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The Times' film nostalgia columnist Paul Welsh on why he never meant to write a book
In the summer of 2011, the Borehamwood Museum threw down the gauntlet and persuaded me to write down my memories of the studios in Borehamwood and the stars who visited them.
The result was Elstree Confidential, which went on sale in hardback last spring and, except for literally a handful of copies, has now sold out.
The success amazed me, especially against the big decline in the sale of convential books, but is great news for the museum and Elstree Screen Heritage as I wrote my book to raise money for these two worthy voluntary groups.
Now those crazy guys have agreed to reprint it as a paperback with the same size and quality of paper but obviously cheaper to buy and mail out. I am so happy others enjoy my love of our local studios and the nostalgia of yesteryear.
The success of the venture has spurred me on to write a similar large format book loaded with unseen photographs, this time about the fabulous MGM British Studios, once located in Elstree Way.
I appreciate many readers will never have heard of it and that is understandable as MGM closed 43 years ago. The famous white clock tower survived until the late 1980s but today just one brick-built sub power station on the Sainsburys Distribution Depot remains.
That is not strictly true, as one of the sound stages was rebuilt at Bray Studios but that facility is now closed and awaiting demolition. I think Elstree Studios should buy the stage and re-erect it at Elstree, thus bringing a part of MGM back to Borehamwood.
The studio occupied all the frontage on the left-hand side of Elstree Way, if you were leaving the town. Ironically, the new technical college will occupy two of the office buildings now on MGM land and may train a future Spielberg or Lucas.
The big housing estate off Studio Way was the backlot area where the giant Ivanhoe castle, the French chateau from The Dirty Dozen and the Chinese village from the Inn Of Sixth Happiness once stood.
The Toby Carvery stands just in front of Thrift Farm, which was part of the 120-acre
studio estate and there is even a tree in the car park that features in the background of a
Prisoner television series episode set in the wild west.
The best way to get an idea of what all this once looked like is to view the two large film
heritage trail boards at the bottom of Studio Way. I had the pleasure over the past four decades to suggest the names for all the roads — naturally after film stars and studios — and one of the boards identifies all these names. You may never have heard of Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford or Denham Studios, but that board will help explain them.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who worked at the MGM Studio in whatever capacity as the book is about studio employees’ anecdotes as well as those from stars and
Although I never had a book in mind, I have been interviewing people for decades, including a number sadly no longer with us, so it should be a unique first-hand account from those who were there.
Among the stars who shared their memories with me were Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Derren Nesbitt, Richard Briers, Barbara Windsor and David Niven. Then there are the equally interesting crew veterans such as Mick Brady, Alf Newvell, Harry Downing and Tommy Ibbestson and directors such as Fred Zinnemann.
More exciting news is that Elstree Screen Heritage, in conjunction with Sullivan Buses, will be organising its first classic film and television locations guided tour in June.
We will visit sites within about a ten-mile radius of Borehamwood and will do it in style on a vintage Routemaster double-decker that itself has appeared on screen. It should be fun and more information about how to buy tickets will be announced nearer the time.
Finally, I must share with you some pet hates I am developing whenever I watch the occasional so-called reality shows. I hate it when girls flutter their hands in front of their faces to signify surprise or anyone utters the words “Oh my god”.
I also dislike the growing use of the American expression “back in the day” when the phrase “in the old days” has worked for me all these decades and will continue to do so. Fancy using those Yankee expressions? Anyway, have a nice day, missing you already and don’t be a stranger.