Film nostalgia columnist Paul Welsh on a weekend of revisiting historic film locations, interviews and the changing face of crime drama

Paul Welsh

Paul Welsh

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As I write this on a Sunday evening, I have just finished a long weekend that revolved around films and television.

Last Friday I set off with Bob Redman of Elstree Screen Heritage and a camera crew from the University of Hertfordshire to gather material for nostalgic films to be screened in March at the University’s theatre in Hatfield.

The first port of call was the historic Edgwarebury Hotel in Barnet Lane, which has recently been purchased by the Laura Ashley group and is undergoing a plush makeover.

The old derelict tennis court, featured in a famous scene from School For Scoundrels, starring Terry Thomas, will become an open space with a giant chessboard design.

The restaurant in which Kirk Douglas is seen dining in the film Holocaust 2000 looks great and the rooms, one of which Malcolm McDowell jumps out of in A Clockwork Orange, are being upgraded.

Our purpose was to shoot the front exterior, which features in the 1960s supernatural thriller The Devil Rides Out, with Christopher Lee, as we will be showing the film in March.

Then we visited the charming and unspoilt village of Letchmore Heath, five miles away. This was used for the exteriors in the 1960 science fiction thriller Village Of The Damned, starring George Sanders and Barbara Shelley, who was among my guests during a night of movie memories at the Ark Theatre last year.

The problem with old film locations is they have often changed beyond recognition, which takes the fun away. You will need a good imagination to recognise locations featured in the classic Ealing films of the 1940s and 1950s.

However, Letchmore Heath is unchanged after more than 50 years and it was nice to eat lunch in the Grade II-listed Three Horseshoes pub, which has appeared in a number of films and television shows.

On Saturday I went to the University of Hertfordshire to talk to teenagers about the art of interviewing. Our volunteer subject was art director Alan Tomkins, whose credits include The Empire Strikes Back, Bond movies, JFK and Memphis Belle.

Senior lecturer Howard Berry organised the event, which had British Film Institute funding.
It reminded me that 40 years ago this July I interviewed my first film star, horror icon Peter Cushing. I was amazed one of the youngsters had actually heard of him.

I interviewed Peter at Shepperton on the set of the film The Beast Must Die — and the film
certainly did. However, it was great to chat about his memories of working with Laurel and Hardy and those Dracula and Frankenstein movies.

Three years later we met again at Elstree on the set of Star Wars, in which he was in charge of the Death Star. It was a great time to make movies in the 1970s as the film industry slump meant you could make a movie like Murder On The Orient Express with ten household names for the cost of a couple of episodes of Midsomer Murders today.

On Sunday it was off to the old Beaconsfield Film Studio, now the National Film School, for an event organised by the Association of Motion Picture Sound. It was a pleasure to meet veterans of the old MGM studios in Borehamwood and several people who had worked at Elstree, including a chap who owns a white Volvo sports car used in the 1960s TV series The Saint, starring Roger Moore.

Then it was home to watch my latest DVD, 39 black and white episodes of a 1950s series  called Scotland Yard. Each programme was introduced by the then famous criminologist Edgar Lustgarten, who looked as though he had committed the crimes himself.

I love seeing the London of that era, especially the old docklands, and to be reminded of days when you could park anywhere easily and a crook, on being arrested, would simply say: “Guv, you have got me bang to rights, I will come peaceful.”

Mind you, the amount of smoking that went on probably prohibits such films from being shown on TV today, especially when you hear the BBC allegedly removed shots of Harold Wilson smoking a pipe in a documentary broadcast on Thursday, no doubt in case it was accused of encouraging youngsters to smoke.

Somehow I cannot imagine a group of hoodies sitting around street corners lighting up pipes of Old Peculiar, but then again perhaps I have been politically incorrect and have been watching too many old black and white films.

So until next week, as Jack Warner used to say each week in Dixon Of Dock Green, “Evening all.”

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