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Brighton in the spotlight

21st March 2011

With a new film of a Graham Greene classic in cinemas, Philip Reynolds goes on location 

To betray any association with Brighton usually elicits a reaction, often a knowing expression. It is that sort of place, and one I still find fascinating after 36 years.

Now the film of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock has been remade, it is in the spotlight again.

Like Ida Arnold, the heroine of the novel, it is full of big-blown charm, has a heart of gold but is a bit rough around the edges.

I blame Prinny. As the raffish Prince Regent, the future George IV fraternised with Maria Fitzherbert on the south coast in the late 18th century. Prinny saw to it that Brighton was transformed from a small seaside town to a big flourishing resort.

Prinny’s legacy to the town was his pleasure palace, the oriental Royal Pavilion, and the “dirty weekend”.

Two hundred years on, not that much has changed in Brighton. In spite of its pretensions to bourgeois respectability, one does not need to scratch too far below the peeling surfaces of its grand Georgian facades to a get a sense of illicitness.

And that’s its charm. Try as it might, Brighton can’t help but be a bit naughty.

Keith Waterhouse, the writer, once declared that it was the type of town that “looks like it is helping the police with their enquiries”.

In an often grey world, Brighton paints its canvas from a multicoloured palette, enjoyed by people of all ages.

Perhaps it is the intrigues and the possibilities that it suggests. Around each corner there is a wonderful building or an enticing nook and cranny.

And, more often than not, there is a life-enhancing glimpse of the sea.

There are so many interesting people to look at too; it is a bohemian rhapsody. It is easy to take it for granted – until you visit somewhere else.

Let’s not forget Hove, Brighton’s genteel other half, a dowager duchess living out her days, while her recalcitrant offspring squanders the family fortune.

But you can’t have one without the other.

They are physically joined at the hip as one city. For many, however, they will remain two separate towns. Hove is a more reserved character, while Brighton asserts its mischievousness. Walking east along the prom by Hove Lawns – one of the great pleasures of life – you can tell you have crossed an invisible border into Brighton. Things are more cheek by jowl, humanity more seething. This is never truer than by the Palace Pier – Brighton Pier to newer residents – at weekends and public holidays.

Brighton continues to attract thousands of people to the city.

It is full of folk who aren’t Brightonians. Perhaps it is this, mixed with the local character, that gives the place its dynamism and unique atmosphere.

But it is far from being set in aspic. It flourishes as a centre for modern media and has one of the newest medical schools in Britain. What’s more, its professional football team Brighton and Hove Albion, is experiencing a renaissance before moving next season to a new stadium on the edge of the city.

Many who have visited Brighton will have their thoughts on the place. Some dismiss it as “London by the sea”. Nonsense. Londoners may head south on Bank Holidays, but Brighton is far from being in the capital’s shadow. It is very much its own place with a sense of self.

It can be trying, the traffic and the parking attendants, especially.

But whenever my train pulls into one of the grand arches of the David Mocatta-designed station, and I walk down Queens Road to the Clock Tower, I always feel a sense of wellbeing.

Brighton – grand, infuriating, uplifting and generally lovable – long may you flourish.

Take the plunge: buy in Brighton

Demand is high, though prices have dropped by 5-10 per cent over the past few years.

The “grey pound” is important to Brighton. There are retirement developments in the city centre and Kemp Town. Prices start at £100,000.

Phil Graves, founding partner of consultants Graves Jenkins, warns that a lack of quality developments means that prices will inevitably start to rise.

Though the city as a whole is popular, the North Laine conservation area is a current hot spot, only a few minutes’ walk from the station, and in the midst of myriad individual shops, clubs and restaurants.

West Hill, the other side of the train station, and the area in and around the Seven Dials are popular central areas to live. These places are ideal for those without cars.

Farther afield, suburbs such as Preston Park, Withdean, Patcham, Rottingdean and Saltdean have larger family homes in all price ranges.

The average price for a two-bedroom flat in Brighton is £200,000; a three-bedroom terraced house costs around £325,000; a four-bedroom detached house starts at £425,000. However, there are many properties throughout the city that are a lot more expensive.

Source:  Telegraph