It is great to hear that one day last week Elstree Studios hosted audiences totalling 3,000 people. The spin-off effect is those people buy things in the town, which is all good news.
Borehamwood is rapidly becoming the hub of Britain’s television output. Shows like Pointless, The Singer Takes It All, Celebrity Juice, Room 101, and Never Mind The Buzzocks, not to mention Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing, Holby City, and of course, EastEnders, are all filmed here. Mind you, it is sometimes quantity rather than quality as young TV commissioning editors struggle to find ways to fill the airwaves against declining audiences and rising costs.
The latest show to hit the sound stages of Elstree is called Tumble, and to me it is what I describe as wallpaper television. It is yet another ‘celebrity’ show that stretches that word to almost breaking point.
I have heard of Steps and ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, who is a nice guy, and was once a Chief Scout. Over 30 years ago, when he was on Blue Peter, I hired him to make an appearance at the Maxwell Youth Centre.
Personally, I still think they should take up my idea of celebrity undertakers, but we have apparently not reached that point yet. Give it time and remember I suggested it.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the last men hanged in the UK for murder. The two men, who took part in a burglary that went wrong, were hanged at the same time but in different prisons. Gwynne Evans, aged 24, and Peter Allen, aged 21, ended their lives at the end of a rope at 8am on August 13, but one was hanged at Manchester and one at Liverpool Prison.
In those days, justice was swift as their trials had only begun on June 23 and that period included their appeals.
I once met the most famous of our 20th Century hangmen, who was named Albert Pierrepoint and at one time ran a pub apparently called Help The Poor Struggler, which I guess would be a little politically incorrect nowadays.
I found Albert fascinating as during his career he hanged between 500 and 700 people and perfected his art, as he explained to me: “You can imagine when I entered the death cell the stress on everyone was immense so I speeded up the process in order that the prisoner was dispatched in under 20 seconds. Death was immediate, unlike my American colleagues when we were hanging Nazi war criminals.”
Albert hanged Ruth Ellis and Elstree Studios produced a film loosely based on her story called Yield To The Night, which helped turn the public away from the death sentence.
Many believed Albert resigned because of that hanging but he told me “that was not true”.
He said: “In those days it was a part-time job and they paid me about £15 a time, which was more than a week’s wage in the 1950s. On one occasion the Home Office sent me to a prison and I did all the preparations but then the prisoner was reprieved so they refused to pay me. I simply resigned on a point of principle.”
Albert died in 1992 and at the end felt capital punishment had not worked.
The last execution chamber was maintained at Wandsworth Prison until 1994, even though it had not been used since 1961.
When I used to help the Metropolitan Police in the 1980s as a lay visitor, appropriate adult and with training at Hendon, my ‘reward’ was to visit the Black Museum in New Scotland Yard, which I found fascinating. I also visited the cell in which Dr Crippen was held at Bow Street Police Station when it closed, and 10 Rillington Place - the home of serial killer John Reginald Christie - before it was demolished. It may all seem a bit creepy but it is another side of life and part of history.
It is a long jump from reviewing a new BBC show to hangings but at least you can say this column never ceases to surprise you and to be honest, after a nice bottle of white wine, it even amazes me. When Albert said goodbye to me he joked: “I would not hang around this area”, which is what I guess they call ‘gallows humour’ but I found it funny.
If the men in white coats have not found me, I look forward to walking down memory lane with you next week.