Paul Welsh looks back on the life of Errol Flynn, who lived fast but did not die young, and asks what Elstree star the town could name a pub after

Borehamwood Times: Errol Flynn as Robin Hood Errol Flynn as Robin Hood

I was extremely pleased to see that my colleagues at Borehamwood Museum were given special awards at the Hertsmere Mayor’s civic dinner. Ann, Alan and David have done so much work to preserve our local heritage.

Ann, who is a fellow trustee, recently visited Whitstable and tells me the old cinema has been converted into a Weatherspoons pub and been called The Peter Cushing after the Hammer
horror star, who made his home there.

What a nice gesture — much as the company did in Dunstable by naming their pub after Gary Cooper, who went to school there. Perhaps it is time they gave their Borehamwood pub a film-themed name?

This week, I look back at a father and son who for a time shone in that galaxy of film stardom.

Errol Flynn was discovered in London and did a screen test for Warner Bros at Elstree before being signed up and catapulted into fame in the 1930s movie Captain Blood, shot in
Hollywood. He became the screen’s most famous swashbuckler of the 1930s.

Errol believed in the idea that you should live your first 50 years to the maximum as after that, it was all downhill. He perhaps took it to the extreme, especially with his use of alcohol and drugs.

It was an embarrassment to Warner Bros that he was considered unfit to serve in the
Second World War, due to a variety of ailments including heart trouble and problems with malaria.

For a period, Errol shared a house with David Niven, who told me:  “Errol was a great
companion, full of life, but you could never rely upon him.”

His parents at one point lived in St Albans and Errol made several movies in Borehamwood during the 1950s. He visited Hatfield House and on occasion visited Herbert Wilcox’s son’s house in Barham Avenue, off Allum Lane. The late John Wilcox told me he was a handful in terms of filming after lunchtime, but had great charisma.

His 1930s co-star Olivia de Havilland told me: “I was probably in love with Errol, but he would have made a terrible husband. The last time I saw him was at a reception in Hollywood not long before he died. Somebody tapped me on my shoulder and said ‘Hello sport’ and I turned, but for a split second did not recognise him. Errol had aged so badly and his eyes no longer had that sparkle I remembered from the 1930s.”

In 1959, Errol went to Canada, but during the visit complained of a bad backache. He happened to be at a doctor’s house and was advised to lie down and was given a painkilling injection.

While lying on the floor to ease his back pain, he died of a heart attack aged just 50. Against his wishes, his body was buried in a Hollywood cemetery, although his grave remained unmarked for many years.

The last of his wives, actress Patrice Wymore, has just died, having for many years managed the ranch he started in Jamaica. They appeared together in the Elstree-made movie King’s Rhapsody.

Errol's only son was named Sean and he grew into a strikingly handsome young man, so
naturally he ended up starring in several 1960s films including Son Of Captain Blood — but when viewing the film, you can see he was ill at ease with acting.

It can be a great burden to be the son of a famous star and Sean decided to become a war corresponent in Vietnam. At the age of 30, he was captured in Cambodia in 1970 and it is reported that after two months in captivity Sean was murdered. His body was never found.

Both father and son were to meet tragic ends at an early age. I think we should include a plaque for Errol in our film heritage trail acknowledging the films he made in Borehamwood and the fact that after 55 years since he died, his stardom still endures.

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