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As Borehamwood prepares to celebrate a century of film making at Elstree, Paul Welsh looks back on his favourite celebrity encounters
I was interviewed on BBC radio about Elstree studios' centenary celebrations and they asked me who of all the stars I have met was my favourite.
To me that is an impossible question, although for the sake of giving an answer I said Peter Cushing.
I met Peter at Shepperton Studios 41 years ago when I interviewed him. I found him to be a lovely old English gentleman. He even wore gloves while we chatted as he was a chain smoker and did not want the public to see his nicotine-stained fingers in close-up shots.
Even when Peter was dying from cancer, he still offered to sit beside me in front of the bulldozers when Elstree Studios was threatened. In a letter he said: “I am held together with Blu Tack and sellotape, but you can count on me to join you in front of the bulldozers.”
Over the 54 years since, I have met and interviewed hundreds of actors. I have never really been starstruck as to me, they are just fellow human beings. Perhaps that is why I have no interest in today’s celebrities and find it laughable why the media give coverage to such people.
I am amazed that Cheryl Cole is to be paid £1.5million to be a judge on the next series of The X Factor as ITV desperately try to keep that tired show afloat. I have never heard any of her hits but to me, it is obscene that such payments are made when so many decent people are struggling to make life worthwhile. Such money could be better spent on producing a decent variety show rather than wannabe celebs telling their hard luck stories, or of a 20-year-old’s life being meaningless if they don’t become a pop star.
I must admit, I always did get a buzz when I met a star from Hollywood’s golden era or from the halcyon days of the British cinema. I was honoured to bring back to our town for the final time stars such as Anna Neagle, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Trevor Howard, Richard Todd, John Mills and several others to events I organised at the studios. They had earned their stripes and had such wonderful memories.
I interviewed many stars at Elstree Studios and it was always great fun for me. To chat to Vincent Price or David Niven was a dream for a council house kid from Borehamwood. To bump into, literally, Tom Cruise or have Sophia Loren ask me if we had an Italian restaurant, or for Harrison Ford to offer me his chair during night shooting on the backlot on Hanover Street in the 1970s seem distant memories now.
I loved the days when I could watch the Muppets being recorded at ATV or interview Margaret Lockwood and Arthur Askey in their dressing rooms while waiting to appear on Celebrity Squares.
I used to correspond with old Hollywood stars such as Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowall and others who today are forgotten names. I have no interest in meeting most of the celebrities of today.
During the BBC interview, I was asked if I had ever met stars I did not like. To be honest, I could not think of anyone, although two did spring to mind. Leo McKern rebuked me for using his first name and Oliver Reed was a very talented and intelligent actor but a sad drunk.
In my book Elstree Confidential – a fundraiser available in paperback from the Borehamwood Museum or Elstree Screen Heritage website – I do comment on my various star encounters.
However, many years ago, I was told by MGM head of publicity Paul Mills that I should only write good things about the stars I had met as that was my duty, so I still feel that obligation. Why destroy illusions? Perhaps he was correct and perhaps some of my star encounters are best taken to the grave. I am certainly grateful to those stars of yesteryear who spared me their time and I have some very happy memories.
Until we meet again on our journey down memory lane, take care of yourselves and if you see me out and about, feel free to come over and say hello.