This week we have a pot pourri of Elstree Studio news and memories, but I must start by thanking the lady who stopped me in Furzehill Road just to say this column was “fantastic”.
Stangely enough, I often think the same thing as I type away each week in my attic, looking over at that portrait which I could swear looks older every year. Believe it or not, until I reached 40 I was usually referred to as looking young for my age. For the past 20 years those comments have dried up, so now I tell anybody who asks that I am 78, which usually provokes the response “Wow, you look young for your age” and they buy me a drink.
Talking of Peter Pans, I saw Sir Cliff Richard the other day and he is looking incredibly fit for a man in his twilight years. I did a lengthy interview with Cliff three years ago—he has had an amazing career in the fickle world of music.
He is the most successful UK solo artist of all time having sold over 250 million records and of course he made four movies at Elstree including The Young Ones and Summer Holiday.
Cliff told me that things have changed a lot in the record business since he started in the Fifties. He said: “These days you can become number one in the charts by selling 35,000 a week, whereas when we were getting number ones in the Sixties we were selling 80,000 records a day.”
I watched the finale of Big Brother and was surprised that the winner was greeted by boos as he left the house. I may be wrong, but I suspect he played the game well as he is apparently a die hard fan and would know which buttons to press with the voting public and the series producers when they decided which highlights to show each night. Perhaps he was unlucky to win in it when the show has virtually slipped off the viewing figures radar.
It reached a new television low when one clip I saw showed a lad called Jay sitting on the toilet boasting about the large bowel movement he had just enjoyed. Not exactly the quality of production I fought eight years to save Elstree Studios for, but then again I guess all business is good business.
I believe a celebrity series of Big Brother will kick off in January and another series of normal contestants next summer, but I suspect that is only because Channel Five have a two-year contract.
On a more uplifting note, a representative of a charity that provides food parcels revealed last week that a production based at Elstree Studios has come to its aid in these difficult times.
Apparently the Brad Pitt movie featured a scene in a supermarket and rather than props they stocked the shelves with real boxes and cans of food. After shooting was finished they donated the food, valued at £3,600, to the charity to distribute, which I thought was a great idea.
I have also read that Elstree Studios is considering building another 30,000 square feet sound stage within the next two years and are in discussions with outside financiers.
Personally, I think that is great news as I believe they have beeen turning work away in recent times. At its zenith in 1987, Elstree had around 135,000 square feet of production space spread across 10 stages, but currently it has around 61,000 square feet of stage space. Other studios like Pinewood, Shepperton and Leavesden have built extra stages.
In fact, I visited Shepperton Studios for lunch the other day and saw one of their newish stages which was actually built from the metal work of the Star Wars stage that once stood at Elstree and was sold as scrap by Brent Walker when they removed it during the demolition work.
The Government has extended tax support for the film industry until 2015 so hopefully the work will continue to flow.