Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s British studio in Borehamwood closed 42 years ago and you would imagine it has long since been forgotten. But a Facebook site dedicated to the memory of this once famous
studio has already attracted nearly 160 members in the first few months of being set up.
Recently, I met some of the group members along with a lovely gent named Mick Brady, who was a props man at the studio in the 1960s.
We met at the Toby Carvery, in Studio Way, which stands in front of the former Thrift Farm — in the days when sheep used to graze all the way down to Elstree Way.
We then set out to explore what had once been the 120-acre estate of MGM.
Along the way, we discovered a willow tree planted by Oscar-winner Margaret Rutherford 50 years ago to celebrate her birthday while filming Murder Ahoy, in which she portrayed Miss Marple.
It felt like a detective hunt as we located the last remaining MGM building on the perimeter of the Sainsbury’s distribution depot, where all the sound stages and ancillary buildings once
In fact, there is another remaining MGM building, which is sound stage 10. It was moved to Bray Studios 40 years ago, but is now about to be demolished as that one time home of Hammer horrors has
We then climbed what locals call the Ivanhoe mound, which is a large grass-covered man-made hill in the middle of the housing estate that now occupies the vast backlot area.
Just in front of the mound, there was once a castle that was constructed in the 1950s for the spectacular Robert Taylor version of Ivanhoe.
In the place where houses now stand, film sets, including a French chateau for The Dirty Dozen, an alpine mountain for Where Eagles Dare, a Chinese village for the Inn Of Sixth Happiness and
a street used in films such as Quatermass and the Pit, were built.
I bet residents never knew Elizabeth Taylor, Clint Eastwood, Clark Gable and Grace Kelly once sat on the land now occupied by their houses.
While we were on the tour, the fans of The Prisoner TV series who were with us, were able to identify specific trees still surviving that had appeared in particular episodes.
However, after three hours’ walking, we adjourned to the Mops and Brooms, once a
regular haunt of MGM employees.
Mick regaled us with his memories of the films he worked on and I recalled when I was given three days to tour the studio after it closed in 1970.
Older residents may recall the outdoor tank was still there in 1979 and the iconic white clocktower in Elstree Way survived until 1986.
Incidentally, it is an urban myth the building was listed and wrongly allowed to be demolished. In fact, our MP of the day Cecil Parkinson and myself approached what is now English Heritage to try
to get it listed, but it was refused.
When I wandered around the deserted studio 42 years ago, I never dreamt I would be revisiting the site decades later with a great bunch of fellow enthusiasts who had travelled from as far away as
Manchester and Somerset.
I like to think old MGM veterans like Pat MacGoohan, David Niven and Liz Taylor were looking down on us with a smile on their faces.
I just hope after that walk, I don’t join them too soon.