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Remembering Francis Matthews, star of Paul Temple and Captain Scarlett
This week it is a bit of a pot pourri column as thoughts enter my mind after a few drinks and several hours enjoying the sun in my garden.
My first thoughts go to my old friend, actor Francis Matthews, who has died after a long illness. Francis always supported my events over the past 30 years and I am glad he got such prolonged applause at his final public appearance at my Evening of Stars at the Ark Theatre back in 2012.
Francis starred in various Hammer films, several Danziger pictures shot in Elstree and even co-starred with Stewart Granger and Ava Gardner in MGM’s Bwohani Junction in the 1950s.
He enjoyed television success as Paul Temple and was the voice of Captain Scarlett. Francis told me he originally recorded his voiceover in the 1960s but many years later he was asked to do some extra work on the DVD release.
Francis recalled: “I went to a recording studio where I was met by the producer, who asked me who I based the voice on. I said it was really a parody of Cary Grant and he responded by saying ‘who is he?’, so what’s the chance of me being remembered?”
I last spoke to Francis on the phone just weeks before he died. He remained supportive of our efforts to celebrate the film heritage of Elstree and Borehamwood. He had written his autobiography but no publisher was interested as it was not of the ‘kiss and tell’ variety.
Last weekend was fun for me for two reasons. It was the annual visit from our On The Buses fans and it is always great to see new fans and old friends. It was a pity the museum was closed so they were unable to see the centenary of film production exhibit on the Sunday, but I hope they will pop in during the three-month run.
The group invited various guests to attend and it was a pleasure to meet Jeffrey Holland from Hi De Hi and Robin Stewart from Bless This House, although it was sad to see Robin is not enjoying good health.
I also got to co-host a special centenary concert celebrating 100 years of filmmaking and 60 years of TV production in Borehamwood at an event at the Ark Theatre.
It starred the 40-piece BBC Elstree Concert Band who played a wonderful selection of music from Murder On The Orient Express and Star Wars to On The Buses and The Avengers theme tunes.
It was tinged with a personal sadness for me in that my co-host Keith Clement was retiring as the compere for these concerts after nine years.
I first met Keith 30 years ago when he came to launch the BBC Elstree Centre after they had purchased the old ATV Studios. He always supported my requests for open days in the early years and certainly backed the launch of the BBC band.
Keith was my last link to those first days of the band when I went to see their first concert in front of a handful of people at BBC Elstree in 1987.
It was also great to see Ian Marshall, who co-founded the band with Mike Crisp, in the audience.
This was probably the last concert by the BBC band at the Ark, which is now scheduled to be demolished next summer. Oddly enough, the band was the last act to play at the old Venue theatre in Elstree Way in 1996, so perhaps they may be invited back one final time to see the Ark out in style.
I have still to see the plans for the new Ark Theatre on the new planned Hertswood Academy campus but what I hear is not encouraging. As always, money talks and I am sure the plans will be passed this year. Back in 1996, we were promised an ‘all singing, all dancing’ replacement for the Venue theatre that never happened, but perhaps this time cynical old fossils like myself will be pleasantly surprised.
To my generation there is something special about enjoying live entertainment with an audience and I must say I enjoyed the concert and my day with the On The Buses fans.
I have been asked to judge the short films competition at the Ark. I am sure my fellow judges will make the right decision as I told George Lucas at Elstree in 1976 that it was unlikely Star Wars would be a big success as science fiction was dead as a cinema genre. Oops!