Courtesy of Tim Ritz

Oh, so that’s where the U.K. version of The Office takes place.

Fawlty Towers is set in Torquay. The Office, in Slough; Downton Abbey in North Yorkshire.

If you’re a British TV enthusiast, you’d know the name of the town where your favorite show is set. But could you pick it out on a map?

Unlikely.

While settling in to an episode of Foyle’s War, designer Tim Ritz’s wife asked him to show her where, exactly, Hastings was. He drew a map of the U.K. on a sticky note, with a dot on the East Sussex village.

But he didn’t stop there. He added a dot for Downton Abbey, and another in Derbyshire for Pride & Prejudice, and ended up with the first draft for what would become The Great British Television Map.

“All of our friends and families have been getting into British TV more and more over the years,” he tells CityLab. But as an American, he realized that Americans’ (as he puts it) notoriously “feeble grasp on international geography” might be getting in the way of completely understanding the shows.

Wall art can be informative, too. (Courtesy of Tim Ritz)

The Great British Television Map (h/t: The Great British Bake Off) attempts to remedy that. Though by no means comprehensive, Ritz’s design presents a geography of the U.K.’s airwaves. In plotting the locations, Ritz says he took a cue from vintage London Underground maps. Color-coded dots correspond to the original broadcast network.

“Layer upon layer of cultural understandings underpin the television we watch,” Ritz says. When American viewers watch American TV, he adds, they inherently understand references to everything from snack brands to the history of certain places.” But foreign viewers may not, and likewise, “British geography is one of those layers of reference in British TV” that may elude American viewers, Ritz says.

In compiling the map, Ritz says he expected more shows to follow the Downton Abbey strategy of setting the show in one location (Yorkshire, in northern England) and filming it in another (Highclere Castle, in West Berkshire, where it’s sunnier). But he was surprised to find that most shows were filmed on or close to their intended settings. London, unsurprisingly, was the most daunting to account for—Ritz’s map accommodates it in a large inset, and “even then it was bursting at the seams to contain all the series in there,” he says.

Since launching the map, Ritz has gotten some comments (and a few outright complaints) about missing shows, but he’s taking them in stride. He’s looking into overhauling the design to accommodate more programs in an updated edition, and he’s considering taking on continental Europe and North America, as well.

Map, $34 at Society6.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

  3. Equity

    The Problem With Research on Racial Bias and Police Shootings

    Despite new research on police brutality, we still have no idea whether violence toward African Americans is fueled by racial prejudice. That has consequences.

  4. A photo of a new car dealership
    Transportation

    If the Economy Is So Great, Why Are Car Loan Defaults at a Record High?

    For low-income buyers, new predatory lending techniques may make it easier to get behind the wheel, and harder to escape a debt trap.

  5. A woman stares out at crowds from behind a screen, reflecting on a post-pandemic world where exposure with others feels scary.
    Life

    What Our Post-Pandemic Behavior Might Look Like

    After each epidemic and disaster, our social norms and behaviors change. As researchers begin to study coronavirus’s impacts, history offers clues.

×