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Capturing magic on the page
For some while now my good friends at the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum have been pestering me to write down some of my film star related memories in a book.
I have finally decided to have a go. It will be a modest effort of around 112 pages, which I will get printed and donate any profits to the museum and to Elstree Screen Heritage.
The hardback book will be A4 in size and I have just completed around 50 pages of text, but the majority of the pages will be taken up by 250 never-before published photographs going back 50 years, and some of the letters I have received over the years from famous names.
I have written the whole thing in a few weeks, basically relying on memories triggered by looking at the old photos which stretch from my getting Gary Cooper’s autograph in 1960 to meeting Simon Cowell and a host of other stars along the way.
It was suggested I could do a compilation of some of the 1,500 newspaper columns I have written for the Borehamwood & Elstree Times since the Seventies, but I have not kept them all.
Believe me, it is a great ego kick to see your name in print for the first few years, but thereafter it just becomes fish and chip paper. I have been very privileged to have met so many names and in an era before this time of instant stars who are forgotten two years later.
However, I am aware that people who were big stars to me are also now becoming forgotten names. I asked a group of 30-year-olds if they had ever heard of Peter Sellers, Patrick Macnee, Ingrid Bergman or Spencer Tracy and the answer was no. But they all knew Jordan and Peter Andre, so the time is right to write this book before these tales induce a blank stare.
John Mills, Alec Guinness and Richard Todd are unknowns to most youngsters, but to me meeting them was an honour as I had grown up watching their movies. To be able to organise events whereby I was able to invite back to Elstree Studios the likes of Honor Blackman, Roger Moore, Richard Attenborough or Doug Fairbanks Jr meant a great deal to me.
I was lucky enough to organise the studio’s 60th, 70th and 75th anniversaries and two royal visits, which were not without behind-the-scenes dramas. I was privileged to be chairman of the save our studios fight for eight years, which could have filled a whole chapter alone.
I have sat with George Lucas and Steven Speilberg on a film set and met Alfred Hitchcock. I have interviewed such diverse characters as Cliff Richard, Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance and Vincent Price and drank with Trevor Howard in the old Gate pub in Arkley.
I have warded off advances from Frankie Howerd and met Tom Cruise and Sophia Loren.
I have been given private tours of all the major Hollywood Studios and shaken hands with Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney and Tony Curtis. I have sat at Warner Bros terrace restaurant in the sun listening to the sounds of a jazz band provided to entertain the staff, and frozen to death on the backlot of Elstree on the night shoot for Hanover Street night until Harrison Ford kindly let me use his chair.
I had the closed and awaiting demolition MGM studios all to myself for three days in the 1970s and visited the Star Wars set in 1976 declaring this was never going to be box office.
Michael Caine and I met on the set of The Fourth Protocol and I chatted with David Niven on the set of A Man Called Intrepid. I took Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill from the set of Return Of The Jedi to meet our local youngsters at the Maxwell Youth Centre and prize winners to meet David Soul at the Festival Hall and the England World Cup squad of 1982 at their private hotel.
Over the past 50 years I have visited countless film sets and watched many television shows recorded. The book I guess is a glimpse behind the scenes and one long name-dropping exercise, for which I apologise in advance but without mentioning all these wonderful people it would be a bit pointless.
I have found writing it very nostalgic as things are as you grow older and you see the night coming on. It’s over to David at the museum now to design the layout and time will tell whether it becomes one big vanity exercise or a useful fund raiser for worthy causes.
Last week I attended the naming of a train after Elstree Studios, a world first to my knowledge, and it took my mind back to the bleak mid-Nineties when Elstree Studios stood empty and semi-derelict. Most people told me it was a lost cause, but never say die.
Now it is a thriving success and will outlive me, but sooner or later we all become yesterday's men. I hope the book will share some of my memories of the history that made our town something special.