THIS week I look back at a star who I imagine is forgotten by most readers today but was once a big name in British films.

Dennis Price shot to stardom in the 1940s under contract to Gainsborough and Ealing Studios and was at one time earning £25,000 a year when many lived on wages from £2 to £5 a week.

Gainsborough Studios launched many stars, including the likes of Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger and James Mason, all of whom I had the pleasure to meet in their later years. 

I think I met Margaret at the ATV Studios in Borehamwood during the 1970s when she was a guest on Celebrity Squares but three decades earlier was known for her starring role in The Wicked Lady. At the end of her life she became a bit of a recluse partly due to her loss of hearing.

Stewart Granger had gone to Hollywood in the 1950s as an MGM contract star and let us say he certainly considered himself a star for better or for worse.

James Mason was one of my favourite actors who started his career at Elstree in the 1930s. I had the pleasure of interviewing him decades later in the 1970s when he was filming Murder by Decree back at Elstree.

However, my subject this week is Dennis Price who was launched into stardom by Gainsborough and Ealing in the 1940s as a romantic leading actor. It was not to be and his career reflects the fickle nature of fame. 

He was supposed to be the star of the classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets but Alec Guiness, playing several roles, stole the picture. The film’s director of photography Doug Slocombe told me years later: “This was supposed to be a star vehicle for Dennis but Alec stole the picture.”

Dennis admitted he enjoyed his stardom in the 1940s and spent lavishly on his lifestyle. He married and had two daughters, although he was actually gay. 

That was something that could have destroyed his career and some of his colleagues believed he was sometimes blackmailed, although he said it was gambling debts.

 He divorced and continued his career in the 1950s although his leading man roles were behind him as cinema tastes changed, but he managed to transfer into character roles.

Dennis often filmed at the various Borehamwood studios but in 1954, suffering from depression, he attempted suicide while filming For Better For Worse at Elstree Studios. Luckily a friend discovered Dennis laying under his gas oven dressed in his best clothes and he was saved and even finished the film.

He continued to enjoy a successful career, especially playing Jeeves in a hit television series of the 1960s called The World of Wooster, co-starring Ian Carmichael as Bertie. It ran for three series but alas the BBC wiped all but one of the episodes in the 1970s.

I must admit my favourite films in which Dennis appeared included the Elstree made School For Scoundrels, which was shot at Elstree, and in a more serious role in the classic Tunes Of Glory, in which he was reunited with Alec Guinness.

By the beginning of the 1970s he was guest starring in Hammer horror films like Horror of Frankenstein and television series such as Jason King, both filmed at Elstree Studios.

I met him once and then corresponded with him when he decamped to Sark in the Channel Islands during his last years. I still have his letters after 40 years. He continued to make guest star appearances in films but he soon became a recluse and an alcoholic.

 In 1973, he was admitted to hospital for a hip operation but died of heart failure and is buried in a lonely grave on Sark.

Such is the way of life but Dennis remains part of our local film heritage.

Meanwhile, a lad named James Hill has won Celebrity Big Brother filmed at Elstree Studios, apparently because although nobody knew him he was wise enough to flaunt his good looks and body. 

Well done James, it is important never to take showbiz seriously and milk it while it lasts!

Until next week take care.