Tales from the Tower
Gruesome past comes to life in TLC program
By Freda Yarbrough
1 Nov 1998
The Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate; Page 34-MAG
For tourists, a visit to the Tower of London is a fascinating round-trip venture into a
barbaric time. For the prisoners who once resided there, it was a one-way ticket to hell.
The Learning Channel (TCI cable Channel 48) will air Tales from the Tower, a three-part
program tonight, Nov. 1, from 7-10 p.m. delving into the often bloody and gruesome past of
one of England's most notorious landmarks.
"It's one of the most famous landmarks in England," said Genevieve Robinson,
producer of the program in a telephone interview two weeks ago from London. "It's got
such a wealth of stories. It's something we thought about for awhile." Many English
historical figures familiar to Americans from history courses "either passed through
or ended up in the Tower," said Robinson.
"Some ended their days there. Some escaped. It's a mix of royalty and less well
known," said Robinson. "Recreating the past, I find very fascinating."
Robinson added that actors from around London were cast as historical figures and although
the 10 scenes were filmed with what looked like a lot of actors, it was a relatively small
number of actors who portrayed the various roles.
Construction of the first section of the Tower, called the White Tower because of the
pale color of the bricks and limestone used, was begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror
and completed in 1097, about 10 years after he died. It was built to replace an earlier
wooden fort situated on the same site on the east side of the City of London.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the complex expanded beyond the City of London's walls.
An inner section includes 13 towers, while the outer section, originally surrounded by a
moat fed by the Thames, contains six towers and two bastions. The moat, drained in 1843,
is enclosed by an outside wall which includes cannons, some of which are still fired
during state occasions.
The documentary re-enactments of historical scenes include:
Guy Fawkes' failed attempt to blow up the British parliament and his subsequent torture
The beheading of Henry VIII 's fifth wife Queen Catherine Howard;
The mystery of Richard III's two nephews who were thought to have been murdered there
and buried on site;
The escape of Lord James Maxwell, whose wife Winifred dressed her husband as a woman
and walked him out of The Tower;
The jailing of the last notable prisoner of The Tower, Nazi Rudolf Hess, who was jailed
in 1941 by Winston Churchill.
Narrated by Samuel West, the show was produced by Edward Windsor, also known as His
Royal Highness The Prince Edward, and his company, Ardent Productions. The prince is
interviewed frequently throughout the program.
"We had to work out where I was going to film. At lot (was filmed) at The Tower
and other locations, like the rivers." Robinson said much of her work involved
gathering information for the stories, reading sources and talking to yeomen (the guides,
also called Beefeaters, on the grounds of The Tower who are dressed in the familiar red
"We were allowed to film during opening hours from strategic points," said
Robinson, "and filmed after hours, which is difficult, very early in the morning and
very late at night."
"We were blessed with no great mishaps. That doesn't make for very good copy, does
it?," laughed Robinson. "No encounters with ghosts."
Maybe no surveillance by ghosts, but the crew was definitely given plenty of scrutiny
by the large, deep black, almost purple Ravens that inhabit the grounds of The Tower. The
birds have little fear of visitors and act as if they own the place.
Which they do.
"Do you know the legend of the Ravens?" asked Robinson, "If there are no
Ravens left, England itself will fall. We found them quite fascinating." Making sure
the Ravens remain on the ground of The Tower, the birds' wings are clipped.
Robinson said the crew at Ardent Productions works closely with Windsor who gets
involved early on in the process of writing.
"He has a very keen interest on history and was invaluable and has a great love of
it," who added that when the group works together, the prince is called Edward
Windsor, not "your highness."
The present-day Tower, a complex of towers and bastions covering about 18 acres, has
become England's biggest historical attraction, with more than 2.5 million visitors
touring the grounds each year.
Even though a tourist attraction, The Tower is still considered a palace with the
official designation of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London."
Visitors come to see the Crown Jewels (moved to a more spacious above-ground location
in 1994), the armory and the royal apartments.
(The Royal Armories collection of arms and armor was relocated in 1996 to Leeds
You can check the schedule for The Learning Channel using the search engine on the Discovery
On-Line Web Site. Just enter "Tales from the Tower". (As of 9 Feb 1999, no
showings are scheduled within the next 30 days.)
While on the Discovery On-Line site, you might enjoy reading their four part
article entitled, Royal Scandals: Or How
Kings and Queens Make Quite a Mess of Things. The Catherine Howard story is in Part 2: Tawdry Sexual
Last Revised: 04 Jan 2000