are announced

The Vote

The people of Sedbergh voted for their preferred town from the four on offer, and the turnout was higher than for most local and national elections of politicians and councillors. Young people were allowed to vote too, though to avoid the vote being entirely swayed by the preferences of under 16-year-olds, each school class got just three votes per class. Then, once the votes had been counted, the mayor or representative from each town was invited back to Sedbergh, to be present as the results were announced (after all, it was to be on the telly). Zreče won, with more votes than all the other towns put together.

The Televison Programme

The twelve-part series on Sedbergh’s months with the television cameras in town was broadcast on BBC2 in January and February 2005, two episodes per week. It did not turn out to be the cult-hit that some had been hoping for (including the television production company, naturally). On the other hand, it did Sedbergh no harm, showing the town in quite a positive light. Having the cameras here seemed to pull the people of the town together in a way that no other event, in any living person’s memory, had done before.

The television production company had hoped that the series could be sold to broadcasting companies Europe-wide, but so far as we are aware this never happened. The problem may have been that the production company broke their own cardinal rule, which they’d assured us was crucial right from the beginning: that the great television-watching public will not be fooled by anything that looks like a set-up job. And it was the production company that chose and invited the towns to visit. Not us.

Nonetheless, it’s not every day that you get to see how the production of a television programme works, and clearly the programme makers, they win some, lose some.