The locations are everything in Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Alan Clarke’s Bradford-set social-realist drama with lols (the tagline, “Thatcher’s Britain with her knickers down”, sums it up best). The setting is significant because Bradford – specifically the Buttershaw council estate – is where the playwright Andrea Dunbar, who adapted Clarke’s film from two of her own plays, lived and died. Clarke shot the film – about two schoolgirls who start a sexual fling with a married man – entirely on location in mostly rundown parts of West Yorkshire. That was 30 years ago. Since then, some locations have been demolished; others remain but are barely recognisable. If you take a virtual stroll down the same streets today, this is what you’ll see – for better or worse.
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The Beacon pub
During the opening credits, accompanied by glorious 1980s slap bass, Clarke’s camera parachutes down onto The Beacon pub in Buttershaw, Bradford. Sue’s dad stumbles out into the daylight, drunk as a skunk. The pub appears tired and rundown in the film, much like Sue’s dad. And now? Well, the pub is less a beacon than a burnt-out lightbulb. Its sign that once read “fine ales” has faded into oblivion; grass has reclaimed the path that Sue’s dad trots down. And yet, the West Yorkshire pub, which has been standing since 1969, is still open for business should you choose to take a tour of the movie locations in real life. In 1990, at the same pub, three years after the film was made, Andrea Dunbar died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 29.
Bob’s house in the suburbs
Bob’s house is in the spotless suburbs of Baildon. It’s mere roads away from Baildon Moor, where he drives Rita and Sue – his teenage babysitters – at night in order to have sex with them. Compared to where the girls live, it’s five-star fancy, with its double-glazed windows and Lego-like lawn. Not much has changed since then, though you suspect its movie credentials have boosted its value somewhat. The house appeared on Rightmove in 2012 with then-and-now pictures, declaring “this is your one opportunity to grab a piece of the film for yourself!” Clearly they envisioned their buyers as beard-stroking cinephiles keen to discuss the kinetic camerawork of Alan Clarke.
Sue walks through the estate in Bradford
The majority of the film was shot in and around Buttershaw, an area of Bradford consisting of 1940s council housing. The blocks of flats that appear in the film have since been bulldozed and replaced with shiny suburban homes, with most of the area now unrecognisable. Eagle-eyed viewers, however, can spot some buildings that appear in the film. Like the one above, in Edson Close, steps away from the biker house where Rita lives. That house – on the right, out of frame – was replaced too, as part of the large-scale gentrification of Buttershaw, once Bradford’s toughest housing estate. Now the lawns are edged, the roads are swept, and there’s not a spray-paint-wielding biker in sight.
Luna Radio Kars
Luna Radio Kars, as it’s known in the film, is the local taxi firm where Sue has a part-time job. It’s also where we meet Aslam, the Pakistani boy who Sue sees when things go south with Bob. Just off Leeds Road in Bradford, it had a basic set-up: a booth, a bench, a couple of phones. Google Street View reveals that, in 2008, the same site was called Prime Travel & Tours. Then, from 2012 onwards, it became a travel money exchange. What is clear is that it’s come a long way since its days as a ramshackle taxi firm with a sign that looks like it was hand-painted on cardboard.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum
On the girls’ school trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, Sue is confronted by another girl about her relationship with Bob. The explosion of drama echoes down the quaint cobbled street, lined with teahouses and tiny gift shops. On the same street, today, you suspect the mouthy girls would turn just as many heads. The lane is just as twee, with 10 times as many gift shops and old-man pubs, and the same old-school phone box that’s had a new lick of paint. Then and now, it seems like worlds apart from Dunbar’s Buttershaw.
Sue and Aslam walk on the green
When Sue starts seeing Aslam, they stroll down Woodhead Road in Bradford with Aslam’s sister and child. As they walk, filmed in one of Clarke’s trademark mobile shots, you can see a church spire on the horizon line, beyond the green. The same spire dominates the topography today. The green expanse, however, is now partly home to a large community centre, itself a stone’s throw from the University of Bradford.
In another trademark Clarke shot, the camera follows Rita and Aslam to his front door, filming their backs as if we were stalking them from behind. In a way, the street looks older now, despite doors and walls being repainted. There’s grass growing through the brickwork, and the building at the end of the street is visibly weathered. The thing that stands out most? The cars. They’re not as cool now. That’s the main thing you learn when revisiting Rita, Sue and Bob Too: that the 80s was a great decade for cars – and for Alan Clarke movies, obviously.