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Spotting when the stars come to town
It is an interesting fact that more famous showbiz names have been driven along Shenley Road and Elstree Way than any other streets in Europe.
Since 1914, thousands of actors and music stars have visited or worked at one of the studios in Borehamwood and that continues today with the likes of Brad Pitt and One Direction.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks — the two biggest Hollywood stars back in the golden era of silent films — both came to Borehamwood. Mary paid a visit to Elstree Studios and Douglas was destined to make his last ever film at the British & Dominions Studio, now the site of Imperial Place, in the mid-1930s.
Incidentally, Charles Laughton was to win an Oscar playing Henry VIII at the same studio in the same decade.
Comedy was king in the silent era and most of the great stars of that genre came to our town.
Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin both visited Elstree Studios in the 1930s and Harold Lloyd followed in 1960. Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon both filmed at what is now the BBC Centre.
The 1940s and 1950s brought the biggest Hollywood stars here and that included Cary Grant, Lana Turner, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Liz Taylor.
Over the past 50 years, the list at Elstree includes Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Bette Davis, Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman, plus of course, homegrown stars such as Alec Guinness, John Mills, Oliver Reed, Albert Finney and Maggie Smith.
In the days of ATV, there were visits from John Wayne, Bing Crosby, David Bowie, The Beatles and Take That, not to mention Bob Hope, Julie Andrews and Liberace.
In a way just as importantly, many local residents worked in film and television and so far we have filmed interviews with about 40 of them and plan to capture a lot more of their memories.
It is always fascinating to listen to their stories and we are always on the lookout for other Elstree veterans who worked in any of the studios during the 1950s through to the 1980s.
The BBC has kindly allowed us to film its site for posterity and this will help create a valuable archive in the decades to come.
If only we had similar footage of the old British & Dominion, Danzigers and MGM studios that once existed here.
The First Impressions project was launched a few years ago to help celebrate our town’s unique heritage.
To date, we have themed the rail station forecourt; put images on the platform waiting rooms; erected a heritage board trail along Shenley Road and mounted banners on the street columns. This is hopefully only the start and is a good example of inter-agency work accompanied by keen volunteers.
Spotting a star in the town is probably restricted to someone from EastEnders or Holby City nowadays, but there was a time you could bump into Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in the Thatched Barn or see Errol Flynn and Bob Mitchum propping up the bar in the Red Lion.
Until next week, keep your eyes peeled for the person standing next to you as they might just be a star. However, please don’t do what happened to me once when I was walking along the Shenley Road market with comedy star Liz Fraser. A lady came up to us and said to her: ‘Didn’t you used to be Liz Fraser?’ before asking her for her autograph.
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