Well we have held onto the wreckage for another week and can you believe February is almost over? At this rate Easter Eggs are just around the corner in shops. Personally I love to wish winter over until a friend reminded me I am wishing what is left of my life away. Do you have friends who like cheering you up?

Has anybody been silly enough to watch the new version of Death On The Nile at the cinema? Borehamwood studios have a rich history in making decent Agatha Christie movies. Back in the early 1960s the MGM Studio churned out low budget Miss Marple films which were a success, although Dame Agatha later told me she thought Margaret Rutherford a wonderful actress but totally miscast. Thankfully she was pleased by the Elstree Studios production of Murder On The Orient Express in the early 1970s, which was really star studded.

Luckily for the producers, the UK film industry was at an all-time low so you could pick up stars at bargain prices, including Oscar winners. Remember at that time Robin Askwith was starring in the Confessions Of films at Elstree along with Reg Varney in the On The Buses television spin off movies.

Borehamwood Times:

Alas, the Studio was awash in red ink and only survived by renting out some stages as storage warehouses and making most of the staff redundant. It introduced the 'four wall system', which meant rather than maintaining staff all year round and apprenticeship schemes the business went freelance. Producers would hire their own crews and the once all-powerful unions became redundant.

The silly gravy train rules that unions insisted upon in the pre-1970s is best illustrated by a recollection told to me by a producer of that era. He needed just one more hour to finish a scene but it would mean going past the sacred 5pm or whatever. That required at 5pm the various shop stewards had to meet to approve the overtime. At 5.30pm they returned and agreed their members would work and filming resumed only to halt 30 minutes later. The producer was pulling his hair out asking why. The response was "we gave you an extra hour but surely that must include the 30 minutes we spent on your time discussing it". The result was the producer had to spend thousands on hiring the sound stage, the stars and the crew for another shooting day.

It is true crews were exploited in the 1920s and 1930s and the introduction of unions brought about proper changes but alas they in turn tried to exploit their employers, which helped bring Elstree to near closure.

Borehamwood Times:

Today the 'closed shop' is now history and I have no idea how many freelancers belong to film and television unions. What I do know is that crews are now in great demand and command big money for their services and youngsters have a good chance, regardless of university degrees.

I would love to see the old five-year apprenticeships of the 1950s back again but studios today are places to hire rather than producing their own films. I can't even recall the last film that Elstree Studios owners made but I suspect it was well over 40 years ago. Until next time, take care my fellow travellers. That is one for older readers!

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios