Film nostalgia writer Paul Welsh ponders the variety of British 'second features' - and the day Peter Cushing offered to lie down in front of bulldozers to save Elstree

Paul Welsh

Paul Welsh

First published in Paul Welsh by

On the 18th of this month I hit the big 60, so another unwelcome milestone reached.

I tend to side with Errol Flynn who said enjoy your first half-century to the full as after that it’s all downhill.

The last decade has made me feel less like Errol and more like Rigsby in Rising Damp.

Watch out for a new DVD from the Network company entitled The Elstree Story, which is the first release of a 1952 documentary put out in cinemas by Elstree Studios to celebrate its first 25 years.

It is narrated by Richard Todd and contains clips from films and shots around the studio. For my part I did one of those “extras” in which I talk about what has happened to the studio since the documentary was made.

It is available from all the usual outlets, but can also be obtained from the Elstree Screen Heritage website, where a percentage of the price goes to this worthwhile group.

It is hard to believe this month 25 years ago we had just launched the campaign to save Elstree Studios against Cannon’s plans to sell the whole site.

Harder still to think anyone working at the studio today under the age of 40 would still have been at school when I became chairman of the campaign.

The first campaign only lasted three months before Brent Walker bought the site and it proved to be out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I had no idea I would spend the next eight years fighting them, but it has all proved worthwhile. I wonder if the studio will send me a nice birthday present as I drift into my twilight years?

I tend to end each evening these days watching an old British second feature movie from the 1950s or early 1960s from my collection of about 300 DVDs. The latest was a 1962 Hammer film called Cash On Demand about a bank robbery, with Peter Cushing and the great character actor Andre Morell.

It was shot in just 15 days and for pennies by today’s standards, but is still great entertainment.

Peter was always good value for money and it is 40 years ago this month that I travelled to Shepperton Studios to interview him.

He was a real old school gentleman, loved by his fellow actors and crews alike.

Today he is, of course, best remembered for his many horror films and for playing Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing, but I thought he was great as Sherlock Holmes.

I mentioned his name recently to some 30-year-olds and they had no idea who he was — such is the fleeting nature of fame.

When he was elderly and frail with cancer, Peter still wrote to me offering to lay down in front of the bulldozers to save Elstree.

I started to go to the cinema in about 1959 and I wish we had the variety of films that were released in those days.

It might have been a crime drama, a musical, a comedy, horror or science fiction movie. It could have been black and white or colour.

So many films now seem to either be full of special effects or are American comedies as the cinema is more than ever swamped by Hollywood imports.

Thankfully many of even the old black-and-white second features can now be enjoyed on DVD, so I must leave you now as it is time to put on Angels One Five starring Jack Hawkins, which was made at Elstree in the early 1950s.

Until next week it is “chocks away, bandits at 12 o’clock high and up into the wild blue yonder”. I must stop living out these DVDs especially as the next two are The Exorcist and Last Tango In Paris.

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