Paul Welsh remembers the sage advice he offered Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, and why he called Simon Cowell 'the lowest form of human life'

Another week gone and Christmas is fast approaching. Everybody says it, but the years seem to be passing a bit too quick.

I have been enjoying Strictly Come Dancing, especially as it is now shot at Elstree Studios and will be returning again next year.

By comparison, I could not be bothered with The X Factor, which now seems so tired and cliche-ridden. Now it has failed in America, I am sure Simon Cowell will rejoin the British version, although he seems to be making a fortune from One Direction nowadays. A case of an Elstree lad made good.

I was saddened to read that actor Barry Jackson has died aged 75. Barry will be best remembered as the pathologist in Midsomer Murders from 1997 to 2011.

Barry was one of the 16 old stars who joined me on stage last year for our movie memories show. He said: “When I first started on Midsomer Murders I would arrive on the murder scene with just a Gladstone bag, but by the end I was covered head to foot because of the influence of American TV shows. Of course, it was all a bit panto with so many of the killings, so over the top, but it sold around the world.”

I always keep an eye out for what celebrities leave in their wills. Comedy actor Bill Pertwee, best remembered as the nasty warden in Dad’s Army, left £400,000. The veteran newsreader Kenneth Kendall, who also did the TV series Treasure Hunt, left the same amount to his civil partner, with whom he had lived for 23 years. Tragically, the gentleman committed suicide after Kenneth’s death.

I see the Disney corporation has now gained the full rights to the Indiana Jones series along with Star Wars. They already had part of the rights from when they bought LucasFilm, but they have now purchased the marketing and distribution rights from Paramount. When they were making the first movie, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, at Elstree Studios, EMI, who owned the studio, had the chance to invest in the film, but they declared such Saturday morning style action movies were dead at the cinema.

In the old days, Elstree passed on a number of films that were later made by others with great success. They decided The Forsyte Saga was too old-fashioned and declined The Great Escape on the basis cinema-goers were fed up with Second World War prison camp stories.

They even turned down James Bond in the 1950s, feeling that the ever-important American market would not be interested in the adventures of a British secret service agent.

The benefit of hindsight is, of course, very useful. I told George Lucas on the set of the original Star Wars that I doubted his film would make much money as science fiction in the cinema was as dead as musicals and westerns.

Many years ago, the Shenley parish clerk Bill Ruck said his young nephew was coming over from New Zealand and would I show him around Elstree Studios as he wanted to be a filmmaker. I picked him up from Shenley in my old Mini and we looked around the studio where they were shooting an Indiana Jones film. He was very impressed and seemed a nice guy.

When we parted I offered him a tip that he would never make it if he stayed in New Zealand.

Well, Peter Jackson went on to make Lord of the Rings, won an Oscar, was awarded a knighthood and has become a multi-millionaire. Just think how well he could have done if he had heeded my advice.

Finally, somebody asked me if it is true I described Simon Cowell as “the lowest form of human life” on a television documentary. I took part in three TV documentaries, which included one for America. However, the one for Channel Four or Channel Five used me in a trailer for the programme all week alongside his mother, Pete Waterman and Piers Morgan.

They edited my interview and used just those words in the trailer. In the programme I was shown explaining how he started at Elstree as a runner, which is the lowest form of human life on a film set. Simon obviously saw the funny side as he thanked me for appearing on the programme.


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