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The best is back stage
Having got my first autograph at Elstree Studios as a young lad in 1960, I guess I can claim to have been around the old studios for a few decades.
On that occasion it was an elderly tall actor who, to be honest, did not mean a great deal to me. His name was Gary Cooper and what a missed opportunity for a great conversation if I had been older at the time.
Gary was making The Naked Edge but sadly was already ill with terminal cancer and died before the film was released.
Years later his co-star, the lovely Deborah Kerr, told me, "I only took my role because it gave me the opportunity to work with one of the Hollywood greats. Gary seemed to almost just walk through the scenes when you watched on set but when you saw the rushes the camera just loved him.
"It was nice to return to Borehamwood as my film career really started with Love on the Dole at the old national studios."
I nowadays rarely visit the studios, as most productions operate closed sets. Twenty-seven years ago I was able to pop down to a production of The Monster Club and interview Donald Pleasence, Vincent Price, Richard Johnson, John Carradine and Britt Ekland over two days, but now such chances would not happen.
Equally, I must admit to not having much interest in the stars of today. However, occasionally an opportunity comes out of the blue to meet a Hollywood superstar on my home turf as happened ten years ago with Tom Cruise.
At the time, Warner Bros was renting High Canons in Shenley for Tom and Nicole to stay in while shooting Stanley Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut. At one time Stanley was considering filming it at the newly-opened Elstree but thankfully decided to use Pinewood instead.
Tom was due to be interviewed for an American television special, hosted by Barbara Walters, who I guess is the Michael Parkinson of the USA.
They had planned to use a plush London hotel overlooking the Thames but apparently Tom preferred somewhere nearer and the compromise was to do it at Elstree Studios on Remembrance Sunday.
I intended to sneak in and watch the interview from the sidelines but the best laid plans of mice and men.
The day dawned and I was at the war memorial opposite the studio entrance when I saw a limo pull into the mostly empty facility.
The service was just ending so I nipped across the road and into a back entrance of the dressing room block, when upstairs the green room was being used for the interview.
Imagine my surprise as I rushed through a door and literally bumped straight into Tom who could only see a darkened corridor in front of him and no idea where to go. It turned out that he was unescorted and his driver had dropped him at the wrong entrance. He turned to me and said: "Hi sir, my name is Tom, do you know where the crew are?"
I explained the situation and pointed in the direction of a flight of stairs, which he proceeded to go up two at a time with me trailing behind.
In fact, that burst of energy proved pointless as he had the nice manners to wait at the top to hold the door open for me. I watched the interview and then escorted him downstairs and back to his waiting car.
On the way I asked him how filming was going with Stanley but his answers were guarded and he maintained eye contact throughout the conversation. He asked if there was an Italian restaurant nearby and I pointed out the one opposite in Grosvenor Road. He then thanked me and got into a waiting car with his personal assistant. I went back upstairs for a few minutes and came down again with Jim Hill who was then finance director of Hertsmere Borough Council.
As we walked past Tom's car, he must have spotted us in the rearview mirror and jumped back out to thank us both again, even though we had, in fact, very little to do with the event.
I did not ask for his autograph as I never feel comfortable doing so on such occasions, which would have been a nice souvenir as we are unlikely to ever meet again.
My impression of Tom was that of a polite, likeable character who liked to be in control but perhaps my judgement is biased as he is the only superstar ever to have called me sir.
In this section
- 'The Prince must not be photographed with Darth Vader'
- Britain's Got Talent judges are money for old rope
- Return to the Village of the Damned
- The night I met the Dam Busters
- Looking back to One Million Years BC
- The wages of sin? £6,000 a time for a Hammer Horror flick and £1,000 for commanding the Death Star
- From Borehamwood to Hollywood
- Before they were famous
- Staying one step ahead of the obituary writers
- Roast beef, the Clitheroe Kid, pea soupers - and only two television channels?