Before the Sixties got swinging

First published in Paul Welsh Borehamwood Times: Photograph of the Author by

This week we look back at Elstree Studios 50 years ago and the productions being made at the studio.

This was in the age when the facility was mainly used to produce movies and long before the era of reality television shows. Some films were still being produced in black and white, as were television series since colour TV was still a few years away.

Personally I find black and white quite nostalgic. This was a period of transition from the the post war gloom with the swinging Sixties about to blossom.

I am not sure our image of the swinging Sixties ever extended much beyond London. I was still a kid back then and my idea of a swinging night out was an ice cream in a glass of Tizer fizzy drink at Hansons tea shop, followed by a trip to the old cinema, where an office block now stands, with a bag of warm salted peanuts.

The Elstree Studios output embraced a mix of colourful musicals, gritty drama and comedy.

The drama was supplied by three films. The first was entitled Dr Crippen, which told the story of the Edwardian murderer who is supposed to have killed his wife and cut up her body leaving bits of it buried in his basement.

The case became a sensation as he tried to flee with his girlfriend aboard a ship to Canada and was the first murderer caught by the use of ship to shore telegraph.

The murder house was destroyed in the blitz but I have stood in the cell where Crippen was held at the old Bow Street police station. He was played by Donald Pleasance who told me in 1980 he was quite proud of the film.

The other two dramas were Sparrows Can’t Sing, mainly shot in the long gone East End with Barbara Windsor, and Jigsaw, a crime mystery with Jack Warner as a police detective. Jack of course played the title role of Dixon of Dock Green on TV in a series that ran for many years. In each episode he used to greet us standing under a blue lamp with the words “evening all”.

Those were the days when criminals, on being arrested, would exclaim: “It’s a fair cop, Guv, you’ve got me bang to rights, I will come peaceful.”

Don’t you just long for those days when a police officer would summon help by blowing a whistle or run to a Dr Who police box and criminals knew their place.

On the comedy front we had Tony Hancock showing perhaps too much of his tormented inner self in The Punch And Judy Man, which proved a flop. We forget now how people used to stay in to listen to his shows on radio and television, but the Sixties left him behind and he committed suicide in Australia.

Then there was We Joined The Navy, starring the ever reliable Kenneth More who had been a big star in the Fifties but unwisely insulted his Rank Organisation boss at an industry function and lost out on films such as The Guns Of Navarone.

The best remembered film of that year was the Elstree musical Summer Holiday which starred Cliff Richard and had a great score of memorable numbers.

However, there was one television series produced at Elstree in 1962 that was to make someone an international star.

It was of course The Saint with Roger Moore and the studio became his home for the next seven years.

Again I recall watching the series on our black and white TV at home without ever dreaming I would bring Roger back to the studio in 2006 for his plaque unveiling.

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