HELLO everyone and welcome to another of my rambles which this week is a potpourri of showbiz news and memories. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I hoped not to have to report any more loss from the ranks of British actors as it had been a disaster of a year to date. Alas I tempted fate and two more have left us.

Robin Stewart I guess will be best remembered for his role of Sid James’ son in the classic 1970s comedy series Bless This House and various film appearances. I saw Robin a couple of years ago and he was sadly suffering from a major heart and lung problem resulting in him having to a carry a bottle of oxygen but he was still cheerful and positive.

We have also lost television star of the 1960s and 1970s Anthony Valentine who made his name in such series as Callan, Raffles and Colditz. However, I first met Tony at Elstree Studios in 1975 when he was co-starring with Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark and Honor Blackman in the Hammer film To the Devil a Daughter. He was a real gent and certainly no villain off screen. Tony had been unwell for several years as a Parkinson’s sufferer.

On a happier note, it was a great pleasure to meet young actress Shona McCarty who has played Whitney in EastEnders since 2008. Shona told me she was a Borehamwood girl and went to St Teresa’s School. She has lovely eyes, which is the first thing I note when meeting anybody. It was also a pleasure to meet her dad and partner at the Christmas lights switch-on ceremony organised by the Town Council. I must admit I have started to watch EastEnders again over the past year and enjoy the soap opera or as they prefer to call it: continuing drama series. Incidentally, did you know the phrase soap opera dates from 1950s American television when such shows were often sponsored by cleaning products companies?

I also noticed that one of the frocks Judy Garland wore in the classic 1939 The Wizard of Oz recently fetched a million pounds at an auction. However, that is not a record as the famous dress worn by Marilyn Monroe which got blown up past her knees in a famous scene in The Seven Year Itch apparently sold for £3.7 million four years ago.

For years in the 1980s when hosting various studio events I wore a Foster Brothers closing down sale half-price suit and it is still in the closet although I would now need to lose three stone to fit in it today. So I wonder if I should put it up for sale.

At the beginning of the 1970s, MGM in Hollywood held a famous auction on several of their sound stages of props and costumes accumulated over the past 50 years. You could buy a chariot from Ben Hur or literally the paddle steamer from a Judy Garland film. You could purchase the hat Charles Laughton wore in Mutiny of the Bounty or Clark Gable’s favourite trench coat, a dress worn by Garbo in Camille or a thousand other things. Can you imagine today such an auction and the value that would be reached?

In those days many costumes went unsold and were sent off to charity shops and items like scripts and animation cells were dumped into old oil drums and burned. Even worse, unopened filing cabinets full of fascinating paperwork were consigned to a dump site. Luckily, Hollywood veteran star Debbie Reynolds purchased many things with the hope of creating a Hollywood museum. I met Debbie in 1993 and she showed me some of her wonderful collection but I hear she recently sold these items having given up on her dream as Hollywood remains uninterested in celebrating its own history. Even if a star wants to be remembered with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame they or their ‘people’ have to pay a five-figure sum.

Ironically, in 1988 I visited the old MGM Studio in Culver City which by then was owned by a television company but by then the famous backlots had been sold for housing developments. Even then they were still finding and throwing away old MGM material and I got the plans for the first sound stage built at the studio and some other paperwork.

The studio owners were kind enough to employ a retired MGM employee to show me around the historic site and he regaled me with stories of stars and films which I wish I had recorded. Last time I visited the studio in 1997 it was owned by Sony and the whole site had been spruced up but ironically more celebrating Columbia films as they owned that company. I suspect Louis B Mayer was spinning in his grave as during MGM’s golden era, over which he reigned, Columbia was considered a ‘poverty row’ upstart. Such is showbiz but I wished I had been at that MGM auction over 40 years ago.

Finally, I hear that the BBC are going ahead over the next few years with a £15 million pound revamp of the EastEnders set, increasing it in size, upgrading the site and relocating Albert Square to near the present Clarendon Road entrance. I think this is great news as it secures the BBC Elstree Centre site at a time of severe cutbacks in the BBC, and with the site otherwise earmarked for hundreds of yet more homes in what one developer calls a ‘growing London suburb’, but please don’t get me started. Hopefully see you next week for another ramble.