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Elstree's contribution to erotic cinema history included Robin Askwith's 'Confessions Of' series, Rosie Dixon, Night Nurse and cameos from Diana Dors and Arthur Askey
Well, I am glad you have all survived another week to join me in our weekly walk down nostalgia lane. I wonder, did any of you ever frequent those seedy looking cinemas in Windmill Street in the West End during the 1970s?
I remember forcing myself to go along to explore the lower end of film-making, and I must say my flabber was never so gasted. In fact I had to return several times just to make sure I could believe this is what French maids and Swedish au pair girls were up to in London.
These films seemed to attract a certain type of audience, probably not too different from those who went to the famous Windmill Theatre just down the road in the post-war era. I bet some of you grandads remember those days when girls could do a fan dance or be naked statues as long as they did not move.
Nowadays, I guess it all seems a bit tame compared with what is now available on DVD or television.
Elstree Studios was not immune from churning out some saucy comedies that included nudity in the 1970s. The 'Confessions Of' series, starring Robin Askwith, were very popular and today it is good fun to see all the locations shot around Borehamwood as it was 40 years ago.
I remember escorting one of our festival queens to the set of one of the films and she got to massage Robin for the press photographs. Today, I guess, that would be described as sexist and demeaning, but to me back then it was the obvious publicity shot.
I also remember visiting the set of Rosie Dixon Night Nurse – I imagine the title tells you all you might want to know. In the 1970s, many actors found film work hard to get so these types of films could boast a string of well-known faces in cameo or guest star roles. Old names like Diana Dors could pick up a few hundred pounds for a few days' work.
A comedy actor named Bob Todd was one of the guest stars on Rosie Dixon. Bob is no longer with us, but you may remember him as the bald-headed foil to Benny Hill in his TV series. I still remember Bob dropping his trousers and chasing the tea lady on one of the sound stages. He asked me if I would like to go to his hotel room in the Thatched Barn to interview him, but I declined.
Arthur Askey was another guest star, and he could have only been doing it for the money as he was a famous family entertainer.
Arthur told me many years earlier he had starred in a film called The Ghost Train during the war and they would have to stop shooting when the bombs fell.
He also recalled: “I had become a big star on radio but obviously the public could not see me or realise I was very short. I jumped at the chance to become a movie star and when the film was released I crept into a cinema and sat behind two ladies, hoping to hear the compliments flow.
"When the film was over, one of them turned to the other and said ‘he was quite funny but I never realised he was deformed’ and that certainly burst my ego bubble.”
The good thing about these low-budget films is that they welcomed journalists to the set. I remember the Elstree-made comedy The Boys In Blue, starring Cannon and Ball, in the days when their television ratings make anything today look a bit sad. It also gave me a chance to interview veteran director Val Guest, who had worked at the studio in the 1930s.
We chatted about Quatermass II, which he shot at the Danzigers in the 1950s with Hollywood star Brian Donlevy, who was an alcoholic. Val remembered: “Brian used to go off to the Plough in Elstree village every lunchtime and he had a cup of coffee on set that was mainly whiskey. He never really understood the film’s plot, but for each scene he knew his lines and hit his marks.”
Finally, I hear the historic Teddington Studios is joining the equally historic Bray Studios in line to be demolished next year and turned into housing. It was once owned by Warner Brothers and later owned by Thames TV.
My last word is to wish Nicholas Parsons a happy 90th birthday. He is a survivor and still remains active in showbiz, so I raise my glass to him. Any excuse, I hear you shout.