NORTH Yorkshire is cementing its reputation as one of the most popular film locations outside London after seeing a procession of movie and TV stars making the most of its heritage.

In recent days, the former Northallerton Prison, the oldest jail in the country when it closed in 2014, has seen two days of filming for Dark River, a Film4-backed movie adaptation of starring Sean Bean and Star Wars actor Mark Stanley, as well as three days of filming for flagship ITV murder mystery Vera.

While shooting an episode of Vera, the show's Academy Award-winning star, Brenda Blethyn, stayed at Allerton Court Hotel nearby, alongside the cast and crew of The Moonstone, which is being shot for the BBC at Thornton Watlass Hall, near Bedale, and features Cold Feet actor John Thomson and Downton Abbey butler Jeremy Swift.

Moonstone producer Jo Sergent, who set up King Bert Productions with David Walliams and Miranda Hart, said the grade I listed country house had been chosen as the classic Wilkie Collins detective tale was set in Yorkshire and cost-effective, as the property had period furnishings.

The hall, which has been home to the Smith-Dodsworth family since the early 15th century, has previously featured in several television dramas, including All Creatures Great and Small, Wuthering Heights and Heartbeat.

Five weeks of filming will see all areas of the home, including the cob-web filled cellar as the home of a street urchin, the billiard room as the investigation hub and the bedroom which Henry VIII's wife Catherine Parr slept in for a death scene, while street scenes will be filmed in Bedale.

Stockton-raised actor Jeremy Swift said he had enjoyed performing at a period property following Downton Abbey, which had mainly involved working on set, and being able to visit his mother in his home town during a day off.

He said he had been amazed by the quirkiness of the property while playing Dr Candy, a character who slips drugs into people's drinks.

John Thomson added: “The Moonstone is a classic novel, and this has all the makings of classic TV. I’ve worked on a wonderful variety of projects over the years, but have secretly always wanted to be part of a big BBC One costume drama.”

Vera producer Letitia Knight said Northallerton Prison had been chosen for the second episode of the next series as it was about a jailed farmer who murdered his wife.

She said: "We were extremely lucky to find the prison location. We cleaned it, painted it and dressed it.

"We would never have got such access to do these scenes in a working prison. This was a Godsend."

Dave Goodwin, executive director of Hambleton District Council, which owns the prison, said the authority had received numerous requests to shoot films there, but had only negotiated fees - which would be ploughed into the site redevelopment fund - for two productions.

Some of the prison, some of which was built in 1783, will be demolished in a six-month project from September.

Mr Goodwin said while the filming would boost the local economy and raise the district's profile, the council had received complaints about late-night use of generators during filming from residents in the Crosby Road area and apologised for any inconvenience caused.