I must start by saying farewell to Hollywood star James Garner. He is best remembered for the two television series Maverick and The Rockford Files, but he was also a leading man of cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sadly, James was stricken with ill health in his latter years, including requiring the replacement of both knees and major heart surgery. A series of strokes had left him with a deep depression in his final months.
I remember him in The Great Escape and The Americanization Of Emily, which he made
partly at MGM in Borehamwood with Julie Andrews.
We have also lost Elaine Stritch, who was a star of films and Broadway but best recalled over here for a 1970s series she did with Donald Sinden.
Actor Ray Lonnen, a friend of mine, has also died. Until I read his obituary I had no idea Ray was asked to stand in for Harrison Ford in the screen tests with the proposed female leads in the Indiana Jones movies. He did the same thing for Sean Connery on Never Say Never Again. These films were made at Elstree Studios.
It is a great regret of mine that I never got around to having long chats with the many actors and stars I have met over the decades. Sometimes I did formal interviews but often it was just chats and my memory is not that great.
I do get asked ‘whatever happened to ...?’ from time to time and this week it was the chairman of Elstree Studios Morris Bright enquiring about George Sanders, the ultimate screen cad.
George enjoyed a successful career in Tinseltown, including winning an Oscar for All About Eve, but sadly at the beginning of the 1970s his mental and physical health declined. I met him on the set of Endless Night at Elstree Studios and a short while after he committed suicide in a lonely Spanish hotel room, although the two facts are not connected.
However, that kicked off a rumour that I am the Grim Reaper of showbiz as so many of my interviewees and guests at events have kicked the bucket. I think that is very harsh but, having said, that I have just found a photo of a reception I arranged and hosted at Elstree Studios in 1989 to celebrate 75 years of film production in Borehamwood.
Looking at the line-up, everybody now seems to be dead except director John Hough, actress Janette Scott, actor Tony Britton, Dave ‘Darth Vader’ Prowse and myself, although I am not feeling that well nowadays.
We had the lovely Thora Hird, 1930s star Chili Bouchier, Dulcie Gray, Titanic survivor Eva Hart, and Barbara Kelly, to mention a few of the ladies. Then there were character actors Maurice Denham, Richard Vernon, Bernard Braden, Stratford Johns, not to mention Graham Stark and Norman Rossington, who drove themselves home a little worse for wear.
I recall Doug Fairbanks Jr, Eartha Kitt, Frankie Howerd, Francis Matthews, Eric Sykes and Lew Grade, plus six RAF survivors of the real Dambusters raid, and good pal Philip Madoc and Robert Beatty and famed director John Boulting.
After the reception, we all adjourned to the viewing theatre, now demolished, and I introduced Ron and Effie Osborne, local residents who had started at Elstree Studios in 1926.
All of them have gone now and I suspect most younger readers have never heard of them, but they had a wealth of memories that should have been recorded. All we have from the occasion is television coverage, probably since junked and a poor 8mm cine film recording of the event taken by one of the guests.
Meanwhile, young Bright tells me he has found some television footage of me when he was a young TV reporter covering the fight to save Elstree Studios all those years ago. Would any of you want to see footage of yourself nearly 20 years ago? I recently found a tape of myself 30 years ago appearing on TV-am with Anne Diamond, and the other guests were Jimmy Greaves, Doug Fairbanks and Jimmy Edwards. Thank heavens for the black bin.