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After Maxwell Park Community Centre's 50th anniversary, film nostalgia columnist Paul Welsh recalls the day he was allowed to explore the empty MGM Borehamwood Film Studios
It was a pleasure to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations at Maxwell Park Community Centre and to see so many people enjoying themselves on Sunday.
It is a farce that such a well-used and popular facility still has the threat of closure over it. Hopefully public opinion and common sense will prevail.
Older residents will recall in the 1960s, up and coming bands such as The Who, The Animals and The Eagles appeared at the centre alongside unknowns including a young Elton John.
Indeed, Eric Clapton mentioned doing a gig at the centre in his own 50th anniversary concert. Cliff Richard helped the original fundraising appeal when he was next door starring in The Young Ones and Summer Holiday at Elstree Studios.
The studio itself still uses the building as a holding area for audiences attending television shows such as Dancing On Ice.
Incidentally, I hear there is a chance that Dancing On Ice may still survive the departure of Torvill and Dean and that Big Brother will be back at the studio in 2014.
If you are a Facebook fan, I recommend you join our group called MGM (British) Borehamwood Film Studios Memories, which now has 300 members. who like to recall the films and TV series made at this famous dream factory that once existed in Borehamwood.
It was located in Elstree Way and embraced 120 acres, which today are occupied by housing and various industrial buildings including the Sainsbury’s distribution depot.
The facility closed in 1970 and a few months later, I was given permission by the new owners, a property company, to visit and photograph the empty studio. I arrived to find just one security man on the gate and he gave me a set of keys and let me loose.
I spent a total of three days wandering over the backlot sets and visiting each of the buildings. In the make-up department I came across photos of stars such as Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly in albums on the shelf and found a chainmail glove from Ivanhoe.
In the viewing theatres, the screens had been slashed and the projectors removed. The props department had been stripped bare but there were still items around the workshops used in 2001 and Where Eagles Dare, outside staircases that led nowhere and scenery used in many films.
In the cutting rooms the editing machines sat silent and reels of film lay on the floor. I found one office full of studio files that included personal information about arranging an abortion for the late Ava Gardner when she was making Mogambo. She had decided not to have Frank Sinatra’s child and talks about the fact in her autobiography.
The backlot was once home to the castle for Robert Taylor's version of Ivanhoe, the French chateau built for The Dirty Dozen and a mountain created for Where Eagles Dare, starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton.
The sound stages stood dark and empty but you could almost feel the ghosts of Clark Gable, Gene Kelly, Liz Taylor and Margaret Rutherford.
It is more than 40 years since I had that 120-acre studio all to myself and for a film buff it was a magical experience that has stayed with me.
I wish that had been the era of digital cameras and home video cameras so I could have recorded everything. I am currently writing a book about the MGM British Studios so if anyone reading this ever worked there, please let me know.
Until next week, take care of yourself and we can then walk down memory lane together. Once again many thanks for the residents who approach me and say how much they enjoy the nostalgia of this column.
As they say, nostalgia never dates.